We’ve been frantically busy developing the design of our Griffin Island House, but Sandra, Nerijus, and I were able to take a short break and drive out to Wellfleet the other day. While we continue to fine tune the design and detailing in collaboration with our landscape architect, Kris Horiuchi and several potential general contractors, there is a lot of pressure to lock in the exact house location in order to begin the Conservation Commission review process. So we had our civil / environmental engineer, John O’Reilly, stake the main corners of the house on the site for us to review. The house will be built mid-slope on the site’s huge coastal bank, so checking on views and house orientation required a substantial ladder and a healthy dose of imagination. After some additional studio design time, we determined that the house should be rotated slightly so that the master bedroom would be slightly closer to the water with views of the Bay between two stands of pines, and so the living / dining room – which hovers twelve feet above the sandy ground – would have a little more space between its wall of glass and an oak grove. Next up will be a meeting on site with Kris and the owners.
My older daughter will be graduating from Wellesley College on Friday, and needless to say I am incredibly proud! Were you aware of how much phenomenal modern architecture you can experience at Wellesley’s gem of a campus?! My favorites are Mack Scogin Merrill Elam’s Lulu Chow Wang Student Center and Rafael Moneo’s Davis Museum. Check them out sometime!
I recently traveled back to Hawai`i for a three-day photo shoot of our Hawai`i Wildlife Center, which means two very long days of travel and ample opportunities to catch up on reading. However, before digging into the 20 pounds of reading material I brought for the occasion, I just had to start by flipping through United’s Hemispheres, and was shocked to see not just the usual pretty photos of exotic locations, but a genuinely interesting article on cutting edge green technology. Some highlights from “Plan G”:
- Britain’s PaveGen has created power generating sidewalk tiles that convert pedestrians’ kinetic energy into power that can either be stored or used to power nearby streetlights. These tiles are being installed in London for the 2012 Olympic Games.
- Researchers at the University of Notre Dame have devised a process to make paint that can produce electricity. This solar paint, called “Sun-Believable,” isn’t as efficient as a conventional solar panel, but it has enormous potential in terms of scalability and simplicity.
- Currently under construction in Milan is an apartment complex called Bosco Verticale, designed by Stefano Boeri and billed as the world’s first “vertical forest”. Every unit will have a balcony planted with humidity-creating and CO2-filtering trees, shrubs and flowers that will get their nourishment from recycled gray water.
- Alcoa has developed a building product that can actually clean the air as well as itself, using a common mineral known as titanium dioxide which reacts with moisture and sunlight to remove organic particles from the air. Alcoa’s Reynobond With EcoClean panels have enough titanium dioxide such that just 10,000 square feet of panels cleans as much air as 80 trees.
- Dow Solar has begun marketing “Powerhouse Solar Shingles” in CO, CA, and TX, and recently expanded its Michigan plant to bring them to the mass market. The hope is that this new product will make solar power significantly more accessible and affordable for homeowners, since Powerhouse shingles can be installed as easily as a standard asphalt shingle.
- Will Ruhl
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…