Architecture Building Sustainably

How an Architect can help you See

How an Architect can help you See

What did I do all day yesterday? I worked on an image for a client, developing a model in Sketchup, and created a three-dimensional building that I superimposed in a mountainous, old main street somewhere in West Virginia. It took me about two days to do.

The next thing to do is to begin rendering it. My husband has a saying about rendering… it’s coloring when you do it for fun, rendering when you get paid to do it.

Then, I woke up this morning dreaming about a bathroom renovation. I have started an Interiors Division within my firm that focuses on Sustainability. Having a lot of green research under my belt, and continuing to try to fit low VOC, reused, upcycled, local materials, labor and products, I have been itching to apply my ideas somewhere. Then, all of a sudden, I am hired!

I am renovating three existing bathrooms in one house. The home has an open, light and airy floor plan downstairs. Nice yellow colors with cobalt blue accents, large pillar candles sit on the kitchen table tucked behind a couch. The first bathroom is downstairs. The second and third are upstairs, with the slanted roof that feels like you’ve just walked into a bird’s house atop a tree. It is a little low, a little darker, so I am starting with an idea of opening the upstairs with light, and using the bathroom renovations to do so. I love being inspired by House Beautiful so I began to go through some of their bathroom photos and here is what I’ve come up with.

The client wants natural materials, and cannot decide if the two small bathrooms should be combined into one or stay as two with the option of being able to open up one to the other. Pocket doors, opaque windows, open truss ceilings with skylights or mirrors could do that. A funky light fixture or a sconce to brighten a corner could pull the focus to different places in the small rooms. Pedestal sinks with a continuous cantilever shelf above, fixtures that look like furniture, old stand alone tubs, open cabinetry, or a small armoire for storage. Updating a bathroom is an opportunity to introduce low-flow plumbing fixtures as well. I am going to propose a before and after water bill comparison.

Where do you go for inspiration on projects? This dreaming stage is the most critical and the most fun. It is a small portion of what it takes to renovate, but is the direction of the project. The design idea should initiate enthusiasm to carry forward and prompt construction to complete it!


About Me Architecture Building Sustainably Resolutions

I’ve been Looking Up

Beneath my resolution of knowing what I want to do lies the prospect of developing my Interiors Portfolio. Knowing steps to achieve this begins with knowing what I like. Every month when I receive House Beautiful I sit down to enjoy the magazine immediately. (Do it Now)

The July, August House Beautiful talks about the opportunities of ceilings. Colored ceilings, floating ceilings, light cove ceilings. (Like this ceiling by Malcolm James Kutner)  Designers in the magazine described yellowed ceilings to create warmth, blue ceilings to imitate a sky, and since reading the article, I’ve been looking up. The six surfaces of a room all play a role in the intent of design.

Check out the painted floor by David Kaihoi in his East Village apartment.


I am very fond of cantilevered kitchen shelves. In college with the limits of a small room to house a bed, desk and closet, I built shelves for my clothes in the place of hanging them in my closet, then stuck my desk into the nook for extra room. The kitchen of the month by Ruard Veltman is stunning, simple, efficient and clean. The shelves represent for me an honest expression of real life in a home. It expresses order and immediate use. It looks lived in and presents the idea for guests that they can be at home, seeing where everything they may need lives.

These next few images are other cantilever shelves in various designer’s kitchens.

Why do Parisian styled spaces, large mirrors, white poppies and white cotton chair covers make me happy? Picture Ellen O’Neil’s space in Manhattan.

Other findings in my latest House Beautiful that relate to my search for sustainable practices in architecture and green products are below.

I came across PB Teen, a Pottery Barn company I think. While I can’t find anything about their environmental commitment, the designs of these great bedside tables make me want to commission a local furniture maker to replicate one of them someday.


Upcycled Accessories by Mothology.

Furniture made by artisans at McGuire in San Francisco.

Furniture by Bernhardt  at Macys and Today’s Home in Pittsburgh.

Bath Mat of hand-woven vetiver root fibers by Gaiam.

Architecture Building Sustainably

The Home Altar

A client approached me with the desire for a home altar. After the inital design proved to be way too complicated a second one was agreed upon.

Then, voila! Paired with local carpenter Jeff who completed the second design then hung the altar in the home, we left a happy home owner to pray.

Blue Earth Design custom constructed the two adjacent shelves. I found the right  Colorado craftsman through Etsy.

Architecture Building Sustainably

A Green Interior in the Woods

What green initiatives are directed at Interiors? Positive indoor air quality, durable materials, local materials and production, upcycled products, and the aesthetically pleasing arrangement of these items to encourage a healthy lifestyle. A plan that responds directly to each site is important for the Interior Design as it relates to natural light, comfort, distinctively framed views, and overall wellness of the inhabitant with the land and surrounding community.

While being in the daydreaming stages of a proposed new job, I developed a presentation and directed the above new statement to the beginning of my cause; and that was to develop a design for the interior of a home that met with the strict rules of a Net Zero Home. The project goes on without me but is still alive in my thoughts. I am encompassed with the ideas that floated in and out of my mind as new clients, programs and experiences tend to, so, I decided to share them in writing.  The setting for the new home is within a forest community. The site has a tall canopy of existing trees through which natural paths have formed. A grown-over right-of-way allows easy access to the nature of the site.

I have a philosophy of what a house is for.  That is to eat, clean, sleep, work and play. In this project and others, I want to promote this in a sustainable, healthy, growing way. I pulled together inspirational images from my files.  These images have a lot of character, they show the importance of texture varieties and together assemble a pallet that is right for each place.
I began to think of natural materials in relation to specific functions of a home and how these materials may change in relation to where the house resides. The materials should speak with the site, pull together and define places so that the inhabitants are aware of themselves and their activities.

Light and view became a common theme as I critiqued what drew me to each image. Therefore, Light and View developed into a category.

The limits of light and view shape spaces, they define a material arrangement around the opportunities of each room. A space may be open to allow light deep within the room, making the function of the room more versatile. Designs to incorporate natural light have high windows, and a specific percentage of floor area dedicated to translucent material.

Mirrors and light shelves are used to bounce the light through the interior. Natural light is important for work. Specific to a project in the mountains and woods would be particular attention to framing the views from inside and not forgetting the opportunity to frame a view of the interior from a path in the forest.

Lighting fixtures may be used to light spaces of course, but also may define spaces as well depending on their arrangement and size. Unique alteration of traditional things are playful such as the crystal chandelier in a modern shape.

Another focus on the images became the apparent ability of the place, the site, the home, to sustain oneself. Light and stone materials merged into this category together.  Stone became the focus of sustaining comfort.

There are beautiful radiant floors with unique concrete stains made to look like majestic stone. Concrete holds heat well, and if they are installed to orient toward direct sun in the winter time, the chill of the cold is offset by warm feet. The sparse, open nature of some of these stoned places were very restful to me. I realized what materials should be in the sleeping rooms by studying these restful relaxing spaces. Linen and wood played a large role in these rooms. The colors were varied, light and dark, cool and warm. I found out that I had a soft spot for white attic bedrooms. These looked like they belonged at a beach more than a mountain forest though.

A lot of images I pulled began to fit into a playful and fun category.  Along with being efficient for the function they served the bathrooms were colorful, thrown off-balance and surprising with the introduction of purple sinks and oversized mirrors. The background tiles matched colorful memories of my own youth and inner desires of comfort and glee.  Imagine writing on these chalk board walls, organizing in glass shelves and feeling a breeze by an invisible fan.

Melissa Warner is a designer I admire. She uses forgotten furniture and blends color with function and repurposed house-hold times to create a place that is invigorating as well as inviting.

A project in the forest, a lodge, a vacation home for guests in the mountains assumes that you use earthy products in versatile spaces. In this home that appears to be made of wooden framed views, one can study how wood spans and the introduction of high windows, helps to arrange a continuity of rooms scattered in a West Virginia site. The house forms its own community, giving visitors and the hosts a vacation together.

Another take on timber framing is this room set to the south side of this house that is used for heat storage. A trombe wall is set up behind the glass, and is the vertical transgression through the house.

Another interesting design concept is a ‘stack house.’ This is a house that uses the passive strategy of natural ventilation. An open stairwell with open treads can do this simply in any two or more story home.

Architects can use the program of a home to come up with a completely different design tailored to the use of a client. This is seen in the barn structure extension of wood supports as it is used for a cover that is still careful to incorporate natural light from above. This focused design effort leads into the categories of intricate, deep and made-for-the-place.

Spaces that fit in and respond to a site take more time as the incorporation of a new use is fit into an existing place.  Take for instance this parquet floor, stained and painted areas are used to define a grouping. Simple treatments of an overhead bulkhead give interest and depth to areas that may otherwise go unnoticed. Curved windows, courtyards with large table settings and built-in bookshelves make use of what a room has to offer in its’ arrangement.

Two entire buildings that respond to the site are Alvarao Leite Siza Viera’s Casa Tolo project and Legorreta & Legorreta’s Hotel La Purificadora in Puebla, Mexico.
With Siza Viera’s house, the stair house, reacts to a sloping site.  The transgression through a cemented step in the forest is imitated in floating treads to the interior. The definition between room to room is made naturally by following the grade.  You keep stepping down and down into the next room.

At Hotel La Purificadora, natural stone spaces from a 16th century building are brought to life with the modern use materials of glass, purple cushioned furniture and cantilevered metal balconies.

Reclaimed wood is used to encase columns, a space left between the top of these and the second floor makes the second story seem weightless.  Other rooms are divided by deep shelves, an organized grid that serves the purpose to separate and contain.

In these two projects, aesthetics and the acute realization of place make the effect of space better than if materials were assigned to only fulfill the program and build the job.

What about spaces for entertaining? I found the ones I most preferred to have many different materials in some instances with off kilter patterns and mixed up uses, and some to have flat, simple wood floors with an overfilled, simple lined chair. The quality of light was important in all of these cases. A soft light preferred.

Last but not least of course is returning to nature and going back outside. The land supports the house. The house should allow a positive impact on this place where one did not exist.  The site allows visitors to enter and entertains their first impression.

Before I began this analysis I had a predisposed desire to assign materials to spaces.  What made sense was the following guideline:

o    Stone – How Can we sustain ourselves every day?
o    Light – Eat and heat, Natural light, glass allows view
o    Wood – Sleep
o    Metal – Clean
o    Wood & Metal – Work
o    Wool & Silk – Play
o    Plaster – Surface and definition of space

This could only be carried out with sustainable, local, well made, durable, healthy products. So went my research into certain systems and a product checklist particular for this project.  I used the outline below:

Systems and Products Checklist

o    Flooring
o    Trim
o    Wall Coverings, Finishes, & Interior Partitions / Bulkheads (including the use of 4 x 8 sheets of sustainable goods that could replace gwb.)
o    Casework
o    Work Surfaces
o    Doors, Frames and Hardware
o    Ceiling
o    Furniture & Artwork
o    Plumbing Equipment & Energy Star Appliances with Smart Metering
o    Fabric, Curtains & Shades
o    Lighting Fixtures / Solar Tube
o    Caulk & Material Finishes (waxes, paints)
o    Windows
o    Linens, Dishware, Toiletries, Cleansers, & other Household necessities

So, for now, I can draw, learn more about sustainable products that are local, and look forward to the next opportunity where I may be able to apply materials to a real place!

About Me Architecture Building Sustainably Environmental

What is Sustainable?

To me?

I am talking about the ways in which to live in and build with this world!

When talking about architecture, that means talking in terms of the materials it takes to construct a place. In the April 08 issue of Architectural Record I find great resources to cumulate together for my use as an architect and thought I would share:

The author, B.J. Novitski discusses the Life-Cycle Assessment – a methodology that quantifies the environmental impact of a material by examining how it is grown, harvested, transported, maintained, and eventually disposed of, computing costs in energy and water use, air degradation, and other factors…architect William McDonough and chemist Michael Braungart offer their Cradle to Cradle (C2C) material assessment, product development, and certification to manufacturers.

McDonough and Braungart argue that when a product is made of appropriate materials and is designed so that its constituent parts can be recovered at the end of its useful life, any waste is “food.” The waste becomes raw material for the manufacture of more products…

…some rapidly renewable materials more green than others. The circumstances of production may cast a shadow on the sustainability of an agricultural product: Are fossil fuels, irrigation, or harmful chemicals used in its cultivation or manufacturing? Is the crop diverting acreage from food production? Are natural forests being destroyed to produce raw materials for construction? Does transportation consume inordinate amounts of fossil fuel?

Brendan Owens, USGBC vice president of technical development…points out that the term “renewable” should be considered in context. “If you’re using wood for structural framing in a house that will exist for 100 years, ‘rapidly renewable’ might be 50 years, because the resource regenerates in less time than one cycle of its use.”

So, lets talk about materials!

  Cork is the bark of cork oaks grown in the Mediterranean region. Unlike nearly every other tree species, it is not harmed by removal of its bark. A mature tree is stripped about once every 10 years and lives for an average of 16 strippings. The cork oak forests thrive without chemical herbicides, fertilizers, or irrigation and provide habitat for wildlife such as the threatened Bonelli’s Eagle and Iberian lynx. After stripping, the large slabs of bark are boiled, and bottle stoppers are punched from them. The leftover material is then ground up, pressed into sheets, and cut into tiles for flooring.

  Cotton is now being used for building insulation.  Bonded Logic in Arizona produces r-30 batts from post-industrial recycled denim, the scraps from manufacturing blue jeans, diverting about 200 tons of material per month from landfills!

  Natural linoleum, such as Forbo, is formed from a variety of rapidly renewable materials, including linseed oil, wood flour, and pine rosin. During production, the ingredients are heated, mixed, and rolled flat. The sheets are cooled, backed with jute, then dried and trimmed. Pigments that do not contain heavy metals are used to achieve a wide variety of colors and unusual flooring installations.

  Agriboard Industries  in Kansas, produces a composite structural panel from highly compressed wheat and rice straw sandwiched between oriented strand board…The panels provide both structure and insulation in wood floors, walls, and roofs…The manufacturing process combines heat and pressure, drawing lignin from the cell walls of the straw, and creating a natural binder that obviates the need for urea-formaldehyde or other additives. 

Environ Biocomposites makes a particle board combining wheat straw and sunflower hulls with urethane-based resin instead of the urea-formaldehyde binders.

   In only five to six years, bamboo grows to a height of 40 feet and a diameter of 6 inches, and can be harvested without killing the root system, which then regenerates it. The hollow stalks are cut into strips which are dried, planed, and glued together to form durable flooring, plywood, and veneers. Some bamboo importers, such as EcoTimber and Smith & Fong, now offer products without urea-formaldehyde and are encouraging Chinese foresters to move away from use of pesticides, herbicides, and chemical fertilizers.

Bamboo is a case in point. This fast-growing grass is hard enough to be used as a replacement for wood in applications such as flooring and furniture. However, most bamboo is grown and processed in China, and there are concerns about forestry practices, the toxicity of binders, and worker safety. A few bamboo plantations have earned certification from the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), which accredits forests managed “to meet the social, economic, ecological, cultural, and spiritual needs of present and future generations.” However, certified bamboo products are still not widely available in the U.S. And even though bamboo plantations sequester as much carbon as native forests, they do not support the same wildlife. What is more, while ocean shipping consumes less fuel per mile than overland trucking, the fuel used in shipping is more polluting. Clearly, the environmental balance is more difficult to calculate than by simply examining the length of a harvest cycle.

(all above descriptions of products taken from Architectural Record’s B.J. Novitski’s April 08 issue)

Architecture Building Sustainably Environmental

Clarkitecture Part 3 – Being Sustainable

……… Renovation ………

The thought of existing architecture made modernized with new fashion and theories is a mixing of two worlds, an old generation meeting a new baby to foster. The old farm-house kitchen, the simplistic shaker style is a nostalgic modernism, an architecture that was built in need to host the basic function of preparing food.

A sustainable house is one that already exists.  Can architects make good impact making existing things work better? At the Dairy House in Somerset England, architect Skene Catling de la Peña as described in Architectural Record’s Record Houses, does, by bringing a 1902 Hadspen Estate building back to life.


The slits of old wooden boards are held apart with glass, allowing daylight in, and acting as a night-light to the landscape by dusk.

Christopher Hawthorne describes it as Skene Catling de la Peña’s Dairy House, in England, meanwhile, not only brought a 1902 structure back to life but did so using local materials, craftsmen, and know-how, expanding the notion of green design to include what the client calls “social sustainability.”By defining sustainability in such a broad and thoughtful way, the Dairy House also offers a way to summarize the attitude of this year’s Record Houses as a whole. As Diana Lind writes in her description of the project, “When you get down to it, whether a work of architecture is green is usually a shade of gray.”

One more thing… this is a funky Architecture website I found myself at recently:

Architecture Building Sustainably Environmental

Clarkitecture Part 2 – Being Sustainable

Small Houses

Houses where every structural slant doubles as a ramp, steps are sliding drawers and book shelves become ladders.

Nora House by Atelier Bow-Wow       &      VH R-10 gHouse by Darren Petrucci, AIA

Small Houses remind me of building small retreats in corners of my back yard, escaping into the nearby creek while visiting my grandparents in Ohio and playing house around concrete basin that had fallen into the earth.  A house is about owning shelter for yourself, acting in self-reliance toward the way you care for your life. You may bake, or garden, or sew by the window, but a house is  for bathing, eating, and sleeping.

Jane F. Kolleeny, writing for Architectural Record’s Record Houses in 2008, acknowledges Thoreau’s philosophy of self-reliance and simplicity, which lead me to search for his thoughts, a few of which are below:

Most of the luxuries, and many of the so-called comforts, of life are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind.
A man is rich in proportion to the things he can afford to let alone.
Do not be too moral. You may cheat yourself out of much life. So aim above morality. Be not simply good; be good for something.
I think that we may safely trust a good deal more than we do.
All by Henry David Thoreau
Walden, published in 1854 is Thoreau’s thoughts and experiences in his exploration of living and adventure, I think I will go to the library for lunch tomorrow.
Architecture Building Sustainably Environmental

Clarkitecture Part 1 – Being Sustainable

Building Locally, Carefully and with Relationships that Exist on site.

The Palmyra House by Studio Mumbai

(a new house)

As I read that one could only walk to this house through the forest, as it rests below the canopy of a coconut plantation, so as not to disrupt the palms, as the two-piece house alludes, I wished to visit this Indian mangrove. Prathima Manohar writes that the architect Bijoy Jain designed the house with signature louvers made from the tree’s cut, dried and locally harvested wood, setting a course of using sustainable, regional materials to guide the project. Like Louis Kahn’s Esherick House, it breathes, inhaling with the breezes, sleeping near the coconut crabs and waking with the Bulbul birds.

In Christopher Hawthorne’s opinion:  Rather than aiming for a kind of spare, Modernist universalism… it takes its formal cues from its region, landscape, and context—and then, significantly, coats it with a sheen of sophistication that reflects the challenges of building locally in a globalized world. This sensibility is illustrated by Studio Mumbai’s stunning Palmyra House on the Indian Ocean…


Passive with Natural Illumination and Ventilation

The Nora House, full of levels, light and space defined by directional walls that contain each room but do not limit them. The ceiling and roof as one plane, cinched in the preparatory flight of a butterfly that shields the branch below just before climbing the air.

The house reminds me of a book shelf, each piece of wood positioned to hold a part of life in an organized notion, each piece of life symbolising from its platform where to stand to perform daily tasks to take care, rest, clean and eat. It makes me want to hide stairs between walls, and fill the hallways with books like Frank Lloyd Wright. The floor that supports me could insulate me with warmth through winter, could be a place I store my journals.



Nora House in Sendai, Japan designed by Yoshiharu Tsukamoto of Atelier Bow-Wow

Building Sustainably

Bathroom Renovation

Renovation has begun on the Bathroom! Our house was built in the 30’s and we think the last time the bathroom was renovated was in the 70’s, and that would have been to make the soaking tub into a shower.  We are guessing that by the linoleum yellow floor that was installed beneath the wall partition.

 My fiance and I began the demolition of one small wall a few weeks ago, took off the wallpaper to expose green painted walls, and removed the chair rail to cover the transition of the stucco stippled below the rail to the smooth painted wall above it. 

We decided to cover the entire wall with joint compound to even out the textures and make the walls have a consistent adobe-like feel.


We used the most Green Joint Compound we could find at Lowe’s.        

And applied it using an 11″ trowel and creativity.  It was easier to work with thick blobs, a mixture of compound to a little water, giving the paste a little thicker than cake batter mix consistency.  Thick blobs that occasionally plopped on the floor, with as little as much swiping as possible to give a clean, uniformed stroke look worked best.

In an effort to salvage and reuse most of the demolition material we separated the drywall from the studs, the plastic shower liner from the metal, recycled most and gave the wood away to someone who uses a wood stove to heat their home.  We saved a piece of drywall large enough to fill the two foot by 6″ hole created in the ceiling from taking down the wall.  My fiance did a nice job patching the ceiling and matching the texture with a paint brush.

Taking down the wall and clean up took about two hours for us to work together.  Wallpaper and glue stripping took about 4 hours, and plastering has taken 6 hours so far. 

I am researching a Kilz to use and have found:

Kilz Clean Start zero-VOC water-based primer, sealer, and stainblocker improves, strengthens, and reduces top-coat paint appearance, the maker says. The low-odor product provides a mildew-resistant finish, blocks tannin bleed, and cleans up with soap and water.

We should be able to finish plastering in the next day or so, let it dry, apply a no voc kilz and then a low voc paint from PPG.