Daily Prompt: Dream Home

You win a contest to build your dream home. Draft the plans.

This should be a no-brainer: Architect + Dream Home = easy peasy, lemon squeezy. The truth is an architects home is many times like a mechanics car – it always needs work and it’s never quite right. I actually began writing a post some months back titled “why I never want to design my own house”. It never quite got finished because, to be honest, while I understand that I am the worst client for any architect to have, there’s not really another architect on the planet I would trust to design my home and get the massing, materials, function, flow and details right. Don’t even get me started on contractors.

So, what does my dream home look like? Is it all glass and steel and concrete? Is it traditional wood detailing used in minimalist ways? Is it on wheels? Will it stand up? To be quite honest, I have no idea. My wife and I have talked often and agree that one day we will build a home for our family on a decent sized piece of land. We’d like to have a large garden, large dogs, a few chickens and possibly a goat, but that is a ways off and we’re happy to wait to do it right. Some sketches have been made, some thought into the basic organization and materials and even the overall scale, but that’s as far as it needs to go right now. Without a site it’s a bit superfluous.

Until that day comes, my “dream home”, or more accurately my “for now home” is a simple “must have” list of the basics:

3-4 bedrooms
2 baths
Kitchen/Living/Dining
Laundry
Garage and/or basement
Office
fenced yard for the dogs and kids to chase each other without running into the street

Other than that in any home I look for a sense of proportion as well as some thought to detail, materials and color. As an architect I’m probably not as picky as some. Yet.

Daily Prompt: Art Appreciation

Do you need to agree with an artist’s lifestyle or politics to appreciate their art? To spend money on it?

In college I had a professor who told us constantly that we were not allowed to “hate” architecture. We could discuss any design faults, including and not limited to color, views, form, construction details, lack of construction details, human scale, etc. We were even encouraged to find these things to discuss and even took a couple of walks around Savannah during class to view and discuss some of the larger buildings.

Drayton Tower, Savannah, GA

Drayton Tower, Savannah, GA

One in particular was Drayton Tower. It’s awful. I never liked that building. Still don’t. It’s a typical mid-century modern tower with some retail on the ground floor, a few offices, I think, and apartments the rest of the way up. It’s a rectangular tower that faces the cardinal directions with one long facade facing due south. It’s all glass. O_o

To describe this as a fundamental design flaw would just be a waste of time. Over the years they tried to combat the fact that they essentially built a huge glass oven by installing tinting on the windows. It’s green. And has faded to different colors over the years and been replaced, etc. So you get a patchwork effect. Then the tinting didn’t really work as well as hoped so they installed large blinds and then beefed up the hvac system…typical stuff. It’s still Savannah….in summer….in a big glass oven.

BUT all of that to say, it’s significance as a piece of architecture for the city is incredibly important. It was the first multi-story building of modern design in a very historic city. It was also the first high rise to be built in the city with central heat and air thank God. And, for better or worse, it has become a part of the urban fabric of the city. It’s iconic for all its failures and successes and should be appreciated for both.

Architecture, like Art, is so often in the eye of the beholder. Some architecture, like art, speaks to us in a profound and visceral way while others we pass by every day without a second thought. Architecture, like Art, is not necessarily good or bad. It’s personal. It’s up to you the beholder, the user, the client, to determine how architecture makes you feel and respond accordingly. Just don’t say you hate it. That’s a useless emotional response that has no hope of creating a conversation.

home design – “how to” part I


architect-drafter-drafting_~u16172462

Since starting this blog a little over two years ago I’ve talked a lot about the role of and benefits of having a trained architect/designer involved in your project. And that conversation is still an ongoing one because I believe that the architectural profession has a ways to go before middle class America begins to see the true value in our services. But I want to now take some time and a few posts to talk about home design as a “how to”. I have no idea how many parts this series will have. I assume more than one but perhaps less than 50? We shall see. Either way, the goal here is to offer some insight into what I think is good design and proper planning when considering building or renovating a home. It’s my hope that these blog posts will be the start of a conversation and I’d love to hear from homeowners, architects and designers alike who may be following this blog. You all know I’m not afraid of criticism, so lay it on me.

Here in Part I I want to talk about the basics of planning a new home. Specifically I want to talk about function, organization and multi-use. To me these are the three key elements to today’s modern home and I’ll do my best to describe and narrate each element as succinctly as possible without going off on one of my famous architectural rants. But no promises.

Function:
Now, in residential design you first have to start with a client and that client will bring you the second thing you need – a building program. The building program is just a fancy term for all the spaces that make up your home; i.e. how many bedrooms, how many bathrooms, eat in kitchen or formal dining, is there a pool, do you need a helipad, etc. So we’ll start out with a basic program for a single family house for a modern family of 3 plus dog. It might look something like this:

3 bedrooms, 2 1/2 baths, office, living, dining, kitchen, pantry, garage/carport, storage and a den/rec room

Now, for the average person this list doesn’t mean much more than something you’d see on a “for sale” real estate flyer, but most architects and designers will look at this list and immediately start to associate each functional area in relation to another and begin creating imaginary bubble diagrams in their head. Bubble diagrams are an informal way to think about the organization of space, function and circulation. These diagrams usually come either during or just after a conversation about how you’ll be using the space the most, i.e. do you entertain a lot, do you have a large family or friends that come over often for large dinner parties, do you spend most of your time indoors or out, how important is a “space” away from the main public areas, etc. All of these questions inform an architect on how you live and how you might use your space not just in the immediate future but also down the road when life may change, such as when kids leave for college. This is the function of your home, the how and the why of how you live your life.

The average person, of average intelligence, is, generally speaking, smart enough to sit down and think critically about how they live and reasonably lay out a home floor plan that will serve it’s larger purpose of providing shelter and a level of modern comfort like air conditioning. But I think we can all agree that there is a something extra that should be in a home, no? There is that feeling of home. It’s not tangible and for most of us it is a feeling that comes after living in a home for some time. Usually after making some adjustments and getting things the way you want them – in other words, you’ve fit the house to match your lifestyle. But what if instead your home was designed and built with exactly this something in mind?

Organization:
This something, coupled with our functional requirements, leads us to the organization of the home. This is where the building program meets the bubble diagram. They go out, they have a few drinks, one thing leads to another and….well, you get the idea. Hopefully less than 9 months later out pops a conceptual design. Typically consisting of floor plans and elevations (perhaps even a 3D model if your architect is savvy enough), this is where all those ideas begin to take physical form and you can begin to actually imagine yourself in your new home.

Within the organization of your home, and given our modern, technologically saturated lifestyle, multi-function plays a key role in the long term success of any residential project. Lets face it, life changes. You get married, you have kids, they grow up and hopefully leave, but maybe they come back with husbands, wives and kids of their own, or an aging relative needs help….there are literally thousands of possibilities for how your life may change and your home should be adaptable to at least most forceable outcomes. We as architects and designers can’t predict everything that may come your way, but we can plan in such a way that as needs change the house can change with those needs. This is a little extra something that gets thrown in with the original something from above.

I hope this has given you a little insight into what it is exactly that we, as Architects and residential designers, bring to the table in the early stages of planning a home. Stay tuned for part II in which I plan on talking about the next stage of planning which has to do with getting pricing from contractors, the process of value engineering and why your architect is your first line of defense in ensuring your home is priced and eventually constructed properly.

kitchen remodel – part III

The design process on any project, whether big or small, can simultaneously be one of the most rewarding and frustrating aspects of what we as architects and designers do. Usually when it starts to become a frustrating process is when every conversation with the client starts with “well, what if we….(insert your favorite statement that leads to major design changes here)”. When a client first comes to you, they typically have some kind of image in their head of what they “think” their project should look like. Then they get a look at the first conceptual sketches based on conversations with the client, programmatic requirements and just general “architect-ness” and suddenly there are all sorts of things they never thought of before that are suddenly very important to the success of the project. You know you’ve been there.

Well, this little kitchen remodel has been a little like that. It began as a little kitchen remodel – some new cabinets, perhaps opening up to the dining room, but not getting too crazy with the demo and put-back. Then of course started the “well, what if we…”, and now, 8 conceptual floor plans later, we’re down to 2 winning candidates (seen below). Both are identical with only one change between them – the entry closet. Having lived in older homes for the last near decade I’m not a huge fan of having closets and storage for the sake of having closets and storage. It’s really just a place to hide the crap you never use, so why incur the expense? But I digress.

In each plan, the laundry area has been pushed into a small addition to the rear of the home adjacent to a storage/mechanical room behind the garage, creating a larger mud room. By removing the door and wall between the old laundry room and kitchen, I’ve created an opportunity to enlarge the kitchen and create a more open and direct flow from the garage into the kitchen.

Conceptual Floor Plan No 7

Something new was to take the east wall, between Family Room and Sitting Room and shift it south to enlarge the Family Room. Again we also removed the two closets at the entry in favor of the single coat closet only. This keeps an open and free flow between entry, kitchen, dining and family room. By adding discreet built-ins at both the formal dining room and family room we can easily make up for any lost storage. The addition of the kitchen island will greatly add to the function and flow of the kitchen allowing for more informal family dining and entertaining.

Conceptual Floor Plan No 8

This final conceptual plan, with small closet removed, is my personal preference. The only difference I’d like to see is to move the Family Room to the Formal Dining space and allow dining access to the rear yard. A planned change to this plan is to enlarge the island and add column supports at the header creating a soft division between kitchen and dining.

This project has been another in a series of interesting processes for me lately. As I continue taking on new clients in new and interesting places, the process of designing via remote (skype, phone, email, etc) can be challenging. It is always much preferred to be local and be able to physically inhabit a space to get a feel for how the design should take shape. But I think in an increasingly digital age, as with all things, we must find new ways to approach our clients and market our services. This is one way that has been fairly successful for me. Now if I can just keep the “well, what if we” emails and phone calls to a minimum. 😛

minimalism, architecture and value

If you don’t follow Josh and Ryan at The Minimalists, you should. Because I do. And they’re awesome.

After finding this blog and learning about these two groovy cats about a year ago, I’ve followed them ever since and have endeavored to live a minimalist lifestyle as much as is possible with a wife and two kids (hint: I like to spoil my family). And a recent post about money has me thinking not for the first time about minimalism and it’s broad implications for architecture, specifically in the area of cost versus value as it applies to materials, construction and services.

As architects we’ve all been in this situation: a client comes to you with a project, you submit your proposal for services confident that you’re as lean, mean and competitive as possible, and the client – without batting so much as an eyelash – haggles and argues for you to reduce your fee. No fun.

Similarly, if you’ve been in the construction industry for more than a day you’ve been involved in this situation: the client sends out the job to contractors for bid, the bids come in and again without batting so much as an eyelash immediately takes the lowest bid offer (and secretly wonders why it’s so high).

In both of these scenarios the client has focused solely on money with no regard to project quality, or experience/expertise of the architect and contractor, or any other factor besides cost. And we all know what typically happens in these situations: when the architect has to reduce their fee to a level that does not allow them to devote adequate time to the project (time = money), then mistakes get made, details don’t get coordinated and issues have to be resolved in the field resulting in additional service charges to the client. Then, the contractor, who’s low-ball fee did not properly account for all of the scope requirements in the drawings and specifications, goes to build the project and submits change order after change order for items that were not in his bid (which the client agreed to) and suddenly the project is over budget, over schedule, and now alternates are recommended and the VE process begins, which invariably leads to a substandard project at completion and a client looking at you, the architect, for answers as to why this all happened.

DUH.

The challenge is to help clients understand first the value in architectural services. The principles of minimalism being applied can perhaps put this into perspective. A good deal of clients want the pretty pictures in the magazines, all crammed together into one house. If we simply did as we were told this would make for one very strange house indeed. But that’s not our job. Our job is to interpret – to take the clients wants, dreams, and desires and create an individual structure that has function, beauty and value. Helping a client make the connection between each dollar spent and the ultimate value of that dollar is an important step towards a very successful project.

So how do we do that? What secret formula do we use in educating our clients to see not only the value in our own services but also the value in a experienced and knowledgeable contractor? There really isn’t one answer. Each client is different. Each client brings their own preconceptions, perceptions and prejudices to the table. The only real trick is to listen, to offer guidance and advice, and deliver it in a way that your client will understand and make the connection of cost versus value. The way you do that is by understanding this principle yourself.

deadlines and sleep

As you may have noticed I’ve fallen woefully behind on my posting duties here. This is not for lack of trying however. I have at least a dozen “drafts” in my blog feed that are in various stages of total crap completion. Though finding the time to complete a thought, not to mention a whole blog post, is running scarce lately. I suppose this would seem a good problem to have, but as I continue the flip-flopping from day-job to moonlighting the problem I am most often running head-long into is one I haven’t experienced really since my freshman year of college:

meet my deadlines or sleep.

I feel like this most days.

If you’re an Architect or designer or artist or professional of any flavor, you know as well as I do which one of those wins out almost 100% of the time. Deadlines. After all, if we didn’t meet our deadlines our clients won’t pay us, nor will they be likely to bring more business down the road.

Some of you know my story. The short version is I work full time for a small commercial firm in Jacksonville, Florida; I teach at a local community college; and I moonlight as a Architectural Designer. I’m also a husband to a very VERY understanding and sympathetic wife, and father to 3 seriously awesome kids. The question I’m asked most is “How do you balance everything and stay sane? What’s your secret?”

Well, first, who said I was sane? Anyone who willingly takes on the kind of schedule I do is clearly not playing with a full deck of cards.

As far as “my secret”…I really don’t think their is one. To illustrate what I mean, my wife has me hooked on this new reality show called Breaking Pointe about a ballet company and the “behind the scenes” workings of the ballet biz. And by hooked, I mean obviously she wants to watch it so if I wish to sit near her I must watch also. In the show one of the dancers is describing the difficulties of dating outside the ballet world. The frustration centers around regular people not getting it or thinking that dancing is more important, blah blah blah. Stay with me – the thing to note here is that when you are passionate about your profession, your art, your craft, whatever, then you simply make it work. There is no secret formula, no magical vortex that I step into to freeze time and multiple my productivity (that would be so sweet though). I just get it done.

The simplest truths are always the most profound. Architecture, like any other profession and art, takes a dedication that very few people understand, nor can they sympathize with our desire to spend countless hours in front of a computer or hunched over a drafting table scribbling out one design idea after another for clients with even less sympathy than the average person for what we put ourselves through in order to meet a deadline. But it’s what we do. It’s what we’re called to do. I can be exhausted and annoyed after 15 minutes of just about any activity, but 18 hours straight of nothing but architecture and design? Hell, I’m just getting started.

Anyone else feel this way or am I all alone? :-\

current work in development

If you’ve been paying attention to my twitter feed lately you know that I’ve several projects currently in development on top of my “day job” duties, and this certainly makes for a very interesting time for me. The concepts of “time” and “scheduling” have taken on new meanings completely. But I’m grateful to be helping my clients realize some very exciting architectural visions.

The first project currently in development is a shipping container home in Seattle, Washington for a couple of quote “raging left-wing hippies”. 😉 Using 53′ containers we’re creating a ground level work/machine shop with office, bathroom and large open work areas. Stacking the containers two high for this space, we create an interior volume with +/- 20′ ceilings for creating large art installations, working on cars, or just partying and getting loud. 🙂

image copyright 2012 r | one studio architecture

image copyright 2012 r | one studio architecture

The second floor is dedicated to a home office and one bedroom, one bath living space with kitchen/living/dining. One container is cut and reinforced to create a large open deck with views west to the Olympic National Park across Puget Sound. It’s going to be amazing.

The next project has been removed at request of the client.

So, two of the most current projects I’m working on. I hope you enjoy the images and as always criticism and critique are always welcome.

Cheers.