Posts Tagged ‘small architecture projects’


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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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


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.




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.


Images in bottom gallery are from and used under creative commons.  Please contact us for links.




Unmobile Home: Humor but No Joke

September 15, 2014

unmobile home

My Dream Home?

Would it be believable if I said this is my dream home?  Ok, maybe not.  It does though display several key elements which are the stuff of my particular architectural fantasy.  It is no secret that I have pondered  possible ways of adapting a standard “off the dealer lot,” mobile home into architecture.  Further, if the difference between art and architecture is reality, also previously concluded, then this is art.  Considered in such a light, this may contain humor but it is not a joke.  What’s more, because it is on stilts, another big area of interest opens up.  Aside from the characteristics of the piers, in this case concrete, there is all that space under the house, complete with promise and problems in similar measure.  For now, let’s leave the promise to imagination, yours and mine, and take up the problems.

Doing What Air Does.

Before I get into a discussion of how a house on stilts might easily be kept warm and toasty in Northern winters, let me risk repeating, “I have a psychological aversion to creeping things crawling around under the house.”  I like the idea of inserting some air.  The space insulates and creates an experience by conjuring all manner of pleasant spacial opportunities.  Opportunities, I think, worth pursuing, even in a cold climate.  The obvious problem of course is all that cold air lurking under the warm house all winter long and looking to do what air does in this environment which is rise.  Great in the hot summer, not so much in the winter.  The subject is bandied and hashed over to a larger extent than could possibly be considered here.  For an exhaustive discussion I happily sent the reader here.  The general idea being that in order to keep out the cold it is necessary to super seal up every path of air infiltration and super insulate the floor, in that order of priority.  To avoid freezing encapsulating the plumbing in a warm chase is also necessary.

Is There Anything New?

So what, one might ask is new here?  The answer, of course, is nothing, until another of my favorite “responsible building” technologies is introduced into the mix.  Consider what might be accomplished if the space under the house were used to store and distribute hot air, preferably but not necessarily, from a solar source, and further if the space were flexible, offering a source of cool air in summer a lot like what is done in my favorite Japanese OM Solar homes.  In the end the solution is complex but maybe not so complicated.  There are many after market products that might fit into such a system.  Transpired solar collector panels, for example, are now available for residential use.  Likewise heat storage might be provided by a prefabricated concrete slab or piers.  Devising the air handling and distribution system might require and expert, preferably one who has tried something like this before.  The house after all is quite little and the technology very big.





Simply Elemental

July 9, 2013

Mini House by Jonas Wagell – Dezeen.

In Sweden people are allowed to build a “Mini House,” like this one, on their property without a permit as long as it is not bigger than161 sq. ft.  (15 sq. meters)  How cool is that?  Most places in the US allow residents to put a garden shed in the back yard sans permit, but I am not at all sure that inviting our adult children to stay in the shed for a while would be very will received by the local building & zoning department! 4295754214_198a2e9a3d_o(1)Just think, it would only be necessary to visit the local builders supply where you can have one of these delivered completely assembled and installed for around $2000.  Well ok, I know it is not finish inside but considering that the Swedish version will run you about $15,000 without the kitchen or any heat, it is still a deal.  I have visions of of somehow combining one or two of these, a single wide and a carport into a really great country retreat.  It is simply elemental, don’t you think?


Silly Architect

March 14, 2013

Architects like toys too. Sustainable Holiday Home by Tjep.

Don’t laugh!  A lot of architecture projects start out this way.  I wonder if industrial goods, like cars and cell phones, do as well?  The goal of this architect was to mimic product design.  Follow the link to read the article and you will see that he embraced sustainability and portability, not to mention, cute-ability.  Is that a word?  Interesting that the article is entitled “Sustainable Holiday Home” because the house actually looks like it should hang on a Christmas tree.   Imagine the attention it would attract while being towed down the freeway on the back of a flatbed truck?  I wonder about the livability part though, maybe not so much, but who cares when it looks like such fun.


The importance of being 9

January 16, 2013
Bedroom with lofted bed by Benjamin Marcus Architect LLC

Bedroom with lofted bed by Benjamin Marcus Architect LLC

My friend and colleague, Benjamin Marcus Architect LLC, with this compact little bedroom with a lofted bed, has demonstrated how architects often design projects that are “never too small to be great

Here is what he says about the project:  For this renovation of a 9-year old girl’s bedroom in a NYC apartment, we were charged with making a loft-type frame for a new full-sized mattress, that could house other important functions, in a very small footprint. Major constraints of this small bedroom were the width – just 7′-3″ wide, and the existence of 2 separate doors entering into the room from opposite ends of the two parallel, longer walls. We removed a shallow, full-height double-door closet to make room for the 18-inch wide stair. The bed-frame itself is just a few inches wider than the 54″ mattress, (to allow for fingers to tuck in the sheets) to provide as wide an aisle as possible along the length.  Underneath, all the functions – shelves, desk, bureau and closet – were in-set a few inches from the frame above, so that nothing would take up more room than the bed itself. A removable corner piece allows Mom’s hands to reach in for bed-making.

Open-ended shelves, a sawtooth-profile for the steps and a streamlined, diagonally-mounted wood grab-bar make the shape both fun and minimal. A new shallow shelf above (dedicated to a very important stuffed-animal collection), was integrated into an existing narrow-strip crown-moulding, and also served as a good place to break up the wall with color-blocking, and insert a small, adjustable, wall-mounted reading light beneath it. All the millwork was shop-painted using a high-gloss urethane-based paint, except for the stair treads, which were stained to match the existing oak flooring, and tie the work into the room. A large, new, frameless wall-mirror heightens the effect of the space and finishes off the room for this very sophisticated young client to grow into for the years to come.”


A House in a House

October 15, 2012

Kirsch House, Oak Park, IL,  1979 – 1981, by Errol Jay Kirsch Architects

The idea of a house in a house is certainly not new.  Just ask any “Carteresque” architect who has been experimenting with passive heating and cooling design since about 1976 (Top).

Recently the idea has been resurrected  in the form of protective screens that work to keep out both heat, as in the Indian house (middle), and cold, as in the Bolivian house (bottom).

What’s new is that both of these concept houses seem to have found some universal appeal, as indicated by the fact that they are being published all over the blogisphere, and leading me to ask why? How are they different?

Medical Facility Tamilnadu, IN, 2011,
Architect: Flying Elephant Studio, Bangalore

To answer, one might first consider what else they have in common. Both plans are compact rectangular boxes, shielded on the long sides and exposed on the ends. In section it is the same, both single story boxes, with the advantage of a double functioning envelope, especially in the India house.

Aesthetically these buildings are elegant in their simplicity. The message, form follows function, the former understandable and the later uncomplicated, strikes a chord with lots of people who are looking for the same things in their lives. Many think to themselves, I could do that.  Maybe it is even affordable.  This looks possible!

The Shelter, Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia, by KG Studio

The Shelter, Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia, by KG Studio


In the Interest of Moderation

October 10, 2012

1500 Square Foot House Plan, copyright © 2012 Gaddis Architect

Here, in the interest of moderation, boring though it may be, is a carefully thought out plan of a little house that meets some very big needs.  If you click on the plan, it will enlarge so you can follow the points below.

  • The main entry is into a foyer and circulation area, allowing for access to additional floors, if they are used, without the necessity of passing through the private part of the house, and allowing a home business or multifamily living arrangement.
  • The living and dining areas are exposed to the outdoors on threes sides giving ample opportunity for light, additional entries & a fireplace.
  • The galley style kitchen, including washer/dryer combination adjacent to the hallway, pantry and  counter with seating,  is open to the main living  and dining space.
  • There are two toilet rooms, one of them handicapped compliant, and a large handicapped accessible wet room with both tub and shower which is intended for use by all residents, pets included.
  • There is a single wet wall serving both kitchen and bathrooms which is a cost effective way to install plumbing.
  • The need for an office, additional sleeping space for company and part time residents, and extra storage is address by using the transition space off of the hallways on the way to the bedrooms.
  • There are two good sized bedrooms, on the same floor as the bathrooms, important for aging or handicapped residents.  Each bedroom has a good sized closet and is exposed to the outdoors on two sides for light and air circulation.

Design for the Sake of Design?

October 4, 2012

Tiny Kitchen with Platform Bed Above

I have noticed that whenever gurus of sustainability want to justify cramming 2000 square foot of living space into 100 square feet of actual space they call on Bucky Fuller.  As if such a paragon of modernity, committed as he was to “doing more with less,”  was prophetic when he said,  “Our beds are empty two-thirds of the time.  Our living rooms are empty seven-eighths of the time.  Our office buildings are empty one-half of the time.  It’s time we gave this some thought.”  Well, I have;  and lest it appear I take important issues too lightly, I even plead guilty to occasionally quoting the master. For now, though, I say so what!

Do we need our bedrooms, living rooms and offices less for not using them 100% of the time?  Does simultaneous occupancy never occur?  Can old and young alike, happily crawl up a ladder onto a platform bed mounted above a tiny kitchen that only works for short people?  Do we really want to fold up the bed to get to the desk, to live in camper?  Of course not.  The whole issue may have more to do with design for the sake of design than it does with meeting the housing needs of real people?  After all, moderation is boring, and the challenge of designing and living in a tiny house is made so much more fun because it serves as a pointed criticism of the monster mansion.


Architecture, like possession, is equal to nine tenths of the law.

August 20, 2012

Earth Awards Competion Entry, House made from recycled shipping pallets by I-Beam Architecture & Design

The Earth Awards is a competition aiming to inspire designers of every ilk to work out market based solutions to the worlds environmental problems.  It brings to mind the 2007 documentary “Penny Revolution” which follows lenders making micro loans to help those living in poverty start business.  The goals are noble and there have been some pretty amazing entries. The 2010 Grand Prize Winner was a manufactured photosynthetic foam that does not rely on the earths resources for production and results in high carbon capture and reduced carbon dioxide emissions.  There are different categories.  The “Pallet House” project here was a “Built Environment” entry made from ubiquitous and almost free recycled shipping pallets.  It can be put together with hand tools and there are kit type instructions to boot.  If you were stuck in a transient camp waiting for a new home in distant lands, would you rather live in the little designer house or a box?  At the risk of being cynical, I would not be surprised if there were many preferring the box.

Home made house near Juarez, Mexico

Reality is a complex thing, and in my experience most people prefer their own to a romanticized vision drummed up by distant luminaries. Offered a chance to buy the little designer house, a potential resident is likely to check out how it is assembled and then build his own new improved version from found and free materials.  Proud, indeed,  is the owner of a real “Pallet House” like the one you see.  In this case architecture, like possession, is equal to nine tenths of the law.