During design development a few refinements emerged, the most important of which was the separation of the work areas from the family areas. Providing access without undue interference generated some less common pathways through the house, somewhat reminiscent of the dual corridor systems of two hundred years ago.
The other important aspect is that the “working” areas need to accommodate several residents simultaneously, therefore the separate work room is not nearly enough to create a vital and flourishing work at home environment.
Living above the shop, so to speak, became living about the shop, while being in it at the same time.
As important as it is to have a separate work area to retire to and avoid the noise and agitation of a lively household, at some point separating oneself from the family defies the purpose of enjoying the benefits of working from home.
At this stage of the design, the Envirohome has four separate working areas that can be relatively easily isolated from the rest of the house: the atelier, the living room/conference area, the reading room and the media library upstairs.
A private back connector between the bedrooms areas permits work use of the media library upstairs. The back corridor serves three different functions: it provides an air buffer for energy savings, connects the bedroom areas privately, and offers functionality – washer/dryer area, folding and storage.
The door from the atelier to the house was moved behind the conference room folding partition, to allow the two work areas to be used either separately or together.
February 19, 2012 Leave a comment
Other than the greenhouse area, the storage buffers and the stepped library balcony with live trees, the house floor plan is very conventional.
There is great emphasis on maintaining archetypal patterns that make people feel comfortable and happy and here are a few: the reading nook, the formal receiving area, the window seats, the walled garden, the balcony with a view, the garden fountain.
The first floor acts almost as if the living room wall was removed to expose the garden beyond.
The work den is fitted with glazed garage doors to improve day light and create views.
The second floor bedrooms are padded by air pockets to maximize insulation. The children’s area has wood benches with pillows and storage/shelving underneath.
The roofs have southern exposure and are fitted with a full PV array and passive solar water heating systems. There is a narrow walkway around the perimeter for equipment access. The low slope of this roof sheds rain water equally into the water basins in the gardens.
July 21, 2011 Leave a comment
There is a theater quality to the building section and that provides several advantages:
1) The living room can be isolated and darkened for movie and multimedia viewing.
2) The library/balcony provides tree house views and access to the low point of the greenhouse roof for natural ventilation.
3) Natural ventilation patterns are established through the virtue of space configuration.
The cross section provides views of the balcony and stair.
July 21, 2011 Leave a comment
Here is a rough cost estimate for the house construction, which includes the double wall system, the greenhouse controls, the solar PV array, the passive water heater and the hydronic system.
The cost per square foot, including garden improvements, is in the range of $171.
Foundation, Piers, Flatwork $22,485
Rough Hardware $1,845
Masonry Frame $54,719
Exterior Finish $19,618
Exterior Trim $2,202
Finish Hardware $729
Garage Doors $3,606
Roofing, Flashing, Fascia $19,999
Finish Carpentry $10,951
Interior Wall Finish $22,668
Lighting Fixtures $5,522
Bath Accessories $4,858
Shower & Tub Enclosure $3,503
Built In Appliances $10,848
Plumbing Rough-in and Connection $15,471
Plumbing Fixtures $12,083
Heating and Cooling Systems $35,913
PV array $20,000
Passive water heaters $3000
Garden improvements $10,000
Fireplace and Chimney $5,460
Subtotal Direct Job Costs $383,161
Greenhouse controls $1500
Indirect Job Costs $20,392
Contractor Markup Total $48,092
Grand Total $495,645
The house saves energy in the following areas:
All heating and hot water is provided by the solar passive system
The double wall system allows for 20% further reduction in energy use, which reflects in the smaller sizing of the passive solar water heater.
40% of the water needs come from the collected rainwater
46% of electrical power is solar generated
July 21, 2011 Leave a comment
We all use the web so much that browsing becomes second nature. We wander from site to site following our interests and stumbling upon new interests in the process, unaware of the fact that in the real world an average internet search compares to travelling from New York to Tokyo via Johannesburg. Much like driving a car or playing an instrument, once we learned how to use the internet our brains generate automatisms in the hand-eye coordination to enhance the efficiency of thinking processes. We are then able to focus on the actual content and not on the way we access it.
I compared a web page structure with the design of a building. If you ever wondered what a house would look like if it were designed like a web page, here is what I came up with:
1. Main navigation – the dwelling would have no corridors or stairs, there would be a large hall at the entrance, full of doors leading directly to the different functions.
2. Ajax loaded sections – one would be able to flip a switch and a section of the room would change to display library shelves instead of a seating area.
3 Archives – all your winter sweaters, Christmas decorations and nostalgic mementoes will have an expiration date attached, after which they will automatically be stored in an alphabetized archive.
4. Dockable sections – one would be able to push the upper cabinets back into the ceiling after reaching for the sugar or the cups to maximize kitchen real-estate and glazed wall area.
5. Links – direct access to rooms of other houses, via address link – imagine opening what looks like a closet door and ending up in somebody else’s living room, half way across the world.
6. Consistent page structure – the house would be an endless repetition of the same room organized as a nine square grid where all the important functions happen straight in front and slightly to the left of you, with a smaller focal point in the front right corner.
7. Mobile version – there would be a duplicate version of it, with the same features linearly organized in a much smaller space – basically all homes would come with an RV.
8. Tag cloud – next to the front door you would have a pile of cooking pots, keys, iphones, laptops, favorite shoes and coats, cat food, kids’ school backpacks, toothbrushes, and reading glasses all laying in a disarmingly random array, and the objects would be scaled up by the frequency of use.
9. Search – when you wonder where your scarf is you’d be taken to it instantly. Also to the other scarves you have, the gloves that match it, your cat whose name is Scar and the newspaper that featured a story about haberdashery that day. All at the same time.
10. Responsive design – you would be able to use your key to open any door and get home. Depending on the door size, you would either reach your main home or the RV.
11. Multiple windows and tabs – You could be in several houses at the same time or switch between them at will.
12. Push notifications – Someone would show up to inform you every time a package is delivered to your door or to remind you that you have a dentist appointment in one hour.
13. Sheer displays – You would have transparent walls so you can see through a room to the room behind it when searching for something.
Last but not least, if your home is not well designed you would eventually wander off into a maze of rooms and never be able to find the front door again
Though this is a somewhat tongue in cheek commentary on the differences between the digital and the brick and mortar world, some of these space descriptions come very close to established patterns in architectural design that have been around for generations.
Some were abandoned for a more efficient use of space, such as the enfilade of rooms, other still guide the layout of a house: the large hall at the entrance, the focal point placed such that you don’t have to turn your head, a repetitive room configuration guided by the basic principles of structural efficiency and potential for adaptive reuse. The use of translucent walls to partition interior spaces offers great potential for day lighting deep into the core of a building, far from perimeter walls. The tag cloud at the entrance is a functional reality for most of us I’m afraid, despite the best of our efforts.
I tried to imagine what the space would look like, based on this description, and it looks very much like a honeycomb. Since written descriptions have inherent limitations, I am attaching a drawing of this digital impression, for what it’s worth.
March 4, 2013 Leave a comment
Life in the making is pushing ahead at great speed and we’re always a few steps behind, out of breath and trying to catch up. Since architecture by its nature is a static form of expression not eager to jump into uncharted waters technology happens around it, benevolently avoiding to impact it, like an experienced skater deftly safeguards the beginner’s precarious balance.
Years have to pass between the emergence of a new technology and its implementation in building construction, and by the time it reaches mainstream it is often already outdated. On the other hand there are no limitations to the speed at which the digital world moves, upgrades are separated by months, progress is measured in days.
Need for continuous connection
It didn’t occur to me until I had an LTE connection how deprived one really is without it. To quote the younger generation “How did we ever function without a smart phone?” The answer is poorly. Continuous connection is to ability as steel structures are to constructive systems: they don’t offer another option for detailing, they change the reference of what is possible.
There is no apparent impact of this extraordinary digital revolution on architecture, in part because it is not dependent on the buildings and in part because we haven’t yet processed what it means for our lives.
We’re all smart phone people, we expect to have information on demand, any time, about anything, anywhere. If we need to get the latest news we don’t have to wait for the morning newspaper or even the news hour, breaking news are pushed to us through our wireless devices. We don’t even need a wallet in some places anymore. The way we interact with the world has permanently and fundamentally changed.
Personal communication patterns
We twit our thoughts following groups of interest, groups that have personalities and moods, almost like people, a large mass of thought constantly moving. Our individuality moves from one group to the next, adding temporary personal touches to its character.
GPS helps us find each other in a crowd and we interact with our devices using voice commands (If blue tooth is enabled, even better, you get to watch people talking to themselves in the street or at the market and as of now this behavior is no longer weird, at least not until you confirm the absence of communication gadgets), we shop, we stream music and videos, we pay our bills. A journey of ten thousand steps doesn’t start with the first one anymore, but with a phone, a maps app and a wireless network.
Living on the cloud
Somewhere inside a highly redundant network of servers our personal lives float free, with friends, and photographs, and favorite YouTube videos, shopping habits and financial transactions, communications and professional interests. The cloud is everywhere and nowhere at the same time, we all have a digital persona made of a million little pieces and scattered all over the world.
I’m stating the obvious while I attempt to figure out how our built environment will change as we do more and more of our banking, shopping, research, communications, education, business, document exchange, publishing, advertising, meetings, entertainment and socializing online. In the pure modern tradition form follows function, and function has become a fuzzy moving target.
Relatively few programs have parameters defined predominantly by our physical presence, for all the rest the edifice is simply a container for whatever people happen to do in it at the time, the more generic the better. The problem with generic is that it makes us uncomfortable and alienated, but how do you breathe personality into a space that is changing function by the minute? For all practical purposes while we’re browsing we’re not even there but in whatever virtual space our interests take us.
I don’t have an answer for this, our brave new digital world looks so easy and accommodating that it’s hard to accept its physical form struggles to reflect that.
January 19, 2013 Leave a comment
We live in interesting times when a strong need to return to natural living merges with extremely fast and constantly changing advancements in technology. Harnessing the chemical, physical and biological properties of matter allows for a new synergy that, as counter-intuitive as it sounds, simplifies processes, systems, use, access. A strange phenomenon happens when just changing a material with another removes the need for a power source or maintenance, or turns a waste product into a resource that can be used in place.
The development of new building technologies is fast replacing standard processes that caused large energy consumption and generated bi-products to be disposed of.
I selected a few of many systems that have been around for a while. Some were adopted immediately, others have yet to reach mainstream (cost is usually a factor) but they are all available now and why would we not want the smarter building to match the smart phone and the self-driving car?
Thermal control louvers
Thermal control louvers take advantage of the expansion and contraction of specific metal alloys to activate torques that open or close louver blades and allow heat to dissipate. No power, no electronic sensor, very few moving parts, virtually no maintenance, completely automatic. This of course works just as well on operable windows and air supply vents.
Atmospheric water generators
Turning air into water. It sounds like a miracle but it is a quite basic technology similar to the AC chilling cycle that extracts humidity out of air, filters it and turns it into drinking water. Even in the desert an atmospheric water generator can produce two and a half gallons an day. This technology is quite competitive in dry areas and compared with desalinization systems.
Switchable and photo-reactive glass
Dynamic glass (switchable and photo-reactive) takes advantage of lithium’s electrical properties to change the appearance of glass panes on demand. A thin electrochromic or photochromic film is applied on the surface or laminated between sheets of glass and changes its tint or transparency.
The technology works differently for the two situations: while the photochromic glass will passively react to changes in the light intensity in the environment (the same technology as the transition lenses), the controllable electrochromic glass uses a small electrical current to realign the lithium ions in the film and render the glass opaque at the flip of a switch.
Remote energy monitoring
Using a small web based controller any electrically powered device can be remotely turned on or off. The controller sends signals through the power lines to activate light switches, thermostats or security systems and allows a great degree of control over how this is done (dims lights, varies temperatures, groups lights for one touch control, and programs schedules into the heating and security systems).
The mobile app that acts as a remote does more than just control devices, it analyzes electrical use, sets automatic shut-offs based on light sensors, and monitors solar power fed back into the home electrical system.
Why would you want to do that? Wouldn’t it be nice if your home texted you that the dishwasher got stuck running for two weeks while you are on vacation or that every light in the basement is on, and then turn them off for you?
Greenhouses and automation systems
Greenhouse automation is limited to a small niche of projects, but for me it represents the ultimate symbiosis between natural and passive systems (plants that generate heat and humidity and improve air quality, large glazed enclosures) and computerized environmental controls. It offers the most sophisticated climate control to date and easily solves the issues that designers usually avoid during LEED certification because they are difficult or costly: dealing with uneven and localized heat gain, humidity control and continuous monitoring of the carbon dioxide levels. A system like this maintains the built environment at its perfect temperature, ventilation, humidity, and light levels at all times, optimizing both comfort and energy consumption.
Of course computerized greenhouse systems don’t err on the cheap side (at least not yet) and monitor a lot more than air quality and temperature, since they are designed to provide plants with the perfect temperature, amount of irrigation, nutrients and pH. To explain my enthusiasm, consider the fact that one can have two adjacent plant trays that require a ten degree temperature difference and great disparity in humidity levels and those parameters can be programmed into the computer and maintained for as long as they are needed, within feet of eachother.
The list is long and expands all the time, reflective paint to replace led exit signs, self cleaning windows, vacuum plumbing, but they all share the refinement towards simplicity that seems to be the trend of our time. As with many things, what you remove from a system has a much bigger impact than what you add. When in doubt, simplify.
January 9, 2013 Leave a comment
An interesting consequence of mobile communication is the revamping of personal space. It is not the traditional physical control over an area, but the ability to ignore one’s surroundings and be immersed in a virtual universe that is infinitely customizable in terms of scale and content. I don’t know if the smart phone was designed to draw us in and create a bubble of individuality around us, but essentially this is what it does.
How does the move to digital influence the use of space?
Look around you in airports, doctor’s waiting rooms or bus stations. Wherever people have to wait among strangers they retreat into their digital universe where all their favorite things await and where their friends and interests are one short message away. What other gadget would help one spend five hours between flight connections without getting bored or feeling uncomfortable?
Grown-ups take to digital interaction with poise, refusing to look impressed, but if you really want to see the magic smart devices exert on people you have to watch children use them. The tablet has no secrets for the two year old. One is humbled by the intuitive ease with which a small child navigates between screens, YouTube videos, and online games.
Under these circumstances, if humans are not physically uncomfortable while texting and browsing, the pressure on a fixed architectural setting to create and sustain interest is significantly reduced.
A shift towards comfort
What can the long suffering architect offer to compete with a world that educates, entertains, gives everyone a voice, bends to every whim and is always there for people? Comfort. Comfortable seating with agreeable views, pleasant temperatures, appropriate lighting, non-jarring color schemes, and engaging activities that provide people with the ability to interact or stand back if they wish.
The idea of comfort is very evident in spaces designed for children. They are always the right scale and cater to a child’s needs, likes and usual activities. I always wondered what a comparable space would look like for grown ups and now I know: a Christopher Alexander world with sufficient outlets so that one is able to recharge one’s smart device without having to leave one’s favorite chair.
Architecture borrowed the power to stir emotions and create states of mind from the more abstract world of art; for the longest time the most impactful way to create great buildings was to wow, overwhelm, convey authority. The building was often there so we could see how great it is, not to feel good in it.
Green building rightly focuses on the unseen components of comfort: temperature, air quality, noise control, the ability to be in command of one’s immediate surroundings. I think we should add a few factors not related to sustainability: connectivity, ergonomics, negative stress avoidance. (Here is an example of avoidable negative stress: a cashier works in proximity of the door. Every time the door opens during the winter, a blast of cold air is aimed directly at her. The temperature discomfort is amplified by the random repetition of the stressor.)
What is designing for comfort in the mobile age?
1. Creating cozier spaces. People’s visual sense, hearing and attention are focused on the screen, so they will be less impacted by features that speak to this range of perception. They will be pleasantly surprised by comfortable seats, soft textures, nice scents, and soothing sounds (water features and relaxing music).
2. Wi-fi spots control the use of space. Even the most wonderful lounge will stay deserted in the absence of connection.
3. Sufficient lounge area, informal, reasonably private. Seating is a sensitive design feature, there is always too much or too little of it and wide open spaces filled with chairs feel generic and uncomfortable. Sitting on the floor in public spaces has become socially acceptable, keep that in mind during flooring selection.
4. Personal sound control. We may live in the noisiest times yet and the reduction of sound stressors considerably improves the experience of a space.
5. Environmental flexibility. Control over light, temperature, humidity, air quality and air movement in one’s immediate ambiance.
If designing around individual preferences seems too daunting a task, consider the fact that people can effortlessly customize their web search, screen display, tweets, friends list, news feeds and push notifications. Imagine going to a symposium and being able to redesign the room on the spot while deciding what the topic of the conference is going to be. Moreover, if you didn’t get the chance to go, the speaker shows up at your convenience to give you a brief outline on the topic.
We can’t do that, of course, but what we can control is creating a space that bends around people’s affinities, not one that makes them adjust.
December 6, 2012 Leave a comment
Wine making and storing equipment was added, including controlled temperature coolers.
Three translucent openings in the floor allow a minimal amount of natural light into the pantry.
The updated first floor plan allows for the separation of the entrance area from the rest of the house, so that it can function as a conference space, both real and remote.
The mini farm can be accessed from the garage, reading room and kitchen, and a now contains a small built in shed in the northeast corner to store gardening tools.
A play space for children was added, with a great view of the garden.
The building facade became an advertising billboard for living in a green house: a planted wall with paisley motifs in bas relief of which the windows are an integral part.
The bottom part of the wall is made of channel glass, to create the illusion of a floating vertical garden and improve day lighting.
February 19, 2012 Leave a comment
1) The perimeter glazing is now sitting on top of a three foot tall planter, to save energy lost through the glass and improve comfort.
2) Crank operated shelves are installed on each glazing mullion, 4 feet on center, to provide space out of the way for seed starting, herb drying or dual layer planting.
3) The spaces underneath the planting medium are used for storage of gardening tools, seeds, herb packets, natural fertilizers or planting soil.
4)Fold up working surfaces are installed at the end of some of the planters for seed starting, plant dividing, or changing containers.
Part of it will be finished for wine keeping and tasting, the other part will be provided with storage space for root vegetables and preserves.
Separate basement access through the garage will connect the pantry to the vegetable garden.
The outdoor farm is still undergoing changes, in order to accommodate a large trellis, a sitting/garden work area, a classic herb garden, planters, while keeping the feeling of a private courtyard.
It’s not coming together yet, please bear with me, it will get there hopefully. I’m trying to make the veggie garden as mud free and accessible as possible, without turning it into all paving and planters.
February 19, 2012 Leave a comment
The EnviroHome is a contemporary interpretation of the “house as a machine for living in”. It incorporates the technology and interest in sustainable living of our day and age and supports the idea that a house can and should be more than four walls and a roof.
This prototype suggests the following additions to the house program:
1) Flexible dedicated work space, with potential for both office work and micro manufacturing.
2) Incorporation of a very low maintenance fruit and vegetable production system. Low herbaceous growth and full grown fruit trees are planted indoors and provide multiple benefits such as improving air quality and creating shade to moderate temperature and glare.
3)A library/study/technology center with level changes, storage cubbies, plantings and private nooks that will appeal to children’s thirst for learning, adventure and improvised play.
4)The use of storage as a temperature buffer around the perimeter to minimize heat gain/loss.
5)Decorative water basins serving dual purpose as garden fountains and rain water collectors. The use of potable water is reduced to drinking, cooking and washing only.
6)Making maximum use of solar energy through photovoltaic panels and passive solar water heaters. Hot water can also be used for radiant floors and greenhouse heating systems.
Living in a greenhouse creates specific challenges related to heat gain/loss and humidity control, but the benefits of living in a relaxing environment that improves air quality and moderates temperature changes through biological means alone and encourages healthier eating habits by having fresh produce literally within arm’s reach of the food preparation area makes the challenges worth undertaking.
There is another component to the “green” environment: the two private gardens. The house is structured in a way that allows both single family homes and duplex configurations to benefit from these structured garden areas. The benefits of gardens reach farther than the enjoyment of beauty to enhance physical fitness and significantly reduce stress.
In a little over 3000 sqft., this house generates its own electricity, hot water, fresh produce and air purification system.
July 21, 2011 2 Comments