From the editor-at-large: Of the hand

Bethany Puopolo's original rendering of Slate Hill, her home for nearly a quarter-century. Bethany Puopolo’s original rendering of Slate Hill, her home for nearly a quarter-century.

There is a long out of print volume published by Princeton Architectural Press in 1992. Its spare black and white pages brought together a seminal collection of 18 highly individualized and speculative or research driven houses designed entirely by what was then the faculty of
the University of Virginia School of Architecture. Now 22 years later, many of those young architects are firmly established in their professional work in Charlottesville, and several others were architects then of national recognition who held appointments as visiting
design critics at UVA at the time.

It was 1996 when I began to assemble the makings of what would become a personal architectural library. It has grown considerably to include sketches, maps, and plaster models, but it also includes two copies of 18 HOUSES, discovered along the journey pursuing architecture. It is so well made as a book, that it rises to become an artifact of art. The penetrating raw smell of the heavy black ink, the crisp feel of the paper, and the dimensional proportion of the page—all in a way convey the same memorable and tactile qualities that good design itself imbues. It is a book of high modernist design portrayed in beautifully delineated contrasting black line drawings, but there is one project that was noticeably different. Rendered in hand-drawn, soft-pencil shaded elevations, was a white clapboard farmhouse that seemed born both of a trained architect’s eye and a bricoleur’s intuition.

Today that house is called Slate Hill (page 16), and is the home of Charlottesville architect Bethany Puopolo. The floors, garden walls, and fireplace are of slate mined from the home site, and the all-wood natural interior fits together like a fine piece of handmade furniture. Like those original soft-pencil drawings, the mark of the hand is evident in making this architecture whose surfaces over time have been burnished with the vitality of its site. And in another reminder that something appearing so effortless often requires the greatest level of skill, landscape architect Brooke Spencer has made a spectacular rural garden in Free Union (page 24). Native wildflower meadows, open lawn, formal plantings, and terraces connect open air living spaces to distant pastoral views.

For me, the lesson here is, whether it’s a well-edited collection of books, a fine work of architecture, or a mature and diverse landscape, when something is made well, it will be well-loved.—Josh McCullar, Editor-at-large

Josh McCullar is the publisher of and practices with SMBW Architects in Richmond.