Martha’s Vineyard architects show us how they think

An example of the 3D computer modeling that Sullivan O'Connor Architects uses for part of the design process. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

Just as the Vineyard’s natural beauty is defined by variety — landscapes range from dune bordered beaches, to rugged seascapes, to sheep-dotted pastures — our manmade landscape also varies dramatically from town to town.

From Oak Bluffs’s candy-colored, curlicued cottages to Edgartown’s whitewashed colonial uniformity, to simple shingled salt boxes, to sleek, contemporary up-Island homes perched above seascapes and designed to take advantage of stunning views, Vineyard architectural styles are as varied as the communities they represent.

Starting with an opening reception this Sunday, April 22, Featherstone Center for the Arts in Oak Bluffs will present some examples of this diversity in its latest show, The Art of Architecture Show – Celebrating Vineyard Architects, which will run through May 9.

Architecture is among the non-traditional themes that Featherstone has added to their 2012 lineup this year. Upcoming shows include examples of costume design and iPhone photography, among other things.

“We’re always trying to broaden our audience and look at new mediums for art,” said Ann Smith, Featherstone’s executive director. As with all the shows, Ms. Smith and former director and current events consultant Francine Kelly dreamed up this theme.

“We thought it was a natural since we have done so many painting shows that featured Vineyard architecture like barns and fishing shacks,” Ms. Smith said. “It’s an offshoot – off the canvas and into reality.”

Ten local architects will participate in the latest show. The exhibited materials range from hand-drawn renderings to scale models, computer imaging, and video. Here is a bit more on a handful of exhibitors.

Patrick Ahearn

Along with photos and renderings, Patrick Ahearn will present a selection of video projects that he did in partnership with Plum TV over the course of the seven years that they operated here. Some of these focus on specific projects, while others cover a broader perspective.

Mr. Ahearn filmed segments in a number of Plum markets for a series called Village. Along with experts he examined the question “What makes a village?” at various sites including Edgartown. For one segment of another series, The Art of Placemaking, Mr. Ahearn and Martha’s Vineyard Commission executive director Mark London explored the potential of the Vineyard Haven waterfront area along Beach Road.

Mr. Ahearn, whose firm specializes in “historically motivated architecture,” will also present, in a more traditional fashion through photos and renderings, a sampling of past projects.

On architecture, Mr. Ahearn said, “I think of it as usable art — architecture as opposed to building.” He compares his process to writing a screenplay or a novel. “There are chapters weaving a storyline of a house and how it can become a family heritage.

“My approach is what I call implied history,” he continued. “We script the novel of the house – what could have been.”


Hutker Architects will contribute scale models and a beautiful coffee table book that features many of the Vineyard homes that the firm has built over its 25 years in business. Called “Heirlooms to Live In – Homes in a New Regional Vernacular,” the book is divided into three sections — Interiors, Exteriors, and a chapter called Towards a New Vernacular that deals with influences on Hutker’s evolution in design. Things like material ethics and borrowing techniques from boat building are explored in both text and gorgeous color photos.

Hutker will also display scale models of a few of their projects. Lauren Giglio, director of marketing, notes that the models that will be on display were selected to spotlight some details such as a unique outdoor shower and an interesting staircase.

Sullivan O’Connor

Sullivan O’Connor Architects will contribute pencil drawings of preliminary designs, including some older ones. Senior associate Chuck Sullivan notes that, although the firm uses 3D computer modeling for their design process, he still starts out with a hand-drawn sketch.

“I still do preliminary things by hand and then put it on the computer,” Mr. Sullivan said. “I just find it easier to keep everything in front of me and keep it all together. Working on the computer you can home in on one area and get lost in the plan.”

He has selected drawings that he describes as having some character. Some have notes scribbled on them. “I’m personally drawn to working drawings like da Vinci’s sketches,” he continued. “They’re not necessarily works of art but the working out of a problem. Figuring out how to do something, that’s what interests me.”

South Mountain

John Abrams of South Mountain Company draws on a quote when describing how architecture fits into the world of art. “The Balinese have a saying ‘We don’t have any art, we do everything as beautifully as we can,’ and I think that’s what architecture’s all about.”

Mr. Abrams will use the show as an opportunity to give the public a first glimpse at the design for the new Martha’s Vineyard Museum, to be housed in the old marine hospital overlooking the Lagoon in Vineyard Haven. The design will incorporate the original Victorian structure and a new building, which, according to Mr. Abrams, is intended to be in the shadow of the old hospital, not competing with it.

Last week, trees that obstructed the view of the impressive 19th-century building were cleared, allowing people to view the old hospital from the road for the first time in many years, as it once was seen. Mr. Abrams is pleased to have the chance to unveil the plan, which is based partly on an effort “to restore the old building in the most environmentally responsible way that we can.”

The project will be illustrated by renderings and computer enhanced photos. The timing of the show aligns well with the timeline for the project. “We thought it would be wonderful to display just when the Museum is starting up its serious fundraising efforts,” Mr. Abrams said.

The Art of Architecture show will not only give the public the opportunity to explore the design process of a variety of local architects, but it will also offer the exhibitors a glimpse at the work of their peers.

“I think it will be interesting,” said Mr. Sullivan. “Everyone does things a little bit differently. I haven’t done something like this since I was in school and people hung their projects up and we could see what everyone else was doing.”

Opening Reception: The Art of Architecture Show – Celebrating Vineyard Architects, 4–6 pm, Sunday, April 22, Featherstone Center for the Arts, Oak Bluffs. Show runs daily, 12 noon–4 pm, through May 9. 508-693-1850;