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The Burden of Good News

October 23, 2019

It’s easy to complain.

But you can only fail if you hope to win.

We all have set up a matrix of hope, perhaps another of expectation, even a third of necessities. Life never, ever, checks off all the boxes in all the lists. Whole hobbies – golf, fishing, watching the Jets play football, are oriented around disappointment. That is why alcohol is woven into their experience. Failure is a good reason to drink.

The humanity of failure is undeniable. In sports for every win, there is a loss. In every election there is a loser. In every stock trade you are either up or down. In every purchase you either get a good deal or end up ripped off.

In fact there is an entire “Bitch” industry on the Internet, offering clever reveals of failure, reveling in these failings short.

But sometimes, sometimes, things go as hoped, even unexpectedly.

We were terrified parents. We were ever aware we were one bad choice (ours or our sons’) away from pain. Of course a few bad things happened. Things never are what you would like in every circumstance, but our children are fully launched, without nightmare, tragedy, every, really, missteps. They are healthy. They press on into their 30’s and we can now only help.

We are healthy, too – as many we know are not, to the point of death.

But these grand mal fulfillment’s are the stuff of faith and gratitude, the trivial triumphs are the ones that social media turn into absurd celebration. No celebration here, but this last week has seen things happen, that fulfill hopes and work. It is hard to deal with them.

Part of me could chest pump and declare vindication over a year or three of just paying the bills, mostly, in my small business – but I really do not have more money, just a little more to show for the work that leaves every penny pinched.

In the last month my office was honored to sign on a few jobs that many sought after, a few more jobs were green lighted after we have worked years to get to a place where the project could actually pay the architect.

In this month I gave presentations and talks that were all (all) great good things to full houses, on diverse, original topics, and was filmed, recorded, published.

Of course in the same month I was fully rejected by potential clients, editors, competition judges, even Facebook Commentators about my work.

But last night we won the smallest recognition (“Honorable Mention”) in the smallest categories (“Small Spaces’) in a National Competition that has zillions of winners amid quadzillions of entrants. Of course our other two entries lost. But one out of three, even if they are bunts, gets you into The Hall of Fame.

In a life in its seven decade, with near 40 years of love in marriage, where a friend of 50 years spends the night in our house Friday, where my only health issue is that I am a bit fat and stiff from working out to be less fat (every day), it seems ridiculous to feel some kind of justification, or validation.

But part of me does.

Onto the next failure.

CHANGING HOME

October 22, 2019

PODCAST! https://soundcloud.com/wpkn895/home-page-radio-changing-home

Climate Change, Artificial Intelligence, The Trump Presidency: the end of the beginning of the 21stcentury is complicated. In the world of design and architecture there has been another, tiny, change amid all this extremity: how we are looking at the design of EVERYTHING.

People all have a home. Here in Connecticut those with freestanding homes define them –they think of “styles”: “Modern” or “Traditional” or even “cape” or “Split Level” – but those are choices, existing things, even existing “styles to design to. Only 5% of homes have any architect touch them, but every body who changes them thinks about design. 

With ALL of this Change, is the way we think of Design changing too? Everything we use, everything we make, everything we interact with has, in some way been designed: but especially where we live, those free-standing homes, apartments, mom’s basement.

How We See, How We Think, How We Design, How We Learn from our homes: Architects from California and Colorado and the Department Chair of the University of Hartford Architecture Department join HOME PAGE. Chris Andrews, Don Ruggles and Jim Fuller talk about the way things are changing..

Which Is It?

October 14, 2019

Is today Columbus Day or Indigenous Peoples Day?

Schools are closed. The banks are closed. No mail. My wife and I go to work.

Do we celebrate millions who immigrated here from Italy over a century ago or relegate a racist invader into disdain?

Which is it?

Today hundreds of people will die from smoking tobacco, legally, freely, taxed to make money for our common government.

Today more and more states will soon legalize sucking more smoke into their lungs, deeply, get tax money, and wait to see if marijuana kills us.

Today, little steam-making machines that people use to suck flavored steam into their lungs will be slowly illegalized, before we know it kills us, or we make any money off it.

Freedom to kill ourselves or protection from it?

Which is it?

In New England, perhaps half of us will never set foot in a church again. God is either a joke, a lie, or simply unknowable, so we go to Starbucks.

In the world almost everyone is reviled, saddened maybe even dispirited by watching Notre Dame Cathedral burn (a building humans built and will rebuild).

Is anything sacred, literally? Or is the loss of devotion tragic?

Which is it?

40% of us here love the incorrect anger, thuggish swagger and ego projection of our President.

45% of us here loath the incorrect anger, thuggish swagger and ego projection of our President.

Which is it?

Are we an accident of infinite time and mechanical permutation or are we a Divine Spark of Miraculous Existence?

Which is it?

McMansions, Ranchburgers, & Architecture

October 11, 2019

“Food, Shelter, and Clothing” – the human necessities. The essentials. It is not enough for us to grub, burrow and have fur. Humans somehow require cuisine, couture and architecture (in that order).

Why do we need more? I think it is because we disdain less.

My clothing is not couture, it is Land’s End or Nike. But my food will never be the peanut butter sandwich dinner or Quarter Pounder (with cheese!) it once was. I make or buy interesting things to eat. And we built our own place to live – 3 projects over 20 years. We want more than easy, we want to live our values in our necessities , not in the way we get away from them.

But food and architecture are mirrors. Unlike the racks at Nike or Land’s End, food and buildings are made in place. Once made they can be resold, but the basis of eating off a menu or making it from scratch is a common split in both gastronomy and construction – and that option is a not often acknowledged in the Real Estate Industry.

Fast Food is cheaper, quicker, has calories and is marketed into desire. Homes are “styled” by the Real Estate Industry to offer a branded lifestyle at a cost certain. But humans want more than Fast Food or Development Homes, they often simply think they can neither afford nor value more than either, But humans still want cuisine and architecture.

In 1973 my freshman design professor, John Shaw was a venerable, thoughtful, mentor to we, the ignorant. He was one of that era’s “Texas Rangers” who went to Cornell in the 1960’s from the University of Texas, along with Colin Rowe (not a Texan, but approaching legendary status.)

“You see architecture is not just Ranchburgers marching along the landscape.” said Professor Shaw. Wow. He just connected Fast Food and architecture, I thought. Well, no. Being from Texas, he knew that “Ranches” were tract homes that were marketed to a fair the well. How they, officially, became “burgers” (not “burghers”) as a part of their marketing is a mystery to me, but it was not commentary, it was part of their branding, like “Ranchettes”.

But reality will out. The common motivation to make a buck building and selling homes was so close to the “Billion and Billions” served marketing had all the strength of lemmings. The instant accessibility in everyday life of one-after-the-other living places was undeniable. So, in the Late 20th Century the connection inadvertently made by John Shaw became a self parody. Someone dubbed the too big, too gross, too thoughtless homes built to sell by ticking off their list of features like a new automobile window sticker in the showroom as “McMansions”.

Ten years ago, the world got indigestion tried to get sustenance out of these “McMansions” and “Ranchburgers” as the body economic tried to digest insane cost, terrible utility, and bogus value. Although stock sizes can fit clothing even to my pathetic body, calculated marketing to hype size and “features” in homes turned out to cause a vomit response in our entire world culture.

A tiny percentage of humans eat esoteric, often insanely priced food, haute cuisine. But no one thinks that a Whopper is much beyond its 5 minute window of edible fat and salt and 800 calories. It is a necessity and has a joyous engorgement for a hook up, then regretted after – like most hook ups.

There are fewer than 1,000,000 new homes being built a year in America. There were close to 3.000.000 fast food homes being launched a dozen years ago. But the new homes made today are not artisanal. Their largest sizes are smaller, their aesthetics are simpler, but, in truth, all eyes are looking to communities rather than castles as the hip future of my children and theirs,

Starbucks and Chic Filet are now the leading fast food restaurants: both have an overlay of attitude and a cultural prescription that is more than “Billions and Billions Served”. Maybe the nutrition is similarly compromised between a “Double Mocha Frappachino” and “Two All Beef Patties, Special Sauce on a Sesame Seed Bun”, But they have about the same calorie count.

Those calories will meet the needs of the day, but I can tell you, at 64, the needs of your body are more than calories. The needs of your home are more than shelter, too.

It is not enough to have a government of some sort, we need an extension of our values. It is not enough to reject or follow any religion, we have to know what we believe and live it. Not for the the moment in a Burning Man Tent, but for the finite total time we have to express and experience.

Distraction in food and what we own is not what any of us would choose for our lives, or those who follow us. But the ease of eating a Quarter Pounder or picking a Style on Zillow betrays our thoughtfulness, sensitivity, our values.

Architecture as a media tool has been one type of the Fine Arts, Haute Couture or Fine Cuisine Deep State – untouchable, mockable, but desired, That desire, to express, to fulfill, to find joy beyond calories is uniquely human.

It is time our culture understood that it is not enough just to sustain life, life is a reason to fulfill our values, see the beauty beyond instant gratification, beyond the safety of branding.

Even if we “Have Fries With That” or “Supersize” our choices, if those choices are based on others’ profits, ideas or values, they betray us. Each of us.

You can make your own dinner, you do not have to be given a number and wait for a bag.

early break

October 1, 2019

I first knew someone when he was about 20 years younger than I am now.

He was elegant, smart, and did not think so much of me, although I thought the world of his daughter. There may have been a connection there, as we grew to be great good friends over the intervening decades – he and his daughter.

Before I met him his daughter told me he had had had polio over forty years before I met him. I could not tell. But as the years went by, the vestiges of his conquered polio were in concert with a genetic neurological condition that rendered feelings in his extremities an ebbing reality.

As he lost feeling up his legs and his hands, he worked out like the thoroughbred he was: he was both a player and a soccer ref, and was ever in diligence and good spirits.

He knew, I am guessing from his daughter, that I had a childhood condition, too. My family was a tough place, all based on my father’s own childhood, and his unrelenting high-functioning alcoholism.

I, like like my friend, showed no ill effects. I, like he, saw the effects of our childhood conditions manifest themselves over the next 50 years. My friend did not die because of his polio, nor his progressive genetic deterioration of limb function. He simply was a human who lived as long as his body and mind could function, and then ceased to live.

There is danger in comparisons, but not here, to me.

As I grew older, those I grew up with showed our conditions more and more. One never drank, seldom left home and lives, protected, and safe. Another drank, drugged, married, and never stopped searching for peace, but gave up letting anyone into her personal life,

Through their experience, and the experience of others, I have come to know my own condition. A friend said last night, who is trained to know these things, that children in toxic and cruel childhoods inevitably live out the damage done to them in some ways. Inevitably. It makes sad sense that affliction affects development. We simply cannot do in the world what the unaffected can, so we adapt. We are changed.

And it struck me; just as my friend, I had no choice in my condition. His polio was early, his genetic effects were constant.

We both had an early break from an untouched, “normal” childhood.

Both of us had faith in things far, far greater than ourselves: Our extreme good fortune, even the results of our diligence. He and I shared effort, and many efforts succeeded, but not all. Through it we were loved. Here, by those around us, but also those we can only sense.

But the others from my family, and others that I have come to know, have not had the fortune we both had. Some of those simply died young in isolation and pain, another killed herself. Others are coping, some deeply into medication, therapy and, often despair.

My friend and I exercised every every early morning, and wrote – because, well, we knew it extended our lives here on earth. I cannot call it therapy. But it is coping with things we cannot control. Ever.

They cured my friend’s polio, but he was damaged by it. I left a cruel place and made another, but was damaged too. We are both inevitably were shaped by what God made in us, and what He made in the world.

We all have choices, but some things we simply have, like it or not.

Damage

September 26, 2019

This morning, I hope my friend wakes up in a hospital. He was admitted last night in a full psychotic rage, with a blood alcohol percentage of 2.1. In these last few months he had run through every good thing in his life and was down to remote friends like me.

And intimate strangers like Jesus.

If he is there, he will not kill himself as my sister did two years ago, almost to the day.

Why should I fear this? Because all three of us, my sibling, my friend and I all were raised in bad circumstances. My sibling had two marriages that could never work, a sex change in search of healing what was, permanently, broken in a alcoholic scream fest that was our home. My friend was horrifically abused and coped his entire life, including surviving a marital end with the love of his children.

Both drank a great deal. But dealt with trying to find peace, and so far, both failed. Both loved, deeply, the Episcopal Church. But they broke.

I, incoherently, survived. Never had a breakdown, also love the church, and had two delicious cocktails last night. I have a wife who loves me, and two wonderful sons. Only God knows why my brokenness is limited to zero perspective and night terrors.

But history never, ever, can be changed, or ignored, or, for the very, very young, understood, even rationalized.

“A study published in 2015 showed that the more adverse childhood experiences a person has, the higher their risk of health and wellness problems later in life.”

So I read this morning, from the internet. The obvious offers no comfort, because we already know it. Of course I called his priest, his soon to be ex, and told my friends and wife about it and asked them to pray for him.

And I, for once, prayed, in the awkward, halting, incoherent way those who are damaged try to connect to the unfathomable reality of “why”, but more, “please”. I wish I knew what will happen, but that reality is as unknown as the past is irrevocably settled law.

Please let him recover, start taking his meds, stop drinking, be with his children. Please.

This all may happen. I want it to happen. I want God to want it to happen. But the history we are wrought by is unrelenting. Death makes forgiveness and understanding beyond problematic. So bothering the God of all gifts and hopes is, this time, worth it.

Please, God, Jesus, give my friend Peace. Please.

Suburban HOME?

September 20, 2019

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PODCAST https://soundcloud.com/wpkn895/home-page-radio-suburban-home

The U.S. census tells us that over 80% of Connecticut residents live in an “urban center”. It is safe to say that most of the 20% who live outside cities like Stamford or Bridgeport live in “suburbia”. Its become conventional wisdom that homeowners are moving back to the city. So what is the future of suburbia?
The 20th century failure of farming in Connecticut made all that deforested land for single-family homes.

The Greatest Generation and their children, the Baby Boomers who built this wave of houses are now aging out of dominating the housing market. The children of we Boomers have left all those homes built for them, and they are taking longer to get married, if at all, and living with roommates in rentals well into their 30’s, abandoning cars and working on the internet, rejecting the commuter life their parents created. More and more adults are fully connected by that Internet, not to any physical community or place.

Arthur C. Nelson, a professor at the University of Arizona advocates subdividing existing unsellable McMansions into three or four new versions of “townhouse” units. Many towns which once rejected any second or third homes on sites designed for single-family use are now encouraging the creation of accessory apartments to allow for independent, multiple occupants on existing sites. The new  “Air B&B” industry has changed entire community use patterns once used for single-family zoning. Additionally technology now allows for greater density, as new septic systems are allowing for less area and poorer soils in waste accommodation, increasing the capacity of existing sites to harbor more people without central septic systems.

When combined with many towns actively rewriting zoning laws to accommodate apartments over stores and offices, the future of suburbia is shifting to a place that might end up functioning more like 19thcentury towns and villages: fewer cars, but more buildings and people per acre.
What was old, is new, again.

Join the director of ACE, Joan Arnold, a not for profit actively revisioning suburbia, George Karl, the Director of Planning for Guilford, Connecticut, and Sara Bronin, an architect, law professor at the University of Connecticut and chairperson of Hartford’s Planning and Zoning Commission for a great hour!