LISTEN TO A FUN HOUR DEBATING CHIPMONKS, PACHYSANDRA AND GROWING ROCKS:
THIS WEEK: Do you have a love-hate, dysfunctional, OCD relationship with your home’s OUTSIDE? (ie Gardens!)Here is your show prep! https://savedbydesign.wordpress.com/2016/04/27/obsessive-compulsive-gardening-
SPECIAL GUEST! STEPHANIE LESNIK! IN STUDIO!
Stephanie created Field House Farm in Madison http://www.fieldhousefarm.net
Steph’s extreme devotion channels the 18th century farmers who toiled for centuries to suck subsistence out of a tough landscape and short growing season: in a few short years Field House Farm has shown OCD Gardening can work!
In my family growing up, I went to one graduation: my own high school send-off.
My sister did not have a graduation from high school or college, and I do not remember going to my brother’s high school version and he did not have one in college.
Perhaps that lack of experience allowed me to feel it was fine to not attend my college graduation. But there were other factors.
My parents put me in private day schools my entire life. Although I was the only one after my older sister dropped out of high school, and there was, apparently, money to do it, I always knew it was not a happy thing for my father to pony up the $6K a year it took to go to Cornell in the 1970’s, even though it was his, and my mother’s venerated alma mater.
One visit in 5 years of my attendance, despite bi-monthly criss-crossing New York State in the endless transits between homes in Buffalo and Westchester seemed natural, given the state of our family’s survival.
After my freshman year I began to do odd jobs to keep my CornellCard bills lower: I knew this was important as, without warning, my parents had simply cancelled the card when the balance exceeded their expectations: an interesting moment not buying breakfast I had slopped onto my tray one weekend morning.
So I became a Resident Adviser at Cornell’s Arts Residential College in the dorm system that job included free room, lunch and dinner 5 days a week, and since we did a great deal of arts programming amid the AAA Ball psychotherapy, some cash whenever we went above 20 hours a week on the job. And that happened every week.
I also delivered the Cornell Daily Sun, when it was Daily, and did posters for University Unions activities – where I ultimately became the highest paid level of student employee in my 5th year – $7 an hour in 1977.
But I knew that once all the cash from all my birthdays and Christmases that I had handed over for deposit and all the coins a bills I received over the first 18 years in my life and had put into my cardboard box bank with my black and white Polaroid on it had been liquidated into Cornell’s coffers, my father’s patience with my cost was going fast.
So I asked for my parents to pay for a summer design course ($600) to save $3,000 for an entire last semester, as I had accelerated through the first 4 years to only need that one additional course to graduate a semester early. They saw the value in that.
Although I had paid rent and food and most expenses for most of those 4 years, I hoped my parents could pick up the last semester’s tuition balance, as they had the previous 4 years.
They would not: and somehow this did not surprise me. I then researched a loan to pay the $2,300 I would end up owing – which was fine, but the loan needed a co-signer.
I called and asked my obviously past-5pm, mid scotch-imbibing Dad if he would cosign, he slurred, quietly, “No”. Given that I had watched the check-out clerk cut my Cornell Card in half the year before, I should not have been surprised, but I was. He said “No.” to letting me pay for my degree, with him simply backing me up.
“WHY?” I uncharacteristically yelled into the phone. “Because you are a bad risk.” He emphatically slurred.
I immediately got my diploma in January before all the last semester bills came in (the real joy of pre-cyber bill collation) and Cornell then, after I had my degree, asked me, because I was over 21, politely for the money.
I went to my faculty mentor, who I had taken 2 courses with and he said “Sure.” (In a Polish accent.) He signed and I walked the check over to the Bursers office and owed Tompkins County Community Bank the $2,300.
I now had to find the money to pay off that balance and the $7 and hour gig as “Media Services Coordinator For University Unions At Cornell”, with its cool office in the Student Union was done, as I was no longer a student.
So: thru architecture school homies I went Scallop Fishing in Cape May, New Jersey: 10 hours on/2 hours off, 24 hours a day, for 10 days. A couple of death defying tours paid off the bill in short order.
But that meant that on my graduation day, I looked up from the pile of Dinner Plate Scallops and detritus amid my rubber boots 21 miles out to sea on a bright May morning in 1978, and knew my class was graduating at that moment.
My parents were in Dobbs Ferry, New York, alone, as customary, and I shrugged my shoulders and kept sorting out the dinner plates on the rolling deck to put in my basket to take back to the shucking house in the stern of the boat.
No regrets, no anger, I had only been to one of those celebrations, and it was nice, but $1,000 every 10 days in 1978 paid off Cornell in short order.
In these last 4 years we have been to 4 college graduations of our children, counting grad schools. I see parents that have lived for these moments. Although my eggs were not all in those baskets, I get it.
But I doubt I will ever get my parents.
Getting Done in San Francisco
The outdoor chapel at Incarnation Camp in Ivoryton, CT
CEPHAS Housing 25 Years Ago in Yonkers NY
In Hartford Courant: Deborah Berke, First Woman To Lead Yale’s School of Architecture
In Common Edge: Architecture Has Become a Lifestyle Choice
In Daily Nutmeg: Creation Story
In Next Avenue: Aging and Your Home: The Coping Quotient
In New Haven Register: When Things Go South – Design Can’t Save Bad Building
In Hartford Courant (login required): The Classroom of the Future
In New Haven Register: When Branding Becomes Blanding in New Haven
In Home Living Magazine: City Living: An Award Winning Renovation
In Hartford Courant: What CT Has Is History- Don’t Neglect It
In New Haven Independant: Architect Couple, Institute Library Snag Awards
In Hartford Courant: History is Precious
In New Haven Register: New Haven’s Court Street is ‘like its own little town’
In Hartford Courant (login required): Smart Home Design In A City That’s Neighborly
In New Haven Register: Villas on a ridge, New Haven’s Hillhouse Avenue
In Hartford Courant (login required): A Classic Street Ages, But Retains its Beautiful Bones
In New Haven Register: Forum: Yale, Pearl Harbor bridge projects show branding matters, money follows
In New York Times: Everything and the Kitchen Sink
In New Haven Register: Millennial Meme Housing Sprouts in New Haven
In Hartford Courant (login required): “Christmas in Connecticut” was Perfect for War-Weary 1945 American Moviegoers
In Room One Thousand: Sixty Panes of Faith
In Behind the Walls: The Not So Tiny House Movement (Part 1)
In New Haven Register: Quarantining Architecture
In New Haven Register: Weeds on New Haven’s Oak Street Lawn
In New Haven Magazine: Back Yard Forward
In New Haven Register: Ultimate Gesture of Architectural Modesty is a Buried Building
In New Haven Register: Tulips, Architecture Students & Bubbles that Burst
In New Haven Register: Flood tide of rental housing could change New Haven’s landscape
In New Haven Magazine: Still by the Sea
In New Haven Magazine: Preserving the Past for the Future
In River & Shore’s Coastal Homes: Boy Was It Worth It
In New Haven Magazine: From Family to Farm
In The New Haven Register: Ultimate Gesture of Architectural Modesty Is Buried Building
In The New Haven Register: Yale’s Evans Hall: Overdressed for Success
In New Haven Magazine: Cubed
In New Haven Magazine: Finding Design
In The New Haven Register: Pearl Harbor Bridge in New Haven Extension of Greatest Generation’s Legacy
In Hartford Faith & Values: An Elevator on Orchard Street
In The New Haven Register: Are Neighbors More Neighborly when there is Greater Density?
In New Haven Magazine: Lawyers In Love
In New Haven Magazine: A House of Homes
In The Source: Duo Dickinson, Architect at Large
In River & Shore’s Coastal Homes: On the Indian River
In The New Haven Register: Aesthetically inconvenient Mudd Library faces death sentence
In Connecticut Magazine: Elements of Surprise
In The New Haven Register: Real Icons Aplenty in New Haven
In The Mercurial: Erosion Revelation
In Architecture Boston: Post-Modernism and Intelligent Design
In Design Bureau: Steve & Frank
Archive: Real Life Survival Guide
On Common Ground with Annette Ross: She asked “Where is Architecture?”, I answered
On HGTV: Mercedes Home Diaries Password: mercedes
On Home Page, Binnie Klein & I debut our new radio show. Listen here!
On A Miniature World, Binnie Klein & I discuss springtime striving, mislaid spirituality & the folly of architectural terms. Listen here!
I am not good at not doing things.
Since I have never seen the merit in drugs or drinking alone, that means doing things has been my go-to addiction. You would think activity would lobby for body mass stasis: but for us in the BMI Danger Zone, anything and everything mitigates for Mass Creep: Except exercising more and eating less (or at least fewer calories.)
So when I have the week of a double Red Eye here, all day drive to 8 sites/clients there, round out by 17 meetings and a couple of thousand words to write you would think it would be easy to simply eat as needed, exercise as possible and maintain: Not True.
The stress of stress makes my mouth exercise compensate for the the times when the source of stress and its special exhaustion friend, eating, do a dance with a recumbent bike frozen in rejection to layer lard upon lard.
Oh, I know stress makes your body horde calories in fight-or-flight prep, I know that any day I do not work out is a day I can gain more weight. But my entire 3 score years and 8 months have seen me swim in stress since I was born: first inflicted by my parents, then handed off to myself in later life.
Its not the stress, stupid: its that stress simulates actual physical exhaustion: when all I have done is simply gnarled out, not worked out. Anxiety does not have a high calorie burn rate, or leave behind muscle mass that banks a fire of calories that burn in a happy glow when I am not exercising.
Stress and its fatigue is the Trojan Horse of legitimizing inactivity and eating crap in the convenient confusion of its fatigue without the legit exhaustion of actual exertion – and it bloats my bod.
Life is often just seeing the difference between what you want to matter and what actually matters. I have to get things done: its my psychological skeleton, both in the closet and out in the world – but when I simply want to ignore not exercising and eating a bit of this or that when the reality of overload must be served I lie yo myself. Again.
It takes Missional Devotional to do more than the minimum. Whether its filling a hole of pathetic need or going the right thing, running to things that must be done has been the way I breath. Unfortunately its also the way I eat like a pig.
Perspective may be in shorter supply that people you can vote for, but absent it, I get fat(ter). Its hard to have a metronome of common sense when you are dancing as fast as you can.
Meter is, for me, harder to find than melody. My sons tell me I sing too loudly, which, given my abilities compounds the impact of said abilities.
But sometimes perspective is just in the mirror.
Actually it always is, one way or another.
Today a person pulled me out of the (unending) line at Starbucks to ask, “Are you Duo?” I, being near face-blind, was clueless as to who my inquisitor was, but stumbled “yes” – she blurted “you looked at our house 10 years ago!” (in a town 40 miles away.) They never built anything, but I went to their home, and simply listened and offered advice: human-to-human. I saw her upon referral from a woman I had built a house for, who was referred to me by another person.
Before that I awoke this morning to a note from a client enmeshed in an excruciatingly slow to finish project: “We love (more than love, whatever that might be) the house you created for us..”
Yesterday, Saturday, when most homeowners are available, I initiated the 5th project over 20 years for clients on the same house, and saw clients referred to me by other clients, then a family I had not seen in 12 years called me back for another go at their house – we laughed and chortled as if it was the last site meeting – despite a decade of complete radio silence (they, in turn, were referred to me by another human.)
NEWSFLASH TO ARCHITECTS: Humans are the reason architects architect.
But that is not the model architects yearn and are trained to value: the dream process is that the humans should want the architect, not the other way around.
Architects want to be wanted for Objective reasons: but almost everything that composes the design/build process is predicated on the exquisitely Subjective realities of a completely human reality: building a building. Ants design nests by hardwired instinct. Birds nest to lay eggs. Only humans want to love what they build. That includes the humans who use the thing built: not just the humans who happen to be the designers of the built.
But that is a messy business – opening up and embracing the users all up in our business. Architects are portrayed as thinking humans do not share an architect’s perspective, right? Well I do not share a doctor’s perspective until that doctor shares the facts, reasons and intuitions of the diagnosis. But thats a messy process. It would be so much easier to design something and have somebody buy it. Thats not a messy business – knowing the buyer is unnecessary if you are selling an object.
But in building, the buyers are necessary to create whats bought. Whether its architectural services or potatoes the user almost always pays. If you treat the buyer as a dupe to be sold, the humanity leaves the transaction. If the buyer is not so much in a check out line at Starbucks to buy your creative swag, but is sitting at the table sharing offerings all around the results feed off subjectivity to simultaneously reflect beauty and humanity.
The architectural press is filled to overflowing with the naming of names – of architects. The ads for this year’s AIA Convention are stark photo portraits: of stars – Kevin Bacon (who is playing music), Kevin Spacey (who is putting meat in the seats) and Rem Koolhaas (starchitect). Humans are presented as image to be desired, not as part of a messy process.
Has an actual client ever been used in an AIA ad campaign? Maybe, but not in my near face-blind memory.
Its easier to be clean, to blame the unbuilt on irrational, ignorant, stupid humans – just like the outcomes of government, religion or any “messy” process. The fantasy of money being dropped onto genius, with no human intermediaries save perhaps a design competition jury has a tinier potential for architects than me playing linebacker for the Giants.
Its not zero, as I have played linebacker. In high school. 43 years ago. Building a building without clients being part of the design process also happens. For maybe a hundred competitions a year. Out of the hundreds of thousands of buildings designed. With the winners selected from a pool of a few hundred starchitects out of the several hundred thousand active designers in the world.
But I still want, desperately, to play linebacker for the Giants.
Because I am human.
In the August of 1969 a boy 14 and his brother, 19, moved into an empty house at 70 North Pearl Street, in the Allentown section of downtown Buffalo, New York. It was a 3 story Mansard-roofed early Victorian town house, with a driveway, a backyard, and its stout brick walls and round-top windows were in good repair – however the roof’s built-in “Yankee Gutters” were in full failure mode with rot taking full advantage of the sodden eaves.
In 1969 Buffalo was in full “White Flight” cascade. The middle class who populated the non-posh parts of the city were dead running away from the city via the new national highway system to suburbs north, south and east (only Lake Erie held back the suburban-seeking hordes escaping “urban renewal”.) Nationwide demographic flows had brought many people up from southerly climes into the city’s 1950’s housing projects, and those highways pointed the way out for a white population rapidly becoming outnumbered by people that did not look like them.
The first rounds of industrial abandonment were also in the air. A city born of lake and canal transit, then sustained by rail, was falling victim to the large order Rust Belt Realities that there were cheaper places to forge steel and make cars. The city had come close to a million occupants at the turn of the century, it was just a tick over 500,000 in 1969.
Almost no one wanted “in” when the stakeholders in the city were fleeing “out”. So the home we bought was dirt cheap. My dim memory was the purchase of our new/old home was somehow financed by the sale of a “vacation” home on Candlewood Lake in Connecticut that was purchased as a sweet heart deal from one of my father’s clients (then doubled in size at my mother’s design).
The ability to dabble in real estate came courtesy of the Mid Century Ivy white male system that rewarded WASP ability and drive with unquestioned status and money – my parents were of that era, though my dad was the first in his family to go to college, let alone law school. But ecstatic realities of Jazz, alcohol and disposable income before World War 2 were supplanted post war by suburbia, kids, and the desperate use of alcohol as a hopeful trigger of old joys, – that now seemed forever missing from my parents’ lives. My family was feeling the final implications of a post war reality – just like Buffalo – unchartered territory for both.
What remained in our family real estate portfolio was the relatively large home in Westchester County. When the idea of a flat-roofed addition was rejected as proffered by an ultimately unpaid architect, a better venue for my father’s income as a lawyer was deemed to be the “second home” in Aqua Vista, on the Lake the sale of which ultimately leveraged the expansion of family venue to Buffalo.
The house in Buffalo was a classic 1870’s noble remnant – its front porch long ago stripped from its brick box. The home had not been touched since the 1930’s, a faint dust of oil soot permanently hung in the air from its huge forced air heating plant’s many leaky connections.
No furniture was there for the new occupants save a table and chairs, mattresses and a dresser or two. No drapes, no carpets, no art on the walls save the 19 year old’s Playboy pin-ups. There were bare bulb center-ceiling lights in the bedrooms, and a couple of lamps. Personal belongings were either brought up in a packed Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser, or bought at Sears up Main Street.
My brother, the 19 year old, and my 14 year old self had no clue why we were there, or what it ultimately meant. As usual we were in the wake of a marriage coping with dire issues with flailing activity in lieu of thought, self-awareness or a perspective beyond getting through the next day until 5pm could beg questions with scotch.
As a building this sad but regal place was a perfectly blank slate for my mother to devote the next few years as Decorator (or as she adamantly preferred “Designer”.) Ultimately recreated as a 2 family with new kitchen, bathrooms, heating plant and resurfaced surfaces, what my brother and I moved into was 2 bedrooms on the second floor, a classic 1930’s master bath and the old kitchen in the rear wing, complete with free-standing metal cabinets with linoleum countertops and a single center light fixture – and the aforementioned table.
It was camping out. I faintly remember going to a laundromat the first year, and a dishwasher was not even a thought. The fun of a camp-out was not a thought either as my father was not on board with our insinuation and my and my Buffalo State College-attending brother’s relocation, but the die was cast.
Previous to this move I had attended a tiny private day school from kindergarten through 8th grade. It had 2 classes to a room. I had elevated to be the Big Guppy in a vernal pool of private education. I was going to another very small school that had been attended by my cousin a decade earlier. My aunt was living at the other end of Allentown, and my grandmother was a ways north – but the plan was to split residency every six weeks with my mother returning to the home she had spent 15 years renovating in Westchester – from which my father continued to commute to Wall Street Law from.
The scenario was a challenge for a cloistered 14 year old, but in full ignorance I upgraded difficult into freakish terror as I desperately wanted to play football. I now know that innocently insane desire would have been easier had the school been larger with a subgroup of freshman who could share incompetence away from upperclassmen, or if the program was worse: but it was a tiny team whose core performers were scholarship athletes from the inner city – most living a few blocks east of our new/old home – the other side of the Great Wall of Main Street that separated white from black.
I had never done any organized athletics of any kind and was thrown immediately into summer 3 hour practices with athletes who had played for years – many were 18 to my newly minted 14. When I arrived to the empty house, I thought I knew what was coming, so in the week before practice began I pathetically ran “laps” inside the empty home – a ridiculous hidden simulation of athletic activity as proven by the complete humiliation I experienced once practices began.
Summer football hurts more for everyone involved than the fall version – even experienced bodies are softer after 9 months without contact, and after initial soreness the contact comes to toughen the skin, inuring it to the shock of tissue trauma. When no part of a body has ever been exerted to exhaustion, or has been hit to hematoma or bloodied by violence, its tenderness is uniquely traumatized. After a few days I was a broken mess.
Knowing nothing except desire, I was the perfect punching bag for those who had become men and had muscle mass. I was a sad bag of fat, moving only slightly faster than the static blocking dummies trashed by the angry young men of the Park School Pioneer Football team that was on its way to another undefeated tiny private school league championship season.
That long term record of success, helping ghetto kids getting to college came from an intensely focused, funny and devoted coach who made all of us ashamed of any indifference: going at it full bore was the way he had created extreme success in a minuscule school, and it was the ethic of a team that was undefeated in league play most years. Work meant full contact practices as soon as everyone knew the plays. It was 1969 – so there weren’t that many plays: hitting happened early and often. No water was to be had, but salt pills were a plenty. Breaks did not happen. I had instantly gone from a 24/7 resting state to extreme physical expression and impact.
The results were devastating to a body new to 14 years and late to puberty.
After daily deep bruising, bloodied nose and ego, the 45 minute bus ride home from the suburban school with the scholarship kids was an aching respite. Getting off the bus felt like I was walking with broken pieces and shredded tissue, hobbling home meant I just focused on the next set of steps, as beyond that was not possible in the moment.
Upon arrival I immediately went to the time-frozen 1935 master bath: its curled black linoleum floor and wainscoting and hot pink porcelain fixtures with chromed highlights in happy remembrance of pre-war glory – much like my parents’s displaced perspective.
In those early weeks post-practice meant I filled the very pink tub with extremely hot water – and I slipped in, the initial shock and pain upon the light scalding gave way to relief from some of the stiffness.
When the water cooled enough where its therapeutic effect was gone, I pulled my still puffy, but now multicolored, body out of the pinkness to another 1960’s state-of-the-art athletic training mechanism: Absorbine Junior. It was liniment with a foam cap dispenser – 90% alcohol, the rest smell. I am not sure what it did except to make every new breech in my skin scream in even greater pain. Being fat and tender those breeches included the “Crotch Rot” that had violently emerged, – logically enough in my crotch.
That extreme pain focused me away from the reality of living in an empty house in Buffalo – especially when my mother absented herself to return to my father in Westchester in late September. Her first 6 or 7 hour car ride back, alone, must have been a new experience for her.
What was she leaving? What was she going to?
In a few years my crotch rot was gone, muscles replaced most of the fat, and that hot pink fixtured bathroom was fully transformed.
We had both survived.