After Sandy: The Nature of Rebuilding From the Heart of an Architect

After Sandy: The Nature of Rebuilding From the Heart of an Architect

by Carol Clouse

In the surge of Sandy, I sat alone in my home in southeast Pennsylvania, and listened to the moans of the moon and the howling of the wind. Harmony and melody. My friends in Montana “where I also live” emailed me earlier that evening to say that they were having dinner with my boyfriend. I was on the east coast, and my friends in the west were worried. They expressed their concern to my boyfriend.

He told them that I would be fine. Her house, he said, is built like a bunker.

 I built my house. It’s not a bunker. You can let go of any conspiracy-theory-end-of-the-world-hardcore-hideout images. My house is my own creation, and as an architect I designed every nuance. I also executed much of the actual construction as an assistant to my contractor brother. It is built on the city limits “ between urban and suburban context “ and it represents a transitional piece of my architectural progression.

The front of the house “ addressing the street and north “ is solid and stalwart. Much of the home is built of reinforced eight inch concrete block, thus the banter on the bunker. I wasn’t too concerned about Sandy’s predicted 75 mph winds blowing over my house. But the large limbs from the big black walnut trees outside did, indeed, concern me. I could envision the winds blowing down big branches, or worse entire trees, smashing out the large south facing fenestration.  I hoped that the extended roof overhangs would offer some protection.

I sat on my bed in my room in my house. I sat and opened to the wild energy of the storm, and then I sent love and strength to the trees. I wished them the flexibility to bend with the storm, unyielding to her temper. I sat with Sandy. I sat with the wind and the water, the trees and the moon, because I am an integral part of all these things.

A tree is made up of water, earth, and sky. And so are we. We are also both alive with growth and movement. The air we breathe and the water we drink are as essential to our own existence as it is to the tree. And the tree roots itself deep into the earth. Through our homes, we also seek to be rooted.

My house and I made it through the storm. The trees never gave way. I was inland and fortunate, but many others lost their homes to Sandy.

As we look to rebuild our dwellings, we need to root into the earth in both our physical construction and in our instinctual memory of what it means to be a human being living on this planet. We need to be acutely aware of the ways and the weather of the land where we choose to build. Our construction materials and methods should reflect an understanding and respect for the land.

We would like to have a better relationship with nature, yet we live largely inside our houses, and view nature as something out there. We construct insulating walls of enclosure, and separate ourselves from our innate understanding. We forget that we are not a separate entity, but an integral part of nature.

Before we begin this task of rebuilding, it would do us well to take a moment to consider, and give regard to the land and the ecosystems of life. If we look at life as being lived ‘outside,’ we will approach our construction from a different point of perspective. We can become more aware of the earth as a living entity of water, air, vegetation, and creatures of all species “ including human beings“ that participate together in the essential cycle of life. Instead of insulating ourselves, we can live in an awakened state and become conscious of our every footprint on the planet, including our construction. And then perhaps we will remember to play in the rain, lie in the leaves, and gaze into the night sky.

As for that moon, she is unpredictable, a bit enigmatic, illuminating, and at times even formidable. The moon is held often in such regard, and is subject to feminine symbolism. And, oh, what a way she has with the weather. It is perhaps due to this lunar lady connection that hurricanes were named after women until 1979, when men’s names were added to the mix. Yet it was Katrina and Sandy who swept across the globe with the greatest of passion.

Perhaps we will begin to build differently when we tap into our hearts and not just our technology. Sometimes storms like Sandy can remind us to see ourselves as an integral part of nature, and inspire us to reflect on our own inner lunar lady.  

Carol Clouse is an architect, artist, and author of the recently published inspirational memoir Clouse’s Houses “ A story of challenge, creativity, and the heart of an architect. For more information go to