Kevin M Handy

Architecture and Instructional Design

Why Architecture is my Inspiration

People ask logical questions when they see the landing page of my website. Why Frank Lloyd Wright? Why did you select that picture of a garden. What does that have to do with you professeionally and personally?

Alden B Dow, Architect

My interest in architecture as art started with this man, Alden B Dow. The image below is the sanctuary of Plymouth Church in Lansing, Michigan. I joined the church as a member of the children's choir in 1975 shortly after the original building in downtown Lansing, Michigan burned to the ground.

I had checked out books about architecture, coffee table books, to supplement my reading as a child and young adult reader. I read quite a bit. I would devour several volumes in one weekend.

And of course I attended school and went to choir rehearsal. And so began my interest in design which influences my career in instructional design to this day.

As this building was being built I watched it with awe. I saw in it a process that influences me even today.

Alden Dow was a student of the architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Wright who was a Unitarian as I am Unitarian Universalist today. Dow, of my native Michigan, is the son of Herbert Dow, founder of Dow Chemical. A. B. Dow would cast a long shadow. His work stretching from our native Michigan to Freeport, Lake Jackson, Texas where he created a village that stands to this day.

Plymouth Church Sanctuary

Frank Lloyd Wright was born 1867 just after the end of the American Civil War and he lived an amazing 90 years to just at the beginning of the jet age, and just before President Kennedy took office in 1959.

Both men embraced organic architecture. Without going into detail organic architecture is the concept of being as close to and of nature as possible. We should live with nature and not rival it. We should embrace it's form, it's naturalness and its simplicty.

The photo above is of Wright's Taliesin. I visited it in 2017, the 100th anniversary of the birth of Mr. Wright. I made friends of fellow Wright aficionados and even made a friendship which I still treasure today with a pioneer in news reporting, the author of a book on Taliesin, Ron McRrea. Mr. McRea is an incredible talent, wit; brilliant reconneuteur, writer, researcher - in short he is a Rennaisance man. And his wife Elaine likewise is not only her own person but incredibly intelligent, vibrant, opinionated (as is he), bright, witty and also a genius (as is Ron by the way). These people are typical of those I met in Wisconsin, people who are the cream of the crop of American society. And in this cauldron Mr. Wright grew up, first on the shores of Lake Mendota in Madison, not far from the state capitol, then in Helena Valley a couple of hours west of Madison where is life would be shaped.

Wright embraced what today we call experiential learning. He believed one learned through experience. He dropped out of the University of Wisconsin because he found it boring and without purpose. He went to work for a man who would introduce him to the most famous architectural firm in the United States, Adler & Sullivan. Adler and Sullivan were the most revered and famous architects in Chicago and Chicago was THE center of architecture in the United States from roughly 1860 to 1915. Very few were uninfluenced by the great machine that architecture was in Chicago.

My family was touched in every single way, as were most of us by Wright.

Here's a partial list of things that Wright introduced into our lives:

  1. The carport
  2. Wall mounted toilets (to make cleaning easier and more hygenic)
  3. Light, airy, spacious feeling homes
  4. The modern American ranch house
  5. The open air office with modular furniture
  6. Built-in furniture as a common feature of a home
  7. The kitchen as an integral, central part of the home (Wright called it "the Workspace")
  8. Pre-fabricated homes
  9. Fireproof homes / architecture
  10. Pre-formed blocks, the "Lego" or "tinker-toy" concept of architecture
  11. Wall-built / built-in vaccums
  12. Indoor / outdoor floor surfaces
  13. Mitred glass in private homes
  14. The "servantless" homes for people of means / the wealthy

Don Norman and the Modern World

Donald Arthur Norman is the nation's premier thinker on design. Norman leveled heavy cricticism at Walter Gropius, the famed head of the Bauhaus in Dessau, Germany and later in Chicago, Illinoi as being devoid of the inclusion of human beings. In his article, "Then and Now: The Bauhaus and 21st Century Design, he said:

"Consider the "Curriculum Wheel" (Figure 1), developed by Walter Gropius in 1922 (Bauhaus-archiv museum für gestaltun). It contains three years of study, starting with form and materials, moving to advanced topics in materials, composition, and construction. Never a mention of people. Never a mention of usage. It was all about form."

Gropius didn't consider the audience when he determined what he would teach at the new school in Dessau. Form followed function and everything else followed form. He didn't see the bigger picture. Norman believes that great ideas, great design is "delightful", beautiful but also functional, understandable and usable. I agree. If my training isn't pleasing to the eye and the ear and doesn't engage my learners I've lost them. This doesn't mean however that utility is lost. If they don't learn anything all the cute, wonderful training in the world won't make up for that.

 Ralph Waldo Emerson   



So shall we come to look at the world with new eyes. It shall answer the endless inquiry of the intellect, -- What is truth? and of the affections, -- What is good? by yielding itself passive to the educated Will. Then shall come to pass what my poet said; "Nature is not fixed but fluid. Spirit alters, moulds, makes it. The immobility or bruteness of nature, is the absence of spirit; to pure spirit, it is fluid, it is volatile, it is obedient. 

Every spirit builds itself a house; and beyond its house a world; and beyond its world, a heaven. Know then, that the world exists for you. For you is the phenomenon perfect. What we are, that only can we see. All that Adam had, all that Caesar could, you have and can do. Adam called his house, heaven and earth; Caesar called his house, Rome; you perhaps call yours, a cobbler's trade; a hundred acres of ploughed land; or a scholar's garrett. 

Yet line for line and point for point, your dominion is as great as theirs, though without fine names. Build, therefore, your own world. As fast as you conform your life to the pure idea in your mind, that will unfold its great proportions. A correspondent revolution in things will attend the influx of the spirit. So fast will disagreeable appearances, swine, spiders, snakes, pests, madhouses, prisons, enemies, vanish; they are temporary and shall be no more seen. The sordor and filths of nature, the sun shall dry up, and the wind exhale. As when the summer comes from the south; the snow-banks melt, and the face of the earth becomes green before it, so shall the advancing spirit create its ornaments along its path, and carry with it the beauty it visits, and the song which enchants it; it shall draw beautiful faces, warm hearts, wise discourse, and heroic acts, around its way, until evil is no more seen. The kingdom of man over nature, which cometh not with observation, -- a dominion such as now is beyond his dream of God, -- he shall enter without more wonder than the blind man feels who is gradually restored to perfect sight."

Ralph Waldon Emerson