Monthly Archives: November 2011

Fireplace Focal Points and House Plans

Architectural Warmth

Here are some images of fireplaces to help you take a breather — or just plain zone out — during the holiday shopping rush. The flames, not to mention the surround, can be mesmerizing.  The Pasadena architects Greene and Greene designed one of the most famous fireplaces  for their Gamble house of 1908.

It’s an inglenook in the living room — rather like a very elegant compartment on a train that just happens to have a large fireplace between the bench seats where the window would be (photo courtesy The Gamble House). Frank Lloyd Wright was famous for his fireplaces and an almost ritualistic attitude toward the hearth as the very center and soul of a home.

At Fallingwater in Pennsylvania, of 1937,  he created an organic inglenook from boulders on site (photo courtesy About.com). In the late 1940s, ranch house popularizer Cliff May took the fireplace

outside and added a rotisserie/barbecue. The architectural possibilities are vast and have grown substantially with today’s prefab gas units, like these examples from Ortal Heating Solutions. One can extend across an entire wall

or become a minimalist room divider

that doubles as a display space for artifacts. A frameless glass front can turn the

corner in a minimalist modern way (these three photos courtesy Ortal).

So how do the architects and designers at Houseplans.com treat the fireplace? For Sarah Susanka in Plan 454-6, the fireplace becomes part of a multifunctional wall

with space for storage and display as well as a flat screen television. In Plan 491-7 Braxton

Werner and Paul Field treat it more abstractly as part of a stone wall. Lorenzo Spano echoes Cliff May by going outside with it in Plan 473-3,

only now making it a freestanding piece of sculpture. There are many ways to spark your architectural imagination.

9/11 Memorial, Plus-Pool, and the Power of Design

Water Work

The power of design was made evident to me once again when I visited the recently completed National September 11 Memorial at the World Trade Center site in New York
When you get to the site – which is surrounded by seven skyscrapers in various stages of construction – your visitor pass is inspected and you enter a long line of switchbacks that, after about half an hour, leads into a small lobby where you pass through x-ray machines – as if you are boarding a plane – and

then go out again down a blue walkway, around a corner, to the park itself,

which is a geometric expanse of granite pavers and lawn under a forest grid of swamp white oaks. (The Memorial museum is not yet finished.) Ahead are the two vast 200 feet-square, 30-feet deep pools — one tracing the footprint of the north, the other, the south tower of the World Trade Center. Wide balustrades — dark bronze waist-high, slightly tilted tablets inscribed with the names of those who died in the towers, at the Pentagon, and on Flight 93 — rim the top of each thundering cascade.

Architect Michael Arad had wanted the names to line walkways behind the falling water at the bottom of each pool, which would have turned the water into a veil of tears and would have given each visitor a more private experience, but security concerns made this impossible, hence the inscribed slabs at the top.

The sound of the rushing water and the sheer expanse of dropping space draws you ineluctably to the edge. It is the 21st century equivalent of Frederick

Church’s famous painting of Niagara Falls of 1857 (image courtesy The Corcoran Gallery of Art). The scale of the opening and the volume of the water is mesmerizing. But now it’s not just the power of nature we

are witnessing but the power of human nature we are enshrining. My first thought was that the design is too repetitive but then I realized that it isn’t — since the names are all different — and anyway the towers were twins in presence and must be twins in absence. And at the center of each dark pool is a further, darker chasm, where you can’t quite see the bottom and the water falls into emptiness. Thus the monumental scale and the depth-within-depth describe the collective loss itself, both literally and figuratively.

The ingenious weir at the top turns the water into a painterly element.

The long airfoil shape made of comb-like tines breaks the sheet of water into individual strands that then recombine in a thin curtain of silver to flash in the sunlight. The weir also spreads the flow evenly, maximizing its apparent volume while minimizing actual water and energy use.

Landscape architect Peter Walker — who worked with Michael Arad — spoke of the way the design is about filling and emptying at the same time (as I mentioned in a previous post about Walker’s talk at the Monterey Design Conference), and this seems especially apt, for a memorial is about filling a void that cannot be filled and holding memories that must not be forgotten. This is abstraction at its most elemental and powerful — like nature itself.

In the Swim

On a lighter note, one of my daughters made me aware of another approach to water in New York that is both wonderful and crazy: the cross-shaped multi-purpose Plus Pool (four pools in one) designed to float in the East River and that is being proposed by Dong-Ping Wong of Family Architects, and Archie Lee Coates IV and Jeffrey Franklin of PlayLab.

They got hot last summer – “So we proposed a pool. More specifically, we proposed a pool that uses and filters the very water that it floats in. A pool that makes it possible to swim off the shores of New York, in river water, that’s clean.”

The engineering firm Arup devised a filtering membrane that makes the clean water possible.

And the four-part configuration allows for a variety of swimming styles.

Through a Kickstarter campaign they have raised enough money to test the filtering system. Ingenious. Part of the power of design is thinking outside the pool.




Welcome, Katrina Cottage Plans

Finessing the FEMA Trailer

Big news! We are very excited to welcome the Katrina Cottage plans — from a team of designers and architects led by Marianne Cusato — to our Signature Studio. Prices start at $850. Years ago I saw one of the first examples, at the Home Builder Show in Orlando (shown below, courtesy James Hardie), and was very impressed. Here was an innovative solution to the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina that could apply to housing needs in general.


I especially liked the efficient layout (this example is only 300 square feet), well proportioned double-hung windows, and front porch with built-in benches. I thought then, and now even more so, that this little house would dignify any neighborhood. To my mind it is a highly evolved descendant of the charming wood-framed “earthquake cottages” built for San Francisco’s homeless

after the disaster of 1906 (photo courtesy National Park Service, Presidio). Fast forward to today and our expanding collection of Katrina Cottage designs, like Marianne Cusato’s Plan 514-5, shown below.


The 544 square-foot, two bedroom, one bath house includes a galley kitchen

and a front porch that’s 8-feet deep so it can be used as an outdoor room to expand the house in good weather. Here it is as built.

(Photo courtesy Cusato Cottages.) The house is only sixteen feet wide but has a strong presence thanks to the welcoming front porch. Marianne calls this “vernacular Gulf Coast” architecture but I can see it working in places like the Northeast and Midwest as well.

Envisioned as a dignified alternative to the FEMA trailer, Katrina Cottages have been hailed for their design, durability, versatility and, affordability in USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, on CNN and in all major news outlets nationwide. The Katrina Cottage concept is the vision of architect Andres Duany, partner in Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co., founders of the Congress for the New Urbanism and designers of hundreds of pedestrian-oriented communities including Seaside, Florida. The cottage idea was first developed at the Mississippi Renewal Forum in October 2005. The goal was to create a safe, affordable, livable home that can be built quickly and that ultimately becomes an enduring contribution to the neighborhood — not a temporary, often stigmatized, and possibly unhealthy solution like a FEMA trailer.

Plan 514-10 by Eric Moser, of Moser Design Group, is 20 feet wide and includes a buffet bar/peninsula in

the kitchen.

 

A shed dormer brightens the loft. Plan 514-11 by W. A. Lawrence of

Period Style Homes is 25 feet wide and includes an option for adding a third bedroom. Marianne Cusato’s Plan 514-18 is the largest so far,

at two stories and 1,200 square feet. Two bedrooms and a second bathroom are 

on the upper floor. Here’s a built version of it in Baton Rouge, Louisiana (photo courtesy Cusato Cottages).

The shutters, clapboard siding, and gable profile give it a handsome Colonial Revival look.

Marianne Cusato is the author of Get Your House Right, Architectural Elements to Use and Avoid, with Ben Pentreath, Richard Sammons and Leon Krier, foreword by HRH The Prince of Wales (2008, Sterling Publishing). In 2006, her Katrina Cottage won the Cooper-Hewitt Design Museum’s “People’s Design Award.” W. A. Lawrence and Eric Moser have long been involved in neighborhood and residential design. These houses can be family homes, vacation cabins, even granny units, and it’s easy to imagine combining them into vibrant communities. To mix a few metaphors — an architectural phoenix has risen from the floods. Welcome, Katrina Cottage plans!

Iconic House Design plus New Kirei Wood Paneling

Start With Simple

Let’s talk about how using an iconic shape can help you conceptualize the modern design of your new home — architects start here all the time. Take the simplest architectural outline, such as four walls topped with a gable roof, as shown in this archetypal Scottish stone barn.


(Image courtesy gairloch.org) What can you do with it? How can you pack it, expand it, open it, raise it, give it a sense of history or modernity? Here’s a sampling of houses that all began with a similar profile,

starting with architect Rick Joy‘s design for a barn-inspired house in Vermont.

(Images courtesy Architectural Record.) Inside you can see how the shape is simply hollowed out for the main living space, with minimal but strong posts and rafters providing support. The design feels modern and historical at the same time. One side opens to a terrace while other has high windows for balanced light. Architects William Turnbull and Mary Griffin began with the long barn idea and then

divided it into two spaces (kitchen/living area and a bedroom/bathroom) separated by a breezeway-dining room, creating a contemporary dogtrot cabin (itself an historical house type) for the wine country.The outdoor dining room can be closed off from the prevailing wind with a sliding barn door  (which is in the open position, in kitchen on drawing).

The house is the width of a vine row (drawing and photo courtesy TGH Architects). Architect Stephen Atkinson took a similar tack with corrugated aluminum siding

and pulled the fireplace away to mark the edge of the deck in his Zachary vacation house.

(Images courtesy Studio Atkinson.) His plan is also a dogtrot but includes a galley kitchen that parallels the long axis; the breezeway stretches beyond the house to include the fireplace and deck. Australian architect Glenn Murcutt has often explored the use of simple house forms and distilled them to an essence,

as in the elegant curve of the gable on his Marie Short house (images courtesy Architectural Record), which also seems to be channeling a fluid line from Alvar Aalto. In this case the walls are really a series of operable layers that filter light, air, and view. So the iconic form creates a structure that allows for change depending on needs and circumstances. The two story gable is equally iconic, especially in the Rudin

house, made of concrete by Swiss architects Herzog and de Meuron (image courtesy Apartment Therapy), which in turn has influenced designs by others,

like this memorable little shelter by Ultra Architects of Poland (image courtesy Mocoloco).

The most famous riff on such shapes is probably Robert Venturi’s design for his mother’s house from 1964 in Chestnut Hill, Pennsylvania.

Venturi used the gable as the centering device for the facade and then broke it to bring in high light and shape the entrance (image from The American House, courtesy curatedmag.com). This house became an icon in its own right as a herald of “Post Modernism.”

Archetypal house forms are also at the heart of designs by architects in our Exclusive Studio, such as Bud Dietrich’s wide gable that encompasses

greenhouse windows and a garage, Plan 481-1; Ross Anderson’s Plan 433-1

for a coastal getaway, with saddlebag-like attachments like the rustic staircases and the screen porch; Braxton Werner and Paul Field

and their version of a long barn house, Plan 491-10; Gregory La Vardera’s Plan 431-14

even recalls the Herzon & de Meuron example in its cubist quality, only in shingles this time, not concrete,  and Frank McGahon’s Plan 520-7,

which combines a series of long gables into a courtyard layout. And we’re back to the stone barn — not from Scotland now but from Ireland!


Recycled Wood News

Kirei is a sustainable wood manufacturer known for handsome bamboo, wheatboard, and Kirei board products (the latter is made of reclaimed sorgum straw) and has just launched the new Windfall line of paneling.

It uses reclaimed wood from deconstructed buildings in the Pacific Northwest to create engineered wood panels for wall coverings and casework (image from Kirei). Solid panels come in Clear, Ivory, Anthracite, and Mocha finishes; 3-ply panels come in Clear finish. Solid and 3 ply panels also come in an end-grain style.