Thursday, December 31, 2009


2010 is the year of the Tiger in the Chinese calendar, of course it starts a little later than the traditional Gregorian calendar. This is my year, the year I was born was Tiger, so every 12 years my life goes on an uptick! As the economy comes around and people are looking for an architect, I think that the seeds will have been spread by then, next; reap the rewards.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009


The tightening of our belts is going to create a recession mentality much like my grandparents mentality during the Great Depression. Like my in-laws, immigrants from the former Soviet Union, surviving famines and minimal food distribution, our immediate future will be scaled back to ensure we retain some wealth and wait for a real catalyst to propel us forward. It might be a environmental, further economic, or man-made event, but I think that something like that will make us more efficient and leaner as a nation. I don't want to see a world war to get us out of this like after the great depression, or the Cold War escalation of spending in the 80's, but more like a huge green revolution to create jobs and export our technology to the world, not us importing everything, only exporting our money.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009


Conatus is a term used in early philosophies or psychology and metaphysics to refer to an innate inclination of a thing to continue to exist and enhance itself. This is a term that should be used on a daily basis about what we do to improve our lives.

Monday, December 28, 2009


The definition of a recession is to recede or use or have less. We have to learn this lesson so that it is not repeated again. What are we doing as a country to embed this message in our lifestyle?

Sunday, December 27, 2009

New(old) Cars

What can be said about the new(old) car movement in comparison to architecture? These are both equatable to how we look to the past for inspiration, remaking cars, movies, fashions, etc. from a time we look at at being historically pure. What is same with the new(old) car movement and architecture is that we should be keeping with purer, simpler forms in building and revising the interiors to how we live now. The same has been done in the auto industry with re-imagining old styles of cars, stripping out the old interiors and replacing them with the contemporary interior finishes and modern electronics. This is a portion of what drives me to simplify the design of houses and look to the great houses of the farm era.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Logo Design

I have retained a graphic designer to re-brand me and get the whole website and cards, etc. tied together. I look forward to the design process and seeing what an outsider thinks how I should portray myself.

Small Houses

This is a great article about the disparity of architects and what clients want in terms of style and size. This type of article only reinforces that there is a need for smaller houses, unfortunately progressive architects don't want to look to our history for examples.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Loving the city

One of my favorite bands, Saint Etienne, love to love their city, London. Having been there only once for under a week, I was totally enamored with the place. I can understand extolling the virtues and stories of metropolitan areas. As much I love cities, I have not been able to express it musically. Otherwise, I love cities and extol their opportunities when talking about architecture and the suburbs, obviously as a counterpoint to where we currently live. There are many other artists, movies, and other art forms for the city scape, but there aren't similar items for the mall-ified sprawl-burbs. There are some stories about how bland the existence is, but not a same amount of love expressed to the city. Am I in denial about how much I love the suburbs and can't find a way to exploit the developer spawned growth?

Friday, December 18, 2009

Christmas Wishes

To quote Lucy, "I want real estate!" What else could a struggling architect with grand visions dream of receiving? Supposedly housing starts were up in November across the nation almost 9%, and nearly 14% in the Northeast. These numbers seem great, but I believe that most of the construction is still of the low quality, high volume type that helped us enter this economic fiasco. I am begging Santa, friends, relatives, Congress, the President, anyone to donate a piece of land to begin my modest architectural vision. There have always been jokes about real estate in the past, but I am trying to get past the earthly possession portion of Christmas, and move onto something that will satisfy year round and give jobs to the construction industry. So, let's see who is going to step up to the plate, or will I get coal in my stocking once again?

Thursday, December 17, 2009


Civil War to World War II, The Tall Era

Land expensive, Materials and Labor cheap

World War II to 9/11/01, The Big Era

Land cheap, Materials cheap, Labor expensive

21st Century, The Precious Era

Land, Labor, Material expensive

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


Does the oppositely affiliated political party occupy each others architecturally political space?

I postulate that the city centers that are more regularly portrayed as liberal bastions are in fact capitalist, libertarian civic structures as opposed to the conformist, socialistic, suburban developments that are inhabited by conservatives.

Suburban developments are over-wrought with rules and regulations about colors of shutters and roofs, height of grass, parking locations, uniformity of house design, very fascist. Does this amount of control and lack of spontaneity entice conservatives, attempting to veer away from neighbors with different expressions of their idealized home life? The lack of hierarchy in the street system is analogous to a communist government, all roads are equal.

Cities are a often gridded, landscape where each block is an opportunity to create a unique identity and major arteries create a pattern in which to navigate said city. The grid is a capitalist idea due to the equality given to each parcel and the chance for the owner to make of it what he or she wants.

Codes are mandated in each area, but the level of expression is higher in cities, this is akin architecturally to the economic policy of capitalism, making what you can of your plot of land. Using your money and land to build and design an outward expression of your concept of home compared to the lack of options for the suburban development where less choices is less intimidating to the majority of Americans. House after house of the same undercooked design, uniform construction details, and communal living because of "home-owners" dues, to clean the streets and garbage that the municipalities would rather go without doing.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


While listening to the Flaming Lips latest album, I believe the overall statement is one of uncertainty. It might be why I haven't been listening to it. It is a great album, but I think because of the economic situation, I have listened to it less than any other Flaming Lips album. It is making me fear the future. I think it is a reaction to the previous admistration placing fear into us on a daily basis. The title of the album is "Embryonic," and it makes sense to not know about tomorrow as a baby or a child, but to keep improving and expanding your knowledge, not to cower in fear of the world. I am trying to learn this lesson while I start my branch of architecture, the beginning is unknown, and that is what is thrilling! How am I going to define my own future?! Embracing the uncertain future is quintessential Lips. I think I have more to learn from them about planning a future, but not being a slave to the present, embracing uncertainty and the will of the planets!


Just every once in a while I find a written item or verse that drives me to get further in life. One is a fortune cookie saying, "Don't wait for your ship to come in, swim out to it." Another is from a horoscope: Where will you be at noon, five years from now? Then this verse pushes me rather hard when I know more is out there: "Every day there's a boy in the mirror asking me...What are you doing here?..Finding all my previous motives...Growing increasingly unclear." This line is from the Kings of Convenience, a Norwegian, modern Simon and Garfunkel. I am not casting aspersions on myself for using these as pick-me-ups, but having a plan, making your own way, and not being satisfied with the status quo are notions that push me to improve my life. The only negative is that there no signs or signals about the recession that keeps the architecture industry in the doldrums. If we collectively work to improve the built environment, then each of our jobs becomes more relevant and our talents will be recognized for the positives we bring to the table.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Red Light District

Not what you think, but the sprawl-burbs are a cluster of stop lights that townships are hard pressed to stop. The townships want development, but the developer wants their own entrance and marker to a shopping center. These continuous sets of red-lights are a testimony to growth without a solid master plan on the part of municipalities. Creating a vision for development that fits within the constraints of a master plan will yield a much easily navigated township. Now that there is time to handle the developers, due to the recession, I believe that smarter, greener, more walkable communities will be the trend in a new urban fashion.

Friday, December 11, 2009


During this downturn in the economy, I have been desiging small, traditional houses that will meet the housing needs of the 21st century. Working with realtors, landscapers, builders, and financiers, I believe that a new style of development and infill will be the next wave of construction. Interested in how and what we are doing? Drop a line and let's get some ideas going.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


Reading so many other blogs and news stories about what makes us feel good, I find them dominated by food, clothing, shopping, and technology items. These topics are great and we need and use them. The depth of time that is needed to create great design and construct comfortable homes is beyond the reach of the internet age attention span. How can we as architects, designers, planners ever hope to reach this level of attention for our profession in the digital age? I work with clients that respect the process of architecture. We create a homes improve and mesh the love of food, clothing, shopping, and technology. A great Kitchen and Dining Room to gather with family and friends. A warm and secure residence where our clothing and shopping purchases are properly stored and displayed. Integrating technology into dwellings allows us to seamlessly introduce the latest elements in a subtle or unnoticed manner. Television shows, magazines, and news stories can encapsulate the above concepts into the same amount of time or printed inches, but there is an enormous disparity in the true time of work involved. As a child, shows such as "This Old House" would take an entire season for a renovation or addition, over a dozen shows for the work to be completed, documented by the change of season on the show. Compared with "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition," an entire house is razed and another constructed in an hour, condensed from only one week or less of work. The lackluster design results of the "EM:HE" only underscore our impatience for architecture of value. This immediacy is rewarding for the residents, the network sponsors, and the viewers, but cheapens our industry.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


To be a citizen in this country, we are called to volunteer. This is something unique and special to our country. Being involved in the Historic Commission is a small step, but the millions of us that don't give one hour a week to a cause are weakening our communities. The members of the board of Upper Uwchlan Township are so appreciative of me stepping up. That pat on the back encourages me to do more. I love the feeling of being involved brings to learn about the world around us and the big picture of what we can do while on this planet. Showing our children the time we dedicate to organizations will illuminate how we can be productive members of society and spur them to be involved in years to come.

Sunday, December 6, 2009


While reading the Three Little Pigs, a parallel with contemporary building is readily apparent. Building quickly and without regard for the Big Bad Wolf of the economy, heating bills, or maintenance, we have ignored the lessons we preach to our children. Quality of construction and quantity of materials is what we are learning to change during this recession.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Historic Announcement

I am happy to announce that I am now going to be on the Historic Review Board for Upper Uwchlan Township. It is a small step, but this is the way to affect change in the built environment! I am excited to start on this committee next week and the challenges that await us in the new year.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Beatle Architecture?

As pop music has skewed away from Beatle-esque melodies and verse-verse-chorus styling to a mish-mash of dance, hip-hip, guest singers, and expensive production values, the same path has occurred for most home building in America. The bigger footprints, more details, more floors, more garage doors mentality has ruled for the last fifty years. Similarly to music, residential architecture has recently collapsed upon itself due to the over abundance of everything. More maintenance of the houses, larger utility bills, and bigger rooms to furnish has pushed homeowners beyond their means to support it. Similarly, music also has collapsed under this weight of excess every decade or so and reinvents itself.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Native American Architecture

When looking for "traditional" American house shapes, one that is easily forgotten is the longhouse. This simple gable-ended rectangular form is a touch stone for the simplicity that we have turned away in the design world. The simplicity of form allow for a respect for the Earth as observed by Native Americans. Reducing material consumption for both our homes and our lifestyles is fundamental to this lifestyle. In the digital age, we need less stuff. We should be doing more with our increased wealth, helping less fortunate, and tending to the planet. Can it be that after 500 plus years on this continent that the Europeans are beginning to respect the land and act in a "green" way that was practiced for centuries prior on this land?

Monday, November 30, 2009


We should take time to be thankful for the roof over our heads everyday.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Meaning of Architecture

I believe that Venturi missed the mark when he simplified the concept of folk architecture and the randomness of shapes associated with the use of a particular building. We need to work toward an architecture of meaning.

Thursday, November 26, 2009


Think globally, act locally. Regionalism is important to architecture, and we have lost that connection. Porches are the single most important feature of houses that are not being built on houses for the last 30 years. The lack of connection to our neighbors started when builders "value engineered" the porches off of the houses being built. Each part of the county has different connections to their porches, but must be evaluated to ensure neighborhoods thrive.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Our simple history

American architecture, a history of simple volumes.

For our residential stock, we need to guide ourselves to simpler volumes that can be finished and maintained in a more efficient manner. Simpler shapes allow for this, not bump-outs and gables every which way. This is our Yankee sensibility that propelled our country to be prosperous and humble, respected and emulated by the world. There are many ways to say it:

The simplicity of form from the past.
Functionality and size of the present.
Responsibility and conservation of the future.

Form, detail, and references of the past.
Use, size, and price of the present.
Responsible, green, and wise of the future.

Purity of form.
Utility of program.
Appropriate detail.

I speak and espouse a specific design for the southeastern Pennsylvania farmhouse, but each region of the country can support it's own vernacular version of smaller, responsible, economical residences.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Expert Opinion

Unfortunately, with no computer at home, I have been making these posts less frequently. With Black Friday looming, a deal for a new machine is pending!

Nonetheless, I remember words spoken by an acquaintance about getting recognized, "Be your own expert." So simple, but it works for so many people. Reading about architecture topics, experiencing spaces, and interpreting them via the written word helps rationalize many decisions I make when designing.

Monday, November 23, 2009


There are no parades in suburbia! This forgone conclusion has riddled me for years as to where we come together as a community in the 21st century. For all the reasons that small towns are dying in this country, there are still elements that bring everyone together to celebrate the seasons and our character. Surely, the Christmas parade will not pass the test in the post-ACLU environment, but Thanksgiving, Independence Day, New Year's Day, Veterans' Day and the like are non-existent. Just as unlikely to be seen are Italian Festivals, Swedish Festivals, and any other ethnic group celebrating a patron saint day, because only in cities do these groups live in a certain area and come together to show how unique their past is, and how proud they are. When planning for another development, how can land planners help us come together as a community? Parades, a world wide phenomenon, except in the suburbs of the United States of America.

Thursday, November 19, 2009


As houses do recover from being too big, what can architecture learn from the music industry? Record companies were dessimated by itunes, napster, and internet radio. Artists have learned to release select songs or albums only electronically to ensure a revenue stream. Architects need to pick up on that idea of less being more valuable. Instead of a huge development of the same house repeated hundreds of times, developers, builders, architects all must make each house or "release" valuable to the economy, environment, and the owner. Itunes for architecture make sense as long as the same plan isn't built repeatedly. The concept we should take away as architects is that each house be unique and honed, instead of bland and rough.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


Being an architect, I have a chance to meet people from many walks of life. At the same time, there are many more professions that I don't contact save for cocktail parties or via friends. Everyone seems to know an architect, but the clarity of what the business of architecture is foreign to many. The hours behind the mouse, drafting, making phone calls, and sending e-mails to colleagues we hardly see, can also be isolating. Being a member of AIA in this suburban market is challenging at best. When I lived and worked in the city of Pittsburgh, events were frequent, if not weekly, giving us a chance to see and hear what was happening in southwestern PA. On the outer ring of Phila, the only benefit of AIA seems to be entering designs into competitions. Networking via competition is hard due to the nature of struggling to find the next project. I hope that a more local branch can be established to rectify the dissimilarity of the events and distance of the city and the suburbs.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Watching Paul Goldberger on "The Colbert Report" last night reminded me of how important it is to continue this dialog about glorious architecture. "Why Architecture Matters" is going to be a good read, as soon as I can get my hands on a copy. Nonetheless, this topic is what frustrates so many architects: Why are there so many under-cooked designs across the planet, when somehow those buildings must have been designed by someone that went to architecture school? Unfortunately we live in a rather mundane architectural world from day to day. Only select residential areas of cities have great housing stock and cities concentrate great architecture in their business sectors. So, should we glorify the mundane or have mundane glory?

Monday, November 16, 2009

My Day, My Goal

Had a great weekend, not out of the house that much, but had plenty of fun with my friends for a great birthday party. Nonetheless, architecture still swirls in my head. Taking a few minutes this morning with some hot tea, the realization that in five years I want to have "my" house under construction is creeping closer on the horizon. This five year plan to find a lot or an existing house to demo, has me meeting my last goal that I set for myself while in college. Licensed by 30, I was 32, my own practice, it is a sidejob and gets me experience, and the last of building a house by the time I am 40 is the last on the list. I am aggressively focusing on this goal and want to visit the status of this project occasionally in this forum.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Not Venturi-ism

During my ruminations about this blog and the topic of vernacular residential architecture, I want to make it clear that I understand what Venturi said about folk architecture, but I believe he went the wrong way. Instead of dumbing down the concept, I think that an eye to detail can continue the great tradition of American architecture without alienating a design to just be a painting on a box. A properly detailed box is what Americans want, not a painted shed that apes a historical precedent. The antithesis lurks near this concept, soon to be fully realized, just give me a bit more time!

Friday, November 13, 2009

As my three day weekend begins, I will digress a bit about architecture for the next few days as my birthday is Monday, I am hosting a beer, pretzels, and Rock Band party for my 35th, Pitt hosts Notre Dame, and the Steelers have a big game on Sunday. So a short respite after beginning this, but birthdays don't come that often.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


The word "modern" has been destroyed in the architectural world. It is still used to describe buildings sixty to seventy years old. It is a word realtor's use rarely for houses. We live in a modern or "new" or "now" world, except when addressing contemporary design, which is anything but modern. Modern farmhouse sounds like a computerized or automatic milking barn. Contemporary farmhouse brings notions of a glass and metal structure glowing ethereally on a farm. Farmhouse is also misleading, many of these new residences will be built on lots previously occupied by split levels on a half acre lot. Current, linked, or Up-to-date are a bit clumsy, but more appropriate to our lifestyles and construction techniques. UPHouse is more appropriate. I intend to use this acronym for a truly contemporary residence. Up-to-date? Ultra-modern? Urgent? Urbane, yes, this is the right word, for the non-urban dwellings. Where will I focus this building style, Pennsylvania. Urbane Pennsylvania farmHouse; UPHouse.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Focus on Residential Architecture

On my daily drive to work, I see at least two dozen farmhouses that are great examples of Southeastern Pennsylvania architecture. These simple residences have greatly influenced my design parameters in the last two years. Picking up the detailing, proportioning, and scale of these farmhouses is pushing me to work on more vernacular designs for clients. Modern, contemporary, and the like, these architectural styles will not be adopted in this region of the country. The way in which we live has changed, even in a traditional market. The message that I want to bring is how we unify modern living with a traditional form. Can this be done in a less "McMansion" way? Yes, keeping the formality of the exterior, but stretching the interior layouts to have boundaries, but not formalized spaces. These pictures show some of the examples that I intend to replicate in a current living and building style.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Inaugural Post

Hello Intrepid Reader!

Welcome to the Brett.Hand-Architect blog. This will be used to track both the ups and downs of the beginning of my own business, while still employed. As a location to display my everyday (hopefully) experiences in the built environment, I hope to convey the best of what architecture has to offer. With the current sour economic climate, more time will be spent on what is out there, and how we can learn from the past. I would like to transition to a more documentary style as projects begin to pick up and construction begins again.

Thank you,