Most architectural firms have names listing one or more partners, McKim Mead & White being a chief example familiar to classicists. In recent times some firms have chosen names seemingly designed to impress you with their creativity, such as SHoP Architects, headquartered in the Woolworth Building, of all places, or S/L/A/M (now SLAM) Collaborative, headquartered in Connecticut.
And then there is Historical Concepts, an unusual name even for a traditionally oriented Atlanta-based firm that mainly designs homes for the wealthy – often the only commissions that can be had by classical and traditional architects, because modernist architects have rigged the commission system for decades.
The other day, a book arrived whose arrival was the result of a comedy of errors entangling architect David Andreozzi (of Andreozzi Architecture, naturally) in Barrington, Rhode Island. The book’s author, Andrew Cogar, had sent it by accident to me. Since the enclosed note thanked me for something I had not done that involved the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, whose New England chapter is led by David Andreozzi, I figured the book must have been intended for that David, not this one. So I arranged to transfer it to him over pizza at his son’s new pizzeria in Providence. Apparently, David A. mentioned this to Andrew Cogar, whose graciousness resulted in the arrival of a second copy of the book, Visions of Home, at my address.
By the way, Cogar gave me a tour of Atlanta when I was there long ago as a juror for the ICAA Southeast chapter’s annual Shutze Awards, the equivalent of our chapter’s Bulfinch Awards. Maybe this ancient event triggered the delightful comedy of errors.
Since the wrapping of the first copy was too complex and ornate for me to open after I discovered the book was not meant for me, I am grateful to have received a copy of my own, which I have read with great pleasure.
I will not review the houses on display in the book, except to say they are all very lovely. Rather, I want to remark upon the title of the firm, Historical Concepts. Andrew Cogar is now head of the firm, but the book’s introduction was written by the firm’s founder, James L. Strickland, and here’s how he explained the rationale for the firm’s unusual name:
Why Historical Concepts instead of, for example, James L. Strickland Architects? Fair enough. I chose our name for two reasons. The first was that our animating idea was the creation of contemporary homes rooted in the timeless values of history, and I wanted potential clients to understand this the moment they heard our name. The second, more important reason had to do with my longstanding interest in the people with whom I work. I always believed that I was designing not just houses but a philosophy of practice … .
That says it all, because the concepts that are involved in building beauty along traditional lines require both the talent and the patience to look backward as well as forward. A firm named Historical Concepts will not be capable of functioning along those lines if its workers belong in a firm called, say, Pickup Schticks. Two years ago I wrote a post, “Romance and the style wars,” about the movie The Diary of Anne Frank, in which her romance with Peter Van Daan builds with such subtlety that it is not revealed until a gentle kiss near the film’s conclusion:
That is the traditional progression into love. It can be speeded up or even slowed down further to reflect the personalities and circumstances involved. The more or less subtle steps along the way might perhaps be compared with the succession of classical moldings that mark the transformation of a wall into a ceiling …, or, on the exterior of the house, by the diverse levels of ornament – such as (in rising order) the astragal, cymba reversa, dentils, ovolo, modillions, fascia and cyma recta – that make up the entablature of an ornate classical roof cornice.
Thus: the beauty of nature’s creativity versus the wham-bam-thank-you-ma’m of hyper-innovation that drives today’s dominant architectural concept. I am just as sure that every worker at Historical Concepts understands the difference as I am sure that it flies over that head of every egotist at Pickup Schticks.
Love and rape are not the only pair that might reflect truth: Freedom and slavery serve equally well, with Beijing’s CCTV tower, by Rem Koolhaas, leading the way, stomping on the people as cogs in a mighty machine that may be heading our way. But hey! Let’s conclude with the concept of tradition as the architecture of love and, as depicted with such beauty in Andrew Cogar’s fine book, home.
(The book was written by Andrew Cogar with Mark Krystal and Cogar’s partners at Historical Concepts. The photographs are by Eric Piasecki.)