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Radio & Architecture

February 3, 2016

Radio is now artisanal. Once at the cutting edge of necessary information infrastructure, radio as become a pleasant nostalgic past time, like baseball (and to me, Baseball on the Radio is near Perfection). But in a place where cell phones and other hand held (or wrist-born) devices connect everyone to every thing all the time, radio has become quaint for most.

But it has its uses. Radio forces visualization in a world of selfies and 24/7 visual TMI. Listening is a skill on the decline, paralleling radio. Architecture as a verbally understood art form may be said to be in decline as well, as the selfie-seduction seems to be at the core of “cutting edge” design – sculptitecture needing no narrative, rationalization or context .

Words and Design have been linked for millennia. Born around the time of Jesus, Roman Thought Leader Vitruvius wrote his “Ten Books on Architecture” about aesthetics so potently that Renaissance design used his Classicist ramblings as the seminal point of conceptual inspiration.

1900 years later John Ruskin wrote “The Stones of Venice” and helped inspire the Arts and Crafts Movement, thus Art Nouveau and Art Deco evolutions. Vincent Scully wrote “The Shingle Style” and offered a conceptual break from Modernism as Canon in the 20th century: maybe even allowing architecture’s crib-killed bastard spawn Post-Modernism to briefly walk on earth. Robert Venturi and Denise Scott-Brown tugged he veil off Modernist Canon with “Learning From Las Vegas”, as did Tom Wolfe’s “From Bauhaus to Our House”.

Whether speaking to the choir as in Le Corbusier’s “Vers Une Architecture” or Frank Lloyd Wright’s “In the Cause of Architecture” or speaking to the Vast Unwashed like Sara Susanka’s “Not So Big…” Oprah-approved series, words and design, often house-centric, have both reflected the mind’s focus on building design, but also pushed it in directions that paralleled exhibits, publications and awards.

Except now.

Perhaps because “nobody is publishing books” (altho my 8th emerges next year), perhaps because the InterWebNets distract all thought from all paper, or most probably because words describing abstract sculpture cannot help but pale in efficacy to the gushing appeal of amorphous shapes, – words about design have ebbed.

Why write when you can look, 24/7/365 at every building built everywhere? If a picture is worth a thousand words a sculpture supplants any need for any vocabulary other than visual.

Into this pat fait accompli of academically and journalistically sanctified Architecture’s Settled Law of High Modern Sculptitecture, comes something fun. For me anyway. Architecture on the radio.


Listening. Just listening. Not written, not read, not held in had, not softly carressed by photo’s, let alone video – listening, just listening: to architecture. I had guested on several national NPR shows, and on Curtis B. Wayne’s Burning Down the House streaming internet radio show/podcast “Burning Down the House: Then a high school friend, Bruce Barber, former #1 shock jock in New England, wanted to do a radio show on the local NPR network with me: sometimes it gravitated to houses:

But sometimes to Architecture: (this is a walk-and-talk thru a mid-century Mod home that still delights:

That in turn led to a full on-experiment with New Haven’s alternate newspaper, The Independent: aesthetic topics in full-on ramble – sometimes awkward, often exhilating (to me, anyway):

Another local radio Legend, Binnie Klein of the alternative radio station of Connecticut, WPKN, enjoyed me being her guest, and we launched a monthly connection between our homes, our lives, our relationships and our values:

Creating a rich ensemble of topics and listener interactions:

Do these work? Listenership is tiny, but people do listen, call in the live shows, and comment on the archived/podcast sites: There is no PR, no pay, no benefit, really. Other than doing radio.

Radio is so archaic it harkens to mylar, clutch pencils and diazo-printing. It is exquisitely artisanal. It is hip, like vinyl records. It is also Low Mass Media. It forces the listener to Think: Visualize – not passive Look and Respond. It cannot be Porn like HOUZZ, because it demands thought, not simply passive visual titillation. What I do is not for the choir, like the ongoing San Francisco-based “Archispeak Podcast” : or the blog “Life of an Architect”

Radio takes words, a thing long missing in what long played a part in creating buildings beyond xerographic pandering and forces a listener to visualize. It pre-empts “archispeak”. In order for any inscrutable fine arts blather to work it needs to be draped oversomething you can see, like the Latin in a Catholic service needing icons to focus attention. Not so Radio.  Radio has to have wit, humor, metaphor or it simply puts you to sleep -which I imagine I do on air quite often for some listeners: but its worth trying.

Sometimes the requirement of thought: visualization in the mind is necessary for creativity. The clicks and hums of the computer are inherently mimetic: “cut and paste” is the baseline command. Radio forces the mind to create the image the words implore: its old school, but it is human – or what has been defined as human, until recently…


2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 4, 2016 9:29 am

    Why not? Humans of NY has changed the way we look at Humans: ³Doors” could do the same: a few sentences about their life and neighborhoodŠ.

    From: Jmgruendel Reply-To: Janice Gruendel Date: Thursday, February 4, 2016 at 9:17 AM To: Saved By Design , duo dickinson Subject: Radio & Architecture REPLYING 2,4.16

    I have had this dream of having kids living with economic adversity take a pick of the door to their home and the gate (if there is one) to their yard, with another pic just looking up their street. This reflects — for real — the world they see each day. And it would be so powerful. J Dr. Janice M. Gruendel Senior Fellow, Institute for Child Success Fellow, Zigler Center in Child Development & Social Policy,Yale University Founder/Principal, Gruendel & Associates, LLC 28 Juniper Point Branford, CT 06405 Home: 203-481-9940 Mobile: 203-824-4766 Email:

    From: Saved By Design To: Sent: Wednesday, February 3, 2016 6:31 PM Subject: [New post] Radio & Architecture Duo Dickinson posted: “Words and Design have been linked for millennia. Born around the time of Jesus, Roman Thought Leader Vitruvius wrote his “Ten Books on Architecture” about aesthetics so potently that Renaissance design used his Classicist ramblings as the seminal point of”


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