Community Serivce

Wednesday, August 6th, 2008

Peace Brought on by Architecture


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“The library is earthy and spare, planting Modernism’s clean confidence in the blood-soaked dirt.”

O.K., that line is a bit heavy-handed, but this article is more interesting than anything I can come up with today. I keep looking over my shoulder at this page I marked in the June issue of Metropolis. It’s just such a cool story (by William Bostwick) that has it all, like solving problems of bloody civil war and kidnapping right-wing guerrillas with architecture and public spaces. It mentions Medellin, a  word I’ve only heard on Entourage.  It has  bright-eyed architects fresh out of school who win the commission before they even have an office set up.  There is striking vernacular style made from local materials and constructed by the community. I can’t come up with anything half as interesting as this article, so I’m sharing it with you. Go read it in full over here. Maybe you already did. It is the June issue, after all. I tend to let my Metropolis issues stack up like most people let The New Yorker stack up.

photos by Nicolas Cabrera Andrade via


Tuesday, July 1st, 2008

Yestermorrow Design/Build School


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I first heard of Yestermorrow Design/Build School via Karrie Jacobs’ The Perfect $100,000 House.*  It sounded so great to me, then I forgot all about it until I saw it mentioned in Metropolis recently. I used to know how to draft but I’ve always sucked in woodshop and I sure don’t know how to build – it sounds like a great experience – a diverse group hanging out at summer design/build camp in Vermont. During the courses, students learn all about creating their own space, how to render it as an architect would, and partake in building projects at the same time. There are 1-3 day workshops, 1 week courses, and 2 week courses. If you’ve ever dreamed about architecture or building and didn’t know where to start, this is a great place to dip in a toe before you take the plunge.*

Here’s their philosophy:

Yestermorrow’s courses are specifically designed to demystify the designing and building processes using hands-on, experiential learning to teach students the art and wisdom of good design and the skill and savvy of enduring craftsmanship as a single, integrated process.

This creative process offers students unique insight into the oftentimes disparate worlds of the architect and the builder. Architects are routinely trained without any building experience that might inform their designs, and builders are trained to execute without a sense of the overarching purpose or design of the project.

Combining design and building offers numerous advantages and promotes the creation of intentional and inspired buildings and communities that enhance our world. From the professional design/builder to the do-it-yourself design/build homeowner, every designer should know how to build and every builder should know how to design. This philosophy sets Yestermorrow apart from other educational institutions.

Something about their vibe reminds me of Sambo’s Rural Studio, probably because most of their built works benefit communities.

* I really enjoyed Jacobs’ book when I read it, it was a quest for a place to call home set in that American On the Road kind of format, which is ironic, but it works. I found myself longing for a few things: 1) PHOTOGRAPHS of the places she visited. The few sketches in the book were charming, but an architecture critic, no matter how good her written descriptions are, should know that her readers are thirsty for images 2) For Jacobs to repeat her journey in 2008. Prefab architecture has become much more prevalent and costs have gone way down in the few years since she started her research. At the time she wrote the book, she was on the cutting edge of the current prefab movement. 3) For Jacobs to actually (SPOILER ALERT!)  find the perfect $100,000 house and freaking buy it/build it and live in it already! Maybe it was the Keroac-ian love of the road that kept her from putting down roots.

Another note: After reading about her Yestermorrow experience, I was pretty shocked that someone who was such a well known architecture critic (NYTimes, Dwell, H&G…she rocks) didn’t even know how to draft or how to begin designing a space. With so many precedents in her brain to find inspiration from, she really didn’t even know where to begin. I know that’s the norm, that art critics aren’t Picasso, or music critics Stevie Wonder, but it still surprised me. On the flip side, a lot of architects can’t write or critique worth a damn and they seem completely unaware of this as they wax unpoetically in a bunch of archi-speak mumbo-jumbo. Anyway, then it hit me that the architecture critic knows how to EXPERIENCE and APPRECIATE the space, and that is what counts. Just sharing my catharsis with you – sometimes I’m a little slow to understand these things!

all photos from


Friday, June 13th, 2008

Project Row House Update: Third Ward TX Available on DVD


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A few months ago, Andrew Garrison saw my post about Project Row House and sent me a copy of the documentary he directed called Third Ward TX. This is a project that is so genius and moving to me; I’ve been following its progress for years. If you’d like to catch up, you really need to screen this film. I’ve dreaded and thus procrastinated writing this review for months because I know that words can’t do it justice. The last time I was moved to tears by a project or an exhibit was Gee’s Bend Quilts. It doesn’t happen often to this old cynic!


In 1993, Rick Lowe founded Project Row House. He was struck by how much the dilapidated shotgun shacks in the city of Houston reminded him of John Biggers’ paintings. He calls the shotgun shack “a humble abode and a temple.” As Lowe and a group of artists renovated the homes, they created a community where artists-in-residence would come stay and exhibit. Thus, the artists engaged the community and brought attention to a place that had been abandoned by many. Once a neighborhood with a small town feel, the area had fallen on hard times.


The first major result of PRH was eight exhibition houses housing two different artist per year, with exhibitions and exhibitions in progress showing for six months a year. The doors are open for people to walk through. Exhibits range from portraits to this 2001 Walter Hood installation:


After reaching this success, Lowe realized it was only the tip of the iceberg in helping the community. Thus, The Young Mothers in Residency Program was born. Single mothers were able to live in housing that is part of the project, and they are aided by mentor moms. They live rent free for two years while completing educations. These families become part of a thriving community. The amount of dignity this effort brings to people seems too powerful to describe. Read the rest of this entry »


Friday, May 30th, 2008

In Case You Missed It – Design on the Web this Week


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Master merchandiser, shop owner extraordinaire, new mom and my dear friend and former neighbor Suzannah Fischer (or is it Fisher now? She actually married a guy with the same last name, minus the “c”) has started a blog for her store, O’Suzannah Goods, called o’suz news. It’s a great blog for perusing the coolest gifties and accessories – Suz has an enviable eye for finding the freshest products. I owe most of my grad school credit card debt to Suzannah.


The Cape Cod Modern House Trust as seen on Modern House Notes. I spent hours this week catching up on Tom and Gina’s blog, after seeing a story in The NYTimes about the Alice Ball House I was sure was written by Tom (we linked over to this post back in January). Turns out it was written by someone who clearly had appreciated his research on the subject. Anyway, I recommend catching up with all of Tom and Gina’s posts, as the buildings they find are phenomenal, but in particular I want to help spread the word about The Cape Cod Modern House Trust. Here is a little more information from their website:

In the late 1930s, on the isolated ‘back shore’ of Wellfleet, a group of self-taught, architecture enthusiasts began building experimental structures based on the early Modern buildings they had seen in Europe. Through mutual friends they invited some of the founders of European Modernism to buy land, build summer homes and settle. Like their local hosts, the recently emigrated Europeans admired the traditional Cape Cod ‘salt boxes’. These ancient houses were simple, functional, owner-built and designed for long winters. The Modernist summer houses were inversions of these, oriented to capture views and breezes, perching lightly on the land. In the three decades that followed, these architects built homes for themselves, their friends and the community of internationally influential artists, writers, and thinkers that took root nearby. Though humble in budget, materials and environmental impact, the Outer Cape’s Modern houses manage to be manifestos of their designers’ philosophy and way of living, close to nature, immersed in art and seeking community. The work of these architects and their clients spread around the world. These houses are the physical remnants of this unique convergence.

The Trust is trying to raise money to save and maintain some of these modern treasures…


… and in conjunction with the Truro Castle Hill Center for the Arts, has organized a Modern House Tour Read the rest of this entry »


Friday, May 9th, 2008

The Akola Project


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Yesterday I was perusing one of my favorite neighborhood shops, urban cottage, and I came across some beautiful beads. It turns out they were part of the Akola project. The Akola project is part of the Ugandan American Partnership Organization. The Akola project has employed over 90 widows to make necklaces that are sold in Atlanta Georgia and Greenville South Carolina, for the purpose of stimulating economic development and providing relief to widows in rural villages. The beads are absolutely stunning, by the way. To learn more go to; to purchase visit

photo from