Archive for the Architecture Category

A Short and Illustrated Thought #58

Posted in Architecture, Photography, Uncategorized, Woodstock on March 8, 2014 by smpiv


For as long as

a home stands,

it is

never finished.


A Short and Illustrated Thought #32

Posted in Architecture, Photography, Uncategorized, Vermont, Woodstock on August 28, 2012 by smpiv

We populate this time

                like well worn shoes.


These cars, these shirts

                these well worn jeans.


This day but a date

                a stylish fate.


Wear it well,

wear it now.



                the sell by date.

A Short and Illustrated Thought #17

Posted in Architecture, Photography, Thousand Oaks, Uncategorized on June 9, 2012 by smpiv

Am I any more alive today

than I was yesterday?

Now in June,

any more alive than in May?


I watch the snow,

I watch the rain.

It comes,

It goes.

Must I?


Our little tree,

freed from its bulb,

sits in shock

Its leaves to rust.

It will grow.


Sun showers,

Sun power.

Sun rises,

Sun sets.


Another day

begets the rest.


I feel alive today.

A Short and Illustrated Thought #1

Posted in Architecture, Bascilica of the Assumption, Catholic University, Photography on April 9, 2012 by smpiv

When did I grow up?

Difficult to say,

Never had a rite of passage.

Nothing at thirteen,

Nothing at sixteen,

No lion killed,

No ancient text read in an ancient language.

When will Min grow up?

The History of Photography Part Four or The Blue Jacket with the Red Stripe.

Posted in Architecture, Corcoran School of Art, Madrid, Photography, Spain, The Prado, Uncategorized on March 13, 2012 by smpiv

The funny thing about blogging is that I’ve written far more blogs in my head in anticipation of writing a blog than I have actually written.

I’ve started many and they sit in my blog file awaiting an inspiration that will finish them or that finishes them off.

Many I’ve started thinking I’m onto something interesting only to have them die a paragraph to five hundred words later.  Some of my best—to my way of thinking—just come out as fingers hit keys.  Some I’ve posted despite knowing there are some rough patches and transitions within them, but the overall nugget is good.

The same thing happens when I take pictures.

I’ve been at photography, now, a long time and I still, rarely, know when I’ve gotten a good shot.  Quite often I’ll make the discovery during the editing process.  For that reason I have saved every digital capture I’ve made—over 100,000 at this point.

Like any photographer worth their salt, my best shots are surrounded by cast offs.  The wonder of a truly

A great image within anyone’s pantheon is a rare and wonderful thing.

And it’s even rarer when a number of shots come out in the same shoot.

I am now going to put my neck out there and look over a few shots I took over the period of a week while Lisa, Min and I were in Madrid a few years ago.  Nearly all are of Min—baby-bore I know—but what I think separates these shots is that they are of a child who is seeing himself for the first time and his world around him.  For that reason they transcend the family snapshot and, obviously, you are welcome to disagree.

The first shot is not one of them, but a grab shot of a person I didn’t recognize as my little boy–the one who talked endlessly to his stuffed rabbit Bun Bun–but a seasoned traveler, not a six year old boy.  A six year old boy who would come in and out of focus over the following week.

Madrid is a city full of graffiti.  And It seemed that unlike many cities that make efforts to clean graffiti it is a city that lets it be.  I’m not sure if this an appreciation for and hopes of fostering another Jean-Michel Basquiat or not, but it was everywhere.

There is something compelling about Min’s slightly blurred figure, his eyes looking past and somewhat startled look that juxtaposes nicely with FEAR.  It has long transcended the moment, because I have long forgotten where we were in the city, but I come back to this shot time and again.

It set the tone for what would come later in the trip and began the thread of a little boy who was widening his world view.

Our hotel was close by this building that was half of a set, the other out of frame leaning in on the other side of the street.  The both of them evidence of the horrors that architects can create with too much leeway.

Min could care less, but within this stare, this giving to a pesky photographer father is as much questioning in that fraction of a second that I could look forward too later.

This is a shot that I like more and more.  Again, the distant stare with the upturned hands and questioning eyes.  Mother is close by, but separated nicely by distance and the knife edge of the building in the background.

Min as a youngster was wise beyond his years and, although, my guess is that he’s thinking about something to do with Thomas the Tank Engine it’s with an intensity that serves him well.

This is a square that I was certain I had visited with my Mother and Brother years before when I was the same age as Min is in this picture.  Come to find out we never went to Madrid.

Again the confident pose of a boy who is certain of himself and baring that that his father would take care of him.

I love the layering in this shot—the ill defined man in the blue t, the man to the right glancing back and the pack of three women.  Min sits on top of it all with the same uncertain look he had in FEAR.  He is amongst these people, but not quite ready to join in.

Earlier as we set out for the Prado we arrived at the top of the escalator from the subway.  I looked around to get my bearings when Min chirped in.

“Dad, hold it.  Let me get my compass out and I’ll find out which way to go.”

I didn’t mind because I truthfully didn’t quite know where I was, so any input would be nice.

He looked intently at the compass that didn’t even work and confidently said, “It’s this way.”

What the hell, couldn’t be any worse than my plan and damned if we didn’t walk straight to the museum.

In this shot he is again intent on his bearings, holding his hand steady to be sure of his readings.

He’s always had that steadiness.

Without doubt, this is one of the best pictures I’ve ever taken.

Min impatiently spreads his fingers being grasped by his mother.  Lisa’s look is one of absolute love and adoration for this child we have been given the honored task of rearing.

I look at this shot and see everything that I was taught in the Foundations program at the Corcoran so many years before.  The dark to light diagonal, the tension in the hands, the triangulation of the composition—two chairs, the couple in the tiles and Lisa and Min in the foreground.

Both Lisa and Min pack clothes and toys away for Min’s children and I often wonder if the blue jacket with the red stripe we see in just about every picture here is one of the pieces of clothing that has been packed away.  Maybe I should ask.

But, I suppose it doesn’t really matter because I have enshrined it in these images of a resolute six year old that was making his way out of his insular world and into the bigger one.  Fortunately he still has a ways to go but I was there for one of his first forays beyond himself.

God, I wish it would all slow down.

The History of Creativity Part I or Men in Black

Posted in Architecture, Art, Capitol, Corcoran School of Art, House Post Office, Longworth Building, Photography, VCU on November 16, 2011 by smpiv


I’ve written this one in my head any number of times.  I’ve written it in my head going south on the NJTP.  I’ve
written it in my head going north through Scranton.  I stopped writing it in my head when I realized I was on 87 vs. 287 and had to be sure I didn’t miss the Cross Bronx.

I thought that I would throw a lot of art history at it and go through some long winded dissertation on the state of art over the last two hundred years, but……

Am I creative?

Well I don’t know, but I think I’ll tell what it means to be creative to me-my own little story.

I build things.  Always have.  I disappear into my creations, I mean way gone.  Models, forts, rubber band guns, rebuilding my bike–anything with my hands.

I’m a perfectionist.  So much so that if it isn’t right–just right–I’ll destroy it.

In a nutshell I am both a creator and a destroyer.  I’ve always had that; it just took time to make it work for me.

I would love to say that I was repressed, that others held me back from my passion, that no one recognized my
genius, but until I was twenty three years old, there was nothing to repress, held back or recognized.  I was your
average, aimless young man.

Most Likely to _________?  I was most likely to do what?  I was so ill defined I didn’t have a clue what I would like to do.  Like most people, I had a long list of things I didn’t want to do, but no real handle on what I could do.

It wasn’t until I was twenty three that I made a move that was of my own volition and desire.

Family, friends and strangers had long said I had an artistic bent and, in truth, through my humility I thought  they might just be right, but I didn’t know what to do with it.

My work history following graduating from college was sketchy at best.  Through the lens of a poor economy and no discernable talent I went from one minor job to another.  A short—eight days—stint in the military would have given me a good foothold into the working world.  However it was there that I made my first Big-boy decision—a career in the Navy Supply Corps was not what I wanted to do with my life.  I dis-enrolled (DE’d in military parlance).

A brief career as a baby photographer (six months) was a first step toward my future—a horrid experience on the whole, but I had a knack for the photographic aspect of the job.

And then one of those odd jobs that leveraged it all—the House Post Office, pitching and delivering mail.  Such a mindless position that I had more than ample time to think about things.  What to watch on TV, what to have for dinner that night, oh and what to do with the rest of my life.

I was living the single DC life in Silver Spring, Maryland, just where East West Highway makes a hoop-di-doo to
avoid going through DC.  It was a short walk to the Metro that took me to the House Post Office in the Longworth Building and then, later, to the Crypt in the Capitol Building.

I don’t remember the particulars, but I do remember my friend David Barnes convincing me to put together a
portfolio of my photographs, drawings and doodles and apply to the Corcoran School of Art.  He was one of those people who told me I had a talent, maybe not a gift, but at least a talent.  He was big into penny-stocks, so he was used to betting on long-shots, but it was enough to motivate me.

And damn if they didn’t accept my application.  I was thrilled for a day or two, and then horrified that perhaps they didn’t look closely enough at my work and had made some egregious error.

I was convinced before I got there that I would be surrounded by young da Vincis, Picassos, et al.  At twenty three I was the old man in the program and probably more nervous than I would have been had I been seventeen.  As it turned out I had more talent in my pinky than most of these darkly dressed pretenders.

As an aside, our culture has this misconception that if you are antisocial, quirky, gay or can’t match your socks
that you must have a creative disposition; that you must need an outlet; that your “problem” can’t be discerned by inkblots, but by creating them.  For this reason I wasn’t surrounded by the aforementioned artists, but by a motley collection of antisocial, quirky, gay, and non-sock-matching people with varying levels of talent.

Just for clarity, except for the gay part, I was a high functioning antisocial, quirky, and non-sock-matching member of the group.  I blame my inability to match socks on my color blindness.

My point is that creativity has no recognizable look.

But there I was, a pig-in-shit.  The Foundations program was one of my more lucent periods.  It was a
moment in my life when my skipping stone touched down.  Everything was fresh and new.  Everything I had imagined I could do with a blank piece of paper, a blank canvas, a piece of clay was all put before me.  It was a door unlocked.

I had entered the program with all intention to continue with photography, but as one new media after another
presented itself I wasn’t so sure.

My walks from the Corcoran to the crypt in the Capitol Building usually included a stop at the East Wing, the Hirshhorn, the Renwick, the Air and Space, the Museum of American Art and the Portrait Gallery—obviously depending on the day, but to that point and since had never spent so much time in art galleries and museums.  Their creative collections are immense and they were washing over me.  It was daunting and inspiring.

While I was at the Corcoran, and later at VCU, I never called myself an artist, but when asked I said I went to art school.  Most of my friends referred to themselves as artists right off the bat.  I had no such pretension.  In a lot of ways I still don’t.

So what does it mean to be creative? I still don’t know. I am now an architect—come to by a very roundabout route, but one that has taken every creative instinct that I’ve had and put it to use.  I think what I’ve done is best summed up by the notion of the creative instinct.

Like any animal that works on instinct I have very little to explain the whys, whats, and wherefores.  So sadly I can’t tell what creativity is or where it comes from.  For me twenty-three was the year I woke up, took my life into my own hands, for better or for worse and walked down my own creative path.   And it is fortunate that I have creative outlets for I could very easily live in my own head at a greater distance than I already am.

So there you have it.  Probably an unsat answer, but at least what it means to be creative to me.

Lincoln Logs

Posted in Architecture, Autobiographical on August 16, 2009 by smpiv

Somewhere in the legend and myth that is Frank Lloyd Wright is the story of his mother knowing from an early age that FLW would be an architect.  To further her belief she was said to have given him Lincoln Logs to move him in the right direction.  This story has always been clouded by misinterpreted truth–it has been repeated so many times with little or no attribution that it resembles an Oliver Stone movie.

Whether the story is true or not to is not important here.  What is important is that most architects know exactly when they heard the calling;  where the burning bush made its appearance; or exactly who influenced them.  I know my moment, but let’s wait a bit.

I wanted to be a pilot.  A fighter pilot and ultimately a test pilot.  Why?  Simple, my dad was one. 


My early reading consisted of Redbook, McCall’s, Ladies Home Journal, Aviation Week and Proceedings.  I obviously read everything and anything, but Av Week and Proceedings were my bibles.  I had notebooks full of clipped articles with aircraft performance and specs.  Don’t get me started about movies that have the stars taking off in a 727 and landing in a 747.  I still look up at the slightest flying sound.

So what happened?  Nature.  I think my sister can tell me what gene in my parental/grandparental scheme, be it recessive or not, that gave me thinning hair and color blindness.  I can’t.  I do remember finding out and initially thinking, wow, how interesting. 

Elementary school, the mid-60s, Poway, California.  The dot test that most everyone is familiar with.  Everyone else sees seven and I see sixty four.  At the time I thought, how cool, look at me, I’m special.  Well, not special enough.

The military has a special attachment to their equipment and if they can remove a variable that may put that piece of equipment in jeopardy, they will.  For aircraft it’s color blindness–disqualified right off the bat.  For the Navy it’s the meatball system that tells a pilot landing on a carrier if they are too high, too low, or just right on their approach.  It’s a system of lights that relies on red, white, and green.  For me when red or green get close to the light end of the spectrum I see white.  I think you can see the problem.

For years I lived with this knowledge, but was sure it would all work out.  It didn’t although I did end up in the Navy for an inglorious eight days, but that’s another story.

Following my honorable discharge I ran head long into an uncertain future.  For once in my short life I had made a decision–a decision with consequences.  I knew what I didn’t want to do and had no idea what I did want to do.  A classic conundrum. 

Fast forward eighteen years.  I’m sitting in a studio space at Catholic one summer, an “old man” of thirty eight, listening to one young person after another telling their “when did you know it was architecture” stories. 

They were all so relatively young and so certain about that moment.  “I built sand castles on the beach when I was three and I knew I had to study the ephemeral nature of design”.  “I built extensively with Legos  as a youth and spent my summers in Denmark as a master builder at Legoland”.  “My father is an architect and some poor slob, who thinks he’ll make partner, is keeping my seat warm”.  “My wife and mother-in-law made me”.

model 1 coffee shop

The last one, that’s me.  I was happily wearing out my body as a carpenter and making intermittent money because the economy was in a bit of a slump.  That didn’t sit well with Lisa, so she and her mother did a “What Color is Your Parachute”  intervention.  Like most things Lisa does, the table was set beautifully and all my favorite foods and drink were there.  I was suspicious, but food is my anchor so I didn’t run.

“We’ve looked over your education and work history and decided you will be going to architecture school’.  Really?  This thought had never crossed my mind and, truthfully, I really didn’t know what architects did.  As a carpenter the arrival of the architect was always with a bit of bemusement.  There were two kinds of architects that showed up on a job site–the blow hard, know it all, very clean finger nail type.   The other, more dangerous kind, was the one who had put on a tool belt for a summer and felt he was your Kodie dippin’ buddy.

model 2 coffee shop

I wasn’t sure this is what I wanted to do.  So the summer class was an inexpensive way to dip my toe in the water.  The design aspect was great, my new, young classmates were great, but what really caught my attention was model building.  When I was about eleven or twelve I had helped my sister decorate and furnish her doll house, but what I really wanted to do was to build the house itself.  Whenever I was in Michaels I would slip off to the dollhouse section and look at all the miniature materials–siding, flooring, doors and windows.

greek model

It was this entree that kept me there and ultimately made me fall in love with a profession I’m am still learning about more than ten years later.  So maybe I had the architectural gene after all.  Thank you Lisa and Margaret.   Oh, and if I’m ever worthy of biography, it wasn’t Lincoln Logs for me, but basswood.

macintosh 1