Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Gnome Home

I have a gnome home! I've been trying to save a succulent for a few months now in a small pot on my window sill, but evidently I've created another kind of microclimate, because the other day I saw this little habitat had sprouted! I took a few photos of the evidence of my black-thumb. Honestly, have you seen a more pitiful potted plant? Now for some more delightful evidence of spring: the dogwoods have bloomed! Dogwoods are some of my most favorite blossoms (we even had them on our wedding cake!) and so it's great to be back in Georgia during the blooming season. My allergies will tell you otherwise, but I love this time of year. I just had to have some of the blossoms in our house, so I grabbed a few off a tree in our yard (it's managed to bloom despite my presence!) and put them in as many vessels as I could. Here are the beauties in my bathroom, in a vase I picked up in Dallas a few years ago. I love the hint of green in their petals. Here's a shot of the entire vignette on the bathroom windowsill. There are lovely, deep sills on the windows in this house and I try and make use of them. I wonder if these will last until I get back? I'll be out of town for a few days and probably not posting, but I'm sure I'll have many wonderful things to share when I get back from this secret destination!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

More on the theme of simplicity

I received Colonnade, the publication from the School of Architecture Foundation at my alma mater, the University of Virginia, over the weekend. I was taken by this gorgeous photo of a house designed by a fellow graduate, Jim Rounsevell (MArch '90). I hope he doesn't mind me presenting some of the photos of his Poplar Terraces project. Jim was named a winner in the 2008 Washingtonian Magazine Awards Competition for Residential Design. The project is a series of four houses carefully placed on a 1.64 acre plot of land in Falls Church, Virginia and his design approach has been praised for his "ability to deliver high quality while maintaining a relatively modest budget." Each four bedroom home is made of SIPs (structural insulated panels) which are highly energy efficient, and is afforded a connection to the landscape with innovative use of daylight and views. The site itself backs up to a preservation outlot with protected old-growth Tulip Poplars, and each house is set along walled terraces perpendicular to the street that provide privacy and shade. The work is simple and refined. I don't even mind the garage door being so prominent on the front facade because it's such an integral feature of the design. It looks just exactly as it belongs there- an anchor to the rest of the home. Every detail has been considered and the results are incredible. Well done, Jim!

Friday, March 27, 2009

I get by with a little help...

I'm proud to say that the exam went well yesterday and I mustered a PASS! I'm excited to be a LEED Accredited Professional and can't wait to put this knowledge to work on a project. I apologize for the lack of posts this week. I was determined to spend every spare second studying and it seems to have paid off. A big thank you to friends like Cassi, Dawn and Katrina who graciously shared their study materials with me. Now on to the good stuff. A few weeks ago I took off on a road trip with my husband and dog. We had a few destinations in Florida in mind, and we couldn't have picked a better week weather-wise. It was gloriously warm and sunny and we enjoyed every second. We made it all the way to Key West and the 0 mile Marker on U.S. Highway 1. Being in the Conch Republic for a few days was such a nice change of pace. On a beach on one of the keys we came across some makeshift architecture- a structure made of driftwood and found items. It had walls, multiple rooms, even stairs leading to an eventual second level. It's a little difficult to tell from the photos (do I need to invest in a wide angle lens?) but someone has put a LOT of work in to this beach house. A ramshackle as it was, it definitely seemed to provide shelter. What I love most about architecture is that it deals with how we live and make the most of our environments. For me, travel is the best way to experience this. I'll leave you with this image from Laugier's Essay on Architecture which argued for a return to simplicity and rationalism in building. Architecture history sticks with you!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Today's List

I’ve written before about my obsession/fondness for lists. Today’s list includes study time (LEED exam in two days and counting) and a few hours of work. Over the weekend I managed to find this little gem: www.listable.org which contains hundreds of lists other folks have started or expanded upon. Some are helpful and some are just funny, and I felt right at home on this site. One great list I found is a list of FREE Photoshop alternatives! As much as I love to play with Photoshop, it's an expensive investment for the individual. I've managed to avoid buying it so far (thanks to some pretty sophisticated photo editing tools in Picassa) but since the start of this blog, I've felt the need for some good old Photoshop layering capabilities. As a self-employed individual, a free alternative could be just the thing. I currently use a free alternative to Adobe Acrobat called PDF Creator (thanks to my dear husband!) which I can even use to plot from AutoCad. As soon as this exam torture is over I'll be implementing one of these Photoshop alternatives- this girl's got to get crackin' on a new portfolio!

Friday, March 20, 2009


Somone remind me again why I left Austin? Apparently, there is a new Airstream/Store/Eatery on South 1st Street and if you know me at all, you know I love ALL OF THOSE THINGS! There is an Airstream in my future, I just know it. La Dee Dah features items like botanicals, jewelry and feather headbands (evidently all the rage in Austin right now) made by artist Loren Dolinsky and you shop inside the Airstream! I love it. They also have "gourmet s'mores, NY Style coffee and black and white cookies". Okay, seriously, why did I move? In other news, Happy Spring!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Green is all around me

It's St. Patty's Day and I have just begun to study for the LEED NC exam, which I have scheduled for March 26th at 1:30 p.m. Ouch! I can't believe I am making a public announcement, but hopefully that's incentive to do well and make this one a success. As if the hefty price tag is not enough. What is LEED you ask? I was going to write a post all about it, but my friend Cassi (in my head I call her Cassi the Extraordinary) who is also taking the exam on that day wrote a great post about it last week, so I thought I'd give her a virtual shout out : http://leomonkey.wordpress.com/2009/03/09/gloom-doom/ To prepare for the intense studying (okay, memorizing), I was reading from a text called In the LEED written by a former test-taker who started a blog about preparing for the exam and turned all of his knowledge in to a helpful text (smarty pants!). He explains all the different credits, their intents and implementation methods and how the various points are awarded. Currently, buildings can be rated LEED Certified, Silver, Gold or Platinum based on the number of points:
  • Certified - 26-32 points
  • Silver - 33-38 points
  • Gold - 39-51 points
  • Platinum - 52-69 points
Many cities around the country are now (some for a few years already) requiring that all city-funded new construction over 5,000 s.f. or a certain dollar amount or major renovations to existing building be at least LEED Silver. Clearly the demand for LEED Accredited Professionals is rising. Instead of talking more about the finer points of the process, I thought I'd write about my limited experience with the LEED program in the past. I had the great pleasure of volunteering on Saturdays for several months last year at the Ronald McDonald House in Austin, Texas which was the third building in Texas to be awarded LEED Platinum and Austin's first. It was designed by Don Eckols of Eckols & Associates and built by The Beck Group. It's a beautiful building that brings comfort to hundreds of people each year, and volunteering there gave me the chance to experience how an extremely energy-efficient building functions from day to day. It was a real eye-opener into both the success of many of the systems (the fact that they drastically cut the energy consumed as compared to their older, smaller building and can and do serve 3 times as many families as the old Ronald McDonald House in Austin) and the challenges. Performance of these systems is highly dependent on the user, and in a case like the Ronald McDonald House, the user is often temporary. A family may stay for a night or a week or 6 months and they have access to the house's kitchen and laundry facilities, both of which are furnished with energy-conserving appliances. I learned the washing machines were often difficult for people to maneuver because they require small amounts of the concentrated detergent very different from how most families' machines operate. This lead to the machines malfunctioning frequently. The staff posted directions which were sometimes followed and sometimes neglected. I guess my point is that it may take time for us to catch up with these high-functioning buildings. On the otherhand, many of its features (like the lights on timers and sensors) were foolproof. LEED has a category called Energy and Atmosphere and a Prerequisite of it are Minimum Energy Requirements. While I agree this is highly important and should be a Prerequisite (something that can make or break any certification whatsoever), I also think it's necessary to monitor a building's future performance. Points seemed to weigh more heavily on the design and simulation of energy optimization (which happens before construction) rather than it's ultimate performance once user's take over. I recognize the intention, but this is one area I think LEED needs to pay more attention to. The earlier example I mentioned is just a tiny part of how a building functions where things can go wrong. In order for a building and it's parts to perform at the level of Platinum, many many things need to go right, and I think more effort should be made to monitor a building's future performance. I'll leave you with a photo of the Ronald McDonald House in Austin.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Your Wildest Dreams

I've been listening to The Moody Blues lately (is that indicative of my outlook?) and the title had me thinking about Dream Homes. Everyone seems to have one, right? As an architect, I find it hard to have just one, but I try and think through my ideas and sketch whenever possible so that when the time's right, I'll be a few steps ahead. I'm a list-maniac, I mean maker, by habit, but for house design, I think less in list-form and more in diagram form. That said, I try and move through the space knowing the elements that are important to me and how they'll fit together or take on different roles. Another thought occurred to me the other day- Russian Constructivism. Odd, I know, except that in the economic disaster of their time, they took to paper architecture to explore their ideas. Many of these ideas were completely unrealistic and politically-motivated, but the point is that they didn't just give up on design and become plumbers- they sought other avenues for design like the theater or graphics. Back to my Wildest Dreams theme. I've had a sketch of a house for some time- it's a two minute sketch that conveys the elements I'd like to have in a house. The sketch itself is unimpressive, but I can't help but think it's worth exploring. Maybe it's my dream house, or maybe it won't be right for my life when the time comes, but I think it'll be my foray in to paper architecture during this slow period of my career. It will take the form of digital architecture, though- I plan to develop these ideas with Sketch-up, and I'll update the blog from time to time with my progress. PLAN, with Ground floor and Upper Floor. ELEVATION By the way, that Moody Blues video is freaking hilarious and if you didn't click on it, you really should reconsider that!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Modern in the Moutains, part two

One of my favorite photos of the weekend- a well-placed window catching the light and a bit of branch, and the chandelier for a little bit of fabulous in the bathroom. Vertical penetration, as we would say in the A-school. Red trim and red leaves. I loved this take on a ranch home- the attachment of the carport to the home is divine. And we ooed and awed over their mid-century modern furniture which was so fitting. The last home we visited with beautiful detailing. This one has the fabulous bathroom chandelier.
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Modern in the Mountains

Over the weekend I had the opportunity to visit Common Pond in the North Georgia mountains near Blue Ridge. My enterprising mother-in-law arranged a tour for us on Saturday with the self-described developer-slash-realtor Gary Kaupman. Though we are not currently interested in purchasing, he was gracious enough to meet us on a rainy Saturday and give us a tour of three of the homes in this "ecologically intelligent development". Gary was part of the driving force that brought these homes to life in the mountains- scouting for land, interviewing residents about what they liked and disliked about their mountain homes and bringing together architects and designers to realize his vision. In talking with him, we could see that he really has a keen sense of the balance between aesthetics (how can you make a building seem to rise from the landscape as if it were a part of it?), ingenuity, and the restraints of a budget. Many of the homes were built for less than $150/sq.ft. which makes the possibility of a weekend or permanent home in the mountains much more realistic. The footprints were kept small but the amenities were plush to say the least. It looked like those inhabiting the homes truly enjoyed them but also made use of their location in the mountains, close to hiking trails, mountain biking, white-water rafting and of course fishing in the amazing nearby rivers and streams. The houses, designed by Houser Walker Architecture in Atlanta and Gregory La Vadera in Merchantsville, New Jersey are energy efficient and low-maintenance and much attention was paid to features like natural light and orientation on the land. While each home takes from a kit-of-parts in architectural language, they are definitely individualized to their site and inhabitants. The name Common Pond refers to the spring-fed pond which all residents share (seen in the photo above). Each lot maintains mountain views without complete disruption of the trees and contours of the land. I loved that some of the red trim on some of the exteriors picked up the red in the leaves. I also liked the use of Hardi-plank applied in varying directions on the exterior, and we all loved the Hardi-plank used in some of the bathrooms, painted with a glossy finish. I think what the team has accomplished so far is very successful in terms of their mission of ecologically-intelligent. We all left saying that we would love to live in a house like one of those at Common Pond, and as an architect, I was so pleased to know that Modern in the Mountains isn't so far-fetched afterall. See my next post for more photos. Please visit their website to read more about Common Pond. My write-up hasn't done it justice as far as the amenities are concerned, but I hope that some of my photos inspire readers to visit or seek something similar in their area.
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