Citizen Architect


PBS has done it again. An intriguing look at intelligent people doing interesting things. Nothing blows up. There are no scantily clad women. No murders. No esp flashbacks at the scene of a horrific crime. And, there will be no commercials – hallelujah! If you are not used to television of this quality you’ll be delighted to know you have until Summer to work up to it. Start by checking out the trailer at

“Citizen Architect: Samuel Mockbee and the Spirit of the Rural Studio is a documentary film on the late architect Samuel Mockbee and the radical educational design/build program known as the Rural Studio.” In short it looks like one of those stories that is simultaneously heart breaking and deeply inspiring. Reminding us of the power of our creative energies and how meaningful it can be to contribute them without thought of reward.


Windows of Opportunity


Whatever you believe about global warming 2009 demonstrated that the governments of the world aren’t prepared to do much about it. Yet I suspect most of us appreciate that treading lightly and nurturing our planet are good ideas. The truth of this fact is all around us and the tools to contribute to reducing your personal impact are nearer at hand than ever before. There are many small things you can do that are improvements on multiple levels. For instance, you can replace your battery hungry flashlight with one that you crank by hand. Not only will you save money and prevent all those heavy metals from entering the landfill (and eventually your drinking water) every time you pick up your flashlight it will actually work!

There are also some big things you can do like changing the car you drive and the home you live in. Buildings account for a massive portion of the energy we use and as with the flashlight bringing your home up-to-date has many advantages like energy savings and the opportunity to mold your home around the way you live rather than the other way around. Why wait for the G-men to get their act together when you can get going right now? For a little inspiration check out the terrific collection of 62 innovative green homes on They’ll pique your appetite for improvements large and small.



Shelter Me


Shelter Architects has completed one of the first LEED Platinum residential houses in the Nation. And not just any ol’ place in the nation – right here in Minneapolis on Washburn Avenue near Theodore Worth Park. Not only is the design a nice break from the endless rows of traditional houses but the materials are up-to-date as well. The home boasts energy star lighting, no-voc finishes, recycled and fsc finish materials, and even reclaimed flooring and tile. They score on all three counts: reduce, reuse and recycle. Check out Shelter’s site for more or if you’re local make the pilgrimage one day when the weather is nice… late May perhaps.



Have You Voted Today?


You may not have a house that is an architectural masterpiece but take heart – you have an opinion and that’s all you need to participate in The House Vote. Roughly every day a new bite sized bit of architectural creativity is posted and you get to give it a thumbs up or thumbs down. If you are feeling particularly loquacious or lean more toward freestyle commentary you can do that too. It’s a fun way to get a dose of architecture and if you see something you like you can click on the picture to visit the website of the architectural office responsible.

If you are not confident about your opinion check here first to baseline (or possibly flat line) your appreciation for homes that are poorly designed, poorly crafted and basically out of touch with reality. Then check out some of the architecture posts on this site or jump right to The House Vote to look at some really nice homes that were designed to be built in a specific location and support the healthy, happy life of the occupants.

Clearly I have an opinion (grin)

An Oblique Lesson in Creative Direction (part 1)


One of the credos from my childhood that has served me particulary well as a creative director is “Give credit where credit is due.” With sufficient practice this simple act of generosity becomes so rewarding you’ll never miss an opportunity to share the love. So, naturally I felt the need to share with you my praise for the beautiful portfolio of residential work featured in the Turnbull Griffin Haesloop Architects portfolio. It looks like a really nice crew of folks in this San Francisco office and I appreciate the smiles on their down-to-earth faces given what a minor miracle it must be to achieve architectural nirvana despite the obstacles of budgets, deadlines, building codes, personalities, weather and the chaos inherent in a quantum mechanical universe.

In a world overflowing with cheap plastic meaninglessness and flashy technological trends there is something about the soft, reassuring glow of wood that never fails to satisfy my sense of a welcoming home and TGHA employs it masterfully. The integration of these houses into the landscape is likewise wonderful and I hope to see the next iteration of the TGHA website give the firms they work with (like Lutsko Associates) credit for their important role. Take a minute to click through their work, email them a note of appreciation and let the inspiration of their work find expression in your own.



Don’t forget to apply this lesson’s theme of sharing credit with those who have earned it.

Red Mountains Yellow Trim

Tucked away in a little neighborhood just below the Flatiron Mountains in Boulder, Colorado lies the Sampson House by Tician Papachristou. Make sure you take the time to actually sound out his name because despite looking unfamiliar it will roll off your tongue with the same comfortable charm that this house inspires. It’s amazing how a home built in 1958 can escape looking dated over 50 years later. In part it is the simple honesty of the wood siding and bare concrete. The shape is intriguing and makes even more sense when seen in context with the dusty red peaks that soar almost 1,000 feet above. I believe the yellow trim is a recent addition but it serves to emphasize the way the roof line parallels the slope. Together these design details ensure the house feels rooted to the landscape but also celebrates the jagged mountains that surely inspired it. It was also likely inspired by the long, low lines of Frank Loyd Wright’s Usonian homes.

Tician collaborated on a few projects with a more famous architect Marcel Breuer. Breuer was brilliant without a doubt and it must have been rewarding to collaborate but unfortunately seems to have overshadowed Tician’s own work which is wonderful in its own right. If you’re ever in Boulder take a moment to walk by.

An Architect Lived Here

One of my design professors once told me “A designer should never take the same route to work two days in a row.” Going on he explained that the repetition dulls our ability to perceive the details afresh each time. I’ve followed his advice for 17 years now and have traveled for miles going around ‘just one more bend’ at a time.

Just the other day I took a different turn and discovered this fun little house just a single block from a house I’ve been by many times. Interestingly, the day after taking these pictures the home (at 1912 Norfolk Ave. in Saint Paul) went up for sale. There is a corner stone (unusual for a residence) listing the architects Bergstedt and Hirsch which is also unusual since they designed things like Mount Zion Temple on Summit Avenue so it’s possible this is just another one of a number of interesting reclaimed materials. Then again I believe the house is currently owned by an architect so you never know. If you’re not in the market you might still enjoy going to an open house to see some of the interesting solutions on display. And who knows what else you’ll find – just around the bend.

Tucked Away Since 1955



Somewhere between the unobtainably beautiful pages of Dwell Magazine and the undesirable tract housing vomited onto the land by developers; just around the corner from the quaint but increasingly inadequate pattern houses that make up most neighborhoods I find myself stumbling upon a few humble gems. Homes that appear to be comfortably of the space they inhabit even though they are unusual. It can be quite difficult to figure out if this is the result of the skill of a professional architect and landscape architect or simply the intuition of a passionate owner. Either way I thought I’d start sharing some of my finds here to demonstrate that quality space can be achieved wherever you find yourself.

This first one is in Saint Paul’s Highland Park area and thanks to the AIA I discovered that it is actually called the Donald Haarstick House. Mr. Haarstick was one of the first architects to embrace modernism after WWII and this home he designed for himself dates to 1955. It is different almost radical compared to adjacent houses yet (to me) looks much more interesting to live in.