Do You Need An Architect or a Builder?

Uncategorized Jan 11, 2021


I've been a little obsessed with history podcasts.  Things like More Perfect, Throughline and currently, Scene On Radio.  Now, before your eyes glaze over and I put you to sleep, just know that I've never been a great reader of history books, thanks to the dull tomes that were handed out in high school.  But the few I've read as an adult and really loved were written more like a juicy novel, which is the key.  And that's what makes a lot of history podcasts so great.  The stories, when told a certain way, really capture your attention and make you want to keep listening. 

So, in that spirit, I hope you'll enjoy this episode today with my guest David Supple.  He's the founder and CEO of New England Design & Construction.  Schooled in architecture and trained in carpentry, David is about to explain how the profession of architecture has come to be and how it has estranged itself from its roots where craftsmanship and design went hand in hand.  Now, David has a great personality so, like some of my favorite history podcasts, he's very entertaining and makes history interesting.  But if history isn't your thing, keep listening because we also talk about another of his passions, which is sustainability and he's got a practical tip that I've never heard of that should probably top your list if you're prioritizing eco-friendly practices in your home.  Let's go!  



Helping heath care workers by building sanitation stations in Boston

Creating educational project kits for kids during quarantine

Sustainable Design, the passive house project 

New England Design & Construction portfolio



 Episode Transcript:

Hello. And welcome back to the Style. Matters Podcast brought to you by little yellow couch. I'm Zandra your host. And I am so glad you're here. You're listening to a show that is all about developing your signature style in your home and connecting it to the life that you want to create. Today. This episode is airing January 11th and this whole week I am completely engrossed in our first ever challenge called resolutions to Results.

That is about setting your home up to help you achieve your goals in 2021. Now I've been talking about that for a little while. You've probably been hearing me talk about it or gotten emails about it. It is now closed, but I mention it because, well, not only am I completely wrapped up in it all week long, but it is leading to the opening of the doors to our monthly membership called the Slow Style Society now doors open to this membership only twice a year.

And in January, it opens on the 14th. I would love to have you check it out. The Society is where you can really learn how to create a style. That is all you one that reflects who you are, but it also represents the person you want to become. And as the name suggests the Slow Style, Society, it's all about creating your dream home at a pace that you can manage,

because I think we can agree that most good and beautiful things in life take time. And your home is really no different. So the Slow Style Society is a monthly membership where you're going to get inspiration and actionable projects to take on with my guidance inside a community of people who are all passionate about the design of their homes. And they want to do that in a structured way.

That's that step-by-step. Now that might be a masterclass in color or a DIY tutorial involving plants or examples of vignettes that are broken down from start to finish so that you begin to understand things like scale and balance and color do check it out. You can find all of the info right [email protected] slash Slow Style Society. But like I said, the signups don't actually start until January 14th.

That's this Thursday. So when you go to the page, you can get all the information that you need, but if you click the join now button and it's before January 14th, it's going to take you to an oops page. So wait until January 14th, when the doors officially open and do know that they close again on January 18th, one more time. That's little yellow

Slow Style Society all one word. All right. Oh, I love about that. Let's get on with today's episode as a podcaster myself, I listened to quite a few of them, although not really any design podcasts. I think I get a little designed out just producing my own, but what I do listen to a lot are things like true crime and history.

And I've been particularly obsessed with history, podcasts lately. Things like more perfect through line and currently seen on radio. So if you are also a history buff or maybe your eyes are glazing over and I've put you to sleep, but just know that I, for one have never been a great reader of history books, thanks to the dull tomes that were handed out in high school.

But the few I have read as an adult and really loved were written more like a juicy novel, which I think is the key. And that's what makes a lot of history podcasts. So great. The stories when they're told a certain way, they really capture your attention and make you want to keep listening. So in that spirit, I hope you'll enjoy this episode today with my guest,

David supple, think of this as a tiny history lesson on the world of design and architecture. David supple is the founder and CEO of new England design and construction. He was schooled in architecture and then trained in carpentry. And he is about to explain how the profession of architecture has come to be and how it has estranged itself from its roots, where craftsmanship and design went hand in hand done by the same people.

Now, David has a great personality. So like some of my favorite history podcasts, he's very entertaining and makes history interesting. But if history still isn't your thing, keep listening, because we also talk about another of his passions, which is sustainability, and he's got a great practical tip that I've never heard of. That should probably go at the top of your priority list.

If you are thinking about doing anything eco-friendly in your home, all right, let's go, David supple. Welcome to the Style. Matters Podcast. I think this is going to be a really interesting conversation. You will be thank you for having me Zandra Yes, absolutely. I want to start off with a little bit of your background. You studied architecture at Tufts,

but you felt that it didn't quite cover all of the bases when it comes to the kind of, I would call it sort of a holistic approach that you want to take in your design. And then I read, in fact, after completing your architecture degree, then you went back and decided to train as a carpenter. And I would love to hear more about that story.

Why did you feel like you needed to do some of the hands-on work and learn the carpentry? Yeah. Thank you. That's a great question. And I was completely oblivious to this while I was in school. You know, I, I, I went to college. I was like the thing you were supposed to do. I didn't really know. I kind of bumped around with majors and I settled on architecture because I was inspired by you.

The beautiful buildings I had seen, I really got the impact that that could create. So I was like, well, then you should be an architect. So I majored in architecture. I got out of school. I started practicing as an architect in a, in a firm, in a design studio. And very quickly I realized, I do not know what I'm doing.

Like no, no clue. I, I, I give folks this analogy. It's like going to school for four years to be a chef, but you never cooked anything. Oh, my whole time is just learn how to theoretically write recipes. And so I got out of school and I, and, but my job was to tell folks what to build and how to build,

but I had never built anything and I felt extremely insecure, totally deficient as a result of that. And, you know, I know this, I'm not alone in this experience. I think it's almost ingrained into the industry just to get over it and just kind of, you figure it out as you go. I didn't want to do that. And so I then,

you know, worked as a carpenter just to fill that gap, just fill that void. I knew I had. And so, so that's what I did. That's so interesting. I wish a lot of college students could hear this story because maybe the parents who are listening will share it because I, I have a new li a newly entered college freshmen in my life.

And, you know, it's school is one thing and it's important, but real-world practice is just as important. And I think the point you're trying to make too, is that you're, you're not going to learn everything in school. And I think in, in the architecture field, in particular, it's so focused on design that some architects don't necessarily even think about things like maintenance and how,

how the materials that they use, how they're going to actually hold up necessarily because they're just looking at the design of it. Yeah. I mean, the design is just a means to an end. The product is a building. And so, you know, we're a bit disconnected from that in the way an architect is trained. It actually doesn't make any sense,

but it's become totally accepted and totally normal. The norm. Yeah. Interesting. Yeah. Okay. So you, you got your architectural degree from a very highly respected school, then you decided, look, I gotta, I gotta figure out this hands-on stuff too. And you took that on yourself. And then since then, if I'm understanding your history correctly,

you've really become interested in reviving this role of the master builder, which not everyone is going to be even familiar with because it's almost an antiquated term, but it, it, it was this, it was a very important profession. So tell us the of it and how it's changed over the years. Happy to. So, while I was working at this architectural studio,

a colleague, I was struggling and a colleague, let me know, you know, the derivation of the word architect is actually master builder. It goes back to ancient Greek times and it's archi, which is a, or master and Tecton, which is builder or carpenter. If you go back just 150 years, nevermind ancient, you know, antiquity, if you go back just 150 years and you look in a English dictionary and you look up architect and you look up builder,

they are synonyms. They, they use each other to define each other. And then if you go back from that point, you know, to the beginning of civilized history, you know, in, in, in Africa, in Egypt, no matter where you were on the planet, no matter what period of time, no matter what language, the word to describe somebody who was in charge of the built environment,

always went back to chief or master builder. That was always the way it was because it was inherently. So you would, and that master, where that comes from is, you know, folks are probably familiar with you. You start out as an apprentice And then you're the master. And once you have achieved that epitome, you are then able to direct and design.

And that was the natural way for thousands of years in our industry. And it wasn't until the middle of the 18 hundreds, where that split really occurred. And it, it has then been made to appear that it was always that way. So do you have any theories as to why the split happened? Oh, I don't have theories. I have,

like, I know why it happened. Okay. Would you like me to tell you? I would. So It's fascinating. You, you get into the 18 hundreds in America. And at that point in time, you know, we were recently won our independence from England, but that English culture was still heavily ingrained in the United States. And part of that was this,

the social statuses. And there was this social status called the gentlemen that was like the top. And to reach that status was the thing to do in England. That was actually in their sentence. It was there, wasn't just an adjective. It was like practically a profession, correct? At the definition of a gentleman was you could not partake in manual labor,

physical labor. So the best builders, if you go back and you track the history of the original founders of the American Institute of architects, the 19 of them, that you can trace their history. They were carpenters, masons builders, 18 out of 19 of them either were apprenticed in the trades or, or apprenticed under one of those guys. And the problem they were trying to solve is to,

they, they could not get their due respect, or at least they thought the only way for them to like be on par with the lawyer and the doctor was to separate themselves from the building trades, where they came from. And that's what the purpose, that's what the stated purpose of that organization was, was to raise their social status. That was it.

It was not to create better buildings. It was not, it was not to, you know, improve upon the service to the client. It was solely to improve. Their lot Of that is fascinating. It's wild. And the thing they did next was they got it into universities. And that's really what created the split and really what led us to the point where you had a fellow like me,

who got out of school and was like, I don't know what I'm doing. All right, well, this is, this is great. I want to keep on this, this idea a little bit, because it's, I think that this is probably what led you to, to do a bunch of research on African and maybe African-American master builders. And you've got a book about this,

and it sounds like you're really, really fascinated with that particular segment of the architectural world. Tell us a little bit about that. Yeah. You know, I stumbled upon this. I've been writing about this topic for a little while. You know, when I went to school for architecture, I took a lot of architectural history classes. You look at slides and you go kind of sequentially through history.

So you start in, you know, Egypt, Africa, and typically, you know, the focus when you think of Egypt and architecture, what do you, what do you think of, of course, the pyramids pyramids, and, and then the next time period you hit is typically, you know, ancient Greece. And then from that period forward,

everything kind of relates back to the ancient Greeks. Like the Romans really derived their architecture from that. And then, you know, the Renaissance was just a return to antiquity and you have neoclassicism and everything kind of goes back to ancient Greece. What I found is that that architecture comes absolutely completely from Africa, every single aspect of it. And you know,

this is a Podcast, so you can't see it. So kind of just move back. Okay. The book show, the book is primarily visual. So I'm really just showing this. And then, you know, you bring that to today and kind of how this ties in is the best word we have today to describe this holistic re-emergence of the architect and builder is designed build.

And today there's over a hundred design build curriculums in universities, in America today where the student can design and then build, it's typically a community service project, but the students absolutely love it. The professors love it, and it's been growing and growing, but it's still kind of a token optional semester. Maybe my research, if you go back and you'll,

you'll find the first design build program was in Tuskegee, Alabama, which is the famous Tuskegee Institute in a bad way. Yeah. Yeah. But Booker T Washington founded that university and he created this program where it was designed build fully where you would learn both, both the theory and the practical application of building. You would be in a drafting room in the morning and in the afternoon you would be building it.

So I just want to repeat this for a second. So the first design build or master builder slash architect, a designer formalized collegiate program was actually at Tuskegee, which was an African-American school. That's, that's correct. That's primarily black college. And that, you know, and you know, the big, a bigger point, like I I've, I,

that led me to then make this other discovery, which is really the architecture of the world comes from Africa. And, you know, this is a bold statement and, you know, without seeing it, I don't expect you to believe it, but, you know, look out for this book because I don't have a name for it yet. Okay.

All right. It's really, the ink is not even dry. Yeah. Okay. The, the token design build semester course, whatever today that is going to be how folks are trained. You know, if you go and do they, they might be slow to progress, but it's really, once Society catches onto this and is like, Hey, this doesn't make any sense.

They're going to need to form. They're going to need to change. And To say, I mean, it, does it go both ways? I mean, I do think that there are, I, I mean, I have worked with people who, you know, they'll get, I would call it design advice from a contractor, and it's not always the best design advice.

You know, that, that it sounds, it seems like both sides. Maybe there may be, needs to be a better meeting of the Oh, a hundred. You're totally right. It needs to be integrated. It needs to be, you know, so like at Tuskegee, you could, you came in and you would take, and this is the same thing as the,

the Bauhaus school that Walter Gropius, that was a grade based school, this not commonly known I've written about it, but that was completely, you would come in at both of these schools, you would come in and pick a trade and then you would get the basics. And then you would, you know, specialize in a trade could then stop at that point and go off and practice.

And maybe, and that's the right thing. You know, folks are folks that that's what they want to do. Great, good. But you could then, or you could then progress to become, you know, the master to become the epitome that the head of the industry. And so Who, who kind of sees the biggest picture and kind of understands the entire,

the entire, all of the elements that go into creating a livable breathing human centered bill. Yeah. Totally. Because the split hasn't been good for anybody. It has not been good for the builder because the builder lost, you know, the trades lost their connection to this, this higher level of thinking. Right. Cause that's what the design is. It's really just thinking through things to make sure that,

like you said, like you got this, this design advice, wasn't that good from the contractor because that's been, that's not their job. Right. Right. Well, I want to talk about another passion of yours. It seems like you're a multi-passionate person. I just have to say, and that is sustainable design. And we haven't even mentioned or talked about your company,

which is new England design and construction shortened to any DC. It seems like a major focus of any DC is sustainable design. And I I'd like to hear about how you started the company and what, what your vision for it is. And then let's get really specific about this really interesting project you're doing right outside of Boston and Somerville. Sure. It's a retrofitted project.

In other words, it's not a new build. And I, I just was doing an episode the other week with somebody who had written about sustainability. This is over in, mostly in the UK and it struck me and I wasn't really surprised, but it was sort of reinforced my assumption that of course, the easiest way to do sustainable design is from the ground up.

It's a hell of a lot easier to put in the energy efficiency when you don't even have the walls up yet, but you're not doing that. And so I want to hear about that. Oh, well, yeah, that's a passive house home, but just to start earlier, you know how I started the company was really, I didn't have a job.

Like I was working as a carpenter. I got fired. I was never a great carpenter. I got, let go. I didn't have a job. And I started at this company The way most entrepreneurs do. Yes. It was a bit by default. And then, you know, I, I was always interested in a sustainable building and to tell you the truth,

I didn't really have it as a focus until I totally understood the urgency of it. And I don't think it's really understood even still like why it matters. I think we think of it as, Oh, that would be nice if we could do that. But it doesn't feel, yeah. It feels still impractical or something for only rich people. Yeah.

I agree with you. And, and I think part of that comes from disinformation. The temperature on earth is rising. And the reason that is rising is because of man previously, there was a natural up and down, but that was never created by man. So this is an experiment we've never had before occurring. And I don't think it's a good idea.

Like it's like, let's not just wait around and figure out, see what happens then if it's bad, like, Oh no. So I think that's where it starts as getting educated on this topic and why it is important. And then things like passive homes, which this is a passive home, which is, you know, you know, apitomy of sustainable design and construction.

What a passive home means is that it's, you know, you can have a net zero home or a carbon negative home. Like it produces more energy than it it takes, or a net zero home, which is like, it's E it's equal at kilt. It's even right. And those are good, but that home could still use a bunch of energy.

It just has like a huge solar array that makes up for it. So what a passive home is, is it creates a comfortable temperature passively without mechanical means without energy. So a passive house just means that it's, you know, comfortable without mechanical means past how does that happen? So with sunlight, with body temperature, with appliances, normal appliances, you would have typically an extremely,

extremely energy efficient heat or cooling source. It's they're they're they consume 90%, less energy than the typical home. Wow. 90%, 90% is significant and it's in the way they're built. And so it is much more simple to build them new as a result, because when you have an existing home, you have to undo a bit to get to that level.

And, but we have some incredible clients who really are not only taking this on for themselves, but really the social, you know, aspect of it. And to set example, an example, they really, you know, are doing their part and it's going to be an amazing project. We're very, very excited about it. Okay. So you,

this home that we're talking about, you have not torn it down completely. Right? So, and I think a lot of us, we don't, there's also the, the, we love our historic homes too. I mean, you know, we don't necessarily want to only live a new build. So tell us about, give us a little bit of detail about what did it take to turn this home into something that's passive?

Yeah, I mean, so the components of a passive home are really, it is simpler to do on a new build because one facet of it is the orientation to control that in terms of orientation to the sun. And, you know, it has to do with insulation, air ceiling, you know, windows. We do still look at, you know,

solar and adjust where we put windows and overhangs accordingly. You know, we're kind of bringing the home back to its skeleton form back to its bones. And then kind of starting again from there, it uses a HRV system, which is a heat recovery ventilation system. And that, that brings in cool air or, or clean air, I should say,

it keeps air flow and air quality high. And so that's, that's part of it. The windows are either triple or quadruple glaze. And so the window placement the orientation of windows and overhangs to control that aspect of the design is, is important to it as well. So it actually sounds like it's it's I was expecting you to say it was going to be all of these gadgets.

No, not at all. Yeah. It's typically all electric, so there's no, you know, fossil fuel being used and it's a very low degree of electricity that is needed Really about getting back down to the bones and then just, I don't know, insulating in all kinds of ways, not just the walls, but you're talking about the windows and this,

the air recovery system and that kind of thing. That's that's, I I'm surprised I was not expecting to hear that. That's actually, I dunno, it, it makes us feel more attainable than what I was expecting. Yeah, totally. And I think a great place to start for anybody who's interested in improving, you know, the comfort and efficiency of their home is what's called a blower door test with a,

with an infrared scan. A blower door test is literally like sticking a fan in your front door, blowing all, all the air in the house, outside shutting all the windows and doors, otherwise to create an, a negative air pressure inside. And then one walks around with an infrared camera and one can see because of this negative air pressure air is rushing in wherever.

There is a lack of air, air, or insulation, and one can see it. And this is a great, great place to start because I think some folks are, it can be overwhelming, but with this one gets an exact, it's more like a sniper approach as opposed to a shotgun approach. Like you could just be like, Oh, I need to replace all my windows.

I need to blow an installation, but without this, without looking, you know, what's behind the walls, what's actually, you know, what is the biggest culprit that you don't really know? And if you want to be careful with your money or do things slowly over time, it's better to be much more targeted. You're saying. Yeah, Exactly.

Exactly. Because typically there's like a big culprit that is pretty simple to address Your, your company would do this kind of audit. Right. And, and how would, if, if people don't live here in new England, like what would one Google to Like blower door test with infrared scans. Yay. All right. So cause you know, people who are listening,

they're all over the country and over in the UK and everything. So I want to make sure that outside of our area where you and I live, that, that people know how to find this test. Cause that would be so, so helpful. Yeah. So, all right. I want to wrap up with asking you what is next for you?

What's on your radar. You've got this book that is going to be coming out, but what do you kind of, what are you excited about for the future of your industry for the future of your company? Oh, and by the way, we haven't even talked about COVID so you know it, yeah. We could just leave it out. People hear about that all the time.

Oh, okay. Yeah. We're tired of talking about COVID that's a good point. Yeah. I mean a big part of me in the company, I have an amazing, amazing team. Our purpose is lifting spirits with spaces and really this collaborative approach. Like we have designers, architects, carpenters, you know, project managers on our team and, and each has their specialty and what they are amazing at,

but we are integrated collaborative whole. And I just love that about us. I love setting an example for the industry. I really, really am passionate about this topic because it just leads to better buildings. I'm very excited about this move towards, you know, bringing our industry back together again. So I'm writing that book. I do plan to start a new organization,

which you know, kind of banners this unity and bringing the organization back together. And I'm also writing a children's book, true history of the architect. I love it. You are, you are a Renaissance man. Oh, thank you. And can I tell you why Style Matters Oh my gosh. Yes, please. I would love to know your perspective.

I just Style Matt or David supple. So you, you have this form follows function. One could look at that and be like, Oh, well this Style doesn't matter. Just that's just the form. It's just the function that Matters, but right. But Style and form have a function in the way that make you feel. And I think that is if that is negated,

if that is not thought with it, that is not part of what your designers thinking with your, what the result will be, will not be as good as it could be. And I re I really do believe it's really important to think with that. And also think Style is really just a manifestation of the ideas or what somebody is trying to communicate,

you know, it's, that's what it starts with. Absolutely. And I mean, it's really right in the, I don't know if it's your, it's your mission statement. It spirits, what Is it? Lifting spirits with spaces? Yes. It's lifting spirits, right? That's the point? That's the point is humans are living in there and we have spirits.

We have emotions. We have, you know, good days and bad days and we need our spaces to help us through those. Yeah. Well that Was beautifully said. And I really appreciate you telling us all of that and sharing those thoughts with us. It's been a pleasure, David. Thank you so much for coming on the show. Thank You.

Zandra appreciate it. And that my friends wraps up today's episode. Thank you so much for all of the reviews you have been leaving about the show over on Apple podcasts. I hope it means a lot to me and I can't. Thank you enough if you haven't had a chance to do that, I would really appreciate it. It does help us keep this show on the air and it helps other people just like you find us.

Another thing I want to remind you about is the Slow Style Society the membership. It is open again from January 14th through 18th, just as short time period for you to join us in our monthly group, go to Lidl yellow forward slash Slow Style Society to get all the info. And that's all I've got for today. I will be back in your earbuds next Monday.

Have a good one.



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