Friday, September 16, 2011

Eisenman House II On The Block

                                                                      photo Brian Venden Brink
Eisenman House II

Peter Eisenman’s House II is on the block.

For a mere $2,800,000 you can own this 3 Bedroom, 3 Bath 2,554-square-foot 20th century architectural icon that was built in the late 1970s. The house sits on 110 acres; there is also a 4-stall horse barn with a studio apartment upstairs.

                                             Photo Brian Vanden Brink
House II, Side View 

Not only does the house have impeccable credentials – Eisenman routinely appears on lists of the “World’s Top 10 Living Architects,” --  it has been fully restored. The current owners, John and Lydia Makau, bought a ruin in 2000 that had been on the market for 10 years, and they painstakingly brought it back to life, as Gwenda Blair vividly describes in a NY Times article with the header “House Proud: A White Elephant Restored.”

                                                   Photo Brian Vanden Brink
House II, Patio

House II, which is located in Hardwick, Vermont, is one of a series of ten houses that Eisenman designed early in his 5-decades-long career. The houses, which challenged every commonly held notion of “house” and “home,” catapulted Eisenman to architectural fame and, many would add, notoriety, as the houses had “confrontational” details like bedrooms separated by half-walls and large openings in the floors without railings or grates to prevent falling through.

                                                         Photo Cynthia Davidson
   Eisenman's Own House

In the years since he designed the houses, Eisenman’s own ideas on this subject have dramatically changed, as I discovered in an interview last spring:

For more info on the House II real estate listing and more pics:

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Long Goodbye to a Dearly Beloved Neighbor

The House

For 22 years I lived across the street from a modest, one-story, modernist house designed by an architect who worked in Minoru Yamasaki's office in Troy, Michigan. The house was built in 1960, and it had some wonderful features. The most notable was the central living room with two glass walls and a 4-sided clerestory window that ringed the space.

The Central Living Room

My favorite thing about the house was outside -- an enormous, sheltering walnut tree in the front yard. It always reminded me of Longfellow and another very famous "spreading chestnut tree."

The Sheltering Walnut Tree

The original owners died. Their daughter lived there for a time and then sold the house last year. The new owners decided that they could not have the house they wanted simply by enlarging this one, so they elected to tear it down and start over. 

My beloved walnut tree went down the first day.

It took four days to knock it down.




The new owners are building a two-story house that's twice as big. It will be very green. In style it will be colonial. We hope that in time we come to love it as much as we did its predecessor.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Home Builder Contracts: Definitely NOT a New Idea

Fragment of a Roman Contract

There may have been a time in the US when building a house was a "handshake deal" between the home owners and the builder, but those days are long gone.

Today, every builder presents the home owners with a contract that details what he promises to deliver. The contract, which can be many pages long, may seem like a new wrinkle. But in fact, mankind has been writing contracts almost as long as we have been writing anything at all, said Matthew Stolper, a professor and archeologist at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.

The first writing systems,  Egyptian hieroglyphs and Sumerian cuneiform, were developed around 3400 to 3200 BC. Even if written contract documents did not become common for another 200 to 400 years, that would still give legally binding contract documents a pedigree that is more than 5,000 years old.

Photo by Katherine Salant
Note: Comments and observations made during a trip to Italy in July and posted after my return.

Monday, August 22, 2011

In Rome, History Is Everywhere

Piazzo della Republica

One of the wonders of Rome is surely that ancient, modern and the millenia-in-between are mashed together cheek by jowl. Even within one building eras overlap.

The Piazzo della Republica shown here is a case in point. The Baths of Diocletian  (300 AD) overlook a modern traffic circle that surrounds the Fountain of the Naiads (1870) with frolicking nymphs (installed 1901-11). The water for the fountain is piped in through the Acqua Marcia, an aqueduct built by the ancient Romans in 144 BC. 

The Fountain of the Naiads, Piazzo della Republica

Inside the Baths of Diocletian, the central hall was converted into a church. The work was based on a design by Michelangelo, who died before it was finished in 1566. His work was later modified by Vanvitelli and that is what we see today.

The large central hall of the Baths of Diocletian, now Santa Maria degli Angeli church  

Even old trees are venerated in Rome. In a cloister behind the Baths of Diocletian, which was also designed by Michelangelo, this centuries old cypress shades a fountain that was built in 1695.

In Rome, even old trees are venerated

Friday, August 19, 2011

Rome: The Eternal & Sustainable City

A residential neighborhood in Rome

Travelers and tourists have gushed about Rome for centuries. Now they can add a new virtue to its list of "most-es". It is one of the world's most sustainable cities as well as one of its most beautiful.

Rome carries this distinction because the building height is capped at 78-1/2 feet, which works out to be 6 stories, the optimal number of floors from a density and energy use perspective, said Mathis Wackernagel, president of the Global Footprint Network ( and a co-creator of the Ecological Footprint, a metric for measuring the impact of humanity on the earth's resources.

Multi-story buildings, including apartments, use resources more efficiently and occupy far less land that single family houses, but above 6 stories, electric elevators, which consume far more energy than the slow-pokey hydraulic models, are required and energy- consuming pumps are needed to get water to the upper floors, Wackernagel said.

Other cities which merit the sustainable moniker because six-story buildings predominate are Paris, Amsterdam, The Hague and Antwerp, Wackernagel noted.
Roman residential neighborhood near the Vatican

Commercial-residential area near Rome's main train station

Note: My observations were made on a trip to Europe in June and July and posted after my return to the US.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Cell Phone Use in the Car Can Be Bad for Your Love Life

Using a cell phone while driving is a poor idea. Not only do you endanger yourself, the other occupants of your car and the other drivers on the road. This can also bring down the curtain on a relationship that's already in trouble, suggests University of Minnesota professor of family social science Paul Rosenblatt,  in an article published in Family Science Review and noted in UMN's University News Service ( .

A conversation minus the visual cues -- gestures, facial expressions and posture -- combined with poor reception and pregnant pauses (the person on the other end doesn't know that you are silent because you're trying to avoid a pot hole) can lead to serious misunderstandings. If the relationship is already tenuous, Rosenblatt suggests, this  could be the last straw.

By the same token, if you've just starting dating someone and don't know each other well, a garbled call could end something that seemed promising.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Magna Carta: More Interesting As Idea than As Artifact

The Copy of the Magna Carta at Salisbury Cathdral

One of the original copies of the Magna Carta is kept in the Chapter House of Salisbury Cathedral in Salisbury, England. The parchment document is smaller than you might expect – it’s only about 12-inches wide by 18-inches long. The scribe who copied it had remarkably consistent penmanship, but the only people who can easily decipher it are Latin scholars who enjoy plowing through densely written, medieval text --  there are no paragraphs or indentations and none of the 63 clauses is numbered.

Salisbury’s copy of the Magna Carta is actually a copy of a copy of the document to which King John affixed his seal on June 15, 1215 at Runnymede. That agreement was formally recorded a month later on July 15, 1215. The recorded document itself was then copied and distributed. No one knows exactly how many copies were sent out, but the author of Wikipedia’s Magna Carta entry suggests there were more than 40. Of these, 4 survive (besides the one in Salisbury, two are held by the British Library in London and one is held by the Lincoln Cathedral).

As an idea, however, the Magna Carta definitely had legs. Though King John reneged and ended up in a war with the barons (wars between the feudal barons and the king were not uncommon in England at that time), the principles laid down in the Magna Carta did eventually became the cornerstones of British law and its parliamentary system of governing. For Americans, the most important of the Magna Carta’s  63 clauses  is the right to due process.

Salisbury Cathdral

Note: My observations were made during a trip to Great Britain, Italy and S. France in June and July, 2011. I am posting them after my return to the US.

Neolithic Persistence

Silbury Hill

Silbury Hill is a man-made creation. Located in the flat-as-a-pancake English lowlands (at least that’s how most Midwesterners would characterize the Wiltshire landscape that surrounds it), Silbury Hill is the largest Neolithic mound in Europe, and one of the largest such “structures” in the world.

Even by modern standards, Silbury Hill is big. It stands about 130-feet high (about the height of a 13-story modern office building). In circumference it measures about three-tenths of a mile; in area about 5 acres.

 More amazing to this observer is how it all began – with basket loads of gravel, some wooden stakes and stone boulders. To this, successive layers of chalk rubble (found in the adjacent countryside) and dirt were added over a period of about 250 to 400 years. The volume of the mound is estimated to about 324,000 cubic yards. Assuming that each basketful held about one cubic foot, this works out to be about 8.75 million basket loads. No wonder it took several hundred years to complete the project.

Why did they build it? Scholars have no idea. Smaller Neolithic mounds nearby were used as burial sites, but archeologists excavating at Silbury Hill have found nothing underneath all that dirt.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Neolithic Astronomy and Engineering: Humbling to a Modern Observer

Castlerigg Stone Circle

To a modern observer, the engineering and astronomical feats of the Neolithic peoples who lived in the British Isles five thousand years ago are humbling. They had no system for writing or for complex mathematical notation; nonetheless, they were able to record their observations of the sun and the moon as they moved across the sky in the course of a year. The Neolithic people lacked the wheel, but they were able to move large and heavy stones long distances and then precisely position them in large circles to mark the sunrise and sunset for important dates in their calendar. 

The enormity of these Neolithic accomplishments began to sink in after I visited the Castlerigg Stone Circle and started to wonder how these ancient peoples had built it, despite their daunting limitations.  

Castlerigg Stone Circle, located in the Cumbrian region of England, was built about 5,000 to 5,200 hundred years ago. Today, 38 of the original stones still stand in a slightly flatted circle that is 107 feet in diameter. The stones, which stand 3 to 5 feet high, 'were not worked or shaped in any way. They mark the position of the summer and winter solstices, Candlemas (the festival that celebrated the time to begin spring planting), and the setting of the most southerly and most nothernly moons.

Most of the stones are 3 to 5 feet high

Castlerigg Stone Circle predates the stone circles of Stonehenge by about 800 to 1,000 years. It is thought by many to be the oldest such circle in England and perhaps in Europe.

The Castelrigg Stone Circle also includes a unique feature: 10 stones form a rectangle at one end. Its purpose is unknown, as is the purpose of the circle itself. Scholars speculate that the site, as well as other stone circles, was used for trading, religious observations, and tribal gatherings. 

10 stones form a unique rectangle

Note: My observations were made during a trip to Great Britain, Italy and Southern France in June and July, 2011. I am posting them after my return to the U.S.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Edinburgh's Most Famous Native Son

Dateline: Edinburgh, Scotland

Grave of Adam Smith

Who knew that Edinburgh's most famous native son was Adam Smith? Even more interesting, the grave of the father of modern free-market capitalism is behind a museum dedicated to the proletariat! The exhibitions in the museum trace the conditions of the working class through the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Carbon Offsets: Who Should Be Picking Up This Tab?

Last month I purchased a round trip airplane ticket online for a trip to Denver from Detroit. At the end of the transaction, Delta airlines invited me to contribute $11.74 to the Nature Conservancy to "offset your share of carbon emissions for this trip." The distance traveled will be approximately 2,300 miles.

Maybe I am missing something here. But who is the carbon culprit in this case? Shouldn't Delta, who is producing the carbon emissions and making a profit in doing so, be making the carbon offset donation?

Friday, June 3, 2011

Some Laughs to Start Your Weekend!

With special thanks to John G Colby, a retired, Northern Virginia real estate developer and a very old friend. Even if these are photoshopped, as Colby puts it, "the images are certainly credible, and funny!"


The Nominees are: 

(1 & 2)

(3 & 4)

(6 & 7)


No, You can't have your money!


AND The Winner :

(Imagine some drumbeats here)

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Welcome Aboard the Salant Express

Welcome to my remodeled website and my blog.

After 8 years it was time to get more connected (my blog and Twitter remarks on my website’s home page!). And, it was time to reorganize my archived columns to highlight my current interests and the sea changes that have occurred in the home building and remodeling business since 2003 when I started the website.

Some categories are new.

“Emotional Intelligence,” one of the new categories, focuses on the connections between “house” and psychology. For example, why does it take the hanging of photographs and art work and the displaying of family treasures and knick knacks from travel to make your new or new-to-you house feel like it’s home? Hint: it’s more than just the visuals.

“The Big Picture” is another new category organized around this question: In this post-McMansion era, what will be the next version of the American Dream?

“Remodeling” is also new. In the current economy more people are remodeling than are building new houses, and more readers are interested in this.

“Green and Greener” was needed because I have written so many columns on green building I needed to organize them into subcategories. The number of green building products available in nearly every building category has exploded. And, the environmental impacts of home building and home owning have become critical as we have become more knowledgeable about the connections between home energy use and climate change. In the U.S., most households use energy derived from coal, natural gas, and oil. When these fossil fuels are burned to produce energy, they also produce the greenhouse gas emissions that are causing global warming.

With the blog I also hope to share the nuggets of useful info that often end up on the cutting room floor as I write my regular Housewatch column. For example, now that summer is here, you can reduce the energy needed to run your central A/C by about 24 percent if you simply turn the thermostat up two degrees from 72 to 74. If the air is humid, moving air across your skin will keep you comfortable. The energy needed to run a floor or a ceiling fan is much less that the amount needed to run the A/C.

Look for new posts on Tuesdays and Fridays!