Entertaining a “Net-Zero” design solution is always a welcome challenge – especially when it’s not about a point scoring system that allows you to call your project “certified.” The Live/Work Micro-Dwelling project in North Carolina was a breath of fresh air for our design team! No restrictions – just design dwelling units that are focused on sustainable lifestyles, affordable, self-sufficient and encourage interaction between residents and nearby college campus.

 Board 1The design incorporates a Geo-thermal air exchange along with energy recovery ventilation for mechanical systems as well as both Solar Thermal collectors to heat water for radiant floor heating. Photovoltaic Arrays are set up to harvest sun energy for an all electric kitchen and battery storage can be utilized at the basement level to store excess power for future use during cloudy days. Rainwater and “grey water” can also be harvested and stored for use in irrigation of landscape and garden beds, toilets and laundry machines.

Generating an aesthetically pleasing composition of articulated boxes is achieved through mixing cladding materials vs. exposing the containers. Exposing them adds interest architecturally and we didn’t want to lose sight of the core organizational element of the container altogether. Stacking boxes doesn’t have to be boring!


custom made simple

Christensen SketchUPWe don’t often do circles, but when we do…….the final build outs are pretty much always exciting spaces that have an energetic feel and certainly some feeling of movement! Repetition is a good thing – it can create order, balance, visual interest, and in this case helps define a sense of space within an environment. Our example here is showing our design tested within a minimalist environment – I find black and white or monochrome is often a good way to determine the design aesthetic before finalizing material selections (they are always in mind, but it’s good to exercise restraint so preconceived ideas are kept in check.)

IMG_7932-WEBThe client presented us with a program indicating that the reception staff was the core of the business and requested we highlight the work area as a centralized hub in which all office functions revolved around. It was easy to immediately establish a “hub and spokes” design motif and run with it. The challenge was not getting carried away and losing sight of the very fact that a budget existed! The form followed the function based on the design motif and thus we have a very compact reception hub (for 3 people) that is open and interactive with patrons and employees alike.

The key feature to highlight here is the use of standard light fixture components within custom made wooden blade elements. Repetition and attention to detail helped to minimize waste and make fabrication easy for the millwork supplier who was responsible for building the lights. Budgets do not have to limit creativity or be a discouragement to a designer. We should always be looking for new and innovative ways to express design. Does this light fixture cost more than an “out-of-the-box” standard light fixture – YES, but at only 1.5X’s the cost of a standard 2×4 parabolic light (typical office light) you be the judge as to whether the aesthetic justifies the added cost. “Custom” is the game we play daily as designers unless we are truly pulling something off a shelf and dropping it into a predetermined space (which we could argue really doesn’t require design.) If we keep things simple, custom goes a long way!

On the Boards Part 2

Retreat @ Dusk
retreat @ dusk

Presenting a proposed project rendering with lighting has its challenges, but can create dramatic imagery that makes them well worth the effort. For the lake retreat we saw an opportunity to highlight the clean simple geometry and design aesthetic with such an image. The 3D model was created using Google SketchUp and rendered with Shaderlight.

For designers, it is our responsibility to ensure our clients fully understand the final product they will receive prior to a shovel ever entering the ground. Some architects still rely on 2-dimensional drawings as a way of communication along with savvy salesmanship skills – and yes it still works for some, but reality grabs ahold of an architect at many given points during their career where they must answer a simple question. Will you continue to do what you can to stay current and/or up to date with technology and your colleagues OR will you be “old-school” (whatever that means to each generation of architects?) I won’t say one path is better than the other when it comes to being an architect, but I do have an opinion for architects who have a desire to always push for bettering the environment, their communities, and the built world in which we live. EXPAND your palette of tools to stay creative!

My opinion is modeling and rendering are not a necessary evil in the profession but simply one tool by which we can creatively communicate our ideas. A picture is worth a thousand words – what better way to communicate with our client than a rendering at dusk to make educated decisions about both exterior and interior lighting? A 2-Dimensional drawing and a few pictures of light fixture just aren’t  going to cut it!

Designing the Solution 2 of …….

Ceiling Model

So here is where we go from the original sketch to test the design concept. We utilize a modeling program called Google SketchUp Pro to work quickly to generate a 3-Dimensional image for review in-house. Does it begin to address our goals that we listed in the last Blog Entry as our design guideline…? The modeled image gives us a sense of scale quickly as well as a method of requiring us to think about constructibility. Let’s face it – we still need to keep budget in mind when we work on a design solution that is creative and/or unique without a precedent to reference. At this stage we are thinking about lighting style and locations as well. A model similar to this can be forwarded to our electrical engineer to convey the direction we wish to move with lighting, and in this case for both general illumination and accent lighting of the design as well.

While not every aspect of a design gets modeled, SketchUp is a valuable tool to communicate our design ideas to our clients, and we utilize it often during different stages of design. Many times words are insufficient to describe our ideas and the last thing we want is our client scratching their heads in confusion when we can clarify design intent and ideas in a simple format similar to this.

Our use of SketchUp makes us better designers! It engages our clients during the design process. We see concepts before construction to ensure we are diligently keeping budget in mind. It allows us to coordinate/communicate more effectively with our engineers as well as with the general contractor. And….it’s fun!