Trad building conference 3


Two recent phrases are new to me: Lean Architecture and Makers Space. Lean architecture seems to be what it sounds like, traditional work performed by the most simple methods that can be contrived, but that embrace tradition and ornament. The idea seems to be a reaction to the notion that traditional work, with its “frou-frou,” as the modernists like to put it, is too expensive for most projects in today’s era of modest means. The other phrase, makers space, was the subject of architect Steve Mouzon‘s presentation on Wednesday, first out of the box at Boston’s Traditional Building Conference.

Steve Mouzon, teaching as usual. (

Steve Mouzon, teaching as usual. (

A makers space is the latest version of what has long been called an incubator, a space where small, startup businesses can operate in their infancy – except that a makers space is for – drum roll! – people who make things. Makers making in a tight cheek-by-jowl space can share ideas and equipment, the essence of collaboration. You might make a robot or you might weave a basket of reeds, but you are not just making phone calls – as might be the case in an incubator where entrepreneurs in cubicles they yearn to rise above are trying to link themselves to capital. Maybe they share a secretary?

How this is of particular interest to traditional architects and artisans is that the places favored for spaces by makers are, at least to some extent, old mill and commercial buildings in or near downtowns, but with affordable rent. Mouzon points out that makers spaces require surroundings to walk in, and to think in, that suspiciously resemble traditional main streets and urban environments. The New Urbanism is big in Mouzon’s world, as in that of most workers in traditional architecture.

Mouzon was joined on the stage by two collaborators, Kamal Jain (founder) and Jay Mason (architect), in a makers space called Lowell Makes, in Lowell, Mass., who illustrated how the process of making a makers space has its ups and downs. They ended up in the basement of an old building right downtown whose absence of fenestration probably helps concentrate makers’ minds on their business.

Mouzon wrote The Original Green to explain how traditional architecture promotes sustainability better than what he calls the gizmo green that most most modernist architects use to achieve LEED ratings (the leading structure for bureaucratization of green architectural standards). He beats the drum for working on a smaller scale and with natural materials.

This seems to put him at odds, in some degee, with Gary Brewer, a partner in the largest American firm specializing (though not exclusively, I’m sad to say) in large classical houses and even larger classical institutional buildings, and Don Powers, whose growing firm in Providence has done a lot of public and affordable single- and multi-family work on relatively low budgets that – on the theory that the non-wealthy deserve beauty no less than the wealthy – require eschewing, say, columns of marble and toilets of alabaster.

I will unpack the triangulation of this situation in, I think, the next final post in this series.

About David Brussat

This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. History Press asked me to write and in August 2017 published my first book, "Lost Providence." I am now writing my second book. My freelance writing on architecture and other topics addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to employ my writing and editing to improve your work, please email me at my consultancy,, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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