My novel, The Paris Architect will be out in October but it is available for pre-order at a 35% discount from the bookseller links on the website – http://www.theparisarchitect.com
It is a World War II thriller about an architect who designs hiding places for Jews escaping the Germans in occupied Paris during World War II.
As an architect, I’ve always thought my professional background would be an original basis for an entertaining novel. The concept of a main character using his architectural and engineering knowledge to outwit a villain, solve a crime, or do brave or evil things intrigued me.
For The Paris Architect, I transposed a real life historical event to a different time. During the reign of Elizabeth I, Catholicism was repressed, and the saying of mass was outlawed. But priests throughout England refused to obey and continued to worship in secret in manor houses. As a precaution, carpenters designed and constructed “priest holes” for them to hide in if the house was discovered. (If caught, the priests as well as the people who hid them would be tortured and executed.) When the Queen’s soldiers raided a suspected house, they would look for days and never find the priests who were hiding under their noses. Using Occupied Paris during World War II as my setting, I turned the Elizabethan age carpenter into a gentile architect who designs temporary hiding places for Jews escaping the Nazis. The novel explores the enormous bravery it took to help Jews and the fact that not all gentiles turned their backs on them. Like my protagonist, the people who took this incredible risk discovered a sense of personal courage and integrity they never thought they had. The novel is also about a modernist architect and what he’ll do in order to get a commission that can show his design talent.
You can go to website to read a sample chapter and view a promotional video. Every month I’ll be publishing a reminder about the novel. The publisher is Sourcebooks Landmark.
The modernist architect Walter Pierce recently died at age 93. He was famous for designing one of the very first suburban housing developments that contained not neocolonial style houses but modernist houses. Peacock Farm as it’s called was built from 1952 to 1959 and is located in Lexington, Massachusetts. The houses are asymmetrical, glass-walled, low-sloped kind of split-level designs, daring for the time. It wasn’t the first modern subdivision nor the last. Six Moon Hill, built in the late 1950s, was designed by the king of all American modernist firms, the Architects Collaborative led by the modernist pioneer, Water Gropius. Those houses were the classic modernist design with glass walls and the defining modernist element, the flat roof. Six Moon Hill was recently placed on the National Register of Historic Places, a good thing because it shows the recognition that modernist design is an important layer of American architectural history. But these developments are freaks of nature. There are as rare as sightings of the passenger pigeon. Since the post-modernist movement of the early 1980s, housing developments have held fast to vernacular forms with neocolonial details, steep gable roofs, porches, divided light sash windows, and Palladian windows – all elements that would have made Gropius and the modernists throw up. The public absolutely hates modernist design when it comes to residential development. “Chicken coops” is the image that comes to mind when they describe modernist houses. If the public wanted them, the developers would be building them left and right because they build what the public wants.
Aisquith is a modernist architect who faces hostility about his design.
Posted in architect, architectural design, architecture, historic preservation, Modernist architecture, modernist subdivisions, Peacock Hill, Preservation of modern architecture, Six Moon Hill, Walter Gropius, Walter Pierce
Tagged architect, architecture, historic preservation, modernist subdivisions, preservation of modernist architecture
On Saturday March 9, the modernists lost a beloved building by the modern master, Richard Neutra when his Cyclorama building was torn down on the Gettysburg battlefield. It was a typical battle of architecture: modernists versus the public who despise modernism. It was built in 1963 to house the 27 ‘ high, 277′ long 1883 painting depicting Pickett’s Charge which has been relocated to a new visitor’s center a mile away. http://archrecord.construction.com/yb/ar/article.aspx?story_id=183293316 It took a fourteen year legal fight for the National Park Service to get rid of the building but in the end they won. The controversy brings up the axiom that what architects love, the public hates. And the public really hated this building. Besides calling it ugly ( as all modernist buildings are called), it rankled Civil War buffs because it stood on Cemetery Ridge exactly where the Union line was located that withstood Pickett’s Charge. Fifty years ago it seems, the Park Service had no problem spoiling (or defiling, I believe) a historic site by a putting a building on it, but thankfully that philosophy has changed. It was a bad choice to obliterate an important site of American history with a building whether it was modernist or not. If Pickett’s Charge had succeeded and the Confederacy had won the pivotal battle and gone on to Harrisburg and Philadelphia or south to Baltimore, American history would be quite different today. With the building gone, the battlefield site will be restored for the 150th anniversary of the battle this summer. Neutra was great and it was a pretty good building but it was in the wrong place.
Posted in historic preservation, Demolition of historic buildings, Preservation of modern architecture, Battle of Gettysburg, Richard Neutra, National Park Service, Modernist architecture, Civil War
Tagged architecture, historic preservation, preservation of modernist architecture, National Park Service, Richard Neutra
Faced with a $16 billion operating deficit, the U.S. Post Office must come up with ways to cut costs. One will be the elimination of Saturday delivery. Another might be the elimination of about 3,700 post office facilities some of which are owned by the federal government including many which are historic structures. The historic preservationists have gone ape-shit over the prospect of the government selling these buildings to insensitive, preservation-ignorant developers to mutilate or raze. In an article for the New York Times, this cause for alarm has been raised: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/08/arts/design/preservationists-fight-postal-service-over-sales.html?ref=design
There is good cause for this pessimistic view but many decommissioned post offices have been recycled without destroying their exterior and interior historic fabric. Most developers are aware of the use of historic tax credits to provide financing for the adaptive reuse of historic stores. The ones that aren’t are fools to let this source of equity go to waste. To use historic tax credits, the National Park Service and state preservation offices who administer the program make sure the historic elements are left in place. But if a developer doesn’t use them, he can rip everything out and put in a suspended ceiling, fluorescent lights, and cheap carpeting. It’s happened many times before. Some developers have no patience with historic stuff. These buildings are important part of the main street streetscape (like the one in Annapolis MD) and must be be preserved especially when one looks at what replaced them. The image in the upper left corner is the old Westminster MD ca. 1920s post office that’s been recycled into an office building. It’s replacement on the outskirts of town is a flat roofed building that could pass for a building in an office park. Old post offices like old schools had a civic presence in towns that modernist structures don’t have. Because it’s a federal agency, the post office should abide by the federal historic preservation laws in place and make sure the buyer understands what he has to preserve in these historic buildings. Like I said, many have been recycled into profitable ventures. I worked on the U.S. Parcel Post Building in Baltimore across from the railroad station that was turned into beautiful apartments without destroying the historic fabric. The historic elements were integrated into the design and made it way more interesting than the usual plain vanilla apartment buildings that have been going up. Recycled historic buildings in general are always way more interesting than modernist buildings. There is a website Save the Post Office dedicated to these buildings and the National Trust for Historic Preservation has listed the nation’s historic post offices on its endangered site list.
Aisquith thinks his design of his museum will go without a hitch but he meets the contractor.
Posted in architect, architecture, historic post offices, historic preservation, historic tax credits, National Trust for Historic Preservation, New York Times, Save the Post Office
Tagged architecture, historic post offices, historic tax credits, National Park Service
With the housing market beginning a slow rebound, buyers are looking for homes. During the housing boom that went bust, hundreds of thousands of new homes were built across America but no matter how fancy or expensive they don’t measure up to a historic home. The first and foremost attribute of these properties are that they’re unique. They exhibit a level of craftsmanship and design that developers can’t replicate. Even the most modest early 20th century bungalow is far superior to a McMansion. Historic homes fall into 2 categories – original homes and properties that have been turned into homes like churches, factory lofts, and one room school houses. With great ingenuity, architects have transformed historic buildings into homes. In this link, one can see the specialness of a simple New Orleans 1890s shotgun house and how an exciting house was created out of an adobe New Mexican church.
Posted in architect, architectural design, architecture, historic churches, historic preservation, recycling historic buildings
Tagged architect, architecture, Great Homes & Destinations, historic preservation, New Mexico adobe churches, New Orleans
Historic buildings are usually in bad shape and expensive to recycle into new uses. That’s where historic tax credits come into play. They offer financial help in renovating them. Without them, most developers would walk away from the property – too damn expensive to rehab. The federal tax credit gives 20% of the renovation cost and in some states, a credit throws in another 20% which goes a long way in rehabbing these structures. Now, for the developer to get this money there’s a trade off. They have to retain the historic fabric of the building. So if there’s a skylight that needs repair and restoration, it can’t be ripped out and tossed in a dumpster but saved. But a lot of developers don’t want the bother and try to get the credits without saving the historic stuff. There’s been talk about the Secretary of the Interior (The National Park Service administers this program) relaxing the tax credit rules making it easier for developers to use them. Some cry out that developers already get away with destroying the historic fabric of their buildings. But I’ve found that the state historic preservation offices and the NPS are pretty tough about forcing developers to retain the historic fabric. Sometimes, a little too tough. A developer can bend over backward to save stuff and they won’t give an inch on small detail. So I think there has to be a little flexibility in the process if the developer understands their “historic preservation responsibilities.” Sometimes I don’t think the regulators fully understand the developer’s risk in taking on these buildings. No one else would give a damn about them.
With Carrollton out of the way, Aisquith gets to have his modernist design.
Most people would prefer the historic building in the photo to the left to a modernist building. Hatred of modernist architecture was one of the key catalysts in the rise of historic preservation. But as many modernist buildings hit the 50 year historic threshold, the issue arises whether they merit saving. Because they are an important layer of architectural history, like them or not, I believe they should be preserved. These buildings are always deemed eyesores by the public and masterpieces by architects. In general, I’ve found that what architects love, the public hates. So what happened in Orange County, New York was a bit of an anomaly. A government building by the modern master, Paul Rudolph, was saved by a vote of 15-6 by the county’s governing body. http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/02/11/orange-county-votes-to-save-modernist-building/ The brutalist concrete structure will be repaired instead of demolished despite its hatred by the public. The technical means involved in the preservation of modernist buildings will become an important issue in historic preservation in the years to come.
In Chapter 13, Aisquith discovers his client’s hatred of modern architecture.