the SEON High performance homes tour in Southeast Vermont plus updates on the Sugar Bush Passive House under construction
This morning I stopped by a recent ongoing project and snapped a few photos of the latest finished spaces. We left only one room untouched with this project (a small bathroom) and replaced the living room with a new addition. This is not a huge glamorous architect-y project but really shows what an architect can bring to a project. The builders were Mindel and Morse Builders for some parts and Moss Kahler for the more recent additions. Greg Goodman did the cabinetry
The recent IPCC climate change report has got my colleagues in the high performance home and Passive House fields scrambling to relate it to what we do in terms of sales and marketing and simply “doing the right thing” Which is fine.
I find myself thinking about it more in terms of how it relates to me and my family. I’m thinking about how underinsulated and non-air tight my walls are and the new windows I need as well as that pair of Lunos I bought a few years ago and never installed for fresh air. I’m thinking that when (not if) I do that kitchen addition, perhaps it needs to go on a full basement with a cold cellar built in for food storage. I am already planning on a small wood stove that I can cook on/in.
The full basement section could also contain a wood fired boiler for hot water and heat rather than a mini-split and PV. I’m looking at the commercial grade greenhouse kits in the Growers Supply catalog. Perhaps I need to look at growing more of my own food. I’m thinking about the ice storm from 2008 when we lost power for 9 days and how I hauled water from the spring which, thankfully, was not dry. Perhaps I need a new well with a hand pump. Perhaps I should build a dry and protected (from mice) storage room in the barn for grain storage. I’m also eyeing those huge pine trees that rise over the house to the West and North and how much damage one could do to the house if it toppled in a high wind.
When good enough isn’t Good Enough
Here are a few Samsung Galaxy s7 photos from a recent project. I will be continuing on this project for the next phase. This is one of those projects with few, if any construction documents (blueprints). Just lots of design, meetings, discussions, sketches and sketchup work. I love working this way. The clients are super happy and the results certainly are very nice. There are lots of little moves but no Architecture with a capital A. I took some photos of the kitchen. Greg Goodman, a woodworker in the Cotton Mill in Brattleboro did the cabinets and woodwork.
When I start a new project there is a sense of panic and incompetence. Where do I start? Do these sketches make any sense? Can the client afford it? Will I be brilliant? Will the muse kick in?
You may notice that some blog posts from July 2016 onward have lost all pictures. I noticed too. I will add pictures back in over the month of January.
I helped out a bit with the design of a small timber frame home recently and I stopped by the job site when the cast and crew from Vermont Natural Homes were raising and assembling the frame with the help of a crane.
At a recent open house I answered lots of questions, was generally sociable, I smiled, people liked my cookies and loved the house. I was exhausted. What really has been rolling around in my head over the past week and a half since the open house whas when somebody said this: "Now I understand what the difference between an architect designed house and a regular house is"
I have been thinking lately about what I do and what my strengths as an architect are. And I realize that what I do and what I can do are not necessarily the same things. What I do is useful to many people. What I can do is only for a very select few and they don’t come along all that often. Architecture is, or can be, art. It’s that aspect of it that few people are aware of even though it seems so clear to me. Architecture, even at the mundane level of the design of someone’s kitchen in a modest house can tickle and play with one’s emotions and spirit in surprising ways. I seek out those little moments. I slip them in when nobody is noticing. A trick of the light here, a surprising and happy alignment there. Few people care about such things or at least think they don’t. Many people, many past clients, many builders have difficulty viewing architecture, at least residential architecture with a small “a” as anything other than a commodity or a problem to solve or a product to sell or purchase. This is often brought home to me when I put such things in the design and they get X’d out because I failed to convey their importance. Small but capital “A” stuff. And often these things are not important. To most people.
Last winter it looked like I was in for an un-busy spring. That turned out not to be the case. I'll turn this blog entry into a bit of a diary for the past 6 months or so. SEON - Sustainable Energy Outreach Network is a Brattleboro organization that I'm involved with. You can read more about what they do here and I encourage anyone within a reasonable distance to check them out and become involved. They are currently working on setting up a program to provide training in green building practices for people interested in a career in carpentry and building. This spring my wife Rachelle became involved with SEON as part of her Capstone project at Marlboro Graduate School. - she has also been very busy with getting her Masters degree. As one of SEON's public programs, Chad Mathrani of Vermont Natural Homes and I put together a public presentation on high performance homes. Chad and I held an open house at the Greenfield project for Greening Greenfield which was well attended and I will be doing another open house there on October 14th as part of a green homes tour put on by SEON. (come see!)/I dug into producing a set of plans based on the Greenfield house (see image above) to sell directly as stock plans. I hope to develop a new and improved business model with this. The purchase of the plans will include some consulting time via phone or email or in person if local. Additional time will be at an hourly rate. The plans currently include a sketchup model and a sales sheet if someone is interested in building this as a spec house. The sales sheet is already for sale elsewhere on this website. Future goals are to have an ala-cart menu of add-ons such as lighting design/consultation with a lighting professional, energy modeling for the specific location, standard additions such as an ell or a garage, perhaps a pre-configured and pre-priced product package with foursevenfive.com, Help with window ordering, etc. The basic plans have simplified high performance detailing on the level of “Pretty Good House” but are easily upgradable to Passive House Level. I am realizing that this is a major undertaking in terms of time and money so I have been a bit slow in pulling this off. I should re-purchase VermontSimpleHouse.com and set this business up independently of the Vermont Architect / Robert Swinburne / Bluetime Collaborative Website. Long term goals include a series of similar designs. I have spent years studying the stock plan market and I think this design and format will tap into an unaddressed market. I became distracted from this project when several interesting projects landed on my lap which I have been working intensely all spring and summer (no summer vacation for me)
Super insulated timber frame with Vermont Natural Homes:
A new High Performance Home for and with Dylan Kinsey of Kinsey Construction up in Northern Vermont (I hope to do more work up there in coming years)
A complete renovation of an old barn that was turned into a summer house at some point but is currently undergoing a complete gut remodel with Webster Construction and Helm Construction Solutions.
A complete renovation of a cottage on the Rock River with Mindel and Morse Builders
there are a couple cottages under construction as well
There are assorted smaller projects and consulting as well. I only went swimming once this summer for about 10 minutes.
And I’m spending time upping my Vectorworks CAD skills Plus I’m Learning Revit. I’m also learning video editing
Outside of work, I have been doing assorted small projects on my home, getting back into trail running and cycling - I hope to ride and compete in "gravel grinder" events next year and, as usual, failing at gardening. I'm also preparing to turn 50 in a week or so.
Also in the way of distractions I developed a nasty sinus infection earlier this summer and now I have Lyme Disease! Yes I’m taking antibiotics. It’s been a bit of a rough summer health wise but at least I’m getting some bike riding and trail running in.
One last bit: Here is the flyer for the open house at which I will be holding forth at the Greenfield House on October 14th.