My Architects

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It’s always about coming home to freedom, isn’t it? The twelve tribes of Israel coming home to the freedom of the Promised Land. Christ’s crucifixion freeing him to go home to his father. The Buddha finding freedom from suffering while sitting under a fig tree. Why is home so hard to find, Jenny thought? Maybe because you believe you’re home when you’re really not there at all. Dorothy made friends in Oz, but she wasn’t home. Alice, in Wonderland, was in constant apprehension that something bad would overtake her because she wasn’t home. No, Jenny thought, if you feel foreboding, you’re not home. Maybe that’s what the Hebrews discovered in their wandering, and Christ in his suffering and the Buddha in his sitting—that home is more than place.

Last week, the annual Pritzker Prize was awarded at Akasaka Palace in Tokyo. The Pritzker honors architectural accomplishment that has produced “consistent and significant contributions to humanity.” Often referred to as “architecture’s Nobel Prize,” the award consists of $100,000 and a medallion, shown above.

Also last week, I spent an afternoon with my Cape Cod architects, Alan Dodge—now nearly ninety—and Joy Cuming. 

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Alan Dodge

With Joy as his assistant, Alan designed what architects call the “built environment” that’s been my Cape Cod home for two decades—“The Sandpiper.”  

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Joy Cuming

When Alan retired, Joy launched her own Aline Architecture and has done continuing renovations for me in addition to building Cape Cod's foremost architectural practice.

During the past few weeks, I also spent time with John Hix, the architect who envisioned my Vieques getaway, completed in 2010. 

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John Hix

It was the conjunction of these recent events that has me thinking about architecture and art, houses and homes, foreboding and freedom.

In my forthcoming novel, Little Flower: A Killing on Cape Cod, the protagonist’s portentous house is of such importance in this psychological thriller that it can be called a character. The excerpt at the beginning of this post is from the manuscript in progress.

In real life, each of my two houses represents a totally different design approach. Each displays my lifestyle in a different version of architectural vision. Each captures my personality through a different creative lens.

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“The Sandpiper,” for example, is a collaboration of glass, concrete and cedar. A structure just short of 3,000 square feet in five levels has more than forty sizable windows and sliders that capture views of stunning sunsets, succulent plantings that surround the house, and 180 degrees of Cape Cod Bay. Asian accents abound, like the cascading ponds that are home to dozens of exotic fish, or the roofline that invites sunlight to warm rooms in winter and shade them in summer. The house is museum-like in the way my collections of Asian art, Cape Cod painters and Inuit sculpture fit so naturally. 

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“Casa Cascadas,” on the other hand, is all concrete and air and water. Situated on a mountain top three hundred feet high, with a postcard view of the Caribbean, it is devoid of glass and, thereby, the favored child of westerly trade winds as well as a paeon to flagrant abandonment to eco-nature.

It’s my strong view that architecture is sculpture. It is sculpture that not only stands on its own to be admired, but sculpture that also captures the character of its owner while “receiving” its patron.

As a student, John Hix studied at the University of Pennsylvania under the foremost architect of the time, Louis Kahn. It was John who alerted me to My Architect, a 2003 documentary about Kahn, produced by Kahn's son. 

The term “my architect” is rooted, I’m guessing, in the idea that an architect’s clients assume an ownership stake in “their” architect. It’s reminiscent of wealthy medieval patrons who believed their generous commissions gave them ownership of the painters and sculptors who labored under their aegis.

It was watching My Architect that led me to recognize the similarity between architecture and my own craft of speech writing. Just as the speaker’s style and personality are preserved through the filter of my creativity as a writer, so there is a fine balance between the owner’s expressed hope and the architect’s creative translation.

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Louis Kahn

It took 23 years to build Louis Kahn’s National Assembly Building, the capital building of Bangladesh. It is considered his crowning achievement, a massive work and, like the ancient pyramids that influenced his art, built literally by hand. He died in 1974. The building wasn’t finished until years later, in 1983.

Lou, as he was known to his friends and admirers, said: “Sometimes the things you strive for so hard you never see finished."

On the other hand, Lou, sometimes the things you strive for so hard . . . live long after you and continue to enrich and inspire.


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