Close Proximity of Interior Spaces in City Life...thru the "Rear Window" by Helen Zouvelekis

Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly

Can space make you insane? 

I had the unfortunate experience of living in an apartment with constant noise. Heavy footsteps in the apartment above at 5am each morning turned me into a monster. It was a catastrophe. The building was pre-war and obviously built with little insulation or consideration for human life.  I moved immediately!

Space, the number and spacing of windows and lighting do affect social behavior, mood, productivity and health. Crowding and noise is linked to annoyance, stress, aggression, withdrawal and horrible behavior. I definitely committed very bad, revenge behavior.

After watching “Rear Window” for the millionth time, my friend Nadja, (an architect in her past life), mentioned that this movie was often studied in architecture. It peaked my interest because the set is extremely minimal so I looked into why.

Hitchcock is very conscious of the mental workings and meanings of architecture.

An apartment at 125 Christopher St. was the view that inspired the setting for murder. In order to create a sense of reality, Hitchcock sent four photographers to NY with instructions to shoot the village from all angles, in all weather and lighting conditions from dawn to midnight.

For months, Hitchcock did nothing but plan the design of this indoor set. He wanted to intensify the close proximity of interior spaces in city life. He used close neighboring interior spaces to create a claustrophobic and voyeuristic mood in order to intensify suspense and visual tension. The tense narrative, along with a limited space set design, make this one of the best films from Hitchcock. 

Architecture is one of the building blocks of making films, and Hitchcock was brilliantly inspired by this view.

In order to make the buildings feel taller, Hitchcock had the studio ground floor torn out, allowing the basement to become the courtyard. The massive Hollywood set consisted of 31 apartments (8 completely furnished) and 1000 arc lights to simulate sunlight.  

The main character, Jeffries (Jimmy Stewart) is a photographer, bored and isolated in his small apartment, wheelchair bound with a broken leg. Through his apartment window, with the help of cameras and binoculars, each character is framed, witnessed and analyzed. It’s from his perspective that we start to understand the spacial relations between the different apartments important to the mystery. The movie explores the small and limited perspective of Jeffries and his desire to uncover the truth behind a suspected murder. We are taken on a journey of suspense from the confinement of his hot and tiny apartment. 

Photographer – Turned Voyeur

Hitchcock’s "Rear Window" is a commentary on human characteristics of behavior, voyeurism, identity and gender roles which he depicts through the film.

Architecture and interior design have serious effects on human behavior. Designing thoughtful structures has become critical for a positive mental state but also as a means of preserving limited natural resources. 

I've learned my lesson...before buying or renting a place to live in, light, noise and privacy are closely order to avoid committing murder.

Helen Z.


 The Poetics of Space by Gaston Bachelard




Layers and Gateways in Indian Architecture by Helen Zouvelekis

While studying architecture at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, I had the opportunity to live in India for 6 months, exploring and studying the spatial and phenomenological qualities of traditional Indian architecture. Indian architecture is unique, in part, because of the country’s strong religious background. Over millennia these spiritual narratives have become unique spatial narratives that still craft the design of their buildings today.

Traditional Indian spatial sense is grounded in spirituality and cultural beliefs about how the world operates. In short, the spaces are born from an idea or series of ideas. Concepts such as the cycle of reincarnation and the duality of existence create rich spatial sequences when translated into architectural language. When a conceptual driver behind the spaces governs all, interesting spatial relationships begin to form.

One facet of Indian architecture that I became particularly interested in was their masterful use of doorways and gateways to create complex relationships between the viewer’s motion and a building.

Diagram explaining circulation based on door placement taken from Elements of Spacemaking by Yatin Pandya.

Perspectival alignment to eye level often plays a part in the placement of these gateways. Passageways and doors are strategically aligned to create moments of segmented views. When passing through the gateway, a person’s path is typically obstructed and their movement patterns forced into a winding pattern.

When simple gateway and barrier placement, rules are combined and complex movement patterns emerge. Diagram from Elements of Spacemaking by Yatin Pandya.

This winding movement creates key moments to condition the mind and allows time to overlap the space. The dynamic movement patterns of the viewer are highly dependent on frame of mind and time of day which allows for the space to be continually refreshed with new paths and uses. By utilizing pauses, winding circulation, and stretched time as architectural elements, Indian architects create contemplative and experientially rich spaces with many changing uses.

Gateway obstructing part of the Golden Temple in Punjab, India.


Gateways being used as spatial dividers at Fatehpur Sikri in Uttar Pradesh, India and the Taj Mahal in Agra, India.

When designing a building or complex, gateways are used not only as a barrier, but as a tool to induce a kinetic perception of space. The choice of various movement paths towards or around a building creates a personal and changing relationship with the building.

The Ellora Caves in Aurangabad, Maharashtra, India.

Matthew Vogel, Designer

Matthew Vogel, Designer

I was grateful for the opportunity to learn outside the scope of a traditional, western architectural education and explore different ways a space can activate a kinetic experience.



  • Pandya, Yatin. Concepts of Space in Traditional Indian Architecture. Mapin Publishing, 2015
  • Pandya, Yatin. Elements of Spacemaking. Grantha Corporation, 2017.

A National Treasure Hiding in Plain Sight by Helen Zouvelekis

Perhaps you’ve noticed it nestled among the skyscrapers of the Financial District at a prominent spot diagonally across from the New York Stock Exchange. Perhaps you’ve noticed the tourists posing for pictures on the steps in front of the statue of George Washington but have never ventured up those steps to see what was inside. It is easy to dismiss the building as a musty remnant of our history relegated to 4th grade test books, but in fact the site and building hold some fascinating relevance. It is one of New York’s and our country’s greatest historic landmarks­­­­—the birthplace of American Government.


The site was the original location of NYC’s second City Hall, erected between 1699-1703, and served as the seat of government for the British Colony of New York. It was there in 1735 that publisher Peter Zenger was tried for seditious libel for printing a series of articles in his New York Weekly Journal critical of corrupt royal Governor William Cosby. Zenger was found not guilty, primarily because what he published was true, and set a precedent for freedom of the press. Over 280 years later, the case is still relevant, especially in today’s political climate.

Peter Zenger Trial

Peter Zenger Trial

In 1765, delegates from nine American colonies convened at City Hall to develop a response to the British Parliament’s passing of the Stamp Act, a tax on all paper produced in London used by the colonies for legal documents, newspapers, and even playing cards. The colonies issued a Declaration of Rights and Grievances to the King and Parliament. Since the colonies had no representation in Parliament, the grievance of no taxation without representation was rallying cry. Outcry against the Stamp Act is acknowledged as one of the first organized political actions of the American Revolution.

After the start of the Revolutionary War, the building became the meeting place for the Confederation Congress between 1781-1789. In 1788 the Congress commissioned Pierre Charles L’Enfant to enlarge the building which officially became Federal Hall, the first capital of the United States. On April 30, 1789, George Washington, standing on the 2nd floor balcony overlooking Wall Street, was inaugurated as the country’s first president. Over the course of two days in September of that year, the congress passed legislation establishing the Department of State, Department of War, the Treasury, the Federal Judiciary, and the Bill of Rights. In 1790 Congress departed to Philadelphia, then Washington DC, and Federal Hall reverted back to State and City use. In 1812 City Hall moved north and the building was demolished.

George Washington Inauguration

The current Greek revival building was built in 1842 as the US Customs House. Ithiel Town and Alexander Jackson Davis designed the exterior of the building to evoke the Parthenon in Greece, a tribute to democracy. The building took eight years to construct and cost over one million dollars (in 1842 dollars). The Customs House was built at the approximate location of Federal Hall, but served quite a different purpose. At the time the port of New York generated two thirds of the nation’s wealth and customs duty tariffs were collected there on all goods coming into the country.

By 1862 customs operations were moved to a larger facility, and the US Sub-Treasury took possession of the building. The Sub-Treasury was responsible for close to $3 billion in transactions per year (in 1842 dollars). Millions of dollars in gold and silver were stored in the basement until Federal Reserve Bank replaced the Sub-Treasury system under the General Appropriation Act in 1920.

In 1883 a bronze statue of George Washington by sculptor John Quincey Adams Ward was unveiled. It stands approximately where Washington stood when he took the oath of office on the balcony of the Old Federal Hall. On the 150th Anniversary of Washington’s Inauguration in 1935, the building was taken over by the National Park Service. In 1939 it was designated as Federal Hall Memorial National Historic Site and was later listed on the resister of National Historic Places in 1965.

On September 8, 2002, 300 members of Congress travelled from Washington DC to convene at Federal Hall as a show of support for New York after the September 11th 2001 Attack.

Congress Meeting at Federal Hall

Congress Meeting at Federal Hall

The building is perhaps the least visited national memorial dedicated to the founding of our country. Of the tens of millions of tourists that visit New York every year, only about 200,000 make their way into the building. So the next time you pass this edifice of American History, go inside take a look! It’s free.

Marc Gordon, AIA, Partner

Marc Gordon, AIA, Partner


Spectacular Subway Stations Built to Honor Stalin by Helen Zouvelekis

Taganskaya Metro Station

One of the challenges of moving from a Russian city to suburban America was the absence of public transportation. Since my recent move to New York City, I am excited to be able to commute using public transit again. However, being an everyday user of the NYC subway, it seems like the dark side of a successful city that is hidden and buried underground. It is a big difference compared to my familiarity with the subway growing up and visiting Moscow.

The Moscow subway, in Russian called the metro, originated in 1935, 31 years after the first New York line, and is 210 miles long. According to the NYC MTA, NYC has 665 mainline track miles. Moscow subway stations, besides serving utilitarian purposes, enhance the transit experience. Many stations are grand with high ceilings hung with chandeliers, and framed with marble columns. The reason for building stations in this style was to create an idealized underground castle while avoiding the heaviness of darkness.

Russian poet S. Kirsanov said: “We were going downstairs, but I think we ended up a floor above.”

The architecture of the station became a display for art and an opportunity for many artists to create bronze relief statues, paintings, and mosaics. It was seen as a synthesis of art and architecture.

As time went by, new stations continued to appear incorporating the most relevant art style. In 2005 "Exhibition Station" opened and it contains a level designated as a museum space with ongoing exhibitions of work from local artists.

Riding the Moscow subway is like an interactive time line of Soviet/ Russian architecture and art. It is meant to welcome and encourage residents and visitors to use the metro.



Max Belyaev, Designer


All Images by David Burdeny

More Images:

Website: David Burdeny

Business Insider Article: The most beautiful subway stations in the world.

O.V. Kostin “Architecture of Moscow Metro”, 1988


Concept to Realization by Helen Zouvelekis

The start of construction for any project is both exhilarating and terrifying.

The process of conceiving of an idea, convincing a client, preparing plans with a variety of consultants, setting budgets and getting approvals is complex and often intense. But nothing compares to that day when the first shovel is filled or the first hammer struck. It is an auspicious moment full of possibility, trepidation and reverence. October 20, 2017 was that day for a Hudson Valley private residence designed by Spacesmith, set in a pastoral valley surrounded by mountains, a river and gentile country neighbors. After eighteen months of planning, the tractors have arrived! Please enjoy this video by photographer Michael Altobello that celebrates this day and the land that is the site of a future home.

Jane Smith, FAIA, IIDA, Partner

Jane Smith, FAIA, IIDA, Partner


Puerto Rico’s Struggle Post Hurricane Maria by Helen Zouvelekis

Ambar and her sister Coral.

I have many fond memories of hurricane season in Puerto Rico: eating tasty dumplings my mom whipped up using a single burner propane gas stove, playing board games day and night with my siblings, or splashing around in the rain water we collected in 55 gallon bins. I also have memories of the times we weren't so lucky—living without power and water for what seemed like months, endless sweaty, sleepless, mosquito ridden nights without electric ventilation, eating nonperishable food for weeks, and taking cold showers with buckets of water. After a while, the restlessness set in and you wanted things to go back to normal—running water, electricity, going to school, and seeing your friends.

This time was not one of the lucky ones.

Hurricane Maria was the fifth strongest storm ever to hit the US. Even though Puerto Rico is not a state, Puerto Ricans have been citizens of the United States since 1917 when President Woodrow Wilson signed the Jones-Shafroth Act. If Puerto Rico were a state, it would be the 30th most populous with more people than Wyoming, Vermont, and Alaska combined.

In these photos NOAA compares Puerto Ricos light output from space on July 4th to what it looked like post Hurricane Maria. The small clusters of light you see are likely powered by gas generators.

As I write this, 70% of the island is still without power. About 60,000 of those residents haven’t had power for 8 weeks, since hurricane Irma ravaged several Caribbean islands on September 7th. Even without hurricanes, power outages are frequent and electric bills for Puerto Ricans are outrageously high. Puerto Rico’s Electric Power Authority (PREPA) has a debt worth billions and for years it hasn’t had the money to invest in modernizing the electrical systems.

House destroyed by winds in Toa Baja Photo Ricardo Arduengo.

Partially flooded houses in Cataño - Photo Ricardo Arduengo.

Last week Puerto Rico’s Electric Power Authority awarded a controversial 300 million dollar deal to help restore electricity on the island to a company in Montana called Whitefish Energy Holdings, which until recently had only two employees. Whitefish would subcontract utility companies to carry out the restoration effort and bill the subcontractor’s labor at a very high rate. On Sunday, after days of intense scrutiny and a federal investigation into the contract, the Governor of Puerto Rico asked PREPA to cancel the contract, delaying the restoration efforts another 10-12 weeks.

Meanwhile, many people are getting by with gas powered generators. Conditions and peak hours needed for solar power are ripe on the island, but unfortunately solar power is not yet widespread due in part to PREPA’s restriction on the battery packs that are needed to store solar energy. However, Tesla, Resilient Power Puerto Rico, and others have slowly been installing solar panels, solar roof tiles, and battery packs in several locations.

Solar Panels Buena Vista Community Center Hato Rey, San Juan.

Man tries to repair generator in San Juan.

All but 240 of the island's 1,600 cell phone towers were knocked out leaving communities isolated for weeks, and for many the signal is still spotty. Lack of communication is part of the problem. Information on communities needs and how to best and safely deploy resources is very limited. Luckily we can all help support the work of Connect Relief and the Puerto Rico National Guard by funding campaigns like Help PR Despacito. In the mean time, temporary solutions like Google’s Project Loon  are working to bring balloon-powered internet to the island.

A Loon balloon on its way to Puerto Rico from Nevada.

The NY Times reported that in a matter of hours Hurricane Maria wiped out about 80% of the crop value in PR.

Puerto Rico imports most of its food and residents pay a high price for it due to legislation like the Jones Act (the Merchant Marine Act of 1920) which requires goods shipped between the United States to be carried by vessels built, owned, and (mostly) operated by Americans. Shipping costs for goods from the US mainland using US vessels are some of the highest  in the world. These costs are then passed on to Puerto Rican consumers, a tough cost for most citizens to bear!  If Puerto Rico were a state it would be the poorest state, lagging far behind the poorest US State, Mississippi, with a median household income of roughly $18,000.

Today the Jones Act still stands and as Senator John McCain adds:

It is unacceptable to force the people of Puerto Rico to pay at least twice as much for food, clean drinking water, supplies, and infrastructure due to Jones Act requirements as they work to recover from this disaster.
— Senator John McCain

A temporary 10 day waiver of the act was passed 8 days after hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico expanding temporary access to food, medicine, clothing, building supplies, and oil needed for power plants. The ten days have since expired.

I could go on and on. The truth is that the situation in Puerto Rico is beyond complicated, but it doesn't change the fact that many Puerto Ricans need our help. Here’s how you can help:

  • United for Puerto Rico: A charity organization chaired by Beatriz Rosselló, the wife of the governor, to provide aid and support to victims of Hurricane Maria. You can give here.
  • ConPRmetidos: The Puerto Rican organization focused on public-private partnership is aiming to raise $10 million for relief and recovery. You can give here.
  • Global Giving: A charity crowdfunding site that is attempting to raise $5 million to be used exclusively for local relief and recovery efforts. You can give here. (4/4 stars from Charity Navigator.)
  • Speak Spanish? Offer translation services to International or US based organizations looking to help but need to translate their materials.

Stay open and alert to opportunities, the process of rebuilding will be long and slow. In this era of fast news cycles, one day it might not be so popular to discuss Puerto Rico’s struggle and this crisis might just become yesterday’s news.

Ambar Margarida, CID, IIDA, LEED GA, Principal

Ambar Margarida, CID, IIDA, LEED GA, Principal


Manifest 1.0 by Helen Zouvelekis

As a self-proclaimed musician and designer, I always seek out entertainment events where the two are brought together. The most recent installment was by multi-disciplinary artist Sunni Colòn titled “Manifest”. Colòn is known for making west coast funky synth tracks like “Multi-Colored Love” and “Little Things” and has now brought his interest in music as a physical phenomenon to life. Manifest 1.0 is the first installment of a collaboration between Jordan Caldwell, Colòn, and the Family Multimedia Company.

Artist Sunni Colòn

Artist Sunni Colòn

The program ran exclusively from October 19-27th with limited tickets and only four intimate live performances by Colòn during weekends. The intent of the program was to “bring humans, technology, and design together, and allow them to live on the same medium and platform”.  This idea was that of Colòn’s, as he feels a spatial and visual connection to his music while writing and wanted to share that vision with an audience. Colòn recruited sound designers, architects, and other creatives to design and build this beta installation alongside his creative company Tetsu, at the Founders Lab, a collaborative space in Bushwick. 


Tetsu designed the journey through this installment to begin during the registration process when guests were asked to describe in three sentences, a story about being alone, in order to enhance and cater visuals to personalized experiences for each guest. Each performance was capped at 25 guests, thus further enhancing the level of intimacy and quaintness of every show. Upon completion of registration, guests were sent a detailed set of instructions and recommendations for the show. A no phone/camera policy was enforced to reduce distractions and provide the audience with a complete focused experience.

The Registration Process

The Registration Process

When guests arrived, they are given their custom designated key card to access the event room which doubles as a user login, allowing the sound and light boards to recognize your presence. The key card, along with a custom bottled scent, designed by Tetsu, are given to each guest and described as “vessels” which may be used for revisiting the experience at a later place and time. Prior to the live performance, guests were seated in a waiting area where a short film by Colòn is played on a loop via four overhead projectors and called to the first installment process in small groups.

The first point of user/installment interaction is when users would swipe their keycard in front of a tablet which then prompts a digital display of a custom generated gradient of color, based on guests story of being alone. The display is projected on a large LED screen in the background of a shiny black minimal surfaced tunnel with reflective floors and LED paneled ceiling. When your personal color is displayed you were prompted to move into the performance seating area. While waiting for the performance to begin, guests are exposed to the A-symmetrical elliptical performance space cladded with soft, light grey felt along a flat floor and raised seating, a fabric stretched tufted floating ceiling with central light, and a centrally placed cylindrical chamber, with extra large cool white pillows for added comfort. 

Colòn gave a 40-minute-long silhouette performance from within the lit central chamber, which was essentially laid out like a small recording booth, exposing his face and hands against the frosted vellum throughout the performance, reassuring the audience of his presence. Both the central chamber and ceiling lights displayed gradients of color which were in sync with the music and custom to the audience’s stories, washing the cool fabrics of the well-lit and audio controlled space.

After the completion of his well-choreographed performance, Colon exited the performance booth to greet the audience and take a bow, later to give his thanks and condolences to the audience who attended at a special meet and greet.

Closing Image.jpg

Thanks to Sunni Colòn and Founders Lab NYC for an amazing intimate experience and best wish on future projects and success.

Charles Lent, Designer

Charles Lent, Designer


10 Reasons to Love Architecture Inspired Fashion Catwalks by Helen Zouvelekis

As a young fashion executive in NYC, life was fascinating and extremely hectic. Traveling around the world was a major perk and of course wearing the latest classic trends wasn't a bad deal either. I was living the great fashion fairy tale...well sort of.

One of the most stimulating experiences in the business was attending Haute Couture Fashion Shows. The designer collections, models and music were part of the show, but the drama surrounding the show made iconic moments in fashion history. From fairytale settings to absolute minimalist, famous fashion designers find magnificent runways from around the world with unlimited budgets!


1- The Oscar Niemeyer Museum - Louis Vuitton makes a statement in Rio. Vuitton was the first European brand to bring its catwalk to this country.

2 - Palais Royale - Chanel's Karl Lagerfeld launches a space-inspired collection at the Palais Royale.

3 -Great Wall of China - Considered the most memorable and most expensive, Karl Lagerfeld made history by staging a Fendi show on the Great Wall of China (built in 221 BC to preserve China's borders). It is the longest catwalk in history at over 1,500 miles. The spectacular show was estimated to cost $10 million.

4 - IM Pei's Miho Museum - Models emerged from a forested mountain side providing a dramatic backdrop for the Louis Vuitton show.

5 - The Bay's Skyway in Singapore - Jessica Minh Anh’s J Spring Fashion Show goes sky high.

6 - Dongdaemun Design Plaza - Chanel hits the catwalk in Seoul in a spaceship-like structure designed by Zaha Hadid and South Korean-based Samoo Architects.

7 - Marc Jacobs' Escalator Runway in Paris - The runway show for Louis Vuitton was memorable for its large escalators, making the models appear doll-like.

8 - Vanishing Point - White lasers used to define the catwalk area, building an illusion of architectural forms.

9 -  Louvre’s Cour Carrée - Louis Vuitton fantasy presentation at the Louvre's Cour Carrée, one of the main courtyards of the Louvre Palace.

10 - Empire State Building - Harper Bazaar and Tiffany & Co. exhibited their most celebrated images on the Empire State Building spanning 42 stories.

After the collection is designed, the show will pull out all of the stops creating a theme that transports the audience to another world. Although most of what you see on the runway is never produced, the show gets the buyer in the door!

Helen Z.

Helen Z.


Somebody’s Gotta Do It by Helen Zouvelekis

I am a recycling tyrant. Ask anyone at One New York Plaza. I am that person who will remove a soiled salad container from the garbage, lament loudly about how Mother Nature is watching, warn of instant karma, and then rinse the damn thing dramatically before throwing it in the recycle bin.

Yup. Risking my co-workers cooties, weird looks, and alienation, I am that person. Can you blame me? I grew up watching this guy weeping for crying out loud!

And now, despite his tears and us knowing the effects of our instantly gratified, disposable culture on the environment, we have the Great Pacific Garbage Patch­­­­­—a micro plastic soup between North America and Asia in the North Pacific gyre (a gyre is large system of circulating ocean currents). Micro plastics are less than five millimeters in length, about the size of a sesame seed.

There are five major gyres—North and South Pacific, North and South Atlantic, and the Indian Ocean…all of them collecting our garbage!

The largest patch of garbage is the Great Pacific (gee, great). Here is what the National Geographic has to say about it: “About 80% of the debris comes from land-based activities in North America and Asia.

The remaining 20% of debris in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch comes from boaters, offshore oil rigs, and large cargo ships that dump or lose debris directly into the water. The majority of this debris—about 705,000 tons—is fishing nets. More unusual items, such as computer monitors and LEGOs, come from dropped shipping containers.

Marine debris can be very harmful to marine life in the gyre. For instance, loggerhead sea turtles often mistake plastic bags for jellies, their favorite food. Albatrosses mistake plastic resin pellets for fish eggs and feed them to chicks, which die of starvation or ruptured organs.”


The 5 Gyres Institute (their mission to empower action against the global health crisis of plastic pollution through science, art, education, and adventure) states that there is an estimated 270,000 metric tons of garbage in the ocean. How much is that? Stack two liter bottles on top of each other to the moon and back…twice…that is 270,000 metric tons.

So please, for the love of Mother Nature and all her creatures that we must shepherd, use that ugly mug you got as a gift last year, get a stainless steel water bottle, and please…pretty please…if you get take out for lunch, rinse out your boutique containers before lovingly placing them into that bin that is designated for recycling.

It’s a dirty job, but…


Kristen Persinos, Marketing Director


What Happened? A Tale of Two Islands. by Helen Zouvelekis

Larry Marner on Shivers Island

My husband and I have been rowing on the ocean in northern Maine for years. We row on the oldest water trail in the United States, the Maine Island Trail, a 375-mile water trail for small boats extending from the New Hampshire border to Canada. The trail includes 200 islands available to members of the Maine Island Trail Association for day use and camping.

The islands have a rich recorded history dating as far back as the 1600’s. With names such as Hog, Hay, Hurricane, and Little Hen, these islands were used in the 1800’s for pasture, farmland, and granite extraction. Our Maine island journeys every summer have piqued my interest in what it was like to live there 100 or even 200 years ago. Two settlements are particularly intriguing and tell a tale of two communities. In one resourcefulness ruled and a family was able to retain control of their island by taking on the government of Maine. Another community, just as resourceful, had circumstances stacked against them.   

Baker Island

Like the rest of America, Maine during the Revolutionary War years was primarily an agrarian society. Farmers in Maine, tending to farms that averaged between 50 and 100 acres, faced formidable challenges: poor soil, dense forest, unpredictable weather, and geographical isolation.  “Mixed husbandry”—the cultivation of both crops and animals—helped to overcome these obstacles and became a popular and lucrative form of farming. Supplemental trades such as logging and fishing also complemented traditional farming. A great example of this resourcefulness is found on Baker Island.  

John Gilley and his wife Hannah settled 130-acre Baker Island in 1809. John was a fisherman on nearby Acadia Island but aspired to be a farmer and have his own land. In the early 19th century, islands like Baker Island were inhospitable, remote, and often not the property of individuals. They were there for the taking. John and Hannah were able to settle the island and claim it as theirs. Hannah, like all pioneering women during that time, was a highly resourceful multi-tasker. She even home-schooled her 12 children, teaching them reading, writing, and arithmetic.  (Somewhat unusual for a woman of her times, Hannah attended school until the age of 13.)  A biography of the Gilley Family describes Hannah and her first years on the island as follows:

“She already had three little children and she was going to face a formidable isolation for a considerable part of the year; even to get a footing on the island—to land lumber, live stock, provisions, and to build their first shelter—was no easy task.”

Due to good health, hard work, and good luck she and John prospered, owning cows, chickens, and over 50 sheep to provide them with food and clothing. The forests were cleared and flax, vegetables, and wheat were grown. Seafood was plentiful and the family built a successful business smoking herring and shipping it to New York City. 

The family’s prosperity enabled them to buy other islands and to endow their children with money with which they built their own careers. Although the Maine government intervened several times to evict the family and take ownership, in the end the Gilley family was granted permanent residence on the island for as long as any family member survived and remained on the island. The last family member left the island in the 1920’s. Today many of the buildings and a family cemetery have been preserved. 

Malaga Island

On Malaga Island, the outcome for its equally industrious and resourceful residents was quite different. Malaga Island is also 130 acres and is located in Casco Bay. Casco Bay had a wealthy summer home community dating back to the mid 19th Century. Malaga Island is deserted today but was once home to a community which at its peak had 42 residents.

The island was settled in the mid 1800’s, about 40 years after the Gilley Family settled Baker Island. Like the Gilleys, Malaga’s settlers also came from the mainland with a desire to have a better life. But unlike the Gilleys, these residents had obstacles that proved impossible to overcome. 

The island they settled was not in a remote part of northern Maine but close to the growing wealth of the Casco Bay mainland. “Malagites”, as they became to be known, were poor with limited education and therefore could not advocate for themselves. Their homes were more “makeshift".  And perhaps most significant, Malaga’s residents included people of color, an anomaly in a state that then was 99% white. Malagites did succeed in making a successful community supported primarily by fishing and some farming, but the island was perceived by the state of Maine as a blighted community. In 1917 the governor of Maine declared the island to be a ward of the state, calling it a “no man’s land”. 

The state evicted its residents while providing no help with resettlement. Some Magalites strapped their homes to rafts and drifted up and down the coast looking for a spot to resettle. Others, who lacked the means to move, were sent to the Maine School for the Feeble-Minded in Pineland, Maine where they remained until their death. 

This diaspora of the Malagites remains a dark chapter in the history of Maine and fortunately is the exception. Descendants of the island still live in the state and a formal apology was made to them in a ceremony in 2010. 

Both the residents of Baker Island and Malaga Island had the determination and industriousness to succeed. Unfortunately, geography, racial discrimination, and lack of education and social resources posed insurmountable obstacles for the Malagites. 

Elisabeth Post-Marner, AIA, LEED® AP, Principal

Elisabeth Post-Marner, AIA, LEED® AP, Principal