In 1964, three friends from the Yale School of Architecture hatched a plan to become developers, designers, and builders of ski cabins. Two of the friends, David Sellers and Peter Gluck had previously helped one another on building projects, one for Sellers’s brother, and one for Gluck’s parents. In Vermont, land was inexpensive and skiing was growing in popularity, so they felt they could take a chance and build speculative projects that they hoped to sell for a profit. David Sellers and his friend William Reineke purchased a piece of land near Warren, now known by the name Prickly Mountain, while Peter Gluck embarked on projects that were designed and built for a site elsewhere in Vermont. From these beginnings a new way of making architecture developed, resulting in structures unmoored from architectural tradition. The design-build architectural movement in Vermont was begun.
The three young architects were motivated by the idea that they could and should control the economics and construction of their buildings, as well as the design. At the time, Sellers was quoted as saying:
The architect is irresponsible today in…that he thinks…he has to sit in his office and wait for some client to come up and say, all right build me that. I think the architect has got to change his whole scope if he’s going to survive as an integral part of our future society. (Note: PA May 1966 p. 150)
While the initial development ideas did not produce as much financial success as hoped, Sellers and Reineke created an experiment that did change the “whole scope” of how architecture can be practiced and how buildings can be made. They succeeded in making a place, a community, and a new kind of design culture that lives on to this day.
The exhibition, Architectural Improvisations and this catalog that documents it recognize the design-build experiments at Prickly Mountain as a moment worthy of study both in terms of architectural history and in the cultural history of Vermont. This is not a complete and exhaustive survey. The focus is on a time period beginning with a few houses built in 1964 and the opening of the Yestermorrow School in Warren, Vermont in 1980. We explore, and interpret certain architectural events that when seen as part of a greater whole can lead us to an understanding of what has become a lasting legacy. This legacy can be recognized in our built landscape, in the professional lives of people practicing architecture today, in the movement toward better ecologically responsible buildings known as Green Building, and in the way architecture is taught in our schools.
The exhibition presents architectural projects that are artifacts of what was then a new and experimental way of making buildings. Some of the buildings are still in use and good condition others have burned and are recorded in photographs and drawings. These buildings can help us to understand the design-build movement; this catalog includes research gleaned from articles written at the time of construction, interviews conducted in recent years, and close formal analysis of selected examples of the architecture. It is our hope that a more complete picture will emerge resulting in a new appreciation of what was then a radical architectural movement.