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Welcome to Saved by Design

June 3, 2019

New Stuff:

In Random Stuff:  The Unavoidable Polymath

In Home Page: HOME as Frozen Music

In Absence: Easters

In Left To Myself : Graduation

In Not (As) Fat: One Meal A Day

In Finding Home: Justification

In The Rules: Between Rocks & Hard $$$

In Silence In Spring : Astonishing…

In Days ’till Spring : 40 Days

Hey, Architecture, Check Your Privilege.

August 9, 2019

I am a Boomer Straight White Male, educated in private schools, graduated from an Ivy League School (sorta, Cornell): thus I know from privilege. But I never knew what privilege was until I got it, and then only when I saw others who did not have those privileges, who were not white males in Mid Century. I simply did what I was told, and Voila: I became a Poster Boy for Toxic Masculinity and Unfair Advantage.

What do you do with that? I could degrade my ability and effort, but I knew I kicked it, hard, and was able to do things where my white maleness meant nothing. Without guilt, I have efforted a full pro bono immersion in my office, and a complete disregard for any status of any potential employee or client. We do about 1/3 of our work for whatever the client can afford, about half the time that is no money at all, like the over 100 houses we have done for the local Habitat affiliate, seen above. For those who can pay something, after we start pro bono, the rest of the fees for that 1/3 of my practice are at cost, or less.

And the work has been done by those who are not straight white males, and some that are. We pay our interns, we have never laid anyone off or missed a payroll in 32 years. And we have built 800 things. From $100 a square foot in cost to over $1,000.

But that is not a make up call, that is just “meet, and right so to do” in the words of Thomas Cranmer who wrote, almost 500 years ago, the Prayer Book I read every Sunday

No, the reason I write this next @effortingarchitecture piece is to note that all of these reasonable realities of killing prejudice by simply being diverse in outlook and outcome are not enough.

Architects and our institutions can still perpetrate prejudice and bias in architecture. National press has never been given to 30 years of making those 100 Habitat homes. No, instead national press, this month, in Architect Magazine is given to 2 very quaintly Mod homes made for all good reasons: low or no fee design, making better places for people who cannot afford them, making the best of our common humanity. Those two homes.


But I know the vast (Vast) majority of these kind of architectural effort to house those who cannot otherwise find a single family home are not quaintly Mod. This lack of “contemporary” design in those houses is because the cliches of Modernist architecture, low/no pitched roofs/overhangs, no trim and esoteric materials either fail too soon or are too expensive to build. Real, non-aesthetic realities, with the exception of the extreme recent failures at the “Do The aright Thing” development in New Orleans are simply unspoken, unknown, presumed lame.

So we, here in New Haven’s Habitat, build with stock trusses, materials, details, and with high strength engineering for resilience, and off-site prefabrication abilities for many components. Unseen good things in incorrect aesthetics designed to fit into the massing and aesthetics of 19th Century Worker Housing. 120 families houses. Including a bunch of Yale student designed and built homes that had to be fully renovated a few years after being done.

So thousands of homes like the ones in the image above get built in any year all over America and the 2 Quaint Mod efforts get lauded by national press:


The same reason that a profession that is roasting itself over a historic lack of ethnic/gender/class diversity in its professional ranks chose, in this month’s AIA National Newsletter, to laud these Health Care Facilities (which I have also worked on for 30 years)

They are lauded by a jury, because the affirmed, assumed, prejudice of the Correctness of Design means ‘No Not Modernist Need Apply”.

Do not misunderstand: All these projects are Great. All humans are Great.

But 50 years ago, almost all humans in architecture were me. It was incomplete, and it was a lie that I, me, and others of me were the only “Correct” ones. Now, still after more than half of students in architecture school are women, and others are making inroads into participation with extreme effort by everyone involved, Style Correctness is as exclusive as it has ever been in the Mainstream, Deep State: The Swamp of Correct that is Architecture as presented by the media.

Architects and students deserve more than be spoon feed the oredigested “correct” aesthetics. And to simply hear the truth versus the rhetoric.

Look at what Architectural Record calls “ageless”:

A lobby of Modernism so perfected it is pinpointed to the age of Modernism, which is, precisely, an Age. Not a bad one, in fact this is what is needed in the huge money engine of Harbor Yard: massive pretense and assumed cool. But there is precious little but the Modern Canon in their pages, outside of the Advertorials of paid-for exposure of for-profit companies that pay for the clean Modern Truth that excludes any other way of thinking.

Like Fox News stressing their Truth is “Fair and Balanced” or like MSNBC who implore their viewers to “Lean In” to their crusade, there is straight up propaganda via exclusion in the vast majority of what is mostly offered in architectural media, schooling and competitions.

But that is changing, because You are reading this. 30 years ago there were a few outlets and rumors, or an occasional mailer of some aberrant thought. Places like Prickly Mountain Vermont or Taliesin, or Arcosanti could briefly flourish in experimenting with the not-Canon. Not so much, now.

But that might change.

Gay Marriage is not even an issue. The idea of excluding anybody that could be useful to your work because of the way they look or what they believe is just flat stupid. And maybe, just maybe, seeing the Same Old Same Old in a time of exploding media diversity has put a death sentence of Traditional Modernism as an exclusive prejudice.


The Unavoidable Polymath

August 8, 2019

We see, hear, taste, feel, think, speak and act. There is exquisite integration. I see tiny children thinking with forming minds, garbling ideas, moving as they can in response: completely unaware anyone is judging them. In short order the cells have connected, the acts of interaction in the world are now becoming defined, controlled, focused – but the motivations soon include being approved, linked, correct.

That sliding scale between ability and motivation becomes a simple cross: the more we can do, the more we control to obtain approval, and assume more control.

Architecture has long been a place of “Both/And” – meeting the strictures of codes, laws, physical realities of materials, weather, and gravity, and technological methods of electricity, water, air, all swirled together in human control: expressing art, or logic, or history, or innovation, or the designer’s mind: Architecture becomes a fantasy of synthesis – Art & Science.

That synthesis of opportunity is like the toddler’s mind: all open, all compelling, all possible: and life compels prioritization: adhering to those laws,the money to build, but mostly to the mind of the designer.

If the mind is polemical, proving a point, making an argument, expressing a singular will the buildings become objects of message. If buildings make an argument, you cannot argue back: the point is permanent, not open to discussion. And every building always has a coda: “Deal With It.”

The users then change themselves to what another human has made: control is realized.

But buildings are passive. They are simply what we “deal” with. If the users hate it, hate its priorities because they are not the designer, their compliance merely stiffens the hate. However, buildings, like all the things humans do, reflect the humans more than they direct. We use highways, but the impatient speed, the careless crash, the trapped curse. It is simply stating the obvious that the idea of making blocs of rooms to warehouse humans as symbols of habitation floating over the landscape looked compelling in drawings of Mid-Century, but wrecked lives in danger and depression until most of them are getting removed.

But polymath design has more places to register the human context. First, why exile history, thus memory, from what we build?

Why limit materials to an abstract palette, machined to untouchability? Why devalue detail as a feature, a place of delight, versus detailing work that strives to deny materiality.

Why do we start, as architects and consumers of architecture, to lose the joy in experience for the safety of being “correct”? Why lose our humanity to become “serious” architects cleaving to a Canon, adapting a Style?

The same reason the toddler stops laughing. The same reason we look in the mirror before we see others. Click on the Internet to are sure we are living the correct life as seen in the images of Social Media.

You could argue that the New Technology allows us all to extend polymathy into a full, long life of more choices, thoughts, and joys.

Why can’t we find a way to be adults with a toddler’s heart? Let’s start with the way we use buildings.

Build It and There Will Be Space

August 7, 2019

“Build it and they will come.” Says God to Ray Kinsella in ‘”Field of Dreams”.

We want to believe that. But history says otherwise, absent God.

Architects (and I am one) want desperately that a clear insight of beauty, birthed through our good offices, will transform any platform into a new, great reality. We see the thoughtless mediocrities of profit-driven building, the failing built non-sequiturs of irrelevance without appeal, and simply bad ideas that deny hope in anything we make all around us. We offer an alternative: Our Vision.

“If only…” we murmur. So architects launch who we are into what we do not control, hoping our insight, our genius will flip a losing reality into the best aspects of human potential, as seen in our life focus, architecture. But that denies what hope is, let alone faith.

Faith in yourself is required to exist, but faith projected beyond that into the meaning of our culture mostly fails. Modern Architecture was started a century ago as a world wide cultural revolution: it was once dubbed “The International Style” that transcends all the barriers of what existing humanity knew before the genius of architects was inveighed on an unenlightened world. But not much has changed except a hundred years of making some great beauty, and endless failures of extreme effort in the name and cause of Modernism.

It has not been a successful revolution, except for the revolutionaries.

A tiny proportion of what gets built is defined as Modern. But that tiny bit receives the huge preponderance of Glory, Laud and Honor in the halls of the elite lands of journalism, academia and institutional recognition. Why?

Because the choir is judging of its own singing.

In the 21st century Church World, the choir still loves what the Church is singing. Just like in the world of building, where the Choir of Modernism loves what gets recognition, while the vast majority of what is built follows human preference, decidedly not High Modern. Rather than learn from this, architects and organized religion are loath to listen to the overwhelming truth that what has been offered simply is not selling beyond the Market of True Believers.

“If only…” say those who bewail the rest of our culture, the majority in fact, who cannot perceive the deeper beauty that the elite know is the truth, the light and the way.

If you believe that we are all equal, all children of the God that made everything everywhere (even if the God is a godless devotion to natural selection), that reality says that no judgment reigns supreme in the core of any single human’s perception. We are all the same. All equal.

Those church services, those Modernist buildings are, indeed, transcendently beautiful to the believers. Including this Rite 1 Low Episcopalian, and graduate of the Great Modernist School, Cornell.

But I know irrelevance when I experience it.

As do the millions who no longer go to any church and the 90% of housing consumers that run away from ‘”Contemporary” homes.

In matters architectural I simply follow the gifts God has given me.

But I know that if what I do works, then what I channel has been open to the human condition, not that I have seized some magic insight from a well of earned, learned or made genius. If architects can know that they have been given infinite gifts but the first gift, often ignored is to listen, then buildings will become relevant to more than the architects themselves.

It is the same with our churches and any place humans look to connect with something larger than the rituals and traditions and trappings we Church Goers Love. It is the same for architects who might want their designs to mean more than simply being a really flattering mirror.

In that way, we, the builders, do not just make shapes, what architects call “forms”. Whether building a church or a building we are making space, space that harbors, rather than the “formalism” that some architects seek to create to confront and impose upon our culture.

We have a choice. We can hear what is loudly real in the way we create or sustain what we love, or we can try to control it, often to prove that what any of us loves should be what everyone Should Devote Their Lives To.

Perhaps there are better words than “Build it and they will come.” Perhaps the better words come from being open to a larger reality than ourselves. Perhaps “Listen and We Will Build” opens up a place for more than the convinced. Architects are not taught to listen in School, but we are taught, relentlessly, how to project and direct.

Unless those in churches are taught to listen to the multitudes who are not in the churches, we simply lose what we never had: the power to direct, project and ‘save” – that is what God does. Just like architects.

But we have to Listen.

Hey, It’s Architecture. Sorry About That.

August 6, 2019

There is one rule of humor: be funny.

Funny means the humor means something to you. It means absurdity. But intimate absurdity.

Everybody loves, and is a fool for love. Everyone wants to be hip, and is mockable for being lame. Everybody has a body, but almost no one likes it.

But everyone lives in a building. Everyone uses buildings everyday to live.

And every building has a design.

But so many buildings are jokes to those who are forced to use and live around them.

Somewhere, someone made the information needed to make every building happen. That info maker would be a human, who can be absurd. Or lame. Or just so narcissistic that the fact you are using the building is irrelevant. That would be an architect.

If absurdity of the intimate is a key to humor, the jackasses that make buildings that crush your humanity are the low hanging fruit of mocking

Architect Fjuck in the video is simply a mirror. Not a Fun House Mirror. The words, the perspective, the outcomes are with the rest of us architects every day.

The list of the mockable buildings in this teaser is a Who’s Who of buildings that a few love, and most, and mostly not architects, loathe. Their complete narcissism of fine arts self-referential hip tone deafness is completely self-justifying. And stupid. So it is funny.

We, humans, are subjected to elite absurdities everyday. They are called “Politically Correct”. Architecture has those absurdities in spades. Architects get loved by other architects if they make things only an architect would love.

But those self-justifying brain dead reactionary absurdities seen in the Fjuck video are almost all buildings which are noticed, then lauded, because if they are not lauded when they are “correct” puts the mute architects on the wrong side of correctness.

On the other hand, most architects and designers fall to pandering, to pleasing the lowest common denominator of cash-n-carry design work. Follow the money, get paid, make a building by making what the buyer wants, but leaving some impact.

So the mockability of architects and their architecture is as universal as the pontificating doctor, the avaricious ambulance chasing lawyer, or the overwhelmingly judgmental parent. And you. And me.

If we pretend the “serious” architecture is too “important” to be humorous, we are fully inhuman. Inhumanity is what makes the buildings designed by architects for architects completely mockable. Because those architects are infinitely mockable.

But “Houston, there is a problem”. Humans use architects, or at least designers. Their absurdities, so easily mockable, inveigh the judgment of irrelevance to other humans, so architects become irrelevant.

If “we know best” and disdain the realities of the human condition: from fear, memory, even simple safety – we become the chefs of inedible food. We are that tree falling in the woods with no one listening. We join New Music, needle tower residential skyscrapers in New York City, and any number of fringe websites that appeal to tiny numbers but indict an entire specie.

Who are we, we who design things?

Are we, too often, the jokes so easily made?

Yes, many are. The loudest and often most lauded are. Those architects are in the place of the convinced. Just like Fundamentalist Believers of any stripe, ‘Right” first, and relevant only by coincidence.

I want to have meaning beyond my obvious mockability. There is no way anyone makes anything and escapes humorous judgment. But if you know that what you do has an alternative view to yours, and offer it anyway, it’s hard not to be in the flow of our larger culture. If the hero architect of Fjuck is the image that is rewarded by the Deep State of architectural journalism, education and institution, my life becomes judged in my absence.

If architects forget how we are seen, we give up the right to be surprised by how we are are seen, let alone dismiss it, we become those jokes of cultural absurdity. If you doubt me, ask Hillary Clinton.


August 5, 2019

My father had the artery that splits to go down each leg break in 1972. He was 61.

I had an artery break going up into the place in my brain that controls balance in 2017. I was 61.

He needed surgery, smoked about 30 Kent’s a day, and was drunk by 7:30 every day I knew him until about 6 months before he died.

To recover, I needed nothing. I was perhaps, as always, 30lbs overweight, so I had worked out for at least an hour, now an hour and a half, everyday, so the break had enough blood pressure in and suction out of the two open ends of the broken artery that enough oxygen prevented significant damage to any cells. (Or at least a Yale Neurological doctor said so).

But, according to a host of other doctors I had a “genetic flaw in the interior middle layer of the 3 layer artery, that genetic insufficiency is in no other place we can find” (after $100,000 of testing).

I think we two are linked by our inherited arteries.

I have no proof other than the anecdotes we are left with. My anecdotes are not his. I have never smoked anything, ever, nor have I been drunk on a daily basis sine 1976. I went to Cornell because it was the best architecture school anywhere, he went because he could break out of a family that had never had a High School graduate. He loved Cornell. I moved heaven and earth to get a degree and leave.

We are all unaware of things we are fully lost in – things like the consequences of our choices until they happen. We have no control of the huge things of planet, culture even our provenance, to start with anyway. There are infinite reasons to be alone.

But we are also connected in tiny, unseen things we simply cannot control either. Perpetually, without knowledge. Like the interior lining of our arteries.


August 5, 2019

Time is undeniable, except it is denied by humans every day.

I am one of them. The deniers. I work to make “new” buildings and words, my wife and I dedicated our lives to having children with “new” lives. Every headline declares “New”(s).

Recent is not “New”, no matter how hideous or exhilarating the recent is.

I have come to realize in my 7th decade that I will never, that no one I know, will ever escape their first decade, and perhaps the second. We all deal deal with our first decade of being formed, but for those of us who lived brutal first decades the efforts are often based in denial, or at best, change. I know a great many others who simply wish to perpetuate their early lives, not escaping them, but recreating them.

Denial or escape you cannot deny history. And time is history made present and future.

Metaphors are dangerous things. They often ignore deep realities embodied in the metaphor that complicate the connection made between that metaphoric thing, idea, word, and what really was present in its reality in order to make a point.

But sometimes there is apt undesigned connection that becomes revelation. There are metaphors of accident and coincidence, unseen until noticed, but real in their noticing.

In our denial of our first decades, my wife and I opted to effort finding a place for our children that would be a meaningful touchstone from their first decades. It worked, we find the place shown at the top of this piece.

We are now, after 24 years amazed that the 7 days of time, once a year, becomes a permanent full living memory, independent of time, every week we are there at this touchstone. Views, smells, sounds, buildings, spaces connect us across these decades, and thus in denial of our first.

But time is not “perennial” it is ever changing. Because, despite our hopes, time is change.

So each change in our touchstone is seen with excitement and sadness, as any thought of control becomes dimmer with each year our bodies and the realities around them are in a place, with us, where time binds and destroys everything.

Painting is not necessary for pressure treated wood to last 40 or more years. But memory exists of things before pressure treated wood. The touchstone place we visit was built 90 years ago. It once had dirt under its wing, but when the lakeside crumbled the house was saved by new support, and had a new access created perhaps 60 years ago, accessed by what I surmised would become wood decking and railings rotted to the point of being unsafe perhaps 30 years ago.

So when the rotting wood wax replaced with wood filled with chemicals to prevent rot, it only needed painting to visually connect the new wood with the old wood that needed paint on it not to rot.

It was as the picture shows above, a deck of maroon painted wood.

Until this year. The paint wore away, some, and a new cosmetic coat was added, now Grey. I am thinking that is just what they had.

It was nice. But a water bound inspection showed that the paint they had run out for full coverage, so an unseen bit (top right under the deck handrail) evidences that humans made do in the beating tide of history – as did the restricting I witness about 15 years ago on the undercarriage.

But something was different at the entry to the porch and place, as seen from from the land side above.

In all of this a human saw something.

Someone saw the beauty of time. The painter saw, maybe just because he or she had little paint, that the inside, away from the lake side, did not need paint everywhere. So history is still present. Time is present.

The light pose was left in its original state of 30 years standing.

It has the original paint at the point anyone comes to this touchstone. It is 30 years there, and yet, is embraced by last spring.

But it is more. The new holds the existing. The railing, now painted against the unpainted is newly holding the post. It is the existing as made, new remade, in a dance of time, that is not lost, but present.

Time is alive, and memory, too. It is future in hope and fear, but time is there, everywhere, whether we like it or not. In buildings, in paint, in us.


August 4, 2019

The word Babel means “Gate of God”

It gained the meaning of a cacophonous gathering of incoherent speaking. That was 4,000 years ago, BTW.
In a time when all of technology is literally a new language, – incoherant, mysterious, of seemingly effortless empowerment created by extreme effort of millions of minds and hours. The metaphors are almost too obvious.

We want to touch that we which we do not know, so we know more and more, to the point where we undersrand that we know less than we ever thought possible.

New York City is, to we of the Western World, the cutting edge of human progress. There, more of us do more, make more and do it more loudly than anywhere else.

In the last world wide recession, before World War 2, the still wealthy sought to maximize their worth by creating a place named after their money: Rockefeller Center. It was taller, slimmer, more civically designed than any singularity. It was a Center.

80 years later more wealthy humans saw the latest economic depression and wanted to maximize their value and found an open flat side of New York City, sewed seeds of individual architects whose job was to max out the cubage and get a killer ROI. They have just finished their first stab.

A cluster of gargantuan stagmites reaching up, completely untouched by the city, each other, or the humans who use them. In place of the skating rink of Rockefeller Center is a Folly, a nest of stairs leading nowhere, dissasociating humans into meandering, rather than gathering to skate and be watched.

The Folly is a tiny turd at the feet of the stalagmites. It was the one shot at human scale in a set of things that could be a six story apartment buildings or a missle harboring all of humanity to another galaxy.

Rockefeller City is its own little City. Harbor Yard is a Yard, with things rising up from it, reaching to…what?

Like all skyscrapers they are stacks of money, piled high, by humans for humans, but obviously part of our culture, and reflecting it, maybe projecting it.

Yet another group of monied humans saw a different way to maximize their value by building tall. They changed New York’s Zoning Code, like the other two groups of moneyed humans, but to make a new building, in random places of a tiny footprint – making the Needle Tower possible.

Rather than built to gather society, these slivers of one or a few apartments on each floor rise to heights many (many) times their plan widths to isolate those using these buildings from everywhere else, and allowing them to see The Others.

They disdain the surroundings, but preserve the surroundings of any number of other places by buying the space that the Zoning Code allows others to build higher, preventing those places who sold their “Air Rights” from getting taller, by making the new one site use all the height of the others, as purchased.

Beyond this limitation of height, only gravity, transportation and money limit height. We are making Towers of Babel built up to our most human God, money.

No Starchitect Expression, No City, No Folly, not even a skating rink. Needle Towers and Harbor Yard have but one mission: make money.

I know an architect who makes money executing the interiors of these extemely expensive homes made. They worship views, that are as calm as the views are insanely complex – the higher, more expensive and harder to get to they are.

A human reality of Self that is only possible when humanity creates these very tall places is reaching away from the commerce and humanity that created them.

Ironies are not new. That book written 4,000 years ago depicted the same human desires: reaching up to get beyond our culture to a Higher Truth. We once thought it was God. We now, seemingly, think it is each and any one of us that aspire to isolation, despite being wholly made in the complete suffusion of faith and culture.

We will soon be speaking many different languages in the Artificial Intelligence Age. We are understanding each other less and less.

Architecture only reflects, it never leads, except by example of what already existed that made it.