Architecture Informed by the World

A peripatetic couple at home in Sag Harbor
Every room in the 1,250-square-foot house David Berridge designed for his family on the coast of New Zealand has an ocean view. Patrick Reynolds

After reading a real estate article in The New York Times last winter titled “Hamptons House: Make Mine New” on the increasing trend toward teardowns and the voracious demand for new construction on the South Fork, David Berridge was so incensed that he drafted a 350-word screed to local brokers, suggesting what he called a “more enlightened approach to our changing landscape.”

“I do not have an objection to new, so much as the lack of critical thinking in the type and size of house being built and the dismissive view that it is okay to just keep knocking down the old and discarding the building heritage of the area,” he wrote. In the letter, Mr. Berridge, an architect with a practice in Sag Harbor and New York, described his own approach, which he said “starts with the ‘less is more’ mindset. How can you get more from a house in the form of pleasure, comfort, uniqueness, and value for money, with less in the way of square footage, energy and maintenance costs, and impact on the environment?”

He and his wife, Cathleen McGuigan, the editor in chief of the magazine Architectural Record, have a modest historic house in Sag Harbor, and whether they’re visiting the great cities of the world or walking around their own neighborhood, “We constantly reference the built environment around us,” Mr. Berridge said as we sat on their back deck in Sag Harbor on a hot July day.

They are fans of the new Parrish Art Museum, designed by the firm Herzog & de Meuron, but critics of the proliferation of “over-scaled houses on potato fields,” as Mr. Berridge puts it.

The question for this area, he said, is how to “continue building without denigrating what makes it so special.” He lamented the fact that “the real estate industry and banking industry guide what a house’s value is,” making it hard to “build a smaller house of better materials,” especially in an area like this, where open space is so precious and resources are so limited.

“Land-use planning and the scale of architecture so often seem to fly in the face of long-term sustainability,” Ms. McGuigan said.

“There’s not a progressive movement out here,” Mr. Berridge said. “There’s not an openness to try to reinvent how we live out here.”

“I think we’re really ripe for that, a 21st-century house that is sustainable and fits into the context of the very special landscape here,” Ms. McGuigan said. “I see this pressure to be ‘historic,’ which is sometimes at the expense of good design. There is a lot of architectural design in the modern idiom that still fits in with the setting. The East End was a place of a lot of wonderful experiments in Modernism in the postwar period.”

“Because architecture is David’s vocation and my focus as a journalist, it’s been a wonderful way to see the world together,” Ms. McGuigan said. She has been at Architectural Record since 2011 and was a longtime architecture critic, arts editor, and culture reporter for Newsweek before that. For work and pleasure, they have traveled the world exploring its great cities and towns, looking at how they’re built and how they function — what makes them tick.

“I was always interested in painting, color, visual depictions, and he was always interested in structure . . . urban planning . . . and how the town worked,” Ms. McGuigan said. “And we both really like to eat. We are very different but very complementary.”

When the couple met in the early 1980s, Ms. McGuigan, then at Newsweek, was renting a house in Sag Harbor with a friend. Mr. Berridge, originally from New Zealand, was captain of a 50-foot racing yacht owned by Sag Harbor’s Pat Malloy, and had yet to “come ashore” to study architecture.

He had left school at 15, and sailed all over the world racing 80-foot sailing yachts before signing on to Mr. Malloy’s 50-footer, which did the Newport-to-Bermuda race, among others. Mr. Berridge and Ms. McGuigan met while that boat was in port in Sag Harbor. He continued to take the helm of 80-foot racing yachts, however, competing in the Sydney-to-Hobart race, one from Hong Kong to Manila, and captaining the first private racing yacht to go into China. But, he said, “I kept cycling back through New York to visit Cathleen.”

The two were married in 1987. By then, Mr. Berridge was captaining a yacht owned by Bill Koch, brother of the Tea Party bankrollers David and Charles Koch. There was a lot more money in racing by that point, Mr. Berridge said. “It started to get into a professional situation, and I didn’t know how to promote myself.” Mr. Koch, who would go on to win the 1992 America’s Cup with a boat and crew that reportedly cost $68 million, offered to send Mr. Berridge to college, and it changed his life. He went to the Parsons School of Design for a degree in architecture.

“He took his incredible appreciation for the precision and detail that goes into boat-making and brought that to architecture,” Ms. McGuigan said.

Ms. McGuigan sat in on a few of his courses at Parsons, and looking over the school’s offerings in 1989, she noticed a program on the history of urbanism in Paris, covering the city’s development from Roman times. They went to France in the summer of ‘89, and were there for Paris’s bicentennial. “It was a wonderful coming together for us,” she said.

Soon after graduating, Mr. Berridge got a job with Fred Stelle, a well-known South Fork architect. “He hired me because I liked to sail,” he said with a smile.

“If I called after 4, neither David nor he would be there,” Ms. McGuigan recalled.

Mr. Berridge later worked with Mr. Stelle on the renovation of one of the first Ross School buildings, doing schematic designs and shepherding the project through the approvals process. “So many people see regulation as an impediment,” he said. “I see it as something to be embraced. At the core, what East Hampton is trying to do is where it should go and should continue to go. It can be frustrating going through the process, but that’s what makes it a better building.”

Ms. McGuigan, meanwhile, was “learning architecture on the job.” She started out as “a cultural reporter covering the art world, but began to report on architecture, too, and really liked it — I think because it is a social art,” she wrote in an email. “That led to a broader interest in cities.”

One of her first architecture articles for Newsweek was on “Barcelona and the new architecture and urban design for the 1992 Olympics,” a working trip on which her husband joined her.

“I was at Newsweek for decades. It was really my training ground. The ’80s and ’90s were a wonderful time to be at a newsmagazine. You had tremendous access. There were wonderful people who worked there, some absolutely marvelous characters,” she said.

She wrote about buildings, architects, and design trends with a deft touch and engaging tone, expressing  pure appreciation and keen understanding so that even readers bound for the sports or politics pages might unexpectedly get lost in a profile, for example, of the iconoclastic architect Frank Gehry, whose career she has chronicled for decades.

She wrote about the already well-known Mr. Gehry for Newsweek in 1991, before the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in Spain made him an international sensation, describing his work as an “architecture of controlled chaos.”

“His buildings look improvisational, the architectural equivalent of jazz,” she wrote. “But for all the wit and fun, there is a dark side: In questioning the notion of architectural monumentality, Gehry’s work reflects the uncertainty of our time.”

In 1992, the same year she became senior editor at Newsweek, Ms. McGuigan won a Loeb Fellowship from the Harvard Graduate School of Design. “I have a particular interest, in the realm of architecture, in cities-and what makes great cities work. Urban design was the focus of my year at Harvard,” she wrote.

That was also the year that the couple decided to start a family, eventually adopting their daughter, Elizabeth, from China. They brought her along on their continuing travels, including a six-month trip around the world when she was 6. They started in New Zealand, then went to Australia, Cambodia, Vietnam, India, Turkey, and Austria, finishing with a month in Rome. Ms. McGuigan did some writing during the trip — on the Sydney Olympics and Guggenheim Bilbao — among other subjects, “but mostly we just drank it in,” she said.

“We wanted to go to places that we understood wouldn’t be the same after opening up,” Mr. Berridge said. “Hanoi was full of bicycles,” Ms. McGuigan added. “David said, ‘The car will ruin Hanoi,’ and he was absolutely right.”

“We try to keep it up. We’re constantly looking around and doing things. No nose to the grindstone all the time,” Mr. Berridge said.

Now, for relaxation, they have a perfect house — at just 1,250 square feet plus a small bunkhouse — that Mr. Berridge designed and built on the coast of New Zealand. It is rented most of the time, but once a year they spend a few weeks there together. “The New Zealand house completely opens in the front and back. He managed a view of the beach from every room, including the bathroom and the shower,” Ms. McGuigan said. A friend described it as “having everything you need and not one thing more.”

It was the first time he had designed and built a house for himself. Its minimal beauty and respect for place is typical of the way Mr. Berridge likes to work.

“I like the dialogue with a client,” he said. And sometimes, that dialogue continues after the project is finished. He worked with the artist Jennifer Bartlett on a plan to rebuild her house in Amagansett, although it was put on hold, then designed her studio and living space in Brooklyn. It’s a good feeling, he said, knowing her work is, in a way, connected to his own. 

Ms. McGuigan left Newsweek in 2008. “I was there at the best time, and I left at the right time,” she said. Four years later, its owners decided to stop publishing a print edition. The magazine is in print again now, but in a much more limited run.

While Architectural Record has developed a robust digital presence under Ms. McGuigan’s leadership, she doesn’t see it going entirely digital, in part because of its audience of architects and the way they use it. “We publish a lot of plans along with the articles. It has a value in print that many similar magazines no longer enjoy,” she said. Her push to present “architecture in the wider context of what’s going on in the world” helped the magazine win the 2012 Grand Neal Award, considered business-to-business journalism’s equivalent of a Pulitzer Prize, for a special issue on how New York had blossomed 10 years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

David Berridge and Cathleen McGuigan relaxed in their backyard in Sag Harbor in July.Carissa Katz
Mr. Berridge helped the artist Jennifer Bartlett turn a former warehouse and union hall in Brooklyn, above and below, into her home and studio. Adam Friedberg Photos
Left, the New Zealand house is nestled in a striking New Zealand landscape. Right, the lower level of the house, Ms. McGuigan said, “completely opens in the front and back,” and has “everything you need and not one thing more.”Patrick Reynolds Photos