Jeremiah Eck started his residential practice in Boston with $30 in his pocket and little more than a pencil to draw with. Twenty-eight years later, the firm is thriving and Eck, FAIA, has taken up a paintbrush, retreating to his backyard studio each Friday to work on his landscape canvases. It's site work of a different nature, liberated from the concerns of clients, contractors, deadlines, and the limitations of budgets, materials, and building codes. Eck has been approached by patrons wishing to commission paintings, but he resists. "I don't want to make it a job," he says.
Possibly, it's the perfect balance: pure art done for love and straightforward architecture done for a living. Of course, life is never that tidy and clear-cut. Eck has recently given in to a good friend's request for a commissioned painting, and he brings a great deal of art to his design of houses. His Web site, www.jearch.com, underlines his views up front on the home page: "We believe that architecture is an art and a service and, most importantly, that good clients make good architecture.
Good architecture and, specifically, good houses are very important to Eck, who's seen too few of the good, too many of the bad, and a recent proliferation of the abysmal during his career. "One-half of all single-family houses in American were built since I went into practice in the '70s," he says. "I remain interested in the million houses built each year without an architect. How do you touch the million people who are buying those houses? The sheer volume of the problem is staggering."
Eck understands that just one approach to solving the problem won't do much good. In practicing the best housing design he can, he's determined not to contribute to the disgrace. But he's also committed to playing a part in the solution. To that end, he's chosen a bilateral strategy--working with other architects to improve the quality of work they do and teaching the lay public about what constitutes good house design. Each year, he organizes a summer conference for residential architects at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. And he's just written a book, published by The Taunton Press, exploring and explaining the characteristics of The Distinctive Home. The book debuted the AIA/Taunton Press imprint, which seeks, through a series of books aimed at the general public, to build an understanding of and appreciation for the value of good design. In doing so, the AIA hopes this appreciation will trickle down to architects, strengthening the market for their professional services. Eck says the book has already brought jobs to his firm.
The Distinctive Home: A Vision of Timeless Design organizes and synthesizes Eck's three decades of thinking and practicing custom home design. It pieces together the thousands of lessons he's taught his clients about houses, and the hundreds he's shared with would-be architects as an adjunct professor at Harvard. "After more than 20 years of practicing and teaching, it's not like I don't know this stuff," he says. "But it was the first time I put it down into words."
Like a custom home, the book took two and a half years from concept to construction to pull together. And during that process, it became clear to Eck that he wished to publish more than just a monograph on the firm. "What was the point of doing a book if I was just going to talk about my work? I wanted people to focus not on the personality of the architect but on the ideas themselves," he explains. There are plenty of houses by Jeremiah Eck Architects throughout its pages, but they're identified only in credits at the back. The same is true of other architects' work featured in the book. And, in the greatest gesture of ego control, the cover is a house by another firm, Elliott Elliott Norelius Architecture of Blue Hill, Maine.