What is faith?
For those who are very proud of the absence of faith in anything other than facts, faith is a desirable implication of combined data points: if you are having a picnic you have faith in the “Partly Cloudy” forecast on Weather.Com but are not-so-faithful to the verity of The Farmer’s Almanac.
For those who are faithful in the absence of data points faith tends to be what is hoped to be true because you want whatever that unknown is to happen: you want it to be “Partly Cloudy” for your picnic having read nothing – in a way recognizing your impotence in having any impact on the weather.
But Faith used to be a code word for religious belief – it still is: but it’s now tinged, in the northeast at least, with a snark of the unspoken understanding that faith equals ignorance (which is true) – but in this case willful ignorance of the gutlessly hopeful (or simply the stupid and lazy). ” Trust in the Lord” was an absolute bedrock of New England’s founding zealots, now their place on the planet is becoming toxic to any offered up belief beyond the here and now.
But humans seem to want more than the here and now.
Clearly the individual personal here and now makes its extension into flawed or glorious celebrity – but royalty filled that function for all but the last hundred or two years: until the Kardashians could become 21st century nobility – and hundreds of “reality TV” shows allow anuyone’s foibles to be glorified on screens great and small everywhere all the time.
But we always had the sense that Royalty or envy of your betters or simply hoping for better had a parallel foundation in a God that was, at the end, cosmically true and fair beyond our understanding in the here and now.
As the northeast runs away from churches and other houses of worship with its collective hair on fire it’s not just running to celebrity – it’s to the largest scale of controlled, staged, propped and promoted Faith: entertainment, but in the most religious way we are running to a large country on the globe of Entertainment: Sports.
Whether its running every Sunday morning, or taking children to sporting events/training sessions, or simply turning on the TV on the new Sabbath: the near Sacred “Weekend” has become a special place of expressing sports faith. It is a growing place for many where we can safely express Faith in something
I am on a train back from a Giants Game: they lost, in the last minute, after a game full of failures. But the tribal and deeply emotional transference of Hope and Faith into a group of hero athletes was beyond all realistic connection to that game being just a game.
90% of 80,000 attendees were in Giant Blue, most with names and numbers of their preferred Heroes – past and present.
Chants rose and fell.
Booze rendered many ecstatic in triumph or, alternatively, angrily despondent over the egregious shortcomings of referees, coaches, the opposing team, or even their heroes. Amid the 80,000 the smattering of Redskin Maroon (the opponent this afternoon) had the exact same trappings and expressions.
Even though these fans did not participate in any practice or game, the cost of admission allowed them to appropriate the Team into their own lives as they always said “We” in talking about the Giants (or if you were in maroon, the Redskins).
The wave of Faith was a sweeping hum and cacophony of love and hate that swept MetLife Stadium, so much so it was more a Cathedral that a Stadium to me. 10’s of thousands spend the entire day there ,eating next to their cars before and after the game, and millions upon millions spend the whole season of Sunday’s watching games on TV, now efforting 4 full games on this new version of Sabbath – from 9am till midnight.
We need faith, it seems: facts are not enough as they are not complete, even for the most knowledgable (we can measure gravity to the Nth degree- but that’s about as far as we have gone in understanding what it is – and it is the central force that propels every aspect of this time and place)
Like rabbi’s and monks, sports fans can completely control fixed databases of sports stats: there can be surety amid the Faith and Hope. And just as Piety goeth before a fall from Grace: the tragedies and exultations of sports have a life almost completely dissociated from the day-to-day (hence the Freakout when a few athletes started taking a posture on racial injustice).
I love football. In large measure it pry-barred my fears into hope, it let me do something hard, ultimately well – it was a love connection amid teammates I never had in family.
But it’s just a game.
Football is a tiny construct where its impact offers nothing meaningful for our culture, our health or even our aspirations. Football, for many (and most of those have never played the game on any level) lives more in the hopes and dreams of its fans than in any other aspect of its realities. Football, like music or the arts can channel and focus love and energy into action and deep enrichment: but those things never planted a crop, saved a life or kept a family housed.
Just like religion.
But religion has, at its heart, the belief that all of us are one equal gift of something we can never understand, but feel everyday. The problem has become that the pettiness and trivialities of sects, political spirituality and self-serving grotesqueries so easily understood between Giants Fans and Redskins Fans have become so present in religion, the opting out of the religious into the easier place of sports and entertainment became a one-for-one swap.
“I believe in Eli” said a slightly intoxicated fan on my train with a “fathead” of Eli Manning’s face hanging from his neck. Eli had just thrown an interception with one minute left in a game the Giants were losing by 2 points: Eli had just been crucified in this game: but this fan still believed in him: “I believe in Eli – no matter what my friends say about him.”
There is Faith in everyone’s life: but in what?
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The Great American Dream of Home Ownership is Changing: Rental housing is becoming a dominant force in many urban communities as it always has been in large cities: The reasons are many and growing: economic uncertainty, love of urban living, sustainability, location and freedom from responsibility. AND there is a unique double convergence of empty nesters and their children, the millenials. Join Duo Dickinson to explore the general and specific realities that make renting a growing trend for America’s housing consumers.
The influx of a dozen or more market rate rental projects in New Haven is dramatically changing its housing outlook. This trend in New Haven has been spurred on by 2 developers represented on the show – PIKE International and Becker + Becker.
We had guests that see the rental market from three distinct perspectives: Anita Buckmaster will be in studio with Duo is an ardent Historic Preservationist who has been a lifelong renter with her growing family. Bruce Becker, AIA, is an architect and president of Becker + Becker, http://www.beckerandbecker.com based in Fairfield, Connecticut. Becker changed the New Haven housing market by winning the competition to design a multipurpose project on the corner of Chapel & State Street in New Haven 360 State almost a decade ago. Fernando Pastor was a designer for Cesar Pelli and Barry Svigals. Pastor has his owned practice http://www.houzz.com/pro/fernandopastor/seednh and has executed many of Pike International’s http://www.pikeintl.com signature projects: describe the projects and the history and mission of Pike International as well has his independent practice that centers on renovation and housing.
I design for people, mostly homes.
That means when not attending events of children or friends, I work weekends, as thats when most others do not work. Not having a “weekend”, or even, typically, a day off is an unthinking reality for me, as any missional devotion is for the devotee.
So when yesterday happened – an arc of visitation starting an hour from home, then an hour north, and thence 3o minutes south thence 2 hours back home to visit four places and people it was one of a few thousand days over the last 38 years I have taken a trip to move the mission forward.
The trip was typical of the 21st century kind: unceasing communication via the internet at every stop sign, early moment or post meeting pause, an oatmeal cookie in the car to help focus, several prostate relief breaks – all over a 9 hour unremarkable day.
But the last meeting rendered the first two, and the rest of the day, and today, different.
The first meeting was with a family I worked with a dozen or more years ago, and now in full flower of child-infused life want to make their home theirs. I like almost everyone I work with, but these folk are special and it makes meetings happy coinciding lives, versus a job requirement.
Like untold other encounters we focused on the thoughts and evolutions in abstracted forms of model, drawings and hopes.
The next meeting was with friends of a 20 year client, in a place like mine, children gone, addressing the “next” years. And that meant their home “fit” their changing life in the next decade. Having never met them, I brought one of my books as a party favor, but, flatteringly enough they had that book and another.
A long lively conversation about them, me, designing, permitting, building, money, and their beautiful site
and problematic house happened as it has in thousands of other places, thoughtful, fun and funny. So fun I was 10 minutes late to the last meeting to see 2 sites with a person I had worked with for about 25 years on about 60 realized and unrealized projects- creating homes for those who cannot afford to have a place to live without support.
She and I have walked through perhaps 100 places together. Dumps, sweet relics, empty lots, churches, garages, tenements. In the nicest towns, sketchy neighborhoods and in the middle of nowhere.
This was different. Two places in a nice town, owned by the same family. What made them different was we had a window into their unique circumstance, and that perspective turned my eyes back to the previous day’s meetings, and the thousands that preceded it over the last 38 years.
These two homes were from the 19th century, hard by the 1990’s MetroNorth Train station. But unlike others my friend and I have seen we so often they were built as apartments.
Unlike so many others they were largely unrenovated/remuddled. Ever. A few apartments had had tenants in the 1980’s but they were largely time capsules. Museums by neglect. Bought by a family that collected places, and then seemingly warehoused them – unoccupied.
Small interventions over the last century were there – cut-in ducts, a bit of plastic pipe replacing lead, some dramatic cracking where wetness had made rot that allowed gravity to win against structure.
But these places were stark sentinels of the attempts humans make to create a place. To see time have its way with these noble, well built places was not tragic – they were still noble. But there had been no life in their harbor for 50, 60 years – it was the embodiment of another world left alone in its skin – mustily present in a frozen, slowly degrading state.
Our tour was lead by the son of the woman that bought these places 40 or more years ago – my entire 38 years of traveling to see places and people I had listed prior to this.
You might find tragedy in the sad, slow loss of vitality, usefulness, even potential structural viability – but these places were, and are, well-built – and not defiled by subsequent thoughtless wood butchery. Their elegance remained amid cracks, fallen plaster and some rot.
The failure to use them in any productive way, the fact that they have lain fallow for 2 generations out of the 6 or 7 in their existing held a mirror up to the motivations of my life.
I live to build things, mostly homes.
Part of me knows that an Ice Age will scrape everything away in a few dozen thousand years if fire, profit motive or the Zombie Apocalypse don’t come first. Everything I have spent a life working on could very well be rendered a memory. I also know I will die.
But the proud, engaged energy that created those buildings and then left them, frozen in abandonment, held a very clear mirror up to the net-net of much of the life of buildings.
We create these things for families, for institutions for beliefs, but we create them out of ourselves: humans – mortal, flawed, but hoping, knowing its worth the effort. That effort was the medium of my previous 2 meetings that day, and the thousands that preceded it.
But that effort was frozen in these two buildings – living dead in real time – not unearthed archeology of a dead human endeavor, but the living dead of unused, but perfectly untouched, existence. The folk that built these places cared to do more than the minimum. The owners paid for craft and material and structure that could last for 60 or 70 years without love our attention. The hands that laid the stone, milled the wood, joined the lumber, set the lath then lovingly applied all the finishes were alive in these silent husks.
Oh, all those folk are long dead. Except in these silent places.
The results of these devotional acts of building are not simple, let alone obvious. The results of what I do are not obvious beyond the buildings that result.
The results, and the reasons for building beyond the necessary – beyond the cave, the ant hill or hive, to build what is human into a construction is so poignant in these starkly ignored beauties that I came to a thought I was surprised to think, given the 38 year trip: visiting is necessary, but connection is the reason for this mission.
Work is necessary – applying skill and effort to make things better is the essence of humanity, but it is the connection to that essence that made these long frozen buildings completely alive in their dead state.
I get it.
Buildings exist in time and space. But buildings also exist in memory and hope. Buildings are uniquely made by humans so they embody all we are, were and want to be.
The righteous evocations of powerlessness, outrage, anger and loss that the endless Twin Towers images we see every 9/11 are natural. But sometimes imagery, intentionally or unintentially, says more than just just what the pictures convey.
The grandfather of the Yamasaki Twin Towers was Rockefeller Center: buildings, yes, but symbols of power in a time of cultural impotence and fear: The Great Depression. Rockefeller Center was a huge private effort when nothing was getting built that was not government funded. Rockefeller Center was also the architectural pry bar that ultimately opened up 6th Avenue to a marching band of Mid-Century Corporate Modernism as Giants McGaw Hill, Time-Warner and others spent the 50’s and 60’s creating a Brave New World of architectural corporatism, when power in blank immensity rendered humanity subserviant minions in the Effort of Profit working in Stacks of Money parading up The Avenue of the Americas.
The same sense that Money makes not only America but the the entire World go ’round migrated, naturally, down to Wall Street, where a corporate/government dance built the 2 tallest stacks of cash in the whole wide world – the World Trade Center.
They were both awkward and tacky buildings, as polyester in countenance as any powder blue suit in a disco. But they symbolized the faith in the Geatest Generation’s rise from the End of the World, not unlike Rockefeller Center – the Big Finish to the Avenue of the America’s Corporate Parade.
So when this happened a generation after they were built:
It was a human tragedy of the highest order. The attack was the worst kind of evidence of humanity’s potential for pure, unalloyed Evil. It was an instant Holocaust. It’s victims were not only innocent but completely unsuspecting. It was cowardice wrapped in insanity presented in mindless hatred.
But it was also a symbol of an end to other things completely unrelated to terrorism.
The convergence of this human event upon a human place is a visual pivot: not from mid-century Corporate Architecture of the blank tower to equally scaleless sculpitecture, or simply to the shiny polygonal corporate crystal of the Towers’ replacement.
The explosive destruction of icons of the 1970’s was not just about the point where steel loses what strength at what temperature, it was also the completely unintentional representation of the complete pivot the world was just taking in 2001.
Just after a Tech Bubble pop, the new Millennium saw cyber communication begin a generation of sweeping away paper. The Towers’ explosion and collapse was a terrifyingly perfect symbol of the impending catastrophic end of everything that built Rockefeller Center, the Avenue of America’s March of Skyscapers and those Twin Towers.
On Sept. 1oth, 2001 my office still drafted on Mylar, we had a Diazo machine to print – yes we had a CAD station, we communicated with email, but my last manuscript was delivered in paper, as well as a bunch of CD’s. But we all knew that our office’s central modalities of production were dead methods walking. The interns in my office were still taking professional exams at appointed times and places, Schools of architecture had isolated “computer labs” where CAD drawing was treated like dissecting a fetal pig.
The New York Times was a pre-eminent media empire in stacks and stacks of paper. Telephones still simply connected humans. We all knew there was new technology: we did not know it would completely explode almost every given in our lives.
We all knew the paper world was over on Selt. 10, 2001, but it was just a matter of time, but 15 years later I really do not know what the final result will be. Just like geopolitics after 9/11.
The world pivoted when two buildings and over 3000 innocents were murdered, but the timing of those tragedies was the unintended, but real, signature symbol a cultural pivot too. Paper has become a museum piece at Yale’s renovated book museum, the Beinecke.
On Sept 12, 2001 people still wrote letters, sent faxes, my employees manually drafted, I smelt ammonia in my office: but it, the world everyone had grown up in, gone to school in, and worked in was explosively changing, It would come crashing down, not with accommodations and mitigation, but in a violent break that still has undefined collateral damage.
I wish we knew how it will be rebuilt.
It is the last question: When? Our expiration dates are stamped somewhere we cannot see, and its mystery drives us to distraction or obsession until we reach it.
In talking to a person who visits those who know The Date is quite soon, she surprised me by saying that less than 10% die enraged over dying. Faith that this end is not The End helps, but most are just so sick and tired of being sick and tired that they have no anger at facing the prospect of becoming room temperature.
So it was with my father. He was an old 78 when he died. There was no chronic illness save smoking and drinking to great excess, no traumatic injury that caused a cascade to incapacity, incompetency and then loss of life. He had several illnesses in his last decade or two – some scary – but he survived them. He then retired, as his clients and partners reached their term limits as well, and went home with to be with my mother, who gave up the notion of leaving him, even serially, as she had for the 15 years before he died. https://savedbydesign.wordpress.com/2014/06/17/extremity/
They were a fully bonded couple, though often miserable when I knew them. Joyous drinking had been made desperate after World War 2. Children that were to be the fulfillment of their legacy were not what they expected, and there were yet to be grandchildren.
It was a quiet end for my Dad. He had stopped drinking and smoking by necessity – for the first time in 60 years. He could be surly, as usual, but not drinking meant the explosiveness and attenuation of outrage was simply not there. So a 6 month decline to a short hospital stay and a quiet end seemed merciful to me, as I had never known him to be happy.
Given our family’s circumstances, I was the executor upon his death, and was, at 32, fairly cautious in my insertion into becoming the counselor for many quick important decisions for my mother. But we all knew where he would be buried – Kensico Cemetery in Valhalla in Westchester, New York – a truly beautiful place.
We knew that because his mother was buried there. We had the 1911 literature, contract and defacto deed to the plot where he was to be set next to the Mom he never knew, as she died when my father was one years old. My parents visited the gravesite in the early 1950’s. We had photos of her cast concrete grave marker – a simple base upon which sat a broken Corinthian column – the symbol of a life ended before it reach full expression – Lucy Hill Dickinson was 27 when she died. She was the only one there, as his father (who buried her at Kensico) was buried in Queens, with his second, and ultimately third wives.
The “deed” clearly said there were 6 spaces- 3 doubled up places for caskets allowed for him, my mother and even the 3 children – pretty neat in its coincidental precision. So it was a surprise when the solemn face of the Cemetery Administrator greeted us 3 days before the funeral. “I am afraid I have some bad news” – in midst of our own unresolved sad state this was like a slap to the face in an otherwise easy slide into transition.
It turned out that the circumstances of Lucy’s death were thrown in our faces 76 years after it wrecked her husband Harry’s early life. Lucy was effectively a spinster at 25 when she met Harry. My grandfather Harry was, by all accounts, not a nice man. He had come to America from Newcastle, England in 1903 without an 8th grade education to play professional soccer, had blown out his knee by 1907 and was a bricklayer when they met. Lucy worked in the textile mills, and from the pictures we had of her she was not a beauty, but apparently they appealed enough to each other to get married.
Marriage meant children – and my father was born within a year or so of the their marriage, in 1909. Lucy died a year after my father was born. I know no details, but Lucy’s sisters in Toronto, who took care of my father after his mother’s death until Harry married his second wife 5 years after Lucy died, were fairly clear: Upon learning she was immediately pregnant again, by a man that was not a nice man, Lucy died having an abortion of their second child.
Kensico Century must have been a pretty distant place for a Brooklyn family in 1911 – as Westchester was essentially farms and summer homes for the rich. But the cemetery was right off the railroad line. Clearly Harry Dickinson wanted to exile his dead wife as far out of sight and mind as possible. The inexpensive cast grave marker was much the worse for wear, but was probably affordable for a bricklayer, especially given the circumstances. But it was more than that.
“I am afraid I have some bad news” was followed by a set of facts that were both sad and mean. Harry had buried the wife who died aborting his second child in the center position in the line of three coffin locations of the gravesite. If located properly, 6 spaces result from the 3 locations when the coffins are set 2 deep – a standard practice. But apparently Harry asked that the center coffin spot not be set at the lower position where 5 other coffins could be buried around and above it, but rather in the middle of the middle position, where no other coffin could be buried next to it, as its middle-middle position mandated disinterment (and disinterment was against contractually obligated cemetery policy).
After betraying his legacy, Harry meant to keep Lucy alone for eternity.
With the funeral a few days away for Harry’s son by her, we scrambled to find another plot within eyeshot of Lucy. At great cost there was an orphan site a hundred feet away from Lucy’s for 6 graves – 3 wide and 2 deep, just like hers. My father was buried low and to the side – allowing for the rest of his family.
But the final solution for my father’s final earthly repository was not reached by finding a burial site. My mother was an interior designer, I am an architect – hence the horrifically garish coffins offered up by the funeral home were both hideous and insanely expensive to us. I spotted a clean simple wood box in a separate room (pictured at the top of this piece) it was lovely in line, detail and material.
When I asked after it, the solemn mortician grimly replied “That is a casket for Orthodox Jews”: it had no metal fasteners, and was made of plain finished solid wood and had a Star of David carved into its underside and embroidered within its cloth interior – and was 1/3 the cost of the fugly alternatives.
Like his father, my father had some nasty aspects to his personality – one tough nut was his outlook on one part of humanity – he had been a reactionary anti-semite his entire life. https://savedbydesign.wordpress.com/2016/07/04/holocausts/ He had essentially wrecked my mother’s relationship with her best friend – because she happened to be Jewish, and made life tense with her sister who married a Jew and had converted to Judaism.
My mother and I both thought the meeting of aesthetics, cost and irony found in this final resting nest was irresistible. We opted for the Orthodox Jewish casket, and I opted for its match when my mother died about a decade later.
We repaired Lucy’s broken and failing tombstone and made a new one visible from it of durable granite, per my mother’s design. A simple base has the column shaft and capital laid upon it – set as if it had finally come to rest after being snapped off from its neighbor so long ago. There is room for my sisters there, but my wife and I had to have a clean break from the legacy of sadness and anger these graves try to resolve.
We will be in wood boxes as well, but 9in x 9in. -we will be cremains set within our church’s columbarium, bathed in music and memories as long as it stands, amid the redemptive Grace that escaped Harry and Lucy.
Although 30 million homes have been built since World War 2, twice as many were, and are, still among us. Most of us live in homes that are not antiques, but are also not of our era. How were these homes conceived? Making sense of the unknown past lives of our present homes with 3 extraordinary observers of historic domesticity.
Steve Culpepper joined Duo in studio and has been a Executive Editor at Taunton Press and editorial director at Globe Pequot Press. Besides publishing any number of books on homes, Culpepper personally created 2 books: “Where We Lived”and “Where We Worked” and has spent over a decade living in a 140 year old Court Street, New Haven home and runs Steven Culpepper Editorial Services, Ltd.
John Herzan called in – he is the Preservation Services Officer for the New Haven Preservation Trust http://nhpt.org/index.php/about_us/ and served as State & National Register Coordinator for the State Historic Preservation Office for 25 years . His extensive experience in helping those owning older structures cope with the trials and opportunities of managing antiquity make John’s insights invaluable to anyone dealing with the past lives of their home.
Christine Franck also called in – a designer, educator, and author. She currently serves as the first Director of the new Center for Advanced Research in Traditional Architecture (CARTA) at the University of Colorado Denver College of Architecture and Planning. Christine (http://www.christinefranck.com) is the 2016 recipient of the Clem Labine Award, in recognition of her advocacy of traditional design and building.