Wednesday, December 06, 2006

God is in the Details

My college architectural history professor would repeat this phrase as if it were the key to Architecture itself. This quote is attributed to renowned modernist architect, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. I believe he meant that the true beauty of a structure can be found in the details of that structure. His steel and glass structures are elegant and graceful at a distance and maintain that beauty in their details when you walk up and touch them. When I think of buildings that I like, the things I remember the most are the details. It might be the curve of a staircase, the drip cap of a window, or the brickwork in a chimney.

It is the details of a structure that can take it from the ordinary to the extraordinary. Here in Dutchess County we do not have any great Van der Rohe buildings, but I imagine you like myself, feel the difference when you walk into a home that was built in 1810 and one that was built in 1975. I am often asked by clients to take a home that they consider boring or “cookie-cutter”, maybe a 1970’s colonial and give it character… some personality and style. This can be accomplished by simply changing the details. We can take out the windows and trim and replace them with the exact same amount of material, but by placing them thoughtfully and detailing them correctly, we create an entirely different effect. The details at the eaves and gable ends can be reworked in ways that last longer and give the home presence. Unlike the 1810 home that has been kept in original condition, a 1970’s home after 35 years can feel dated or worse, begin to fall apart if detailed very poorly.

There is no question that complex details can be expensive, but with care, the same amount of material and a little thought can transform the mundane into the special. Ironically the simpler the building the more important the details and proportions become. You might hardly notice an odd detail on a Queen Ann Victorian facade, but I tend to notice every detail on an austere Shaker farm building.
When you consider that homes we build today may be in use by our great-great grandchildren or beyond, it makes sense to spend a little more time thinking about the details
(Originally published in Dutchess Magazine) Photos by Rob Karosis and H.A.B.S.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Projects' end

One of my least favorite parts of a project is it's end. During the process of designing and constructing the home, we have built special relationships with home owners, contractors and craftspeople which inevitably must change. Often those business relationships become friendships, but there is nothing like being part of that creation(ask any mother).

We work together as a team for as much as several years speaking at least once a week and exchanging ideas even more and then the project ends, the contractors move on to another project, the architects study their work and the home owners start their new life in a new home. Yes, we are all somewhat changed by the experiance.

The good news is that we are often brought back for another addition, guest house or potting shed and the fun begins again. At that point we are all friends and the process goes even smoother.

Photos by James Crisp

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Dutchess Porches

Dutchess county has had a love affair with porches that goes back centuries. Although few of the earliest Dutch and English colonial homes had porches, it wasn’t long until they were added to the beautiful stone and wood houses.

Like most of the country, there were few homes built from the mid nineteenth century until after World War II in Dutchess County that didn’t have a porch. From Greek Revival farm houses scattered through Pine Plains to Gothic revival cottages in Rhinebeck they all had one or more porches.

The Victorians made porch building into an art form. With the advent of balloon framing, Victorian builders could easily create more complex shapes. With manufactured building parts becoming widely available, they could adorn their homes and well as their porches with layers of detail and complexity.

Porches influenced and were influenced by the neighborhoods around them. Summer evenings were spent on the porch, neighbors visited on each other and people kept track of their children and everyone else’s from those porches.

After World War II porches experienced a dramatic decline. New suburban homes had air conditioning which allowed their owners to spend more time indoors on hot summer nights, and the neighborhoods where they were built were better suited to automobile traffic than pedestrians. A generation of Americans grew up watching television and playing ping pong in basement family rooms.

(originally published in Dutchess Magazine) Photos by James Crisp, Rob Karosis and Graziela Pazzanese

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Writing about Architecture

It has been said that Writing about Art is like Dancing about Architecture. Rest assured there will be absolutely no dancing in this Blog.

Instead I will share my thoughts about architecture in general and home design in particular. I am an architect, and have been one for over 20 years. Writing, for public consumption, is relatively new to me. But somehow after writing an article about porches, Sandee Mahoney (senior designer at Crisp Architects) and I were asked by Taunton Press to write a book on the subject (“On the Porch” to be published April 10th, 2007). And here we are.

Included in this blog will be reprints of a bi-monthly article I write for the regional publication, Dutchess Magazine on the subject of design, construction and architectural practice. I hope that this blog will be as much fun to read as my articles have been to write. And I will do my best to answer any questions regarding home design, time permitting.

Lets dance!

- Jimmy