West Stockbridge — “It’s all about something that’s real, you can touch it, you’re there,” says Dana Bixby, owner of Dana Bixby Architecture, teasing out the threads of what inspires her to accept BerkShares for her architectural services. She might be talking about BerkShares, but you could almost say that she is talking about her own practice. “I do ‘spatial architecture,’ which is different from fictional or superficial architecture,” says Dana. “I want to create the possibility of experience, rather than a representation or idea of experience.”
Dana decided to become an architect when she visited a big city for the first time, at the age of twelve. “There was something about it that was tangible, compared to the suburban environment where I grew up.” She did a post-graduate degree in London in space syntax theory and then worked in New York City for twelve years before deciding to settle in the Berkshires.
“It’s really important that we resist the commodification of the world,” insists Dana. She serves on the West Stockbridge Planning Board and has a particular interest in the way that zoning regulations can be written to support the spatial integrity of a village or a town. “We need to hang on to our genuine things. The wonderful thing about living in the Berkshires now is that more and more businesses like Hosta Hill are making products that are completely local and unique.” Dana hopes that BerkShares can be a part of a larger initiative to enable local businesses to develop more easily, using local capital to fuel the local economy.
Dana’s work has always had a grounding in sustainable design, beginning in the 1980s when she designed and built a number of houses based on traditional passive solar design principles. The most recent iteration of this work has been the completion of a new house in Lenox designed to the international “Passive Haus” standards. In that project she worked with a Passive house consultant, Ed May, and with the builder Chris Lee whose firm, GreenCore builders, is based in Egremont.
In other residential work, Dana especially enjoys renovation projects where there is opportunity for significant transformation of old, ordinary houses into interesting and well organized spaces, a challenge that involves recognizing and preserving the valuable elements of the old, while also redesigning with modern living in mind.
Dana Bixby Architecture has been fortunate to have provided architectural services to a number of nonprofit organizations, most recently the Montessori School of the Berkshires, and Dana thinks of this work as the current focus of her practice. Other clients have included IS183 Art School of the Berkshires, Topia Arts Center, and the Community Development Corporation of South Berkshire.
Part of the appeal of architecture, says Dana, is the way that the practice is both inherently place-based and outward-looking and connected. In the past year she has traveled several times to Nairobi, Kenya, where she has been working on a pro-bono basis to help develop and build an arts center in the Mathare slum of the city. Her involvement is evolving according to what kind of assistance the local organizers require, says Dana. “I may provide some aspects of design, but I may also offer training in design and building. There’s a true local community arising out of a need to help each other and develop local capacities.” In that respect, Nairobi doesn’t sound that different from the Berkshires.