Friday, January 29, 2010

Japanese Architecture Banter-Modern Kyoto

This designer banterer started the new year with a short trip to Japan. In the coming weeks I will be posting some of the architectural highlights from my trip.

The architecture schools I attended concentrated mostly on the architectural history of Europe, the Middle East and Egypt. However, I have always been interested in Japanese architecture, from its influence on my favorite architect of the "big 3", Frank Lloyd Wright; as the home of one of my favorite modern day architects, Tadao Ando; the clean efficiency of such elements as the shoji screen, the Japanese garden and the Shinto-inspired use of water and rocks; and the compact, random, delightful way in which houses are crammed together.

While Kyoto is known as the home of traditional Japanese architecture, it is truly a city of ancient and modern. Some modern highlights:

Entrance to Oike Koto Building in Kyoto. For photo credit click here.

Oike Koto Building. For photo credit click here.

From visual observation, it is evident that the building codes are very different in Japan. Fire protection is king in the United States, and while I would very much appreciate this were I or my belongings stuck in a burning building, more lax codes in terms of fire allow for much more interesting conditions. One clever way that the Japanese provide for fire safety is by marking the operable windows with an upside down triangle, for easy visual inspection by the fire department.

The triangle marks the bottom right hand window as operable for the fire department.

Many of the traditional wood residences have wood screens or translucent sliding shoji screens. These not only provide privacy in a country where houses are very close together, but also control light and temperature. Smart, modern buildings also take advantage of this idea. The modern building shown below has a clear double curtain wall that is transparent during the day, with almost opaque screens that close at night.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Highlights from the International Builders Show

Dwell Magazine recently reported from the International Builders' Show in Las Vegas. The show is hosted by the National Association of Home Builders. View the slide show from here.

A kitchen that doesn't take itself too seriously: the Amana Dry Erase Refrigerator.

A few interesting products:
  • Kitchen Aid's Inductive Cooktop: Induction technology heats the pan and not the cooktop surface, through an electromagnetic transfer of energy.
  • Delta Pilar Faucet: Water turns on and off by touching the faucet (Touch2O Technology), anywhere on the spout or handle.
  • Snazzy grab bars by Kohler. Grab bars can be installed in a bath or shower before they are needed, and not take away from the style of the bathroom. (See previous blog entries on Universal Design--you never know when you will be the one who needs it).
  • Stainless steel is so 2002: Dry erase refrigerator by Amana. Of course, it's still magnetic.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Forget Energy Star and LEED, Green Building is Passivhaus

This article and slideshow comes from Passivhaus is the latest buzz in the green building world, but it has been around since 1990, with the first buildings in Germany.

Passivhaus with shading devices for summer. Matthias Schindegger of Maschin Arhitektur. Photo by Peter Jakadofsky.

Passivhaus requires a maximum energy usage (120 kWh/m² per year), a blower door test, and an annual heating demand of less than 15 kWh/m² per year.

Green building rating systems will continue to battle it out for superiority, and Passivhaus is the latest to vie for its spot in the US.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Better Today?

MSN Real Estate explores the question, "Will your new home still be standing in 50 years?" By Marilyn Lewis of MSN Real Estate

They find that sawn lumber and craftsmanship are worse today, while affordability, weatherproofing (as anyone who lives in an old house has experienced), windows (in terms of insulating value and energy efficiency) and doors (in terms of withstanding wind and rain) are better. There is no doubt that we are building tighter, drier, and more weatherproof than ever before.

But, efficiency isn't everything. I could almost withstand the single pane windows that hemorrhaged heat in my turn of the century Chicago apartment in exchange for the 12 foot tall ceilings, 12 inch solid wood base and crown moldings and stronger-than-oak wood floors.

Now, I live in a "Built Smart" condo with crooked drywall covered in flimsy MDF baseboards, where the utility bills, and unfortunately, the charm, are low.

Monday, January 18, 2010

New Year, New Space: Rethinking "Space"

If you are thinking of re-arranging, remodeling, buying, or building, it's important to think about, or re-think, spatial relationships. It will help you consider how much space you need to think of your rooms and home in terms of meeting your needs, not as places to house furniture.

  • Cozy TV viewing area: Think about how much space you actually need in the "living" room if it's basically a TV viewing area. I have seen new houses with large living areas where the couch is placed 12' from the massive TV. You can go with a smaller TV and place the couch/coffee table/chair arrangement closer. Along these lines......
  • Switch it up: If you have a formal dining room and one living area, consider switching them. (I will refer to the one living area as a "family" room) A few years ago, my mom, who is gifted in interior decorating, switched the formal dining room and family room, and it works wonderfully. In many homes, the one living area serves as the next stop off of the entry foyer and a circulation hub of the home, which is not an ideal space for TV viewing. Now, the large area meant to be the family room serves as a formal dining area, sitting room, and library, in addition to being the central circulation area. The TV viewing/music/couch area is now in what was meant to be the formal dining room, which is a more cozy, smaller space. Also, many formal dining rooms end up collecting dust, and this arrangement makes it a centerpiece in your home, to show off treasured centerpieces or flowers, and remains active thanks to shared use, reminding you to break out the china for a family dinner more often.
  • Keep the bedroom sacred: There really needs to be nothing else in the master bedroom besides a bed. The bedroom should be a sanctuary for sleeping, free of clutter, dirty clothes, and papers. Today, closets are large enough for dressers, and if you have a TV, it can be mounted on the wall. And of course, no computers allowed.
  • To save square footage in kids rooms, get creative: When I was little, my dad built me an elevated platform bed, and every night was like playing in a tree house. He constructed built-ins on wheels to go underneath, so that I could rearrange them and use them for whatever I wanted. A platform bed is a win-win: kids love them, and they make use of wasted cubic feet above a child's head. Also, with growing concerns about what kids will find on the internet, you can keep the computers and work spaces out of their rooms: homework progress and computer use can be monitored from a shared computer desk or media space. (When they do need privacy later, they can use a laptop in their room).
  • Section off a space: Use a sliding door or room divider from Raydoor or The Sliding Door Company to section of a room, or part of a room, to create an office or split a shared bedroom. Or, if you like the previous tip to convert a master closet to a different room, use sliding doors to section off a portion of the master bedroom to create a closet.
  • Go outside: Covered outdoor spaces and defined "rooms" can double the living area of your house. In Seattle specifically, there are at least 4 months where you do not need to condition your living space, so life can spill over to the outdoors.
Thinking about space in a new way can help you save money in building, buying or remodeling. Say that you leave off one bedroom at 120 square feet, if the cost to build your house is $150 a square foot, you save $18,000 + interest (not to mention the cost over the years to clean, furnish, heat, cool and maintain that space). By considering how you actually use space, you may find you can live with less square footage.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Last Chance to See the Zero Energy Idea House

The Zero Energy Idea House will be open to the public for the last time January 30-31st. The home was built by and is presented by Shirey Contracting and is currently featured in 425 Magazine.

I toured the house last fall, and it was packed on a rainy Saturday. Donna Shirey describes the home as a "well designed little jewel box" in 425 Magazine. I would agree. The plan is standard and compact, a reverse floor plan on perched on a very steep lot. I was impressed with the details of the interior design: the kitchen cabinets that transitioned to a built-in at the entry and a sloped inset in the concrete counter top for drying dishes. The best "jewel" we discovered was, to my surprise, the powder room off of the kitchen, with a cast all-in-one sink/counter and bamboo wall covering.

Simple, elegant, practical counter detail.

Hidden Treasure: the powder room.
Photos:, Shirey Construction

The Home features a Helix Wind Air Wind Turbine, solar panels, and a Thermomax system for hot water heating. Check out a complete list of the green features here.

The Zero Energy Idea House is located at 840 W Lake Sammamish Parkway SE, Bellevue, WA 98008.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

New Year, New Space: Less Invasive {Easy} Remodeling Ideas

Each week for the coming weeks, we will feature ideas for New Year, New Space. After the excess "stuff" of the holidays (guilty: I still have not taken down my display of Christmas cards), you may be ready to organize, purge, update, or overhaul your living space.

While the economy and the housing market are slow to recover, life goes on, and many may find that their current home just does not suit their needs. In many areas, putting a home on the market is not a desirable option, in addition to the costs and trouble associated with moving.

Dealing with a massive remodel or addition can be just as stressful, but as families grow and change adapting your current space may be necessary. Here are some ideas for less invasive remodeling:

  • First, look up: For adding extra space, look at the attic areas over the house and garage. If you want to add a bedroom, a window will be required. Also, check the floor framing. If the attic was originally designed as a "bonus room," the floor framing should be adequate for a sleeping or living area. However, if the attic was designed exclusively for storage, the floor framing may not be adequate, and updating it to current code may be more than you bargained for. Have an architect or a structural engineer do an initial consultation, as they should be able to visually evaluate the situation. Insulation may also need to be added to bring the area up to current code.
  • Next, look out: Do you ever think about how much space in your home is devoted to your car? Unless you live in an extremely cold climate, why can't your car be comfortable outside, or under a carport? The standard garage is a perfect size for a bedroom or living area plus a closet or bathroom. Many garages may even have adequate windows for egress (required for a bedroom). Also, you can consider building a new wall a few feet in from the wall with the doors, so that the garage doors can remain and you can keep some storage that can be accessed from the exterior, for storing bikes or garden supplies (this will require a ceiling soffit for the doors and opening mechanism).
  • Do you really have that many clothes?: There was a streak in spec home construction where the master closet and bathroom are huge, while the house may have only 3 bedrooms, for instance. A large master closet can be converted to an office, craft room, or combined with a laundry room. The master bedroom is probably large enough for some dressers and free-standing wardrobes, especially if there is no TV, or the existing TV is placed on dresser, over a wardrobe, or hung on a wall. Also, how often do you really use that jetted tub? Remove the large tub and build a smaller closet in its place.
  • Treasure odd spaces: Many small spaces can be hidden by drywall, such as areas under stairs or around mechanical units. Look for spaces like these that can be converted to built-ins. A space can be cleared either between the studs (if studs are a standard 16" on center, this will give you 14-1/2", about a foot after finishing), or a header added to create a wider space (consult a structural engineer if you are not sure about this). In doing this, you may be removing insulation used for sound control, but think about areas like the one under the bar counter in an open kitchen. You can gain valuable cubic footage by placing books, games, etc in these nooks.

Example of bookshelves built into the kitchen island support wall. Built-ins can be placed between studs so that no structure is disturbed.

You don't need to overhaul your entire home to create some much needed space. Look for ways to improve your existing space with minimum disturbance and maximum sanity. If you need to borrow money for a project, points paid on Home Improvement Loans are tax deductible.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Life after the Designer

When you work for many years on a building, dream about it, spend time in every corner and column, you can forget that the entire point is for the building to live on long after you have approved the final change order. There are few things more satisfying than to see life actually happening in the building, the spaces living and breathing.

Concept for Churchill Corner. Renderings by Richard Mullen, Presentation Art Studio.

Churchill Corner

The Churchill Corner project is a 26,000 SF mixed use building in downtown Friday Harbor. As you arrive on the ferry, it is perched on the hill above the ferry boarding lanes. There are five residential units above eight commercial spaces.

Photo by John Sinclair

One of the commercial spaces is occupied by Concepia, "your center for creativity," an art/photo/community gathering gallery owned by photographer John Sinclair. John has worked with us taking photographs of our San Juan Channel House, which have been featured in Seattle Magazine and Builder/Architect Magazine, as well as in our marketing materials and on our website. Every other Friday, Concepia hosts "Secret Salon: Conversation. Art. Entertainment. Food. Drink."

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Heritage Project Update

We are working with the Navcon Group, BWM Group and Patriot
Founders on two medical/dental/office buildings in Round Rock, Texas.

Construction of Phase One will be complete in February 2010. Design of Phase Two is underway. Phase One includes five professional spaces, including two dental offices.

The aim of the design was to balance the economy of a spec office building with the owner's sensibilities as a custom home builder.

See current photos on Facebook.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Builder/Architect Article-Simple Steps for Greener Interiors

Anne's article on Green Interiors is featured in the January Issue of Builder/Architect Magazine.

Check out their new online version.