Posts Tagged ‘timeless standards’

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Solar Epiphany and an Octopus

March 2, 2014

Gravirt Feed FurnaceAny one who has looked at my professional website  knows that I have a longtime interest is responsible building.  Since I started this blog I have been intending to write about some of these subjects.  Not wanting to be repetitive in a field already stricken with information overload, I have delayed until I could find a fresh approach, which may or may not be now.

Either way, here  is an image of what I consider to be my first real and pivotal experience with all things green.  It is a gravity feed furnace, which, if the heating blogs are to be believed, should be disposed of posthaste.  I was raised in a house, previously discussed, with one of these in the basement.  It was complete with huge asbestos wrapped ducts that reached up to the floor supply diffusers located in every room.  It had few moving parts, plus the added advantage of staying on even if the power went out.  The one in our house was converted from coal to gas.  As children we warmed ourselves by standing on the supply vents after coming in on freezing winter days.  The house was a converted barn made tight with asbestos siding and warmed by natural convection.  I never remember a draft or temperature fluctuation.  We simply trusted that our house would be warm and comfortable all during many miserable Great Lakes winters.  Of course the house has long been sold but it is actually possible that this furnace is still chugging away after what could be something like 70 years.

OM Solar solar hot air heating system in Winter

OM Solar solar hot air heating system in Winter

OM Solar solar hot air cooling system in Summer

OM Solar solar hot air cooling system in Summer

It wasn’t long of course before I moved on with life and entered the world of forced air furnaces, air conditioning units, and rattling radiators.  Until, that is, 911 sent me, in an effort to save the world through architecture, running to a American Solar Energy Society trade show in Reno, Nevada where I found out that the convective heating system that I had taken for granted as a child had a modern day counter part in the form of a building integrated solar hot air heating system called OM Solar.  I was hooked.  Here are some diagrams.  Follow the link to read more about how it works and I know these don’t look anything like the old furnace in the photo.  Just stay tuned.  There will be more later.

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Should architects start hiring real people?

February 16, 2014

P1010135

I don’t know much about either one of these houses except that they are both in Japan.  It is not hard to figure out which one turned up on the slick architectural blog arch daily and which one  came from flickr?  If you have any doubt click the photos and follow the link to find out.  I posted them together to demonstrate the profound paradox between architectural fantasy and living reality.  The beautiful sculptural form on the right becomes something else entirely when subjected, as is the house on the left, to the messiness of human interaction.  As landscape architect Margie Ruddick pointed out in the April issue of Dwell, at bit of mess is where life happens. I keep thinking the two must somehow intersect for architecture to happen really.

As an aside, anyone who has ever spent a night in a Japanese royokan understands the national tendency to separate the private and public space.

As another aside,  the word slum, though well defined in the  dictionary, has no comparable in the Merriam Webster online Thesaurus; meaning that neither is there an antonym.  It appears to sit alone in the English language.

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Le Corbusier Fancy

January 4, 2014

2157559108_953bbcb4a0_oHouse of the Day #7: 409 W. 120th StreetThere is a type of chair often referred to in design school as a “Sheraton Fancy” and if one is inclined to look further into it, they would find that Thomas Sheraton was prone to pillage his predecessors to the extent that not a little of some history of architecture reference book shows up in his very elegant furniture designs, published in his book, The Cabinet Maker’s and Upholsterer’s Drawing Book, and then not only copied but frivolously embellished forever after.    These houses somehow brought Sheraton to mind, as if they might first have been conceived in a chronology of 20th century architectural styles that were finally reassembled in a silly but nevertheless pleasing way.  I like these houses.  They are modest little jewels in a sea of…. well you know ..

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Architects in Crisis

November 2, 2013

It is common knowledge that the practice of architecture is, these days, a less than stellar performer in the career tack department.  Why this is cannot, I think, be  more succinctly described than Iwan Baan has done here.  Building things cost; mostly a lot, sometimes less, never nothing.  In order to get paid architects must find work in an environment where their services are needed, as in the necessities of life, least.  Value is demonstrated by either torturing bricks and mortar into beautiful oddities intended to glorify, institutions, governments, and just plan rich individuals, or by big developers rolling out not so beautiful tracks of monotone buildings for absorption by the already burden and fast shrinking middle class.  This is often the world of the gainfully employed architect.  The soul, though, longs for the imperative of necessity, and nowhere is that more evident than in the way of poverty where the skill and training that has been drilled into the DNA of most architects could, should and would be of the most real use.  Indeed, it is a crisis that only architects seem to know about.

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Lesson in Aesthetics

October 5, 2013
Blue House

MLS/Web ID is 3050993

I am neutral on Steve Jobs, mostly because I have never looked very closely at him or his work.  Recently, driven by my need to absorb anything to do with “Pop” culture,  I read something that piqued my interest.  It seems the Steve Jobs thought that aesthetics could be taught, implying that there exists some standard of aesthetic correctness, and almost always culminating in the philosophical dichotomy between the absolute and relative.  Beauty, some say, is subjective and in the “eye of the beholder;” not, others say, universal and defined only by elites.  Perhaps the opposition has become more important than the truth, and judging by the house in the photo;  the truth is, whoever designed this remodel would have been well served by a few of those lessons.

I guess the camp in which I reside is revealed.  Clearly there was a lot of work put into the exterior refinishing of this house, but the designer treated the stone like a set of matching accessories added to some fashion layout in a misguided effort to make a statement.  The result is utterly contrived, removing all hope of visual unity and curb appeal.  Architects, who might have supplied and improvement here, are not so much elites as they are eternal students.

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“Real” Appeal

April 20, 2013

The ‘real” appeal of being house proud.

Three in a row.

Places like this are mostly excluded from the intellectualized world of architecture and design, except for – dare I say it -on  HGTV.  Those people understand that people don’t live in architecture.  They live in houses.  Whoever lives here is house proud, a term not often heard these days and in my mind somehow attached to the “American Dream.”  It means that even the most modest abode becomes alluring when it is obviously cared for.  Here the meticulously manicured yard, the fence, the porch, even the matching up and downstairs air conditioners deliver a strong subliminal message that says, “we like our house a lot and you should too.”  The thing about subliminal messages is that they are the stuff of art.  Art museums are full of ordinary objects arranged by artists against carefully chosen contexts in an effort to deliver some message often much less penetrating than the one that happens organically here.

Lest one think that there is a great deal of humanity, but really no architecture here, a closer look may be in order.  Consider how the bit of light foundation contrasts with the grass, forming a  visual perimeter around the house which doubles as a sill for the ample basement windows.  Consider how it repeats under the fist floor windows, capping the rusticated brick work and defining the top of a visual base for the entire building. Consider how the rusticated corners add substance to the structure.  Consider how the brick diapering and decorative pattern balances the heavy base and add interest to a plain facade.  Consider how repeating the house three times in a row in different colors adds humor. Perhaps this is architecture after all.

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So Bad it’s Good

August 8, 2012

A-Frame House
MLS/Web ID: 2954874

A-Frame House Interior
MLS/Web ID: 2954874

This circa 1966 Gelleresque vision is so bad it’s good.  In case you are not a history buff, Andrew  Geller was an architect and real working icon of  the mid century “age of optimism,” characterized by capitalization, industrialization, and modernization.  The “Windows of the World” complex on top of the World Trade Center was among the many projects he designed, including numerous summer houses along the East Coast.  He spent much of his career looking for inexpensive ways of providing modern conveniences to lots of people;  and he seems to have succeeded because it wasn’t long before cheap A-frames, like the one in the photo, were popping up all over the country.  These were actually considered a little ugly at the time, and probably still are.  It is  the overwhelming effect of my architectural nemesis, the point, that causes the problem.

Redemption comes along, though, in the complex and interesting interior space created by the A-frame structure.  It appears in the kitchen above and in an original Geller sketch below.  It soon becomes clear how one might both love and hate these little houses.  For myself, the most beautiful house I have ever entered was actually an A-frame, which is a story for another post.

Design Sketch by Andrew Geller