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Design Rebel with Many Causes

By Allison Wilson

He's been called a rebel and "the bad boy of residential architecture." But perhaps the most accurate descriptor associated with Vermont-based architect David Sellers is "pioneer."

During the 1960s and 70s, after earning his masters from the Yale School of Architecture, Sellers revolutionized modern architecture with his design/build approach.

"Emerging more from inspiration than from blueprints, his buildings were sometimes outrageous, always unusual," wrote Julie Iovine in a 1987 New England Monthly article on Sellers, "Reinventing the House."

Others who have written about Sellers over the years, including Steven Morris and Rosalyn Graham, have noted that the architect's work "results in structures unmoored from architectural tradition" and "focuses on designing and building with nature and custom craftsmanship."

Sellers is also well-known for his work in sustainable design. In his recent article on the subject, "Antiques of the Future," he called for a "major rethinking of all of our systems, relationships to the planet, to food and ourselves." He believes that the "highest order in the use of materials is performance," and stresses the importance of building structures using materials that are "grown, harvested or mined locally, structures that are built to last hundreds of years, and that are shaped, molded and formed as an extension of the artistic development of our senses."

As an example, Sellers points to Smith Lodge in Vermont. Sugar maple trees, stretching to 75-feet tall, were harvested from the build site to create the vertical structure of the house ? complete with bark and branches. Another notable building Sellers created in Vermont is the Fork View Lodge in Wilmington.

"This house was constructed largely with trees cut from the site or across the lake," he says. "A highly crafted structure, it show how local materials can be made and crafted to blend into the Vermont landscape."

During Sellers' career, he also developed an interest in everyday design that led him to establish the Madsonian Museum of Industrial Design in 2011. Its website describes the museum as a collection that represents " a lifetime of appreciation for and devotion to good design, displaying the best designed and most artistic manufactured objects. From cars to toasters, and from toys to canoes..."

The Madsonian's permanent collection features "products influenced by the American streamlining movement of the 1930's. The exhibit explores those origins and some of the products that grew from the newfound importance of the industrial designer as hero." The Madsonian is located at 45 Bridge Street in Waitsfield.

From his varied design interests to his varied nicknames, Sellers has inspired much inspiration and discussion in the world of architecture. Is he a rebel? A bad boy? A master builder? Perhaps Iovine describes Sellers best with this single quote from her 1987 article: "The man himself hasn't paused to consider such questions; as far as he is concerned the revolution is still on."

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Allison Wilson is an award-winning writer and communications professional whose...

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