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Happily Ignoring the Open Plan

June 30, 2016
for sale

© Gaddis Architect 2016

Visual elements are important to consumers, often to the exclusion of everything else.  Does this seem like a reasonable statement to you?  “No,” you say?  “I check ‘Consumer Report,’ read reviews, make list of features, produce spread sheets comparing quality and cost.  I’m the definition of an informed buyer!”  Really?  Tell that to the car salesmen as you pass up the best deal on the lot because the color doesn’t suit.

tall room

© Gaddis Architect 2016

 There are, of course, in the world of residential architecture, multifarious examples of this behavior, most yielding irksome consequences.  Consider, for example, the unavoidable appeal created by the drama of a two story room,  the particular bane of social interaction, intimate conversation, and acoustic excellence, not to mention disappearing light, receding walls and ceilings that appear grey no matter what their actual color.

party

© Gaddis Architect 2016

Well okay, maybe I exaggerated a bit, although most of these homes are finished in drywall with nothing else to moderate the effects.

Anyone looking for verification has only to observe the behavior of party goers in such an environment.  I stopped counting the times I have found all of the guest crowded into the low ceiling kitchen, happily ignoring the open plan to avoid the soaring space.  I try to warn clients, telling them that what looks good does not always feel/function the same.  They always go for the looks anyway.

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What’s in a name?

May 18, 2016

Name Dropping – Did you ever notice that real estate people like to insert the names of house styles into their conversations with potential buyers?  “…nice to meet you.  I have a move in ready Center Hall Colonial to show tomorrow.” or “…there is a Mid-Century Modern neighborhood that generates a lot of interest.”  The local historical committee, of course, has raised name dropping to an art form.  Here in Old Town they are the designated authority, champion and voice of all things Georgian and very present at all meetings of the local architectural review board.

Name Listing – There is a list of house styles on Wikipedia with which, truth be told, I have a lot of fun.  I can’t wait to tell some realtor that I would like to see a Dingbat house?  No kidding.  It really exists!  It is also possible to get creative and customize these terms.  I actually thought of this a few years ago when a potential client brought a fist full of photos to a meeting.  She repeatedly told me how much she like Regency style design.  The photos were of mirrored replicas made into furniture and finishes of what appeared to be every decorative cliche ever invented by Thomas Sheraton, all of it originating from some shop like Pier One.  What, I thought, would one call these?  We could say Meta Modern or Pseudo Modern ( I will let you look those up) which seem to be buzz words that include all things previous.  How about Post Modern Revival of Regency Revival?  That ought to cover it.  I think putting things into categories gives us a feeling of control.  Although not much in the way of actual control.

Name Cancelling – Does not even the lowest budget shopper have a vision or image relating to his or her expectations about where they hope to live?   Think cottage and white picket fence a là now deceased American Dream.  What guides this?  I don’t think it has anything to do with style, named or real, unless that style somehow fits into the larger world of the individual’s past residential experience, turned into a dream or not.  Anyone looking to define a future stylistic paradigm might do well to flush out what is common in places we have lived in the recent past.  No easy task in an increasingly small and populated world and further complicated by the manipulations of large scale planners defining a built environment according to their particular terms.

Name Hunting – I have a friend, raised in an urban apartment block, these days sporting a million plus house budget in a quaint suburban neighborhood and hard pressed to find an acceptable house.  She has been conditioned to think of  a house as a commodity, with stylistic taste leaning towards the McMansion, she will consider only new construction and is completely put off by a yard of any size.  Her ideas about security and building in general are still involved with her roots in the apartment block.  As a member of a larger similarly inclined shopping group, she is influencing the look of a neighborhood because developers do very good market research.  They understand and deliver the absolute minimum that must be provided in order to satisfy this customer.  Expanding a customer’s  horizons is only part of the program to the extent necessary to sell a newly built home.  More complex, better assimilated options are never offered and existing housing is mostly ignored.

Name Finding – The word “finding” may be a little misleading (it fit in the text).  It is more as if a new style, rather than directly resulting from the search, just appears, although the looking is still required, and I might add, is considered to be a high intellectual activity in the world of architectural scholars. It is the result of a dialectical process, where the tension between the dominant old style and the emerging newer style become so great that the whole conflict collapses into something else.  It is like the invisible whole, which is greater than the sum of the parts, suddenly becomes visible and Voila, a new style is there.  This line of thinking, of course, comes from the German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, a favorite of mine, distained by many, and begging the question, what is the emerging new style?  Is it already implemented?  Will it be defined by the spatial needs of an expanding population or the desire to be “green?”  Will it return to nature like a Hogan, or the earth like a Sod House.  Maybe it will look like my favorite Parkitecture!  Could we see a Modern Farmhouse, or how about a Star Wars version of the Rumah Gadang?  That might work.  Whatever the new name, I am pretty sure that some combination of its elements will be easy to locate in the afore mentioned list of house styles!

Images are used under Creative Commons from Flickr and Wikipedia or owned by the author.  Please contact us for the links.

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Ever think about working with an architect? Don’t know what they do?

April 3, 2016

As an architect I find myself sometimes reluctant, especially in social situations, to tell people what I do. Sounds crazy, considering it is an honorable profession requiring lots of education, training, testing, not to mention participation in many successful designs, and further considering that I am always looking for new projects. Actually, this is an unconscious reaction that, until recently, I neither recognized nor examined, which begs the question; “why now?”

First a word about teaching: For the past couple of years I have been working to develop and refine a presentation designed to enlighten potential new clients and other interested parties on the details of architectural services performed, not only by my firm, but also design professionals in general. In the beginning the project was unashamedly self serving, done because I found that successful projects often resulted when the client had some previous experience with building. These clients were easy to please because their expectations were well defined. My practice involves working with small businesses, many of whom are startups. I thought that imparting some of this experience could prove immensely facilitating for both client and architect. This lead me look for a way to teach about what architects really do, finally resulting in a two part, two hour long power point presentation, posted on our website, Youtube and presented live in various venues. Although these efforts were naturally directed towards our specialized area of practice, there was a larger unanticipated outgrowth having to do with the pervasiveness of misconceptions about the practice of architecture in general.

The American Institute of Architects: Every year, during the first week in April,  the AIA, of which I am a member, holds a celebration of architecture.   AIA chapters all over the country offer events and activities geared towards architectural subjects of interests to the profession and public alike. In the burst of activity leading up to this event, I came across a request for local volunteer architects able to participate in an event entitled “Working with an Architect.” The event, centering on discussions about the processes and advantages of working with an architect, will consist of local architects making themselves available for free, open, informal discussions on just about any subject having to do with architecture, design, and building. At the time of this post there are ten local architects participating, and considering, my previous discussion, it is not difficult to see why I will be one of them.

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What cannot be defined, cannot be valued: I have come to the conclusion that AIA, its members, and architects in general are facing an identity crisis. One manifesting in the assumption that what cannot be identified, cannot be valued, which speaks to my original question. I sometimes dodge talking about my profession because I fear that the term architect has become and empty word, susceptible to all of the follies, misconceptions and romantic notions of popular culture. Clearly most people understand that the Guggenheim in Bilboa, Spain was designed by an architect named Frank Gehry. On the other hand, how the architect relates to the dry cleaner on the corner or their neighbor’s home addition is often a mystery. AIA, to its credit, is taking steps (beyond the scope of this discussion), toward correction, but we as individual architects bear a lot of responsibly. The profession has become increasingly complicated. In addition to design and construction of the built environment, issues of technology and business must be part of the architect’s skill set. How well these many disciplines are managed and assimilated is an indication of a successful project. And if this is the measure, most architects that I know are successful indeed, because what they contribute, how they accomplish what they do, how they practice their craft, is so essential as to completely disappear into the fabric of a project. In short the craft of architecture is successful not a little by dint of how well it dissolves into the buildings it creates. This, of course, is a very “zen” idea, having great appeal to the artistically and academically inclined, while at the same time making life difficult for the more pragmatic among us. Value is easily assigned to the finished house, barn, school, or office building. Defining how that building was actually accomplished, not so much.

What it is like to work with an architect: Architects know in multifarious detail what goes in to one of their projects, what benefit is offered, what improvement is made, how life is made easier, better. Communicating these numerous, lists, plans, sketches, drawings, products, services, consultations, consultants, research…, into some understandable format is our challenge. “Working with an Architect” is an event designed to help us meet this challenge. I am happy to participate and invite anyone interested, moderately or otherwise, to chat with an architect about their projects, their thoughts, their love of the subject, even about their favorite “starchitect.” Please join us on Sunday April 10th. A link to the event and a list of participating architects is below.  Samples of their work are in the slideshow above.

Refreshments will be served. There is no charge to attend and no reservations are necessary. Additional information may be found here: “Working with an Architect

Participating Architects:

Christine Kelly AIA, Crafted Architecture LLC
Steve Kulinski AIA, Kulinski Group Architects, PC
John Nolan AIA, Maginniss + del Ninno Architects
Rebecca Bostick AIA, Rebecca LG Bostick Architects Inc.
Laura Campbell AIA, Laura Campbell Architecture
Paul Trombley AIA, Studio 66 LLC
Randall Mars AIA, Randall Mars Architects
Eunice A. Murray, AIA, Eunice Murray Architect
Lyndl T. Joseph, AIA, Great Seal LLC
Bridget Gaddis, AIA, Gaddis Architect

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De-Shuttering Our World

March 21, 2016
I can't look!

I can’t look!

I really wonder if I missed some important rule of architecture when I was in school, or maybe there is something in the building code, some new requirement, or could it be something in the culture, or maybe technology?  That’s it, they must be functional?  I doubt it though.  Not anymore.

No and no!

No and no!

What does that leave?  Is it honestly possible that consumer preference has demanded that every mediocre house built in the US since 1950 must have at least one set of shutters, functional or mostly not, on a window that is visible from the street?  Sometimes it seems that way.

Do you want to know something about shutters, about function, types, sizes, history?  It is stuff I am not going to talk about here because it has already been done, many, many times, so check out the Old House Guy.  Shutters, we are told, are a great way to beautify a home because they provide lots of visual impact for not much cost.  They can also, he continues, very easily ruin (and usually do) its entire appearance, a point with which I wholeheartedly agree.

Yup

Yup

 

Not so you say?  Look at this cute little house.  Think how it would look without the bright shutters and notice how nicely they are tied in by the use of equally bright accents at the door.  Bye the way, the variegated roof doesn’t hurt either.

Could be a yes!

This is a yes!

 

What about this house?  These shutters are adding design to an otherwise very ordinary house.  They set up visual rhythm, add order and interest.  I want to go inside and find all of the windows equally spaced and lined up in the same room.

 

The problem is that for every thoughtful application of shutters there are 50 that miss, or never attempt to hit, the design mark.  The materials of Mid-American single family housing, stick built in mass after the WW II, and continuing today in miles of new urbanest town houses, have remained the same.  Only the planning has changed.  There is a very unpleasant visual tension between the very old fashioned, historic kit of parts and the contemporary form of the whole.  Nowhere is that tension more evident than in the application of decoration, the most obvious being shutters.  The pervasive wood clapboarding, shingles, brick, pre-manufactured windows, doors, architectural elements and trim used everywhere today might better fit on a wing of Monticello than on a new apartment in a builder development.

This appears of little concern to much of the purchasing public, who are perhaps too uniformed to ask for better.  I would suggest that visually pleasing results may be achieved when the parts support the whole,  when the clapboarding becomes a horizontal element reinforcing the shape of a wide low ranch, when the a decorative element completes one side of a partially open gable, when a change of finish material turns a short window into a vertical element, maybe even when a shutter signals a message.  Here are a few ideas offered as inspiration in my effort to de-shutter our world.

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Images in bottom gallery are from http://www.flickr.com and used under creative commons.  Please contact us for links.

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Architecture: Density by Idea or Ideal

May 28, 2015

https://www.flickr.com/photos/jsorbie/2605651701/in/photolist-4Y

Recently the AIA launched a national campaign entitledLook Up.”

Without going deep into the pros and cons of how successful the add is at raising awareness about what architects really do – REAL being the operative word – I would suggest that the ad is most inspiring to those who authored it; the rest of us, not so much.  In the name of fairness, though, I decided to try it, looking up that is.  As it turned out, it was not necessary to look very high.  I found the perfect parti for high density green housing sitting on top of a back yard pole happily posted to flickr.  This mini neighborhood of individuals suggests a happy counterpoint to the uniformity of developer housing.  It makes me want to turn it into an apartment building.

Architecture is kind of an “old man’s” profession, or old woman’s as the case may be.  This is not an accident.  It is a necessity resulting from the years of experience required for a practitioner to develop the skill and knowledge base that enables him or her to actualize a successful project, a fact that is becoming ever more true as the information base steadily increases.  Since, for “old men” looking back is unavoidable, long memories come with the territory and probably influence a design idea.  Younger architects, unencumbered by memories, are more apt to look forward toward some design ideal.  Somehow the advertising executives have pick up on the subtle difference between the idea and the ideal and come down decidedly in favor of the latter.  The bird houses in the photo, on the other hand,  sends us in pursuit of the former.

I wonder if  Villa Savoye, completed by Le Corbusier at the beginning of his career when he was 41, is the result of and idea or an ideal?  Either way, “Towards a New Architecture”  clearly outlines a plan of  action.

a. transcendent entity that is a real pattern of which existing things are imperfect representations: idea
b. a standard of perfection : ideal
c. a plan for action : design
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Architecture: Making Function Follow Form?

February 24, 2015
passive solar house

Passive Solar House A

I am a big fan of passive house design.  I buy books about it, read blogs about it, go to trade shows about it,  watch other architects design about it, go to open houses about it, and mostly dream about it.  Somehow my architectural visions always ends up looking more like house B than house A .  Reality, on the other hand, usually ends up looking the other way around.  Why, I ask myself,  is this?  As I am fond of mentioning, did not Louis Sullivan, after all, poetically state.

“Whether it be the sweeping eagle in his flight, or the open apple-blossom, the toiling work-horse, the blithe swan, the branching oak, the winding stream at its base, the drifting clouds, over all the coursing sun,  form ever follows function, and this is the law. Where function does not change, form does not change. The granite rocks, the ever-brooding hills, remain for ages; the lightning lives, comes into shape, and dies, in a twinkling.  It is the pervading law of all things organic and inorganic, of all things physical and metaphysical, of all things human and all things superhuman, of all true manifestations of the head, of the heart, of the soul, that the life is recognizable in its expression, that form ever follows function. This is the law.”

In theory, and in reality too, there can be no doubt that form does, indeed, follow function.  For architects, a problem only presents itself when we don’t like the way said form ends up looking.  In this case there is really only one real choice.  Modify the form.  That can be done legally by changing the function, usually by making it more complex.  We see that the South facing sun room in house B also serves as an entry with architecturally agreeable results.  Pure function, as demonstrated in the green house attached to house A, can be a bit hard to take.  What is an architect to do?  I say, change the way it looks, legal or not.

passive solar house

Passive Solar House B

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Church Living: evolution or devolution?

December 29, 2014
church house

Church converted to a house.

For centuries architects have borrowed design ideas and details from religious buildings.  If we were brutally honest, we might find that 75% of the designs found in a typical architectural history book first appeared on some religious building.  That said, the elements were rearranged into some new form or use or usually both.  For example we see the plan and form of an ancient Roman basilica evolved over time into high architecture as it combines with a myriad of other motifs to become the standard form used in the design of a Christian church.

Check out the garage.  Can it be original?

Check out the garage. Can it be original?

These days we forgo the rearrange and reassemble part and jump directly to the reuse.  How would you like to live here?  First glance tells us that things could get a bit crowded, as one could never be sure that the good Lord deigned to move out.  Also, what does one tell the parishioners who unwittingly show up for service on Sunday morning?  No one thought to change the commercial entry to something with more residential appeal.  There was, though, a salute to the all important automobile.  Looks like someone added a two car garage.  Maybe it is time to let some architect come up with a little devolution.