One of the most critical design imperatives for a new custom house is that it should be fully integrated with its unique landscape. We are currently collaborating with Kris Horiuchi of Horiuchi Solien Landscape Architects on a new house for a spectacular four acre site on Griffin Island in Wellfleet, MA. The site photos and digital model we posted back on March 19th show a design that takes its formal cues not only directly from Cape Cod Bay but also from the actively shifting, sliding, sandy topography of its dramatic coastal bank. The coastal bank’s movement is almost visible to the naked eye, with sand and trees moving together in dramatic harmony, and our house will also appear to shift and slide with the landscape. One interesting surprise we have proposed to both the owners and Kris is a “floating hole” strategically placed in the middle of the house adjacent to the main entrance as well as main living space, where landscape and building architecture, earth and sky, sun and shade all come together, anchoring house to nature. See below for several building sections that we are developing, as well as additional details of the “hole”. And we’ll keep you posted as we continue to develop the design.
We posted progress photos a few months ago of a small project in Boston’s South End, where we were asked to update a stair connecting an upper level entry hall to a lower level combined living / dining / kitchen. The previous stair was fairly utilitarian, and did nothing to unify the two levels of the house.
We’ve kept the original stair structure, but resurfaced the stair treads with a new and more substantial profile, stained a rich gray/brown to coordinate with the owner’s furniture. The thickened treads are keyed into a white slatted wood wall on the lower level, which conceals doors to storage closets. The slats, in turn, are punctuated with small cutouts backed with LED programmable lighting. The outside wall of the stair is re-surfaced with large-scaled high-gloss panels, which visually connect the two stories with one common element. On the upper level, the entry now feels much larger after we replaced a solid half wall with a glass and stainless steel railing. A new paint scheme makes the entire experience lighter and calmer.
We had a surprise visit the other day from the beguiling Emilia Petrokas, age 2 months; what a charmer!
On a visit a few weeks ago to Rome and Venice, I kept noticing beautiful stairs. A visitor to Venice encounters a steep stair up and over a canal about every 250’, and Rome has some great examples of sculptural staircases indoors and out. In Venice, the canal bridges were built over hundreds of years, with modest stylistic differences, but always with a fluidity necessitated by the simple need to get from one side to the other, whether or not the landings were across from each other, in line, at different heights, or leading to streets (calle) of different widths. Rome’s amazing examples of both Renaissance and Baroque stairs make even the casual user understand that the physical change of level is being employed to signal a change in psychological aspect as well.
Our encounters with stairs in America are usually less exciting – in fact with our comprehensive accessibility requirements, we encounter fewer and fewer public stairs at all. But recently, and perhaps because of advances in computer aided design, architects are designing modern stairs that seem nearly baroque in their sumptuousness, especially in retail settings. Perhaps there’s a revival of the idea that stairs can be uplifting – spiritually and emotionally, as well as pragmatically.
Houzz is featuring Ruhl Walker’s Westport River House today, in an essay focusing on a design issue we care a lot about, and spend a lot of time and effort on. When designing a custom house, one of the most important design considerations is to recognize solar and wind orientation, views and privacy needs, which of course are not the same on all sides of the building.
You can check out the full portfolio for this project here:
Should anyone use the words “beautiful” and “modern” in the same sentence? Of course, and often! Check out the images of Matthew Cunningham’s own garden — below and on facebook — to see what 7,000 to 8,000 crocuses looks like in a small (only 500 square feet) lawn. Stunningly beautiful, as well as crisp and modern. You can see why Matthew is one of our favorite collaborating landscape architects.
We are a few days away from move-in day at our Lincoln project, so we closed the studio for a few hours and everyone took a pre-Certificate-of-Occupancy look. Yes, there is a bit of a final punch list (as always), and Lincoln’s new Building Inspector brought up a few last minute concerns (also not unexpected), but on this gorgeous spring day, the sun shone gloriously, and we could all imagine the joy we hope our clients will feel once they are fully ensconced in their new home…
Project portfolios for these projects may also be found here:
I was recently asked to comment on what the keys to a successful school building project are, by Educational Directions Incorporated. EDI is an international independent school consultant, and they published my comments in their newsletter, The Trustee’s Letter. I chose to focus on three key issues that we have found of paramount importance in our institutional projects:
MASTER PLAN: The biggest architectural challenge with school design projects is figuring out not only what is needed for the specific building / addition, but to think beyond that important but incomplete functional agenda, and to consider the campus as a whole as it relates to the school’s mission. What does it say about our school that we are building a fancy new gym when our classrooms or dorms are falling apart? How can we site a new structure so that it not only accommodates a specific function but also makes the campus as a whole more cohesive? As an example, we designed six new faculty / staff houses at St. Mark’s School in Southborough, MA, that not only housed faculty and staff and their families, but through our overall design strategy – both building and landscape – created a system that will guide the school’s planning for future new structures and also integrated a portion of the campus that had previously been disconnected from the main campus. It is critical that the school have a comprehensive master plan before embarking on additions / renovations / new construction, and this should be a live document that is updated regularly.
SUSTAINABILITY: All architectural projects must be sustainable regardless of scale or budget, not because it is “trendy” but because it is critical for the long term health and well-being of our schools and the students we teach. Designing and building sustainably can save money for a school both short term and long term. And it’s also the right thing to do! One really important consideration is to make sure that prior to adding a new building, to make sure the school’s existing buildings are as efficient and functional as absolutely possible. For example, don’t build a new dorm until all existing dorms are made as energy efficient, livable / comfortable, and fully utilized as possible.
MULTI-FUNCTIONALITY: In this day and age, when all schools are recovering from the Great Recession, I think it behooves all architects working with schools – as well as their clients, including not only school administrators but also Board committees – to plan for multi-functionality for all new spaces and buildings; flexibility must be designed into all projects. What other functions can this new building or addition accommodate besides what you are asking your architect to design?
We are frequently fortunate enough to have editors interested in our projects, and I always encourage our clients to participate. Writers and photographers want to create flattering impressions of their subjects, and it’s kind of fun to see your self as others may view you thorough the lens of your house. If we as designers have done a good job, you’ll feel very comfortable with the published result!
When my own house was featured this winter in Boston Home magazine, several friends and clients who hadn’t seen our house were surprised that it’s not more like our professional work – in fact it’s not especially modern at all, despite having a few pieces of contemporary furniture and art. The fact is, I like furniture and decorative objects from a variety of periods – things that reflect the purposes and imperatives of their time. If anything, it helps me understand how objects relate to those who created them. But as a creator myself, if you ask me to design something, I can only design in my own time – something new. I like to think my house shows that those are not incompatible thoughts.
You can check out the Boston Home article on our website at http://tinyurl.com/RWA-Boston-Home
all photos © 2012, Bob O’Connor / Boston Home Magazine