BIO-LOG THOUGHTS AND NEWS
8 June 18 - Is is possible to get cabin fever in early June? We did not think so. Yet after being away for two weeks, the lawns and fields were so lush and growing with such wild abandon, that a sense of entrapment was not out of the question. It was only after a few days of mowing and trimming that nature was sufficiently tamed. Although we joke about it, if we had gotten back any later, nature would have won.
6 April 18 - There are many ways to note the passage of a year. Holidays and birthdays are of course common. Yet there is nothing like the annual shearing of our sheep that says that another year has just passed. Nancy shears our sheep, and we very much enjoy updating each other on our family news. This time, it was even more memorable as it was snowing as the sheep were shorn. And we always comment on how rapidly time is passing.
20 March 18 - It is the first day of spring, and the XC conditions remain excellent. Also, the birds were chirping loudly that morning. Was that because they knew it was spring? Or was it because they were complaining about all of the snow on the ground?
20 January 18 - It is conditions like this that make winter great. Ski twice a day. Clear skies. Great snow base.
24 December 17- "As the days get longer, the cold gets stronger." Dorothy Wilson.
27 November 17 - There I was, riding the mountain bike thru the fields. Color has left everything by now. And then, wham, this American Cranberry Bush Viburnum with it's intense, red berries comes into view. It is amazing how there can be this much color so late in the year.
27 October 17 - The Hancock Shaker Village is a microcosm of purity, unity and utopia. It is all codified in architecture. And it is only a 2 hour drive from here on our favorite Route 20, the culture of which has been discussed in this column below.
27 September 17 - This has to be one of the world's most sensitive buildings. It has organic, curving lines. It has a traditional gable roof. It is without any discernable style. And it fits in to the landscape. It is located on Route 174 near Otisco Lake.
14 September 17 - The problem with vegetable gardens is that it all comes to maturity at once. Teresa spent about 20 minutes in the garden last evening and this is what she got. The bowl was just about too heavy to pick up. It just seems that if this all were designed better, tomatoes should start to ripen in, say, early June, without having to use a greenhouse.
26 June 17 - This derelect power plant has a fantastic industrial beauty. The metal clad forms on this side of the building make this piece nearly timeless. It is on Route 7 between Afton and Bainbridge. Buildings like this are what put the Empire in New York State.
6 June 17 - How can everything possibly be this green? Every hue beyond imagination. Rolling and undulating riots of green. And two months ago, it was all grey monochrome.
17 April 17 - I just don't understand how it can possibly be that loud. When you stand looking down at our pond at sunset, the noise is so great that if you turn your head a certain way, it hurts your ears. This is from the peepers, or baby frogs. Maybe it is the natural bowl shape of the ground surrounding the pond that focuses the sound. It is one of the most amazing things you will ever hear.
20 March 17 - It only happens once a year. With above freezing days and below freezing nights, a frozen crust develops over the snow. When this crust gets solid enough, it will support you on cross country skis. And you can skate ski across the fields at high speeds. There is nothing quite like it. It is as if you are flying, there is such a fantastic feeling of freedom. These conditions will be around for the next few days.
24 February 17 - We were fortunate to spend a week on a silboat in the Carribean. During that time, we basically did not see any cars and very few buildings. When we got off of the boat, we were struck by how ugly the everyday world is. Most autos suddenly looked ugly. Most buildings looked ugly and dreary. Keep in mind, during that week, the only designed element that we saw were other sleek sailboats. We became very comfortable with the efficient interior nautical details in which no inch is wasted. After you spend a week living in a dynamic enclosure that moves as a result of the wind, you get a shocking perspective on what we typically accept as our everyday designed world.
17 January 17 - We seem to gravitate to structures designed by the architect Calatrava. We have stayed in one of his hotels (Oviedo), crossed many of his bridges (Dublin), and traversed thru one of his train stations (Lisbon). Despite the high expectations that we had, the World Trade Center PATH station was a disappointment. Two things; the quality of the construction was low and the space seemed to be a temple for high end shopping. Neither of these things is his fault. Yet for the expenditure of $4B, it almost seems that this time, the flash of the architecture feels superficial.
14 December 16 - Sagrada Familia. If there is one building that we encourage everyone to see, it is the Basilica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrade Familia, by the Architect Gaudi, in Barcelona. During a recent trip there, we were nearly overcome by the experience of being inside the building. For us at least, no other building that we have ever been in gives such an unbelievable mix of wonder, awe, delight and peace.
18 November 16 - The Hanson Aggregates industrial plant just outside of Oriskany Falls, NY is an amazing place. We happened to be driving down 12B and basically had to stop in the middle of the road. This is a fully functioning gravel processing facility that conveys material across the road. While there is no doubt that aggregate mining is environmentally destructive, there is a stunning beauty to this type of industrial fabric. And a quick consultation of the DEC website states that mineral production contributes substantially to the New York State economy.
7 November 2016 - This column has addressed on various occasions the concept of buildings that are in ruins or decay. So it was with pleasant interest that I happened upon a new exhibit at The New York State Museum in Albany titled, Hudson Valley Ruins. This photography exhibit is based on the work of Robert Yasinsac and Thomas Rinaldi. They have spent years photographing decaying buildings in the Hudson River Valley.The show, which is on thru the rest of the year, is fun to see. From the text on the wall at the beginning of the show, "Ruins and abandoned structures have fascinated humankind since ancient times for their aura of mystery and their allusions to history." Photo below is another of mine in this vein, taken just around the corner.
22 August 2016 - Some of the most beautiful structures are temporary. We have been enjoying this firewood construction, which is near the intersection of Route 165 and Middlefield Road. The absolute purity of this piece is stunning. It reminds us of, for example, Stupas. It is classical. It is modern. It is perfect.
19 July 2016 - Route 20 is absolutely stunning. We make the drive on a late Saturday afternoon once a year from Seneca Lake to Cooperstown on that road. And every time the slice of life in Upstate New York that is revealed amazes us. The Main Street of Skaneateles is always bustling. People are out enjoying their summer cars. The agricultural landscape is always refreshing. You drive thru great historical areas like Seneca Falls and parts of the Burned Over District. The drive connects the lakes of Seneca, Cayuga, Skaneateles and Cazenovia. I was surprised to learn that the drive described above isn't even part of the official DOT Route 20 Scenic Byway. At any rate, it is drives like this which completely renew our love for this area of New York State.
21 June 2016 - One of our favorite days of the year is when our fields are cut for hay. It's not like we do it ourselves. Rather, Roger Erway and his family, harvest the hay for their cows. The Erway dairy farm is one of the last in the area. Roger and his son, Terry, have International Harvester 1066 tractors that were recently rebuilt and repainted. They have inline 6 cylinder turbo diesel engines. The tractors were built in 1974, which makes them, to use Roger's term, antiques. And with the love and care they get, they will run forever.
8 June 2016 - This barn is not there anymore. I was flipping thru photos and came across this favorite photo . This barn was located on County Route 59, just outside of Cooperstown. It is amazing how you can remember where a building was that has been torn down. I always liked the two arched roof forms. Which probably explains why it was torn down; the water must have been trapped between those two curves, thereby rotting the building.
11 May 2016 - One of life's great joys is to go on what we call Industrial Walking Tours. This can be done in large cities, or in smaller towns. Walks like this yield the most unexpected, wonderful and interesting features. The photo below was taken in nearby Albany during an industrial speluking session. We have engaged in these sessions in Boston, Montreal, Amsterdam, you name it. You just have to get your radar sensitized to where the industial areas are when you get to a locale. And then have fun.
25 March 2016 - Our sheep just got shorn. The geese are back on the pond. The peepers have started. The groundhogs are active. The chickens are laying again. It must be spring.
22 February 2016 - This is another installment in our continuing series, Buildings Without Architects, or BWA. Today's tribute goes out to Harold Berry and his wonderful work building in his stone yard on Route 166. Back in January of 2012, we introduced the phenomenon of BWA, and their typical use of a wood frame and translucent panels. Harold's building is a masterpiece. Note the translucent center courtyard, clarity of structure, subtle shifting of alignments, changes in translucency, etc. It sensitively integrates with the landscape, yet it is absolutely modern; an inspiration to us all.
29 January 2016 - We visited The Clark in Williamstown last week. The new addition by the architect Tando Ando is complete, and it is almost in our back yard. If you have a second, you might click over to Transparent Drawing, where impressions are offered. However, if you don't, the basic question that this building asks is, do we even need art?
7 January 2016 - If you grow up surrounded by steel industrial buildings. If you grow up with excellent examples of architectural styles from deco to prarie. If you are continually exposed as a kid to old barns. Does this make you a better architect? Does this give you a propensity to be an architect in the first place? We pondered these questions as we visited Evansville, Indiana after a 20 year hiatus. Although we will probably never know the answers to these questions, one fact remains. Evansville has great buildings.
17 November 2015 - In contrast to our reaction to the City of Culture as noted below, in Bilbao we were back to being proud to be architects. Nothing that we say could describe our delight and fantasy. It is the integration of a building to the site that always captivates us. This building is integrated to the city via pedestrian routes, water and vehicular accommodation. And it extends under an automobile bridge.
23 October 2015 - As this column attests, we have a tendency to visit modern buildings by famous architects. While we typically are proud of what our collegues have accomplished, we felt nothing but embarrasment when we visited the City of Cuture in Santiago de Compostela in Spain. This project, by Eisenman, was supposed to do for Santiago what the Guggenheim did for Bilbao. The City of Culture was supposed to be a world cultural magnet, with art galleries, concert halls, etc. The fantastic curving forms are meant to reinforce the hills and the city geometry. Alas, this is not the reality. The building complex is not finished, and likely never will be, given enormous cost overruns. Some of the stone cladding is already crumbling and streaked with rust. Unlike the Guggenheim in Bilbao, the City of Culture is completely divorced from the city fabric; it seems that the only way to get there is by an indirect car route. When you walk around the buildings, there are very few other people. I had the impression that the building was a product of some sort of alien intelligence. But I think that our son, Max, said it best, "It seems to me that all of this will need to be torn down."
2 October 2015 - Our gardens come to full maturity at this point in the year. And this has to be one of the best times to cook. We are always amazed by the simple act of stepping outside to pick, for example, basil leaves and then being overwhelmed by the aroma. These sorts of seasonal windows in Upstate New York are very short. So keep cooking when the herbs are growing and the tomatoes are ripe.
28 September 15 - In my drives across this section of New York State, I see people building garages / utility buildings / mini barns that have a foundation. And then they live adjacent in a unit which is on wheels and easily transportable. This is a new housing paradigm. Does it make sense? Possibly it does. The living unit could easily have the following advantages: -high quality industrial production, -super energy efficient, - minimal impact on the land, - low carbon footprint, - etc. Since the utility building will likely house equipment, it makes sense to have a slab. And with the mini barn, you get that feel good connection to vernacular architectural traditions. So it is a win win; highly efficient living and emotional architectural heart tug. Sounds like an entirely new lifestyle to me.
5 August 15 - Even though I know it is coming, I never get used to it. All thru the spring and early summer, at first light in the morning, the birds are chirping wildly, cacophonously. It seems as if the entire valley is absolutely filled with birds far and near. And then, just at about the end of July, the racous chirping at first light stops. It seems to stop quite suddenly. And what takes its place is the calm chirp of crickets. At this transition, It seems like we cross a seasonal line which audibly marks our inexorable movement to fall.
8 June 15 - We just experienced the new Whitney by our favorite, Renzo Piano. While not as minimistically elegant as say the Cooper Hewett or the Chicago Art Instititue, it still is very much fun. The connections made with the Hudson to the west and the city to the east are fantastic. The balconies and stairs, as if extrapolations of the High Line, are tonic. Our overriding impression though was that the museum seems to bubble up from the incredible energy of the city that feeds it. It seems to us that the museum's wonderful interface with the city is the real triumph.
6 May 15 - We love public hearings. Whether citizens make negative or positive comments, we are always heartned by the passion of their statements. An event like a public hearing demonstrates how deeply we care about our buildings, and what our buildings say about us as a society. The fact that citizens take time out of their day to sit thru a long meeting and make comments in a room full of people about architecture is an amazing phenomenon. Architecture is called the mother art, and a public hearing only reinforces that precept.
20 April 15 - The pair of Canadian geese that summer on our pond are back. At least we think it is the same couple. Although this summer her nest is on the south side of the pond on a tiny island. For the last years, they have summered on the north side. So maybe it is a new couple. The photo below looks like it was taken on Mars after the discovery of water. But it actually is of our pond taken two days ago. The rioutous peepers attest that this will all be green in no time.
13 April 15 - We were thrilled that the new signboard at Christ Church was finished. It is humerous to think back to all of the twists and turns a simple project like this took. But that of course happens sometimes. Simple Integrity did a find job of constructing the signboard. AVA was happy to donate our services for the project.
27 February 15 - While in Seattle last week, we saw a James Turell Skyspace. This is our second Turell experience, the first being the Guggenheim installation mentioned below. This was an oval cylinder that you entered via a bridge. There is a reclining perimeter bench which makes it easy to put your head back and stare at the mysterious hole in the ceiling. This one stays with you; I keep seeing this dark blue oval light at the most unexpected times. All we know is that we are going to be the first on the plane when he gets Rodin Crater finished.
30 January 15 - This time, it was completely by accident; we toured yet another Renzo Piano museum addition. And we literally stumbled upon it. Our original goal was to visit Le Corbusier's Carpenter Center in Cambridge, MA. You can read more about our experience here, at Transparent Drawing. Then we noticed that there was this new, modern building immediately next door. Without knowing what it was, we were somehow drawn toward it. And low and behold, it was a Renzo Piano modernist museum expansion. The museum building itself was of course very nice. But the fact that we stumbled on it like we did was amazing; this is the fourth of it's kind that we have seen. Who knows when we will feel the irresistable pull of one of these buildings next.
5 January 2015 - I'll say just one word to you. Just one word. Plastics. That of course is from The Graduate. Yet it has suddenly become very true in our building world. Many companies are now offering extruded PVC plastic trim pieces that are historically correct. This is a photo of one of our projects mid construction. All of the eave, cornice and trim rails are PVC. And the mouldings are indistinguishable from painted wood. The advantages of course are a near infinite life cycle, extremely low maintenance and absolute historical corectness. It is amazing how long the building industry took to get to this level of quality, given that the first use of plastics was for cheap vinyl siding.
25 November 2014 - We seem to be specializing in visiting museum additions designed by Renzo Piano. In a post below, we mention how satisfying the Morgan Library in NYC is. Since then, we visited the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston with it's Piano expansion. And then last month we were in the sublime Piano expansion of the Art Institute of Chicago. We really did not start out with this specialization in mind. It just turns out that Piano does excellent work, and significant cultural institutions hire him. And on the horizon is the new Whitney.
20 October 2014 - It happened again. We toured Louis Sullivan's Chicago Auditorium a couple of weeks ago. The first time that we visited was about 30 years ago when we were in architecture school. The effect of sitting in the upper balcony and looking down at the stage is otherworldly. This sense of being suspended in space is like no other. It felt that way 30 years ago, and it still feels like that.
3 September 2014 - Not even the Jeff Koons retrospective can brighten up the Whitney. The fantastical Koons show is the last exhibition at the Breuer building before the Whitney moves to their new digs downtown. But we were struck as we walked thru the building: boy is this place dreary. And over the past 25 years dutifully trooping thru Whitney show after Whitney show, when has it ever not been a dulling experience? After being generally familiar with this building for this long, I would have bet you anything that the ceiling grid, which is the only distinguishing part of the galleries, was structural. But upon closer inspection, this grid is just hung there as a cosmetic piece. So when even Koons seems to have the life taken out of the pieces, we're glad that the next Whitney exhibit will be in a Renzo Piano light filled wonder.
29 July 14 - We have been driving past this farm for 25 years now. And every time we see it, we fall in love with it all over again. Part of the allure is that the buildings are made of concrete block. The massing is compelling as there is a large two story form and a lower single story. Maybe the attraction really is those tall narrow windows that extend two storys that almost makes it look like a church. Possibly the combination of modern and traditional is what causes us to slow down. Whatever the real reason, when you find a building, and an ordinary building at that, interesting for 25 years, you know that it is speaking to your soul.
14 July 14 - We happened to be driving around Canastota, NY and came upon this great ruin. Typically you can't get next to relics like this nor can you see inside. Yet we were able to do both, as the photo below demonstrates. Another amazing thing is that the interior was completely clean. You can still see how natural light entered the building from roof clerestorys. The north wall of glass most certainly contributed to the quality of the interior workspace. And lastly the central interior space was clear span. It is such a great feeling when you stumble upon something like this in an out of the way corner. Buildings like this speak directly to the past industrial might of New York State.
10 June 14 - This page has occasionally focused on the farm building decay that we observe here in Otsego County. We were saddened and yet not surprised to see this gothic arch barn fail. We continually noted the increasing sag in the roof over the past 15 or so years. The top photo was taken on a 35mm transparency. (Let us have a moment of silence for 35mm SLR cameras with Kodachrome 64 film.) It is amazing that even when they fall down, there is a soft organic quality to the gothic arch barns. Looks like some crashed airship.
28 May 14 - On another trip recently, as you might expect, we continually had to stop the car to take photos of unexpected architecture that we happened to see. This very pure and minimal building was out in the landscape.
21 April 14 - Transparent Drawing is the title of Kurt's new blog. The basic thought is that we are all taught to draw representationally as artists. Yet we are designers, not artists. Transparent Drawing encourages three dimensional drawing to analyze, rather than to represent. Analogue. Pencil and paper. Nothing hidden.
3 April 14 - It has sounded like spring here in Upstate New York for the past two days. Symphonic chirps of the birds fill the valley at first morning light. The pair of geese that summer on our pond honk as they fly over the house. The peepers have not started but will soon. Standing outside last evening just before the sun went over the western hills, the vally echoed with the surprisingly comforting sound of a Harley Davidson riding by. When you feel abject relief to hear your first Harley of the spring, it might be a clue that it has been a very long winter.
18 February 14 - More about industrial landscapes. Sometimes the most incredible things are right in our own backyard. While driving thru Rome, NY yesterday we were stopped in our tracks by the Rome Cable factory. The late afternoon light reflecting off of the bright tower panels was stunning.
6 February 14 - Wherever we travel, it seems that we always find either industrial sites or barns to get excited about. This bauxite loading facility caught our fancy. The image is in black and white as homage to the our favorite industrial landscape photographers, Bernd & Hilla Becher. (As if a phone snapshot can be any comparison to their iconic images.)
31 December 13 - We visited the JFK Presidential Library and Museum a few weeks ago. This was the first presidential library that we have visited, and now we feel remiss. Virginia summarized it the best; this is one of the few buildings in which the concept and the architecture are identical.
19 November 13 - On a recent trip to Ireland, we spent an inordinate time looking at, what else, barns. A typical barn employs arched and shed roof forms which are combined in different ways. The interplay of the forms made each one more interesting than the next. And, as you might expect, the curved roof integrated them with the landscape.
2 October 13 - We think that we have only seen one other Louls Kahn structure, and that was the exterior of the First Unitarian Church in Rochester. So it was a real treat to see the Four Freedoms Park on Rosevelt Island. This was designed by Kahn in 1974 and completed about a month ago. The most striking revelation for us was Kahn's sublime synthesis of landscape and architecture elements. It is hard to tell where the landscape stops and the architecture begins; maybe it is all landscape.
24 September 13 - Not ones to rush into anything, we finally saw the LeCorbusier show at MOMA the day before it closed. The show focused on his drawings and they filled the entire 6th floor of the museum. His sketchbooks were there along with all of the famous drawings that we have seen in architectural history books. Most spectacular were the childlike sketches he did while lecturing; many of these were 5' tall and 12' wide.
After seeing this show we basically had to run out of the museum because of the information overload. And what better place to regain our bearings than at the James Turrell show at the Guggenheim. The experience was serene, religions, wholistic and magical.
26 July 13 - When you see magazine photographs of a building, the feelings and impressions you get never match the understanding when you see the building in real life. This was certainly true during our recent unplanned encounter with a Stephen Holl residence. During a bicycle sojourn in the Lake Champlain area, we came upon the Nail Collector's House during a ferry ride into Essex. This is a small tower like residence clad in brass plates that we have been reasonably fond of for years as it has been published extensively. Shameless architectural sleuths that we are, after we confirmed that nobody was home, we were able to walk around it and look in the windows. Despite all of the publication hoopla and accolades, we were underwhelmed standing there looking at it. For one thing, the piece was glaringly ignorant of the site. Granted, there is interior spacial complexity which we could only peek at thru the windows so we did not get the full experience. Kurt recorded his impressions on a drawing the next morning. So maybe the building hit deeper than we at first realized or care to admit
10 July 13 - Everyone wants to be an architect. During the past few years, the following people with an association to our projects have gone to either architectural or design school; two contractor's daughters, one client's spouse, and now one contractor. Whether this is some sort of new societal trend or if it is a phenomenon localized around our practice is difficult to say. We get many comments from clients and contractors that our job must be fun, which it is. Maybe what we really do is help people get in touch with their inner architect.
22 May 13 - Our construction mainstay over the past 30 years has been the wood framed stud wall. Twenty years ago, it was a big deal to use 2x6 wall studs rather than 2x4s so as to increase the insulation thickness. The past three years have seen rapid changes to this wall system as the following is now standard procedure:
15 April 13 - They really don't teach you the really important things in architecture school. For example, while we learned that LeCorbusier spent years in India as his Chandigarh designs were built, we were never taught what Corb thought of Indian food. What were his favorite dishes? Where were his favorite restaurants? Did he learn to cook Indian food? These are the really important architectural questions which nobody seems to know the answer to.
5 March 13 - You never wanted to be called a Planing Mill Draftsman (PMD). A PMD was the draftsman in a sawmill; it did not require much skill. During architecture school, Kurt had the experience of working along side Jack Wesley, who was the oldest registered architect in Indiana at the time. Jack brought enormous craft to his drafting; all the line weights and printing were absolutely perfect. Occasionally he would look over your shoulder at what you were drafting. Most times he would not say anything. On occasion he would say, Kurt, that drawing your're doing looks like it was done by a PMD. When he said that, while you felt like crawling under your desk, what you did was fix the drawing. You had to continually improve as a draftsman or you didn't work for Jack very long.
21 January 13 - It happened again. Sol LeWitt stole the show. But this time at Dia Beacon. The last time we were there was nearly 7 years ago just after it opened, pre-LeWitt. We realized that we intimately understand what goes into a Sol LeWitt wall drawing. We know the feeling of drawing with lead holder and straightedge. We know how difficult it is to maintain a uniform line weight. We know how easy it is to smudge the lines you have already put down. By contrast, we really don't have a clue what it takes to curve Cor-Ten steel (Richard Serra) or arrange broken glass shards (Robert Smithson). One of the most human things you can do is to take a pencil in your hand and draw; it is that resultant flood of humanity from a Sol LeWitt work that knocks us over every time.
11 December 12 - We were honored with two print publications. One, the Clock House was included in a Small Houses book. Two, Kurt was a competition winner as his watercolor was selected for inclusion in the Grand Central Terminal Sketchbook celebrating the centenial of the building.
12 October 12 - Buildings are free. They are free to see, that is, once they get built. Whatever the art form, be it drawings, paintings, music, sculpture, etc, you generally have to pay to see / experience it. But you typically don't have to pay anything to see a building and get a cultural thrill. Speaking of thrills, we recently visited the Morgan Library with the Renzo Piano addition. This visit to the Library, which was probably our third, confirmed that this building is one of our absolute favorites; the scale, light and details are all simple and elegant. We also enjoyed seeing at The Morgan the original Robert Wilson sketches for Einstein on the Beach; alas, we had to pay to see those.
4 September 12 - Death of architectural drawing? There is an interesting article in The New York Times written by famous architect Michale Graves on the dichotomy of a hand drawing versus a computer drawing. We feel lucky that our careers spanned the digital revolution: we first learned how to draw everything by hand. We feel that we have the best of both worlds; we start all of our projects with hand sketches. Then we utilize the computer to finalize our designs. As an andidote to the digital tidal wave, it is encouraging that architecture schools continue to introduce hand drawing before digital media. We will always have a ready supply of pencils and watercolors.
21 August 12 - Craft is a word that has fallen out of common useage. This word was used recently by the most exacting contractor with whom we have had the pleasure to work. His observation is that all parties working on a project bring their respective crafts to the building process. And that it is this craft which sets the final level of quality of a construction project. With the increasing generalization of quality ("jack of all trades, master of none"), it was nice to be reminded of craft, and the significance of it in the building process.
1 June 12 - Our fascination with Buckminster Fuller continues, this time per a first time reading of his book Synergetics. What is striking is his continued analysis of problems in terms of energy and systems. His holistic thinking is refreshing. Here was an architect who made it his mission to save the world; we forget the architectural zeitgeist of the 60s was that architecture, via architects, could indeed save the world.
4 April 12 - Fifth year landscape architecture students from SUNY - Environmental School of Forestry in Syracuse conducted an excellent design charrette last week for Empire Brewery. The students provided brainstorming and analysis of land use factors that will impact the project. The great ideas discussed will help to knit the building into the landscape. The enthusiasm and energy the students bring to their work is first rate and they are fortunate to have the opportunity to work on real world projects. Altonview was happy to host the event.
5 March 12 - We continue to research the economics and aesthetics of installing solar panels here at the office. The concept of net metering has caught our attention; the economics of solar PV work better if the power company pays the owner for any excess electricity that the panels produce. Both NYSEG's and Otsego Electric's payback rate to the owner is about 33% of the market rate, which seems unnecessarily low. In a recent trip to Vermont, we noticed an increasing number of ground mount PV systems; we wonder if this is partially due to the Vermont legislature mandating that utility companies have to pay owners the full market rate for the electricity they generate?
4 January 2012 - Architects have always been inspired by buildings without architects (BWA); think barns, yurts, traditional Japanese houses, etc. This is because the purity of a structure driven solely by function, materials, comfort and economy is perennially refreshing. A BWA trend we are noticing in Otsego County involves freestanding structures assembled out of wood studs and translucent material. The photographed example always turns our heads, given the translucent roof and walls, clear structural support, and irregular geometry. This even sports a PV solar collector on the roof. Inspirational? You bet!
13 October 11 - We were saddened by the pasing of Steve Jobs. We proudly consider ourselves as part of the Apple faithful as we have never purchased anything else. The holistic and integreated beauty of their products contributes to our daily enjoyment of what we do. Design matters, and Apple under Jobs is proof of that.
14 September 2011 - Kurt is pleased to be teaching design this fall as an Adjunct Professor at Morrisville State College. First year design students always bring a refreshing and unique viewpoint. One class mantra is that there is no bad drawing.
1 September 11 - The most beautiful solar panel installation that we have seen is this ground mount installation in Craftsbury, VT. They have azimuth and rotational tracking so that they are aimed at the sun all day. They are aesthetically beautiful and fun to watch.
It starts to get tricky when you balance the costs and benefits of solar panels when applied in historic contexts. While we laude the early adopters, we are becoming alarmed at the aesthetic effect these panels have on local properties. In the future, photovoltaic generation will be incorporated into most exterior building materials; the entire envelope will be a solar collector. You already see this technology incorporated into metal roof panels and into glazing systems. So the best move now might be to spend your green dollars elsewhere, say by upgrading wall insulation. This approach will lower your carbon footprint and will give the market time to catch up so that solar harvesting and aesthetics will go hand in hand.
6 July 11 - It is not often that you can get energy efficient construction for the same price as typical construction. For a highly energy efficient residence now under construction, we have selected a Canadian company for the windows and doors. We compared the thermal performance of the Canadian units with the performance of a highly reputable American window company. We asked the American company to give us their most energy efficient units that they make. And it turns out that the American units would increase the energy load on the house by a whopping 10% when compared with the Canadian. And the kicker is that the purchase cost is the same. So we feel that the American companies need to do some more homework. And we have no doubt that they will; look at the recent turnaround in the American automotive market. When it comes to windows and doors, you can have your cake and eat it too.
17 April 11 - Farmers are increasingly constructing fabric barns for their livestock. They really are very cool structures; translucent, open, airy. Some manufacturers even tout their system as moveable. Then it suddenly hit us, these fabric barns are incredibly similar to the Iroquois longhouse (pre European influence), which also used to dot our landscape. Both are or were arched, long and rectangular, lightweight, easily constructed, easily disposed and ultimately moveable. Has our regional architectural history come full circle?
1 March 11 - We are against lifting the fracking moratorium, until all New York counties have had the opportunity to strengthen their zoning laws. We want to see property values increase and we don't see how industrial production sites distributed across the countryside helps with this valuation. It is ironic that our clients are required by zoning laws to construct silt fences during excavation to control surface runoff; meanwhile, their next door neighbors are allowed to lease their land to gas companies who will inject harmful chemicals into the actual groundwater, for which no zoning application is required. The resolution of this dilemma seems simple; apply the municipality's zoning law to ALL proposed land uses, be it residential construction or gas drilling. For municipalities without zoning laws, the County Planning Board should review the proposed land use to ensure that SEQRA requirements are enforced.
3 January 11 - A recent article in The New Yorker by Alex Ross reawakened my interest in the avant guard composer, John Cage. The result was music listening sessions as well as reading two books. One of them was Cage'sbook Silence. Turns out that he considered a career in architecture by apprenticing with an architect. When he was told by the architect that he had to choose between music and architecture, as both require a full life commitment, he immediately quit his job and chose music. Given that his most famous composition (4'33") was such that no notes were played by the musician, I wonder what his most famous building would have been had he become an architect? It surely would have had no walls or roof and yet would have somehow been successful.
6 December 10 -We found this fun software tool on the Department of Energy's website that is worth sharing. The program is called Climate Consultant and you use it to provide climate information for any location in the country. The user inputs various parameters, and the program then outputs visually interesting and engaging graphics of sun angles, humidity, and the like. As an added bonus, the program will output an animated wind graphic which provides a greater sense of wind dynamics thru say a single month. And to top it off, the download is free.
29 September 10 - Here is a chance for someone to have a free building. Brewery Ommegang has been storing a disassembled hop barn in our barn for years now. The building was originally built in around 1850 and was located about 10 miles from Cooperstown. Ommegang bought and stored the building, with the intent of rebuilding it on their campus. As the building was taken down, all of the parts were numbered and documented. So, this might be just the accessory to satisfy that barn craving that lurks deep inside all of us.
28 July 10 - In our region, there are many derelict farm buildings that as they decay, they curve and bend. We find that the forms they create are usually more interesting than the original building. It was with great delight when we found this one just outside of New Berlin. Our guess is that it used to be a poultry building. The great curve and swoop of the roof almost looks like something that we might design. We're sure that the next time we drive by, it will have completely collapsed. but in this current state of suspended decay, we think it is just fantastic.
9 July 10 - Where do you go if you want to 1)see new architecture, 2) get exercise and 3) have fun all at the same time? You take your bicycle to the Manhattan Waterfront Greenway. The Greenway path basically circles the island, and we have ridden from the George Washington Bridge to the Brooklyn Bridge. There are all sorts of big name interesting new buildings to see by Nouvelle, Gehery, Meier, etc. You can stop at the High Line and then inspect the new construction at Ground Zero. Cafes are sprinkled up and down the Greenway. We took our bikes on the ferry to Govenor's Island and rode around there. Riding your bike across the Brooklyn Bridge is a treat not to be missed. And what is truly amazing is that it is all free.
27 May 10 - It's amazing how you can drive past a building for years and not really see it. The Ford dealership in Norwich hit us over the head the other day. as we finally woke up to the fact that the front of the building has a dramatic floating horizontal plane originally designed to showcase the new cars. We can imagine a warm summer evening in the 60's, the cars on their own stage, theatrically lit, yet not behind glass, most likely proved irresistible to the buyer. Although for now this dramatic space has devolved to something that you merely walk across to get to the showroom, we'll keep our eyes open to see if cars are displayed there in the future.
23 April 10 - We greatly enjoyed our trip to the Tennis Hall of Fame in Neport. Not only is the museum itself near and dear to our hearts. But the building is part of the 20th century architectural cannon. Designed by McKim, Mead and White, it was such a joy to spend time in and around it after seeing only photos in books. Everywhere your eye went, there was such delight. You could almost imagine the pleasure that the draftsmen felt as they drew the long continuous horizontal lines with their pencils and t squares. And the fact that the whole thing was finely crafted around a single tennis court just increases the fantasy exponentially.
12 March 10 - The local Cub Scout Pack was in the office this week. They had to visit an Architect's office as a requirement for a badge they are working on. Because they thought that the Badgley / Kong Residence was sufficiently cool, they spent part of the time drawing that house from a scale model. The results are absolutely great. Below are two of the drawings. Brad said they may hang the series in the house. Once again, everyone's inner architect shines thru.
8 March 10 - We got the chance to see the Xenakis show at the Drawing Center in the City. Now we have a new hero to worship, as Xenakis' career spanned both architecture and music composition. He worked in LeCorbusier's office as a project architect. He was fascinated with parabolic architectural forms. And then he became a significant avant guard music composer. What a career. The musical scores on display are architecturally obsessive as the lines and squiggles diagram a soundscape. Very unique and inspiring. If, as Goethe stated, architecture is frozen music, then the Xenakis drawings are the closest attempt we have seen to bridge the two.
22 January 10 - Kurt got to spend time in North Carolina at the Martin Doll Residence. This house was designed by our client's father, who was an industrialist, not an architect. The house has sloping Mondrian patterned glazing and free geometry that harks back to Frank Lloyd Wright. The pavilion quality is reminiscent of other fun buildings that we love not designed by architects: barns, grange halls, rural churches. Martin was just following his inner architect, which, we believe, resides in all of us.
4 January 10 - We know that the real estate market is topsy turvy. But how about this; at auction, the Pontiac Silverdome was sold for $583,000. No, there is not a decimal place error. So, for the same amount of money, you can get a reasonable house in Cooperstown, or the Silverdome? We do realize that location is everything, and that Pontiac is in Michigan. But still, it makes you wonder how far out of alignment the markets still might be.
30 November 09 - We went to the Bauhaus show at MOMA. The Bauhaus was a design movement in Europe which touted modernism during the '20s and '30s. The show consisted mostly of drawings and most of it was student work. Grandma's opinion was that most of it should not even be in a museum. And maybe that's the point; we were struck by the overall innocence and purity of the drawing and the watercolor studies. Hard to believe that this was the work of future architects who were out to foment cultural revolution thru modernism. We were especially taken with the drawings that used a musical score as a basis for a color exercise.
2 November 09 - Ground has been broken for an expansion at Brewery Ommegang. After a long time in the planning stages, it is amazing to see a bulldozer on site. We are planning a green facade, which will be a wall of vegetation runing up the side of the building. We put a perspective view of the expansion on our Ommegang webpage.
8 September 09 - We think that the nicest part of being published in Fine Homebuilding is learning of all the people who subscribe to and enjoy the magazine. We can't think of another magazine, with the possible exception of Dwell, that is universally subscribed to on this, for lack of a better term, grassroots level. In the ever expanding publication world, both print and online, we are proud that our work continues to be valued by Fine Homebuilding.
14 August 09 - Shipping Container Housing has become all the rage. We had the fun exercise of designing a prototype container house. Our "big idea" was to let the containers serve as the above ground basement, and then construct a stick framed second floor over the containers. By the time you get done making the containers work as living space (insulation, windows, plumbing, etc), you really don't save substantially over conventional construction. You maximize the cost efficiency of the containers by doing the least amount of work to them. $8000 gets you two containers delivered to your Upsate site, crane placement included; not a bad deal at all.
17 July 09 - Seems that we are finally getting around to reading the books that it seems like everyone else has read, The Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan. One of his basic tennants is that we should strive for quality, not quantity, in what we eat; if we emphasize quality, we will eat less because what we do eat will be more satisfying. Architects, with the Small House movement (a la Sarah Susanka) have been beating the quality over quantity drum for years. So it is great to see this food - shelter confluence. As the author points out, whereas this approach may have a larger initial cost outlay, the long term cost to both the individual, society and the planet will be far lower.
2 July 09 - We saw the Frank Lloyd Wright show at the Guggenheim. We loved it because the curators used mostly drawings to tell the story of his career. Along with all of the famous perspectives we have worshiped over the years, there were also fantastic working drawings, process drawings, etc. At the top of the ramp, the last section focuses on the Guggenheim. It was very touching to read the selection of correspondence between Wright and his clients, as they both worked to express dreams, needs, and real world realities over the 16 years it tooK to bring the Guggenheim into the world. This links to drawings of a few of the alternate designs for the Guggenheim, and aptly demonstrates that even in the best of cases, the design process is full of detours.
8 June 09 - Teresa went last week to a daylong seminar entitled Green Strategies for Historic Buildings. As a profession, we must balance cultural legacy, sustainable energy and cost to determine the optimal preservation strategy of a building. Take for example window replacement. New windows are great; they work smoothly, they are easier to clean, and less drafty. Amazingly, regarding energy savings, replacement windows have a 25 year payback, which makes them quite expensive. That cost must be balanced with the cultural loss that a house suffers when the existing windows are removed. Other options to consider along with their payback are are motion sensors (0.5 yr), programmable thermostats (1 yr), insulation (7 yrs), HVAC (12 yrs) none of which removes cultural heritage.
21 Msy 09 - We have discussed the Energy Building Code as a topic on this page before. It was interesting to learn how New York State's Energy Code stacks up with codes across the nation. And the answer is not so hot. If you follow the link to this text, you can see that our Energy Code is in the bottom 50th percentile, which means that if we design at the current energy code, our building will use more energy than half of the buildings nationally. Principally because of AVA's use of spray insulation, our recent residences have generously exceeded the Code. Nevertheless, it is sobering to see how our code compares.
14 May 09 - We love the new Alice Tully Hall renovation in the City, and what is really fun is the lobby, in which there is a coffee/snack bar. The floor is sunken below the sidewalk; so as you look out, you are looking up at the street action. The combined effects of being below the street coupled with the cantilevered ceiling above, creates a protective and welcome sense of intimacy for what is an open urban room. Perfect location for rendezvous and refreshment with the continuous theater of Broadway at something just above eye level.
9 April 09 - Here is a happy note given the tax season upon us. The State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) will help fund the costs of your barn renovation. This winter, part of the foundation wall collapsed at our barn. Given that the barn is still under agricultural use via housing sheep and other agricultural interests, the SHPO tax credit was very welcome. Now, that foundation wall, and thus the barn, will be there for another 100 years.
27 March 09 - Sincere thanks to everyone who has expressed intrigue with Brad Badgley's and Vivian Kong's residence as it takes shape on Route 33. Usually, our more modern pieces happen off the beaten path, so it is a new experience to get everyone's impressions as the house takes shape. So far, we think it is being liked, although that may be because nobody so far has come up to us and said "...that house on 33, eyesore!" But if that is the case, no sweat, as Vivian and Brad plan to enclose the property with dense vegetation.
16 March 09 - Teresa was honored to be asked to chair the new Coperstown Historic Preservation & Architectural Review Board. With the considerable experience of the entire Board (see Freeman's Journal article, third from top), the application and approval process should now be a more pleasurable and efficient experience for all.
23 February 09 - At the beginning of our careers, much time was spent in parallel artistic pursuit, such as watercolor sketching, music composition, etc. Then, as life picks up speed, it seems there is less time for everything; the non essential gets eliminated. One positive of the recession is to now be able to re-connect with the basics. Recession as renewal? Quite possibly, as our goal is to emerge aesthetically stronger.
28 December 08 - One of the (many) great things about the Sol LeWitt retrospective at Mass Moca is that they used manual drafting equipment; straightedges, lead holders, etc. for the wall drawings. We found the first, lowest, floor to be the most spectacular; given the precision and huge scale of the drawings, we thought that at some point, they became architectural although we were not sure exactly how. Any trip we take to Mass Moca is inspiring, and the Sol LeWitt show only increased the pleasure. After that much art, the only way to recover is dinner at The Spice Root (Indian) in nearby Williamstown.
4 December 08 - We had occasion to visit The Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, MI. In a far corner of the Museum was one of the two prototypes of Buckminster Fuller's Dymaxion House. Right off the bat, we got those Architectural Warm Fuzzies: here we were walking up to of the seminal masterworks of the 20th century. Once inside, you couldn't escape the overall impression of thinness; exterior cladding as thin aluminum sheeting, it creaked as you walked around , exposed thin wood veneers for interior finishes. The other overwhelming impression was that of ultimate efficiency in which manufacturing, assembly, delivery, systems and form are holistically integrated into a living experience that was bright, cheery and open. This is the true Machine for Living. And, yes, it surely needs refinement; it would have been interesting to see what he would have done with the 2nd or 3rd generation. At a time in which there is increasingly less and less (resources, money, etc.)Bucky continues to inspire with designs that are 50 years old that we are only starting to wake up to.
28 October 08 - We went to the City last weekend to see the Zaha Hadid designed Chanel pavilion in Central Park. It was a treat to experience one of her buildings as we found it a holistic gem in the best traditions of the art pavilion, think Barcelona. We couldn't help but contrast this event with the MOMA Prefab houses as noted below; the Chanel building is certainly prefabricated and would be just about as practical to live in. Great architecture aside, it was the total user experience which was the most fun. From first entry to the site to your exit, your total user experience was minutely controlled. Identically dressed and demeanored assistants saw to your every move. An MP3 headphoned soundtrack choreographed your experience. We guessed that this was the closest we'll ever get to an actual Chanel shopping experience. And then as if on cue, a woman got into the ticket line carrying her Chanel shoulder bag, which caused us to joke that here was someone who in her own way helped pay for all of this. Or, as someone near us said, what goes around comes around.
25 September 08 - Three things on the current financial meltdown. 1. Falling home prices are at the root. 2. Architects are used in only about 5% of the housing starts nationwide. 3. Most of the houses in question are suburban sprawl McMansion wonders. So thinking in terms of design, as we are always wont to do, we wonder if all of this is not some sort of acerbic comment on the value of residential design in America? A quick Google search reveals that states like FL, CO and NE have both the highest sprawl and the greatest foreclosure rate. Architects have historically always wanted to solve societies ills with their work, think Le Corbusier. So if architects had been involved in a higher percentage of starts, the quality of the design would be higher, the houses would be worth more, and financial disaster would be prevented. Ok a fantasy, I admit. But then architects are good at fantasy.
28 July 08 - We saw Home Delivery - Fabricating the Modern Dwelling at MOMA this weekend. The exhibit starts with a history of the prefabricated house and culminates with 5 modern houses that you can walk thru. They even have a partial Lustron house constructed inside the museum. While the exhibit was great fun (model of Thomas Edison's concrete houses, movies, etc.), and the houses were stimulating to experience, we do have a gripe. How could they have not made even a passing reference to the modular housing industry that flourishes across the country and especially in Otsego County? Modular housing has everything the MOMA houses have: they are a)built in a factory, b)use off the shelf components, c)economically viable, d)show up on a truck and e)basic installation takes a day. Alas, the modular's are not modern and thus not cool in the MOMA sense, so they don't qualify. So here's an idea for a sympathetic exhibition; get some architects to go wild and see what the potentials are using the modular housing industry as a starting point. You might end up with solutions that are saleable, buildable, and yet fun.
2 July 08 - Wightman Specialty Woods used a photo of the Stayman Residence living room for the cover of their beautiful new brochure. For years, Wightman's has been to us this almost mythical place where much of the finish flooring for our projects comes from. We can be very slow on the uptake sometimes, but now we learn that the majority of Wightman's raw material comes from within a 60 mile radius of their Portlandville plant. So we find the confluence of sustainability, the venerable Wightman's, and the modern Stayman interior to be great fun.
13 May 08 - We all understand mileage standards for vehicles. Yet, most of our clients are suprised to learn that there are mileage requirements for buildings as well, which is called the Energy Conservation Code. While everyone knows that you put insulation in a building, the Code mandates how much there should be, and in fact allows tradeoffs between say larger glazing areas and thicker insulation. What is interesting is that you don't read anything about a building's mileage, yet automobile mileage is always a political hot potato. Since buildings are responsible for the vast majority of CO2 emissions, it would be interesting to turn the Energy Code into a hot potato also. You can hear arguments on the Senate floor now; "I vote to raise the R value for walls to R 24! No, R 19! No R 24! Spellbinding.
17 April 08 - Brewery Ommegang and AVA will present "Everyone Likes Green Beer" at the prelude seminar to Earth Day 2008. Our talk will highlight how Ommegang's expansion plans are tailored to meet increased production needs while providing the lowest possible carbon footprint, both in the construction and operation of the building. Clicking here will take you to the Environmental Education Network of Otsego County's website, who are sponsoring the event.
28 February 08 - In a recent issue of The New Yorker, a British company, Tesco, has set out to reduce the carbon footprint of their global supermarket operations. The article discusses the incredible complexity of trying to determine, for example, the environmental burden of where you should buy your apples. In this instance, they determined that it was better for the planet if Tesco imported New Zeland apples rather than purchasing them 50 miles away. After a huge investment of time and money, they concluded that the three most important steps toward a green lifestyle is 1) insulate your house, 2)make sure you have insulated glazing in your windows and 3)increase the efficiency of your house boiler. This makes sense, given that buildings are the greatest energy hogs. And it is nice to see someone say that being green involves something other than lifestyle shopping choices.
14 January 08 - Press Release - Click on the text for link to the SUNY Morrisville website for Roomplay press release. All of the students did a tremendous job in the construction of their environments. It was inspirational for me to see their interpretation of a modeling system that I have been exploring. I think someme somewhere said that a good educational experience happens when the student and the teacher learn together, and this was certainly the case. The image below is from Team Zen's Roomplay.
10 December 07 - In the recent issue of Architect Magazine, the editor questions the profession's current focus, both in the media nad in the schools, on modernism. Yet, the vast majority of structures built in the US are traditional. So should the profession refocus itself more on traditional design, given that this is what the market demands? We find this article interesting given that our practice involves both traditional and modernist buildings. Whatever the style, the building is either good, or it is not, and we hope that this is the first clarion call toward simply good design.
26 November 07 - The Zoltick Residence is nearing completion for an expected move in date of early January. Work is proceeding at a fast pace.
21 November 07 - Kurt's architectural design class is basing their final project this semester on Roomplay, which will culminate in student teams designing and constructing full scale rooms. This is an exciting project and we hope to show you images of the results. This is an image from Kurt's initial Roomplay experiments.
17 October 07 - We appreciated this article in Metropolis magazine regarding sustainable design. Be it a building or a chair, quality craftsmanship is paramount for sustainable design. Click here to go to article.
1 September 07 - Kurt is serving as Adjunct Professor at SUNY Morrisville College teaching first year architectural design.
27 August 07 - Teresa has completed her stint st Cooperstown Planning Board Chair after 5 years of service.
July 07 - We went to Philip Johnson's Glass House, the Historic Trust property recently opened to the public. Kurt worked with Mr. Johnson for a number of years, so it was great to finally see the house. Given Mr. Johnson's unmatched self promotional abilities, we were curious as to whether the reality was worthy of the hype. In our humble estimation, it turns out that indeed Glass Hous, by itself, is sublime. Five stars, highly recommended.
The landscape, both natural and man made, surrounding Cooperstown provides a wealth of inspiration. The rolling hills and topography looks much as it did 50 years ago.
Here in the second decade of the 21st century, great cultural influences are spreading themselves like never before. This yields a pluralism which has only begun to be felt. There is an increasing sophistication of the populous which enables greater analytical powers as they evaluate cultural forces, including architecture.
We evaluate each architectural project individually to discover a design direction that is appropriate. Whereas a historical solution will work for one instance, a more modernist solution will be appropriate in another. It is important to resist the urge to be historical just to be historical, and modern just to be modern.
Equally important is the user’s quality of experience. For as the user is happy and fully functional in their building, the more the building will want to be preserved.
We like to think that given our obsession with quality, we are building sustain ably. Increasingly, we are helping our clients balance alternate heating innitiatives such as passive solar, solar PV, solar thermal, and geothermal.
The built world is replete with mediocre traditional and mediocre modern built responses. Given the pervasive culture of bigger is better, our practice might be summarized as an antidote to that.