The Vintage House

September 23, 2010

This short post is simply an announcement. It’s a little like the one made by John Stewart on The Daily Show last week–a plug for a project I’ve completed with Gordon Bock, the longtime editor of The Old House Journal. In a few months W.W. Norton will publish our book, The Vintage House: A Guide to Successful Renovations and Additions. Needless to say, many of the views expressed in this blog will be in print, along with additions and renovations by some of the nation’s finest architects. We think that the book will add to the debate about how best to preserve the historic houses that give old neighborhoods their character, charm, and sense of place. Look for news on our new website:


September 14, 2010

It has been two years since the financial collapse that nearly toppled all the world’s banks. Paul Krugman, in his trenchant and increasingly dire editorials in the New York Times, has pointed out more than once that things ought to be better by now. For one thing, Americans aren’t supposed to lie around and mope in the face of crises–we fought World War II after a devastating Depression with pluck and iron-willed determination. And, despite the frustrations of the democratic process (letting the people voice their dissent and all that), America’s constitutional system has always produced leaders capable of dealing with things that would topple the average parliamentary government (say, Italy’s, for instance).

Why do things seem so different now? Why are our leaders stuck in a quagmire that looks as if it will drag everyone down into a hellish abyss that will take decades to crawl out of? If Obama is the next Lincoln, why can’t he act passionately and skilfully to lead America back into the light after years of dark corruption and greed? Why are things darker now than ever?

The nation is suffering from paralysis in nearly every sector, community, and institution. It isn’t just the state and federal government, the primary and secondary schools, the universities, the churches, the local clubs, and the sports arenas. The deep freeze has struck every family, individual and living thing on this continent. Only “reality TV” seems to have missed the signs, but we never expected the media to notice anyway. “American Idol” is ready to mint the next superstar to foist on a music industry that is sinking into oblivion. Outside the T-party types are mad as hell and ready to take it out on our politicians with hellish vengeance, replacing them with complete idiots.

The reason that I have not been able to write about architecture, urbanism, or preservation lately is that there appears to beĀ  nothing on the horizon to comment about. Architectural Record saw fit to publish an “Oasis” issue on the obscene “City Center” in Las Vegas and the Burj Kalifa (Dubai) skyscraper. Better to have made toilet paper out of the pulp expended on these glossy spreads. No doubt, in communities throughout the nation, courageous architects are working for community groups, schools, and small businesses and proving that it is possible to do a lot with diminishing resources. A lot of small firms are hanging on, trying to do good work that will mean something to sustaining their towns and cities. Who will notice? Who will encourage, support, and give voice to these efforts? Certainly not the architectural media, who continue to follow starchitects around the world, in search of genius.

How do we wake up the bureaucrats, the banks, the venture capitalists, the philanthropists, the intellectuals, the old movers and shakers, who seem to be in a deep sleep? China is sprinting ahead in developing green technologies that will be needed for the new society that we face in 50 years. Where are the American entrepreneurs? Where are the creative designers, the visionaries, once the pride of the United States?

It will take a jolt bigger than the one that made Frankenstein to re-start America. Bigger than the H-bomb. Bigger than fusion. Bigger maybe than the Big Bang. Electro-shock therapy on a national scale. Are we ready for it? Can we take it? We had better be, because it’s coming, sooner than we think.