I love architects, and this is their space to wax eloquently. This summer in Pebble Beach, I toured the famous “Butterfly House” by Frank Wynkoop. When I saw the bench where the architect/owners’ son sat and watched many a sunset, I felt a harmony not just to the environment, but to him. That is exactly what great architectutal design creates. With Amazing Architects, we will feature regular blog essays from leading Dallas/Ft. Worth architects. We welcome Gary Olp, AIA, NCARD, LEED-AP of GGO Architects in the Meadows Building.
I’m standing in my office on a cold winter morning with a client for whom we are designing an energy optimized, environmentally responsible summer home that will be their permanent home when they retire. My clients, a couple, are an Electrical Engineer and a Dallas High School Teacher. They want a reasonable structure around 2,500 sq.ft. It is our mutual intention to build it affordably. It is also our intention to maximize comfort and by deliberate choice choose forms, massing and materials that will sublimate its appearance to the hillside in Colorado where it will reside.
As we are standing looking out the window, we can see an entire street of “traditional” homes that have roofs as tall again as the façade in dark gray or black asphalt shingles. They feature an amazing assortment of valleys, ridges, gables and hips on the street façade to provide “curb appeal”. As we look at these, we mutually acknowledge how very wrong our building practices have become. There are a few punched windows placed in the facade facing south, a nod to the rules of pseudo traditional pastiche. What’s worse is that these buildings do not look like they belong here and don’t touch our sensibility with anything, anything that speaks to what is special about this place.
To an architect, it’s just crazy.
The orientation of these homes is accidental: they face due south. If well designed, that could enhance the interiors with abundant natural light and warmth.
But unshaded and mindlessly placed as they are, they perform more like a lens driving a laser beam of intense Dallas sunlight, heat and glare directly into the interior spaces. In the summer months the interiors become hot and uncomfortable, exacerbated by large roofs collecting heat like an Easy Bake Oven. To maintain interior comfort, a tremendous amount of air conditioning is necessary. Air conditioning costs money and in Dallas during our sweltering summer, unconscious design results in exorbitantly high, unnecessary utility bills, not to mention the price trag on our environment.
It’s just crazy.
When we consume energy unconsciously, we all ignore or fail to consider the damage inflicted upon ourselves by the pollutant load expelled into our environment to extract, refine and burn the fossil fuels necessary to produce mature forms of energy. Environmentally responsible design is fundamentally conserving, and it doesn’t have to cost an inherited fortune to build.. The oft profited quote “Less is more,” has as much portent clarity concerning energy and environmental degradation as it does for aesthetic pursuits.
Beautiful design is a result of integrating client comfort and function with the regional climate. In North America that generally means most of the windows should face south. The should be grouped to allow the sun to wash in like a warm surf in the winter; in the summer, shielded from the intrusion of sun and unwanted heat, they yield to the cool shade found under a large Pecan tree. Coupled with a well-insulated enclosure this saves a lot of energy, and consequently energy.
An approach as simple as this can render an interior wonderfully comfortable, bathed in invigorating natural light. Forms are generally derived from appropriate proportions for interior spaces and functions. Roof slopes are straightforward for ease of collecting water and to lower the cost of construction.
An uncomplicated approach to form requires fewer quantities of materials. Using space purposely instead of space for space sake allows for a smarter foot print with an interior that is multipurpose and functionally effective.
Homes that are designed from this foundation are affordable, and highly energy efficient.
Much like good writing, an economy of form, material and function creates a wealth of comfort and life experience.
Durability is fundamental. Keep details simple, and use materials that stand up to the rigors and extremes of climate and perpetual changes in temperature and humidity.
A palate of local natural materials that express the richness of their intrinsic color and texture without requiring additional finishing render the exterior of the home with an accommodating appearance that isn’t ostentatious or ridiculously out of context.
A significant and sadly overlooked aspect of residential design is the surprise, joy and uniqueness of regional context. Where did the notion of building homes with Tudor, Mediterranean, Bahamian or Tuscan styles originate? Perhaps because they are charming and, in their communities of origin, brought a sense of repose and quaintness?
Our sense of place grows out of the landscape, it harmonizes with natural features unique to a specific climate and terrain. Why wouldn’t we want to preserve and celebrate what is special about where we live, whether its our permanent home or a second home in a locale that excites and appeals to us? Creating an honest aesthetic expression embellished by blending contextually with, say, a coastal or mountainous region makes sense. Those very things that appealed to our sensibilities most when we discovered that idyllic town, village, or city to live in are often discarded.
Most want to build what is familiar or of the “popular style” (for re-sale value, perhaps?) in total contrast to the special sense of place that attracted us initially.
Maybe the real problem is we don’t know who or what we really are or want?
Our homes shape our experience. Too often our lives are compromised by a “Builder Design”, that has nothing to do with livability, but more to do with gremlins that creep into floor plans as they are redrawn again and again to effect another hip, projecting bay or stepped facade. In the end, as you walk through them, you shake your head and ask “what in the world is this space for”?
We encourage our clients to take the time to think about how they want to enter their home, how they live on a daily basis. Where do they enjoy their morning coffee and what sort of mood caps off the evening as they restore vitality for the new day ahead. (These are the things you do in your home, why homes are havens.) We ask them to consider how nice it is to walk under a covered roof to the entrance or to sit on a porch when its raining or at the end of a long hot summer day.
A conscious approach to residential design by an inspired hand reinterpreting ageless regional solutions, in concert with a rich and varied use of local natural materials, creates a home that appears calm and in repose. It is beautiful and appropriate for the culture, climate and locale.