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. Linden Lane
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Deconstruction

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Professor Jeffery Howe. By Gary Wayne Gilbert

IN HIS NEW BOOK, THE HOUSES WE LIVE IN, JEFFERY HOWE LOOKS AT THE MEANING OF AMERICAN HOMES, FROM LOG CABIN TO GLASS PAVILION. AN INTERVIEW BY NICOLE ESTVANIK

What kind of house did you grow up in?
It was white, one story, five rooms. Very plain and very low-budget, in a small town up in northern Minnesota. My favorite thing about it was actually the trees in the yard.

Which of the houses in your book would you want to live in?
In certain seasons, Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater, in Mill Run, Pennsylvania. The Airplane House by Purcell and Elmslie in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, could be my summer home. I would love to live in George Bourne's Wedding Cake House in Kennebunk, Maine—until it needed painting. And there are some wonderful homes out in Arizona by Bart Prince that look like spaceships.

I'm drawn to houses that have a great contact with nature or that have a strong current of imagination.

When did U.S. domestic architecture come into its own?
America has always focused on architecture. But the rest of the world didn't pay attention until the late 19th century, with the emergence of Henry Hobson Richardson and Frank Lloyd Wright.

There were isolated works of genius before that—Jefferson's Monticello, Washington's Mount Vernon. But in the late 19th century, after almost a hundred years of eclectic historical revival, the issue of originality became more pressing in America and Europe.

Voices began to rise asking, Why are we always copying Greek or Gothic or Romanesque? In Spain, Antonio Gaudí was doing some very original work; and in France, Belgium, and England, there was Art Nouveau.

In this country, Wright and Richardson tried to make something new out of American sources and multicultural influences—from Japan, for example.

What's "the next new thing" in U.S. domestic architecture?
I don't know. But I know it will reflect our social patterns, how families live and are configured. The big Victorian houses of the 19th century were predicated on large families and servants, for example. Nobody has servants anymore, and families are smaller.

Still, America is in love with the single family house, compared with European countries where people often live in row houses or apartment blocks. Recently we've been through a phase that's the equivalent of the SUV, building behemoths that aren't easily adaptable to multi-family living.

If your book were titled The Dormitories We Live In, how would you describe BC student housing?
I have to say, I'm not that familiar with the dormitories, except from the outside. But as an ensemble, I think the BC campus works really well.

As you approach from Boston, the University looks like an old Italian hill town, with the towers and the different clustered dorms. I like that effect: the jostling and juxtapositioning of these shapes.

Jeffery Howe is a professor of fine arts at Boston College.

Photo: Professor Jeffery Howe. By Gary Wayne Gilbert


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