Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The "Folly" of Design

The balcony of the folly overlooks Mt. Baker and the water.

Folly: fal'e 1. A lack of sense, foolishness 2. A foolish action or belief

What place does a word like "folly" have on our floor plans for the Hare House? In architectural terms, a folly is a structure "Having none of the usual purposes of housing or sheltering, strictly as a decoration."

The hierarchy of pleasures is illustrated in the strata of purposes
: the first floor is a wine cellar, a very practical yet some may argue superfluous area of a residence. The second floor is a place for meditation, art, reading. The third floor houses a telescope and a balcony, with a stunning view of the water. The folly is designed for the privacy of its user, yet to allow the user to observe and interact on their own terms with the site and its surroundings.

The main floor of the folly.

For the Hare House, however, the folly is the most purpose-driven area of the residence. The client asked for a place to just go and be, to read, to create, to escape the pressures of everyday life. The function is not built into the area as it is in the kitchen, but the structure exists purely for its inhabitants, to be used deliberately and intentionally.

Yet are not all additions to a residence a folly? After a roof over your head, a place to sleep and prepare food and walls surrounding your family (according to Mazlow, the physiological and safety needs), isn't everything just a folly? The true creativity of residential d
esign lies not in the providing the essential spaces, but providing the areas that bring everyday delight and enjoyment in a practical and respectful way.

A neighbor is already enjoying the privacy of the folly.

Monday, September 14, 2009

10x10x10 Green Building Slam

Anna and I will be presenting at the Northwest Ecobuilding Guild's annual Green Design Slam on September 25th, 6:30pm at the Seattle Public Library. This is a fun, high energy look at 10 green projects. Each presentation will feature 10 slides and the presentations will be 10 minutes each. Our presentation of the San Juan Channel House will focus on the major areas of sustainability implemented in the project: site selection, minimal site disturbance, limiting house size while maximizing outdoor spaces, use of geothermal and radiant floor heat, energy savings through Energy Star appliances, daylighting, and natural ventilation, local materials and craftsmanship, non-toxic and natural materials, use of advanced framing, use of salvaged items, a construction waste management plan, and allowing for adaptability and transformation through separation of spaces and a garage apartment.

The theme that has emerged for the San Juan Channel House is "Real Green, Real World." The house was built for significantly less than other custom homes without cutting any corners with lower quality materials or sacrificing design. For example, Anna's must-have for the project was the set of 3 custom door and window combinations for the main living areas. These were built by the general contractors, Gordon Elliot and Gypsy O'Neill, in a shop less than a mile from the house. They purchased local fir which was locally straightened and corrected by Window Craft in Friday Harbor, where the other custom wood windows were built for the project.

A large portion of the budget was spent on these windows, which provide views to the front and back to keep an eye on the kids wherever they are playing, in addition to views of the forested back yard and the water, abundant natural light and ventilation. These walls of glass are priceless in the "delight" they bring to the project. "Delight" was the term that Gwynne Pugh, of Pugh + Scarpa architects, used to describe the San Juan Channel House during the jury comments of the AIA Seattle What Makes it Green? awards ( And though a large part of the budget, the money paid did not leave the community: it went directly to the contractors, the local sawmill, and the local window manufacturer.

So, "Real Green, Real World" is not just about building as green as possible, it's about building place in the Real World where people are delighted to live and be.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Hare House Site Visit

I just returned from a wonderful site visit. It is quite rewarding to see your clients beaming with delight and absolutely loving their new house. The walls went up this week on the second floor and made a drastic change to the building's appearance. The water and mountain views are now framed and the clients can actually experience the spaces. Most clients cannot visualize the actual spaces from the drawings and it is delightful to finally see them in the rooms, imagining life in this house.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Using Salvage as Building Material

Salvage n “the rescue of any property from destruction or waste.”

I am so inspired by Dan Phillips, who was featured in the New York Times yesterday. See the slideshow of his projects.

This spotlight is very timely, with the recent death of Dennis K "D.K." Ruth, the co-founder of the Rural Studio. Both shared a vision of creating affordable structures through creative use and re-use of material.

It is exciting to use salvaged materials in projects. Obviously, Phoenix Commotion uses such materials boldly. His roof of scrap frame samples and the Rural Studio's walls of carpet scraps proudly proclaim their origin.

We have had to the opportunity to use salvaged materials in different ways. We worked with a young couple on San Juan Island to obtain an owner-builder permit for a Straw Bale House. Straw bale, a by-product of agriculture, as been used for many years to create super-insulated homes. We will report more in the future on the construction of the Straw Bale House. The use of the salvaged straw bales and the ability of the owner to act as their own contractor will keep the project affordable.

Salvaged materials can also be used with finesse, so that they blend in with new materials seamlessly. For the San Juan Channel House, salvaged plumbing fixtures, wood flooring, and landscape features were used. The degree of salvage varied: some items were purchased from Craigslist (usually left over material), some landscape features were found on the site, and concrete pavers used for landscaping were bound for the dump after a mistake on a commercial project, with some matching new pavers added.

These materials were used in such a way that no one could distinguish between salvaged items and items manufactured exclusively for the project. Considering that, according to many sources, about 90% of solid waste comes from manufacturing and the remaining 10% from consumer waste. Using salvaged items in building helps on both ends: the most evident, keeping waste out of the landfill, but also preventing manufacture of new items in the first place, which creates the most waste. Extra effort is required of the owner and contractor to seek out such materials, but the financial and environmental benefits are many.