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,