What, you may ask, is a gaelic word doing here?  The translation, as graciously provided by Dierdre O’Toole, an Irish book editor, is “residence.”  We were talking about the meaning of reside, to dwell, to house.

“Writer in residence – Scríbhneoir cónaithe
teach cónaithe – means a home residence
Bhí cónaí air i  . . . – he was residing in
Hope that is of some help to you, it’s a complicated language!”
The word is sufficiently abstract that it can, if I so choose, come to mean a particular thing related to residence, namely, the attainment of an ideal residence.  And therefore it shall be adopted as my new motto; nay, my new mantra, the incarnation of creative expression.
I hereby announce the birth of a design firm named Cónaithe.  Why?
For one thing, I love Gaelic because it is constantly dying out, but always stays around.  Kind of like good design, eh? Design matters less and less, fewer and fewer people talk the language, and yet it still stays around.  Kind of like Irish.
For another thing, my grandfather from County Cork and all of his ancestors seem to rear their heads inside and speak to me every once in a while.  Like now.  They’re cautioning me about the corporate bureaucracy, a healthy hatred of the organization man they have.  A bit too imperious, they say.  So a word that brings out my roots seems appropriate just about now.
And then finally it is an antidote to the desultory diminishment being dished out.  As a design firm, my employer could have sold its business to, say, IDEO, or WATG, or Snøhetta (an amalgamation of the words “truth” and “beauty” in Norwegian, by the way, a sort of scandanavian “treauty” or “beauth”).
But no, instead they have chosen a general consultancy that does roads and bridges and environmental cleanup and reports and studies and, oh yes, buildings.  So we’re now all swimming in a big bowl of Canadian oatmeal.  Cónaithe stands for design by an Irishman, it stands for a highly focused design, it stands for an authentic and nuanced response to a problem, and yes, it stands for artist-in-residence, writer-in-residence, and for residence.
And finally, as Owner, Principal, and Sole Proprietor of Cónaithe, I can claim it as the antidote to the stagnation of career at the large corporate practice.  All my life, I’ve experienced promotion.  This is the first place where demotions seem to be occurring.  By the time I retire, I fully expect to be an intern again.
Therefore, if you do choose to send me an inquiry about design, my practice, named Cónaithe, will be fully equipped to handle your needs.  For I have a number of co-workers eager to be part of something they can be proud of once again, something they can associate with pride, and something poetic that makes a difference.
I pledge that Cónaithe will make a difference to you, and that you will have no other experience like it when you come to us for any design assignment, no matter the size or degree of difficulty.

Tiny House Library

The first of a three-part series, “The Tiny Houses of Sarasota,” aired Sunday evening at 5 with the Suncoast News Network.  The Rita has received the attention of this news network for its innovation.  This documentary may be viewed by clicking here.


A Building Concept, Inc. has been selected as the General Contractor for The Rita.  “We’re pleased to have the opportunity to build something small, but high-quality,” stated Scott Stoothoff, Owner of ABCI.  “The Rita promises to be an intriguing construction project.”


The Rita will be an advancement of the concept of the Solid State House.

The Rita

Plans for Tiny Houses are in demand.  The most recent plan, the Rita, incorporates key learnings from the Walker Guest House in terms of economy of materials and proportions.  The Rita will feature some of the same materials – painted plywood floors and walls, a modular kitchen – and be as open -plan as possible given the limited amount of space.

Dean Rowe’s MOSI museum today

H. Dean Rowe’s Museum Of Science and Industry (MOSI) in Tampa, desibuilt in 1978, was once a lonely outpost on Fletcher Avenue just before USF.  Today it’s surrounded by strip commercial, and the museum itself has expanded. The original structure is now a science magnet school with a new museum and other institutional facilities, but Rowe’s original remarkable structure has stood the test of time and created a singular space in Florida.

Rowe's structure, viewed from the plaza connecting it to a later addition

The building itself is dominated by two very large space frame roofs.  These are supported by cylindrical columns, some quite tall, that vary in length to allow the roof to fold down on its two long sides.  Rowe’s original concept was to shape the air, thermally venting it up between the two space frames and out.

The roof planes are not massive but rather have delicacy about them.  There’s something about the way the latticelike roof structure perches on the columns that is light, rather than heavy.   It serves to de-emphasize the roof even though it is large and dominates the space around it.

Under this roof, a series of trays stack up – two on one side, and three on the other.  The walls of these trays are infilled with concrete block, and all of this is left natural unpainted.  The scale of the roof makes these components, in turn, seem human in scale.  The softly curving ramp is a sculptural element at one end.

Interior space of the museum

Exposed utility systems – ducts, conduits, pipes – crisscross and are painted different colors to highlight them, a la Pompidou Center.  The building is, in fact, a subtle reference to this iconic Rogers & Piano museum.

Later, Antoine Predock added to the building, allowing Rowe’s original work to be converted to a school.  Rowe’s museum was a terrifically hard builing to build an addition to.  The way the roof slid over the building’s edges and captured vast amounts of space on either side must have been difficult to add to.  The two buildings touch but do not have a public access between them, and the only experience of them together is the plaza on the south side.

Predock’s roof forms and natural concrete reference Rowe’s design, but are subtly different.  Concrete corners in Predock’s are completely filled, rather than cut at 45 degree angles, a more difficult task for the workers but making the forms and shapes feel crisp.  Predock used a lot of stainless steel for steps, wall, and roof material, a new material blending well with the other aesthetic.

Predock’s single expressive form is a sphere of blue curtainwall, which is partly peeled and layered, to house a movie theater.  Occuring at one end of the structure, it provides a punch.

Unfortunately, every other addition since Predock has tended to dilute the power of the earlier work.  There’s a one-story blue roof building that looks like a shopping center; a ropes course structure that looks like it came out of a catalog, and a few other structures that clump around the main building.  Most stay a respectful distance.

Rowe’s structure is very, very simple in design, but hard for a viewer to grasp.  It took a few simple rules and made very unique spaces, a singularity of design, and Predock’s museum doesn’t really make things any clearerl  Like many of Rowe’s buildings, it references little in traditional architectural vocabulary, and instead creates its own completely.  This is one of its great strengths.  Only modern materials and technologies are used, and they are used to complete advantage:  the space frame was invented to carry very large spans, and it does elegantly.  Concrete was modernized to allow for unusual shapes and it has many; and the effect is a uncelebrated icon of twentieth century achievements.  The fact that it is in Florida simply reinforces the West Coast experimentalism that started with the Sarasota School in the 1940s and extended into a new generation.

I wish they took better care of Rowe’s  building, for it is full of dust and the walls are smeared with multicolored tropical mildew and goo.  At its base, the building has acquired the accoutrements of public schools – plastic playground equipment, chain link fences, random locked storage units.  It has the somewhat desultory air of a crashed airplane, its wings drooping over the landscape and reinhabited by innocent locals.

School bus dropoff area

Destination Resorts

As the world’s stresses increase, destination resorts are in demand to help balance one’s lifestyle.

Samana Village, Republica Dominica

Samana Village, on the north coast of the Dominican Republic, is envisioned by its founder Felipe Ferrer to be a sustainable development extension of the adjacent town of Samana.

All Pines

All Pines, in the jungles of central Belize, is an exclusive boutique resort.

JW Marriott, Phuket

The J. W. Marriott, on Mai Kao Beach in Phuket, Thailand, is a four-star destination beach resort.

Chemuyil Hotel

Chemuyil, in Quintana Roo, Mexico, is a 130 Hectare mixed-use development interlaced with a cenote (underground river) and open space for horseback riding, biking trails, and water sports.

The resurgence of destination resorts points to a growth in the world’s travel market.  Ad a designer who led all of these efforts, and contributed to many more, I am pleased to see the world’s luxury market return.

East End District Arises

East End’s midcentury modern integrity makes it a desirable place to live.
The street markets and rich sidewalk life attracts creatives, thinkers, and doers.
Building with the East End’s bohemian character, these residences capture
the spirit of the postwar period with two models:
–The Jack, an affordable residence gently inserted into the neighborhood
–The Al, a slightly larger home slipped into a narrow lot between homes.
For more on this exciting new development, go to the East End Project Page.