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Built by Hand

| Photography by Michael Ryan Architects

| Photography by Halkin Mason Photography

From the outset of my career as an architect, it became clear that my relationship with the fabricators of my work would be crucial to the success of any project. A designer’s ability to communicate intentions, priorities, and ideas develops not only through drawings and documents, but-more importantly through long-term working relationships with builders. In a successful project, the two aspects—DESIGN + FABRICATION—are intertwined.

Architecture, as a profession, was born in the nineteenth century from the role of the master builder. A master builder oversaw all other trades as well as the planning and design of a building. In the twenty-first century, as a designated and licensed profession, architecture was disconnected from craft. This evolution of the field of architecture inspired a move toward pre-assembled “products and systems” and away from “craft and fabrication.”

At Michael Ryan Architects (MRA), we are combining a global view of materials with the highest quality craftspeople and intense project management to create a direct, even symbiotic, relationship between the architect and builder.

This brings to mind my long-standing working relationship with one Bob Crosley. Bob has been involved in construction on LBI for close to 40 years. For the last 25, he has worked for Gary Gardner Construction as an on-site project manager. Regarding Bob, “manager” is a bit too sterile a word for his role in our projects together. He “lives” the house and its construction with constant thought and consideration. Gary Gardner supports his projects with a thorough, open, and detailed approach to implementation.

This spring, I completed my fourth residence on LBI working along with Bob. With each project, over fifteen years, we have collaborated to push the limits of design and fabrication with the use of new and alternate materials. In each new phase, we reference lessons learned and details developed from our previous projects together. Built through communication, our collaborative history provides confidence from familiarity and a dialogue that is wide-open to discovery.

As an example, our recent project together include the use of a lime plaster exterior material manufactured in Japan. The product, called Shikkui Kodai, has been used in traditional building, from temples to houses, for more than one thousand years. Shikkui is a sustainable product made with up to 50 percent reprocessed eggshells—a rapidly renewable, pre-consumer source of high-grade calcium carbonate. In addition to the eggshells, the plaster contains slaked lime, marble powder, soybean oil, jute fiber, and seaweed. Small plastic spatulas are used to apply and polish the finished surface. The result is a finish that is extremely smooth and somewhat reflective. The reflections are heightened by the light and atmosphere of a beachfront location. Shikkui’s unique composition results in a material that is flexible and, therefore, not prone to cracking. In order to ensure that the material was properly installed and finished, the plaster craftsmen attended a three-day training session in New Hampshire.

It’s difficult to imagine the entire process of designing and fabricating with Shikkui or any material without the support and trust of a highly qualified construction team. I am lucky to have that in Bob and others who fabricate MRA projects.

The shifts within architecture as a profession and the regulations that increasingly surround projects have distanced the architect from the builder and associated trades. Bridging this gap is often difficult, as it runs counter to the legal and economic systems that organize the current building process. Strengthening that bridge through trust improves the dynamic of designing and constructing a truly unique home. Reconnecting the two—DESIGN + FABRICATION—creates an intangible advantage that supports both creativity and quality.

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