Skip to content

GROWING – at Home

May 23, 2017



Whether inside or out, the outside has come into our lives and where we live.

There are people devoted to growing things: making beauty with plants, landscape, climate and the culture that results becomes rich and rewarding when expertise is part of the garden. This show has 3 extraordinary visionaries of the growing world – their insights enrich any plant choice, garden creation or site perspective.

Balancing weather, sustainability, resilience and the love of growing things can be quite daunting, and these experts have fertilized literally thousands of scenarios for every budget, type of site and client idiosyncrasy – hearing their perspectives and anecdotes can take any planting obsession and add joy to the risk/reward scenario of growing things in New England.

We led off with garden designer Lucy Van Liew who owns her own garden design firm. She has a direct link to English gardens and gardening and in 15 years has become used to marrying gardening aspirations with reality. She divides her time between Connecticut, London and her family home in Essex UK where the lessons are well learned in how gardens develop and change over time. She is a plantaholic who is fascinated by both the history and future of gardens and how they reflect changes in society and technology.

Next was a Landscape Designer, who has had a 30 year career – Anne Christie talked about the New England growing experience, especially in coastal and tough site conditions, and her special perspective on naturalizing and design. Christie trained at Temple University and she had a grandmother who was a landscape architect and a father who was an architect, Anne grew up with a deep appreciation for both. She works on homes, institutions and in full integration wit Sustainability.

Lastly we talked to Nancy DuBrule-Clemente, a passionate garden creator and advocate who created Natureworks Nancy DuBrule-Clemente is the owner of Natureworks Horticultural Services, an organic garden center, landscape design, consultation, installation and maintenance service in Northford, Ct. started in 1983. Nancy has a degree in floriculture from UCONN. She has dedicated her life to the challenge of being fully organic, indigenous and expressive.


May 22, 2017

Meaning comes in many forms.

Winning and losing has meaning.

In an era of metrics, ratings have meanings because winning and losing happen faster, more often with more media megaphones. An old white male does bad things with women and “LOSER” happens. Then there’s Bill O’Reilly, then Roger Ailes…

And Leader Trump goes on, O’Reilly is exiled, and Ailes dies. Ailes death even had post mortem articles about his completely irredeemable reality, despite death.

The ratings were bad for them, but their Safe Space, Fox News seems to still be popular, even though they have vanished. But there is collateral reality. It is not necessarily a zero sum game. In the physics of cable TV, MSNBC is the antimatter to the Fox News matter of ratings champ. Usually as strident, as focused, with more interesting screamers, MSNBC is the Alternave Universe of Ailes.

The colisions and human demise of Fox has meant the Holy Grails of MSNBC, the Rachel Maddow and Morning Joe shows are soaring. Ratings ecstasy. They might think that finally more of the tiny percentage of TV watchers who tune in (versus the hugely benign time dump of the non-political fora) see Reality, but popularity is not exclusive.

We all live by ratings. How we are perceived means a lot to us. There are new mirrors: each “Like”, “Share”, or “Hit” is recorded and public. In this world more love from those usually means more money, but assuredly more attention.

But it often does not work, but silently so. No one thought Leader Trump had the ratings to win, he did, and now is the focus with record low ratings…

There are things that, despite the noise, mean more than ratings. The Constitution has been so unpopular that it has had thousands of court cases and dozens of Amendments proving it’s imperfection. But it’s more popular than Fox, MSNBC or Trump. Well at least more powerful.

Despite the noise, the deafening flaming, the quiet truth rises above ratings. Nixon was re-elected with extreme ratings in 1972. But Nixon’s desperation for power was a greater truth than ratings.

The comfort of hearing what agrees with you means Architecture tunes in Modernism, Music listens to Pop, and we eat salty, fatty fare with gusto. Now our Leader reflects the intense anxieties of those so ill-served by the megaphones who presumed him to have the popularity he has now. But at the time of the election, he was more popular – in the right places – than the alternative.

Just like Maddow, today.

Maybe there are more meaningful things than pop music, a Quarter Pounder or Roger Ailes – but it’s hard to know because we the noise of ratings can make us deaf to what ultimately proves to be reality.

And, in truth, reality creates ratings. Hype and new and anger also create ratings, but when time passes, the truth becomes inevitable.

New Place, Old Need

May 14, 2017


I visited Grace Church in New Canaan. It was with AIA Connecticut. It was a celebration of architecture. It was disturbing because it was perfectly us: the noble, the hypocritical, the beautiful, the failed. It tries as hard as any building I have ever seen to be Universal. To embrace Connection, Spirituality, Hope, Openness. It was based on 5 Principals. It was designed by Asian Artist-Architects, it was built by a world class builder who owns Katharine Hepburn’s home, and the local architect is a huge NYC firm trying its best to make the construction disappear to let these abstractions be overwhelming.

But it was more than sculpture in the landscape.

Its more than High Modern expression:

It intends to be a “community place”

It intends to be a place of connection: between people thru the building

The connection is between the viewer directly to the 30 acre rolling hillscape:


The stated goal is “anyone” “anytime” can come:


But, there was a guarded gate. My driver’s license was necessary to enter. It was having its gutters, yankee gutters, cleaned:


Its structure was so simple some of the columns were solid steel:


It is Perfectly Green but has glass that was made in 3 factories, sequentially all over the globe:


Long span beams had to be shipped via the Panama Canal from Washington State, because, well, local lumber did not look right and was too long to fit on the roads:


It has terrible thermal efficiency – but 59 Geothermal Wells. It has a glued white gravel skirt to form a nice edge to the grass. It cost $75,000,000. At least.

Just like cathedrals and Meeting Houses this place embodied a love and fear of God in a man-built expression: often using a huge portion beyond what it took its builders to survive, Grace is as hard a thing to be Perfect as any church: its white in a muddy/green landscape. Its curves are formed in a construction system that makes its essence very expensive. It has no breaks in shape, it flows on the hills: again making cost a huge dump of value;

Unlike the Meeting House – also a place of community, Grace Farms is a powerful ooze of frozen flow: it may frame, but it leaves nature in the echo of its powerful attempt to capture movement and choreograph humans to its wake.

It is in a land that is losing church attendance. Worshippers are leaving religion. This is the new religion. “Grace”. but it is not an unmerited gift. One family earned hundreds of millions of dollars and wanted to give something greater than themselves to something greater than themselves. Just like those who built the cathedrals. I call that God.

Do they?

The End of the World As We Knew It

May 13, 2017

Slide00410 years ago: remember? 2007 saw an extreme manic state in the American economy. The house market was exploding – household wealth was at an all time high over $65,000. Wealth was keyed to the growth in value of our homes – over $265,000 for the first time in 2007. It was unlike any time in economic history.

Architecture loses all perspective in economic ebbs and flows. During boom times everything for architects (at every gathering) is “GREAT!” In bust times architects find few saving graces – but this last decade has seen a seeming permanent shift to reduced employment, building rate and expectations.

Remember that the late 1990’s had seen the “Tech Bubble” burst: new internet and cyber technology ventures simply failed to generate money, so public offerings and venture capital went bankrupt. Before that it was a gas crisis. Before that it was a Savings and Loan Crisis. There was a stock market crash in 1987. Before that it was another gas crisis. Specific parts of the typical series of boom-busts had parts of architecture expand and contract: regionally, by building type or just in relevance.

In one of those crises, an architect wrote the CTAIA and noted “Designing homes is a nice stepping stone until real work comes along.” Not quite “location, location, location” in terms of architectural anecdotes, but it accurately describes how 90% of the practice of architecture views the house market: high on pandering style marketers, low on relevance and innovation for the average housing consumer.

There has always been a free market rollercoaster that architects responded to, but in 2007 house architects were at the heart of a juggernaut: unprecedented growth in home building overcame the usual ebb and flows of supply and demand.

Everybody was getting rich, because a common good – the buildings we lived in – were part of a government-promoted, bank-fired effort at universal home ownership. You could buy a wreck, add paint and pansies and make 5 figures in 6 months. Even though residential architects designed a tiny percentage of new and renovated homes, self-declared residential architecture firms almost doubled as a percentage of the American profession: trending to 20% of all firms, up from around 10%.

Slide 1

I had designed homes for over 25 years, through all those ups and downs. I warned against the insane rise in construction and land costs, the irrational exuberance in house pricing, but had work, and talked to many professional groups and wrote about value, rather than trends.

For house architects 2007 was the best of times. 3,000,000 new homes a year, a decade or more of housing leading the U.S. economy through that Tech Bubble collapse. Home values outstripped the Stock Market as a wealth engine for middle class incomes. Home ownership reached 69% of adults – a worldwide record.

Hanley Wood had created Residential Architect magazine, This Old House was in new popularity, a new effort Inspired Home was launched by Taunton, along with a PBS series and web multiplatform intent with John Connell as the face. Special features in professional magazines and newspapers on Home Design went far beyond Record Houses or the Home Section (I was in both).

Harvard’s GSD’s Professional Program has had a “house” course created by Jeremiah Eck taught to professionals every year for nearly 30. I often talked there in boom and bust. In the first years of the 21st century attendance grew, price tags were hiked – more fees, staff, availability made for optimism – record attendance.

Residential Architect magazine launched a national conference, Reinvention, that was celebratory and very well attended. “Home Shows” exploded as did efforts at home plan services.

The AIA replaced the custom home side of its Housing Knowledge Community with a brand new Custom Residential Architect Network was launched. The new Congress of Residential Architecture had 20 national chapters and was piggy-backing on Reinvention national gatherings. There were invigorated house-center program foci for AIA chapters in Minnesota, Boston, Texas, California and New Jersey – and others.


It was as if the world had come to value what I had dedicated 25 years of my life to building. I was skeptical –as I had lived through 3 recessions with no lay-offs or missed bills, but my $150 an hour fee was often seen as “cheap”.

Slide 5

Then the insane overvaluation of homes could not be sustained by the realities of worth. Demand was not legitimate if those debtors getting funds from lenders could not make the payments to validate inflated prices. Without greater than inflation value explosion, no one wanted the risk. When those over-leveraged saw the value of the homes slide far below their debt, demand was killed.

The “Housing Boom” became the “House Bubble”. And burst.

And tanked the world economy.

For the first time, a building type in one market: the U.S. home, cratered its economic viability and colapse the economic industry that had propped it up.

The AIA lost membership, Architect unemployment went to 14%. Many firms simply ceased to exist. Magazines, hit by the double whammy of the burst bubble and the Internet Revolution lost cutting edge paper in Dwell, Residential Architect, Home. No more Reinvention conferences by Hanley Wood.

Las Vegas and Phoenix went from boom to depression when it came to the house market. Michigan, California and Arizona had home ownership decline by over 20% after 2007. The stock market crashed, unemployment spiked, and many simply stopped looking to work. Spec building ground to a halt.

Average house size grew as only the rich were building. Mortgages became insanely hard to obtain, many architects, builders, building product companies simply disappeared in 2 years. I was losing jobs because my 10 year-old $150/hr. rate was “too expensive”. I always had work, but had more pro bono work and smaller projects – and a 2007 payroll. I had the projects, if not the billings, to never downsize. Product producing companies lost marketing budgets, so there were no speaking fees, often no conferences.

In the confused depression going to school seemed better and better as a safe place where cyber gamesmanship supplanted the unquestioned basis of building in the world of architecture.

But it is not “better” in this the post-burst bubble decade – there may be more work, NYC, San Francisco, Boston have or had booms. “Houzz” and the like is exploding. But the central belief that the best investment, the most dependable place to put money and debt was where you lived is lost.


Architects had been drunken in their preconceptions of worth and inevitability, and the hangover of doubt and self-reproach has been worsened by a decade where technology has continually eroded the job market for architects.

Architecture, as with many fine arts, surfs upon the money available to fund expression. The U.S. economy lost $14 trillion in economic activity from 2007 thru 2009.

The first 7 years of the 21st century offered a tsunami for us to surf upon. Architects wiped out in the flood.

Why did we do this to ourselves? Building is an elemental human act – literally akin to wearing clothes and eating. It’s easy to confuse desire and greed for value and worth.

No matter what economy, architects would be in transition to a new future as technology changes, but the crater left by extreme economic distortion has yet to return home design to “normalcy”. Common sense disappears in a bubble: even for our most basic of possessions – like homes.

The beauty of our houses is not wishful thinking: applying an architect’s vision, at any price point, should have obvious relevance to any housing consumer. But just like 2007 mortgages, when values are in conflict, everyone loses.


“Don’t Ask: Don’t Tell.”

April 30, 2017


First, I am not a homophobic apologist. But I do live by a way of that was hilariously flawed as a policy.

The “Don’t Ask: Don’t Tell.” fudge policy happened in 1994. No one wanted it. The Clinton Administration wanted to end gay discrimination in the military. The early 1990’s saw some that wanted to end any distinction from loving any consenting adult with any adult activity. The other side just wanted to keep things the same: traditional subordination of gay anything to a discouraged state.

It was disaster for both.

People are everywhere, all people. In places where attraction to other humans have rules, the rules control all attraction. Well, evidence of attraction. But humans are attracted to do things: they want to celebrate or at least communicate. I do too.

But others are not so responsive. The Clinton Administration thought their supporters were right – anybody should be able to love anyone else and serve in the military. But then, more didn’t. It was a freak show.

The “Are you Kidding?” response derailed a new presidency. It was unequivocal – so were those, the majority of voices, that saw gay love as killing the people protecting us from getting us killed. It was wrong but acceptance of homosexuality was politically untenable. Something has to change.

Fearing love is wrong.

So the Via Media – “the Middle Way” was invented by the Clinton Administration. “Don’t Ask: Don’t Tell.” codified what mostly happened: those loving the same gender were not asked about preference in recruitment, but were told not to be honest about who they loved in public. It was ignorance supported by denial.

It worked for 15 years until enough of the ancient fears went away. “Don’t Ask: Don’t Tell.” ended – as a policy. But the idea of “Don’t Ask: Don’t Tell.” is, to me just a stupid policy distorting a great idea.

“Don’t Ask: Don’t Tell.” has a deep appeal to me – for myself. No, not about anybody else: any judgement of the 1994 attempt is laughable overreach. But in the world of over sharing, there is beauty in “Don’t Ask: Don’t Tell.”

Politics, religion, social media, this blog a trades on exposure. The New World of Media feeds and grows on judgements. Over a 20 hour period I was judged to be a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects in Orlando, then I gave an animated talk before 400 gathered in New York City in the Fellow robes and medal.

I tell.

And I do ask things. But never the “Gotcha” of indictable acts. I do not “Tell” to say “Do This”.

I never assume broadcast interest. I write and people click in to read. I use social media not to say “DO THIS” but just to say what I do. It’s a classic good to me: connecting to those who want to, but not accusing those who are not interested, or simply do not believe what I believe.

Being a Christian, many I know live publicly declaring your necessity for believing as they do. Airing of grievances is not just about what you may agree, it’s meant to make sure you believe too. The world has now unfettered, ever present, loud insistence of any ethic: now – believe or you are a bad person.

Hard judgement, prescriptive indictment, exclusive truth is killing faith. In anything. The louder the anger, the more you are at fault. If you are not interested, you should be. If you you do not care about Me: You Should. It’s not just the obsession of the speaking it’s a sentence that if that speaker is not you: if you are not where the speaker is, you are at fault.

If you do not care about the revealed cause, you are reprehensible, but there is redemption: Agreement.

Everyone believes in some things – but more are saying that if you don’t you are wrong. You need to care, or something is wrong with you. You need to agree, or you are flawed.

I love connecting. sharing is not a one way prescription: I share to give – not to prescribe or even assume interest.

Interest, belief, faith is just human – each human. There is exquisite beauty in the open love of the singularity we each are. Religion or politics makes that beauty social – but it’s a mortal buzzkill if it mandates beauty. In the end no one cares about your salvation because it tells them they should.

So begging for prayers or support is at once compelling and assumption. But the world is connecting and supporting guilt over indifference as never before – it’s crushing.

Politics is crushing, religion is being crushed. But what has meaning cannot be changed by imposing on those who simply don’t care.

“Don’t Ask,: Don’t Tell.” as an attitude (not a policy fudge) avoids the guilt and ego bloat of self-righteousness. It is a basic human faith that if there is interest that there is openness – not that you Should Be Interested. It affirms the simple power of each of us: nobody is better than everyone else – but everyone is different.

So I write for those who tune in. Design for those who need me. Broadcast when someone asks. Speak to those who know I am speaking. But I never, ever, assume you should care, let alone agree or share.

If you or I don’t care, don’t ask. I do not care enough to tell anyone anything unless they are there to hear. I do not think a superiority compels my asking or telling anything to anyone who does not care.

“Don’t Ask: Don’t Tell.”

Decoration Is Not Enough

April 25, 2017


A great 55 minutes of radio NOW a Podcast: LISTEN

We want where we live to be ours. We want our homes to reflect us, There are over 70 million free-standing homes, but very few of them were built by those who live in them, and no apartment, condo or co-op was built with anyone in mind. So we Decorate: color, furniture, lighting, carpets – our stuff: us.

But there is an ethic in design, one where the making is itself an art experience: where the way of creating, building, experiencing a home is richly evolved. It’s ornament, it’s craft, it’s architecture: Its origin, it’s meaning and it’s design is not to create a surface of frozen time – here, design is used and has beauty in its essential utility in use and function.

Three of the most accomplished, skillful and engaging design/architecture/artist creators in the world are with HOME PAGE this week. In studios is Yale-trained architect Louis Mackall – for 50 years his unbridled creativity was in everything he did – but he managed to also create Breakfast Woodworks with Ken Field about 40 years ago although Breakfast has new owners the founders still work on site – the work is incredible, award winning, in every environment and in many regions.

A special treat this week is an interview with sculptor, artist, craftsman Kent Bloomer – he trained at Yale and never left the area: teaching at the school for two generations. He may be the greatest definer and builder of architectural ornament in the world: In fact, he is. Bloomer’s book with co-author Charlie Moore, “Body, Memory, Architecture” is required reading . His insights into why we decorate, why ornament is an extreme leap to the universal, the intimate, the alive is both compelling and fascinating.

Lastly, architect Barry Svigals is also Yale trained in architecture school. He started his own firm a generation ago and his work exploded to have a huge impact on everyone who uses them. His work can be seen in schools, apartment buildings, institutions, but completely in his art: the exquisite, evocative personal expression they embody goes beyond embellishment to inspire the entire building composed under Barry’s hand. His most famed project is the just-completed Newtown Elementary School, where healing and hope found their essential beauty in Svigal’s ethic.



April 24, 2017

198956_10150431310185363_5952396_n What is permanent?

We want forever.

But we are temporary.

We create forevers: architecture, politics, religion. We are devoted, often completely, to things that humans, really ourselves, have created. It would be as if having honey, bees then live their entire purpose into its creation and preservation.

Wait: They Do.

But we are not bees. I, you, know we will die. I knew this before, once again, the machine I was born into, failed, as inevitable, 5 weeks ago today

There is a primal fear and flight from the tangibly inadequate. There are excuses: it was a bad winter so not much pollen so not much honey – or – how does a bee control a bear? – or – if I fly to more flowers and bring home more pollen, we have a better forever.

But we are not bees.

In the belly of “Saving Lives”, a hospital (or if you are in the Yale orbit “The Hospital”) they (scores of the highly trained) devoted a lot of time to forever, in me. It turns out they simply forced me to let me heal me (this is not a small thing). I knew then, I know now, that this extends – but, is, truth be told, not saving.

My body, your body, can not be forever. It is not “saved” like dead figs – it’s known, loved and inspirational. But it becomes inert. The spark of thought, movement, feeling simply clicks off like a diode. It ends.

In babydom the next minute is eternity: it is forever. Those measures of focus become shorter, and maybe larger. Career, connection, extension, enrichment all take the machine and use it to be, well, more.

But nothing is “saved” in this machine – just in the hive of all the rest of us, it’s meant that we have time to live beyond this machine, and make more with others, those that go beyond me.

The “more” we do can be saved, if remembered. It can be a warning of what is wrong and foolish, or that what we do can be better. Religion has become, for many, the opposite of more: it is them, or before, or a joke. But religion was made because then it was more.

More is only possible in the saving of the now. Those scores looking and millions of data points on me last month wanted what happened: I am here. The millions that made places, music, words, rituals, connection wanted a now too.

They wanted now because they saw that in touching something beyond them, but something they all knew, it could be more. Now what they did separates many, maybe most, from something beyond themselves. Now the me is becoming the central focus of more and more of us.

We know the me is temporary: we now, now, the moments become just memories – but the meaning of moments can be strong enough to take the unnecessary part of the machine and reveal it to be the essence of all of us.

We are not bees, but we have a mission. We may have thought it to be to build cathedrals, cure cancer, liberate the oppressed: and it is: but all that pollen and its honey just helps make things more.

If we forget that me is not all there is to more, if here, now, is not saved, even our machines are never, finally saved – we miss the fact that there is a huge place of belief and faith and devotion in each of us.

I call it God, it’s there for me – I still do everything for more, now: every thing. But I know that I will be gone, but I am part of more. You are too.