Posts Tagged ‘finishes’

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Very Frank Lloyd Wright?

November 1, 2016

Recently a reader ask for my opinion on a project.  We shared numerous images, had email discussions and a phone call.  I think we opened several design possibilities worth a discussion here.  Follow along with the discussion and add your “two cents” in the comments section.  Maybe someone out there has even better ideas than those offered here.

Existing House – The reader was planning a complete remodel of an existing “Mid Century Modern” house.  He sent me images of the existing house, some renderings of what he was planning to do, as well as a really great original booklet with plans of similar house designs from the same historic period which can be found here.

Reader’s Question – His initial question was about the windows.  He sent me the proposed design shown above and asked me, in particular, what I thought about the sash windows, including decorative glass and  external shutters, that are between the garage door and the chimney in the image.    He also asked me for comments on the use of color.   I sometimes think that clients need a hook; a way of tacitly enjoining  a larger critique.  Clearly, I couldn’t begin to think about details like window styles without first examining their context, which in this case involved a two part observation.  I thought, “this design is very Frank Lloyd Wright, and it is actually quite nicely done.”

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Frank Lloyd Wright:  Mid Century Modernist? – The crux of my observation about Wright is in the question about whether or not he can be grouped with the “Mid Century Modernists.”  The answer is that it is done all the time, but Wright was more.  He was an influencer with deep roots in the historic transition from the Victorian to Modern world.  Evidence of this transition can be seen especially in his early work and it is important to this discussion because the design proposed by the reader evokes this link which, I think, justifies the design and provides an answer to his question about the windows.

The Design Process – Before I go into examples, (if you are bored by theories just skip this paragraph) I should offer a disclaimer about the design process in general.  Most, if not all, design is a product of selected influences found in the greater environment in which it appears.  In short, ideas do not occur in a vacuum.  This is not to imply that we remember the source of these inclinations.  It only means that we somehow carry various visual impressions around in our psyche and pull them out when needed.  This is true with large stylistic movements that show up in the built environment, and especially when considering an architect as well thought of, and with such far reaching influence as had Frank Lloyd Wright.  I am pretty sure the reader who designed this remodel gave little thought to the source of his ideas, and, when he finally decide to look, came up with the previously mentioned booklet;  providing an example of how the “Modern Movement in Architecture,” which had originated with Wright and others, manifested in commercial track housing looking exactly like the house that the reader was proposing to fix.  This was interesting for sure, but of little relevance in view of the proposed design which was good on it’s own merit not a little because it was specifically suggestive of Wright’s early work, whether the reader knew it or not.

Citing the Evidence – I did some research and came up with these examples.  They go a long way towards explaining why I thought the readers design was “very” Frank Lloyd Wright.  I picked them because they contained elements in common with the proposed design as noted below each image.

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suggestion

Suggested Revision

Possible Solution – Just to restate the problem – in case you forgot already – the reader asked me to comment on the two sets of sash windows with the decorative glass and  external shutters that are shown in his proposed design.  Based on the research, and assuming the reader intended to install in the existing openings, I recommended that casement windows be used instead of sash, which are almost never used by Wright and generally not strongly evident in “Mid Century Modern” houses from this era.  I further suggested that a simple geometric muntin pattern offset from the mullions like those in the last research example above would work.  The reader did not ask me about the garage door, nevertheless I suggested he change it to a simple door with horizontal divisions which I thought worked better than the existing which had fielded panels and “colonial” references.

artwork by reader

Artwork by Reader

Let’s Not Forget the Color – Finally the reader sent me this fun bit of artwork and ask me what I thought of the color.  The greenish color of the existing tile roof seems unique to this house and, I think, adds personality.  The rest of the natural colored materials are working and support the new design.  Trim and the garage door are best colored to disappear.  Check out Wright’s Studio above.  Continuing a bit of green might be used to attract attention to the front door but it is not really necessary.

Special thanks to Angelo Corriea, a builder from our Northern neighbor, who sent me this project, but really didn’t need my help as he created a nice design on his own.  Also, for you serious students of design,  it might be worth checking out the connections between Frank Lloyd Wright, Henry Hobson Richardson, and Louis Sullivan.

Bridget Gaddis, is a Licensed Architect and LEED-accredited Professional practicing nationally, and locally in the Washington DC area. She holds professional degrees in both Architecture and Interior Design, and with a comprehensive background in commercial retail design, planning and construction has completed projects for such for such well known brands as Chloe, Zegna, and Bvlgari. Her career began in tenant coordination and site planning for two well-known Cleveland developers, followed by six years in store planning for a national retailer. After a move to New York City in 1997, she spent the next years working for architecture firms specializing in retail projects. In 2011 she started her own practice in Alexandria, VA. Ms. Gaddis is the author of two blogs dealing with architectural subjects.

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Vertical Siding Makes a House Look “Modern”

August 3, 2016

If I told you that these two houses were essentially the same house, what would you think?  Would you say “no way!”  They don’t look anything alike.  One is quite pretty and contemporary.  The other is dated and very ordinary.  Anyone can see that they are very different.

Are they not stick built boxes with low pitched roofs and asymmetrical street elevations?  Do they not have two stories with horizontal siding on the upper level and garrison style colonial shapes?  Are they not about the same size and maybe even construction quality?  Are they not basically the same?

What makes them look so different? Why does the green house appear modern and relevant and the blue one look like a 1965 colonial tract house that has seen better days.  The answer is more simple than one might think, which is encouraging because it means that there is a fix.  It is about the finishes.  Before going there, let me say that I have no idea about the origin or remodeling history of these two houses.  Whether the finishes are newly added or original matters not at all, as it is about the materials that were used and how they were applied.

If we make a single list of materials that are different on the  street elevation of both of these houses we end up with some vertical siding, white shutters and paint.  Really, that’s all!  Can such a small kit of parts be applied with such divergent results?  The answer, of course, is yes.  Consider, for the sake of discussion, what would happen to the blue house if we threw out the shutters, added a contrasting color to the “pop out” dormer and  and reversed the first floor siding so that it was vertical instead of horizontal.  Anyone brave enough to undertake it, could end up with an amazing update.

Oversimplification?  Perhaps! It does, though, drive home the main reason for this discussion, which is that vertical siding makes a house look modern.  Most architects will say, when used with care, it confers a stylistically modern persona and reinforces an up to date image.

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Catching a Sense of Liberation

August 24, 2013

I was raised in a barn.  No kidding.  A common solution to the economic woes of the depression was conversion,  meaning any standing building was made into rentable living quarters, and any multistory house became multistory apartments.  Our house was converted from a civil war barn into a two family house in about 1930.  We moved in around 1955.  At the time, all I wanted was to move down the street, where there was a, still beautiful, neighborhood made up of prewar architecture on streets with curbs, sidewalks and fenced in yards.  To avoid a trip down nostalgia lane, suffice it to say that as the years have gone by, I have come to appreciate that barn to the extent that it has formed a kind of subconscious repository of my notions about what a house ought to be, and I bring it up here because the house in the photo seriously activated a few of these.

If you care to follow the link you will see that the featured house was included in an article about “Eco-Friendly Housing,”  which got me thinking about how my childhood home was the very definition of recycled.  The original post and beam structure was only visible in the attic, which was really the original hay loft.  It was huge, soaring almost 20′ from the floor framing to the ridge.  I lived in the house for almost 20 years and was never in that attic.  So how, one might wonder, did I know what it looked like?  There was an unfinished room on the second floor with no ceiling.  It offered a view of the old post and beam structure, the random width boards that formed the sheathing under the slate roof, the cavernous space replete with possibilities.  Because of the multicolored recycled wood siding, the house in the photo somehow catches that same sense of liberation, suggesting  that the real living space is outside instead of in.

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Shades of Modern

August 29, 2012

I find it interesting that readers are reluctant to publicly share their thoughts in the comments section of this blog, choosing instead to send me emails.  I was told in one such note that I should make more of an effort to explain my ideas to those wanting to improve things but not artistically trained or astute enough to know how.  My position has been, hire and architect.  Problem solved.  I have, nevertheless, taken the comment to heart and hope, going forward, to show more fully how improvements might be made, starting with the two modern houses here.

Modern House, Randallstown, MD, MLS/Web ID: BC7755382

Even an untrained eye can tell that the house above is not quite right.  Built in 2005, the water stains under the windows, the vinyl siding, the off the shelf colonial garage door and brick wall combine in a way that makes the place look more like a homemade remodel than a fairly new modern style house.  The lesson is that materials matter.

Modern Style House, Austin, TX

By adding a bit of wood the same horizontal siding looks better on this house.  Imagine the improvement had the pink bump out and garage door on the house in the photo above been wood and the wall and foundation matched the concrete stairs, not an expensive way of providing a huge fix.

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Reporducing an amazing body of work.

July 13, 2012

Moravian Pottery & and Tile Works Museum, Doylestown, PA, USA

This is a piece of Americana from “the Mercer Mile” consisting of  three early examples of site cast concrete building.  Ironically these building were engineering innovations by American Henry Chapman Mercer who thought that industrialization was damaging American society.  The Mercer Museum, Fonthill, his home, and the Moravian Pottery & Tile Works, house collections of American turn of the century decorative arts, especially ceramics and tile work, influenced by the “Arts & Crafts” movement. I plan to make a visit soon.

I have a more compelling reason for offering this post, though.  The tile in the photo immediately caught my attention for its artistic quality, which is what lead me to examine its source.  I found that it is barely a scratch in the surface of an amazing body of work that is actually being reproduced in the still functioning tile works.  These tiles can be purchased for installation in modern building projects.  I am not one to believe in a bucket list,  but the possibility of installing some of these tiles in a yet to be designed residential project is going a long way toward changing my mind.

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Thermally Treated and Acetylated Lumber and other things architects can’t live without.

July 12, 2012

Cable Rail

I have found that many architects love lists.  I think it comes from all the years most of us have spent cranking out construction documents, which could be the mother load of all lists.  In any case, AIA  recently publish in “Residential Architect”  this very astute list of essential building products.  If you are building or remodeling a house there is a good chance that at least a few of these are going to show up in your project, and if they don’t you may want to look into why not.  My personal favorites are spray foam insulation and high performance windows.  The complete article, here, is short and worth a read for anyone thinking about building.

Thermally Treated and Acetylated Lumber
Cable Rail
Light Quartz Based Surfacing
High Performance Air Conditioning
Fiber Cement Siding
Engineered Structural Products
Low VOC Paint
Spray Foam Insulation
PolyCarbonate/Resin Panels
Energy Efficient Appliances
Tankless Water Heaters
Low Flow Plumbing Fixtures
Energy Efficient Lighting
High-Performance Windows
Radiant Heated Floors
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Channeling Leoanardo

July 6, 2012

Ćlos Luce – Entrance

I thought I had exhausted discussion about how to finish this house (lower right), now under construction (upper right).  Then, as often happens to those of us who carry images around in our heads, I happened upon a reference to Clos-Lucé, final home in Amboise, France, of Leonardo da Vinci.  Suddenly the “French Chateau” I was envisioning jump out of the pages of history to express my idea about this design problem.  The brick volumes of the Chateau are framed by  smooth tufa stone rustication that has been installed in an elaborate crenelated pattern.  If there is any change in material, it is only to define and entire volume, as the rectangular box of the entryway.

Even considering the stylistically eclectic macrocosm comprising today’s building, this is a historically strong image that is likely to, on some level,  attach itself to the house under construction.   Any design, therefore, that involves horizontally breaking the volumes is bound to look contrived.  Likewise, matching horizontal elements, i.e. foundation and roof, might appear puerile in the context of a potentially sophisticated project.

To  follow the entire thread see:
 “The Last Resort”
“Taming the Tower”
Clos Lucé – Entrance | Flickr – Photo Sharing!