2012-10-04 / News

New light hangs in Jamestown cupola

‘Temporary resident’ Peter Linn built it for his mother
BY KEN SHANE


Peter Linn installed a new light in a cupola he recently built at his mother’s house. Beavertail Lighthouse influenced the architect in his design. 
PHOTO COURTESY OF PETER LINN Peter Linn installed a new light in a cupola he recently built at his mother’s house. Beavertail Lighthouse influenced the architect in his design. PHOTO COURTESY OF PETER LINN There is a new light in Jamestown, courtesy of local architect Peter Linn, and it hangs in a new cupola that he designed for his mother. The fixture is based on a 1935 British design of a copper chiefs lantern, and the bulb within is an energy-saving LED that uses little electricity.

Linn hails from Holliston, Mass. The architect’s childhood home was an authentic Colonial house built in 1826 in the Greek revival style. His father made sure that the house was meticulously restored, and Linn helped out with a lot of the work that had to be done.

Still unsure of his career path, but influenced by the experience of working on the house he grew up in and his ability to draw, Linn enrolled at Wentworth Institute of Technology, where he earned an associate’s degree. He then chose to attend the Rhode Island School of Design to get his professional degree so he could become a licensed architect.

A cupola was added to the Massachusetts house around 1990, and to adorn the new structure Linn and his eight brothers and sisters presented their parents with a weather vane as an anniversary gift. His parents treasured the weather vane and took it with them when they retired to Jamestown 12 years ago. Since then, Linn has been a regular visitor to the island. When his father passed away last year, he came to Jamestown to stay with his mother and do some repairs on her house. He describes his status in Jamestown as temporary, but said that he loves it here and is not sure how long he will stay.

In an op-ed for the New York Times called “Architecture and the lost art of drawing,” famed designer and architect Michael Graves blamed the advent of the computer for the downfall of handdrawn sketches. He suggested that computer-designed buildings were “blob architecture.”

“I actually think it can be done better with the new technology,” Linn said. “When you work in three dimensions with the new technology, if two parts of a build- ing don’t fit together, it’s pretty obvious when you see it in three dimensions.”

While Linn does not necessarily concur with Graves’ assessment of computer-aided design (he does agree with Graves on the fact that architects no longer have the time or budget to produce great drawings), the article got him thinking that architects today rarely build anything themselves. In fact, some don’t even know how to construct something. Linn thinks that while great drawings are all well and good, they can only be realized if the architect has knowledge of how buildings are actually erected. He laments the fact that this knowledge is often lacking among his colleagues these days.

“The more fundamental problem is that architects are losing the ability to build things,” he said. He points to the fact that the definition of architect in an 1898 dictionary is completely different from the definition of the profession today. Linn notes that architects throughout history have been more hands-on in the construction process, or at least possessed suffi cient knowledge to transmit their designs to the contractors who would build them.

“[If architects] don’t physically build it as they used to in the days of the Greeks, that means they need to be able to communicate to somebody else what it’s going to look like. And if he doesn’t know how to put it together, he then has to rely on a contractor to give him feedback on how to make it happen.”

Linn said that unless an architect spends time on the job site with the contractor watching things being put together, he is less capable of producing not just a design that can be built, but drawings that are capable of being built by experienced contractors.

During his career Linn has built hotels, office buildings and schools. He won a national award for the first school that he ever designed, which is located in Franklin, Mass. Based on his experience, he recommends against hiring an architect simply because they have done what you need to be done before.

“Architects design things,” Linn said. “They don’t necessarily design the same thing over and over again.”

Linn’s mother is passionate about the Beavertail Lighthouse, which influenced his design for the new cupola, which is done in a traditional style. Inspired by the lighthouse, he decided to add windows to the structure, effectively tying the elements of the cupola to the lighthouse.

Linn originally looked for a solar-powered lantern for the cupola in order to avoid having to change the light bulb, and also reduce electricity charges. During his research on the Internet, he became convinced that a fixture with a low-energy LED bulb, affi xed to a simple timer, was a better option. He wanted his lantern to have a nautical theme, given its Jamestown location, and was able to find the perfect copper lantern online also.

Linn’s client, his mother, is thrilled with the final product. And that weather vane that her children bought all of those years ago? It now sits proudly on top of the new cupola.

“She loves it,” Linn said. “She doesn’t like to drive at night, so when she comes home she can see the little light on up there and it makes for a bit of a beacon when you come down the road.”

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