Residential Design – Building Blocks

Hello again readers,

This month’s project is a design featuring decorative concrete blocks. These blocks adorn the facade of the home and attempt to evoke the image of pre-Columbian Architecture. Frank Lloyd Wright dabbled in this style in the early 1920s with his commissions for the Ennis House, the Storer House, and the Hollyhock House all located in the Los Angeles area. Each of the Wright concrete houses had its own unique block created just for that house. Below is the design used in the Ennis house which has recently been adapted by Offecct into an acoustic ceiling tile.

Wright tile design for the Ennis House
The renderings for my design show a generic decorative tile used on the facade, but like Wright I also designed a custom motif to represent the major design elements and design ideas expressed in my design. Below is a photo of my custom concrete block.

The most unique feature in the house is its custom elevator and shaft. Unlike most elevators, my elevator car has glass walls while the shaft in encased in a grid like structure. As you travel from floor to floor, you are able to get a glimpse of the room you are being conveyed to from inside the elevator. The elevator shaft is also illuminated from below and at night acts almost like a lantern broadcasting light into the surrounding spaces.

View of Elevator Shaft

This block house has 3 bedrooms, 2 full baths, and 2 lavs with parking for 4 cars in the basement. There are fireplaces in the kitchen/dining area, the living room, the rec room and in the master bedroom/master bath. An infinity edge pool with hot tub is adjacent to the living spaces if you want to cool off from the summer heat. Upstairs is a large rec room with a home theater and its own concession stand/snack bar. The entertainment possibilities continue outside with an outdoor fireplace, bar and giant outdoor cinema screen to enjoy movies under the stars. This block house is ideally suited for a hillside lot overlooking a city or a sea view. See photo gallery below for images and plans.

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Commercial Project – Performance Barn

Hello readers,
For February I have decided to turn my attention to performance spaces. I designed this unusual barn-like structure to be an outbuilding for a large estate where the owner could host small parties of up to 25 people for music or dance performances. The barn contains a ballet studio as well as a recital hall with an adjacent bar and lounge area. Bathroom facilities are also included as well as an outdoor patio space complete with a fire pit and outdoor seating.

The inspiration for this building came from Lewis Carol’s Alice In Wonderland and the fantasy world that the book manages to portray. Around the building you will see various characters and scenes from the book integrated into the architecture of the building.

The Caterpillar on his mushroom as a newel post
As much as the building is about Alice and her adventures, I also wanted to express the frustration associated with the performing arts, specifically music and dance. Both music and dance strive for perfection, and the practice associated with those disciplines in attempt to achieve that perfect performance can be very frustrating if not maddening. The player/dancer in a way can morph into Carol’s Mad Hatter. I attempted to express that frustration through the building’s architecture by incorporating all of the ugly, overused and disappointing architectural elements used by many top architects and designers today into the building. Keep in mind this is a totally subjective list, but for me these details just irritate me.

My worst of list of Architectural Elements
1. The barn door and its overuse in residential design
2. Netting as railing or guardrail
3. The beauty/ugliness of Concrete
4. The work of Paul Rudolph and Brutalist architecture in general
5. Peekabo windows and dangling feet (found often in Japanese architectural photography)
6. The fireplaces of Le Corbusier

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In this barn you are surrounded by all of these unpleasant architectural details that are acting as silent witnesses to your daily practice routine. Such annoyances could either inspire you to rise above the unpleasantness of your surroundings or all that visual frustration may end up driving you mad making you give up music/dance altogether. This building is all about taking risks, it comes with a warning label associated with its construction. In a way the building serves a commentary on art as well; that it is better to buy what you don’t like rather then things that speak to you. It needs to pinch and hurt a bit, in order to have a lasting meaning. Pleasantness doesn’t inspire or push you forward, and in the end you may end up liking what you initially disliked. Initially I thought that I was going to hate this building, but ended up really liking the building despite all of its irritating details. The building was as much about embracing change and being open to new experiences as it was an exercise in design.

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Residential Design – The Farmhouse

Welcome to 2019 readers. This month I will be showcasing ideas for farmhouse style homes. The first home to be featured is this design I created. The house has 4 bedrooms and 4.5 baths. There is a first floor bedroom that can act as a guest bedroom or an office. It has its own bath, and a large window seat among its more notable features. This multi-purpose room also opens onto a screened porch should you want to enjoy the outdoors. The Master bedroom is located upstairs with its vaulted ceiling and an expansive balcony to admire your backyard in the mornings. The other 2 upstairs bedrooms each have their own bath along with a second floor laundry room. This farmhouse has porches on 3 of its 4 sides along with the screened porch just off the dining room. A detached 1-car garage is also included on the property.

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Residential Design – Archway House

A Point In Design returns after a long hiatus with new designs and design news for you. The December photo story features buildings with arches or archways, so in keeping with that theme I have created an archway house. The archway was placed into the front facade of the home illuminating the service hall and grand living beyond. Underneath the arch is a rock garden with water feature that can be admired from inside and outside the house alike. Features in the home include his and hers offices, a 2-car garage, an in-ground swimming pool, a screened porch, 4 bedrooms, 4 full baths, and 2 lavs. There is also a separate library and rec room on the 3rd floor. The home’s most dramatic feature is its 3 story vaulted living room making this home a great host for large family gatherings or parties. The rendering shows the living area decorated for the holidays.

The Great Room
Enjoy and welcome back readers.

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Resurrecting a Lost Icon – The Victorian House

UPDATED 12/1/18 WITH NEW RENDERINGS & UPDATED PLANS

West Elevation

Hello again readers,
This month I am devoting my blog to Victorian architecture in its various incarnations. Today’s post focuses on a property that I am very familiar with, a historic Victorian formally located in the city of Brookline, MA. I say formally as it was lost to fire back in 2007. A photo of the original house is shown below. The house was originally built in the late 1890s as a single family home, but was converted into apartments in the years that followed as the rental rates rose in the city and subdivided rental space proved more profitable to the home’s owners. In this recreation, I have restored the home to something close to its original state but completely reworked the layout of the floors to make this historic property work for today’s lifestyles. I added a 1st floor sun room and a swimming pool to the property as well as a period garage and a pool house. I also created a rooftop widow’s walk for views of the city at night. Guests can enter the home from the front entry facing the street or if arriving by car can park out back and walk through the pool house which leads to the outdoor deck and entertaining spaces.

Entry into back yard
The house has 4 bedrooms on floor 2 and an additional 2 bedrooms on the 3rd floor for a total of 6 bedrooms and 4.5 baths. This is a big house any way you slice it. When the house was built the attic was used as staff quarters and that option was preserved in the recreated home as well as there is a separate back stair spanning all floors of the house to allow servants to come and go unseen. The house has a total of 4 fireplaces as well.

Every effort was made to make the house as accurate as possible in keeping with period Victorian detailing, for example a historically accurate Victorian is painted with 5 distinct paint colors covering the exterior walls and trim. This home uses a dark green trim, a lighter green for the main body of the house, and yellow, white and red for accent trim colors. Multiple types of shingling are also a common feature. This house uses both scalloped as well as wood shingles for its exterior sheathing. The widow’s walk, walkout bay windows, stained glass, turrets and detailed fretwork are other details associated with the style. Victorian homes also had a very prescribed entry layout where one would enter a foyer from a vestibule with the foyer being of a square shape often containing a fireplace, with a stairwell off it and that stair would be illuminated by stained glass windows. I tried to maintain that text book formula for this house as well.

View of Foyer

Ground Floor & Site Plan

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Residential Design – Update on Modern take of a Central Chimney

Every once in a while I like to revisit older projects that I created to see if there is opportunity for improving them. Back in 2014 I designed a house which I entitled a modern take on a central chimney. It was a modernist design using a chimney as the focal point of the house. While the staircase around the chimney was compelling, (see photo below) most of the house was not particularly functional and many of the spaces were downright ugly.

Good staircase

I reworked the design significantly integrating the separate architect’s office into the main house while giving it its own entrance. I also moved the chimney that was formally in the front entry to a corner which now acted as a symbolic guard of the front door. This new design has 3 bedrooms, 2 full baths, 2 lavs and a pool house bath. A two-car attached garage is included as is an attached screened porch. The living spaces are much more airy and less dungeon-like in the new scheme. The benefits of iteration and experience.

Old Living Room

The new living room/dining room

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Residential Projects – The Less Tiny House

After yesterday’s tiny house that was only 970sq ft, today I offer something a bit larger, a 2 story version of the tiny house that has 3 bedrooms and 2.5 baths and comes in at about double the sq ft, but is still small enough to be considered a starter house. The first floor is very similar to the first design with a couple of notable exceptions. The lone bedroom has now become an office and the laundry closet has moved upstairs into its own room. On our second floor there are 2 bedrooms, a master bedroom and a second bedroom each with its own bath. The master bedroom also opens onto a second story deck where you can enjoy the morning sun. The central light well from the tiny house is retained and extends upstairs illuminating the upstairs hallway.

Ground Floor

Second Floor Plan

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Residential Project – The Tiny House 970sq ft

Hello readers,
After the last design which featured a large and opulent seaside palace, I figured that something at the opposite end of the spectrum was in order. Tiny houses have been popular for Millennials who lack the funds to build a typical suburban single family dwelling. So with those needs in mind, I offer for your consideration this tiny house at a mere 970sq ft. The size of good sized apt in NYC, only as a single family home. This is a one bedroom, one bath home but has a queen sized Murphy bed for visiting guests. The living and dining spaces are actually quite spacious in this house so one never feels cramped. The central light well acts to visually divide the space as well as acting as a focal point for all the spaces in the home.

Living Room
Efforts were also made to visually isolate the more private spaces in the house (the bathroom and bedroom) from the public spaces. Also included is a deck off the kitchen for outdoor dining. The deck could be eliminated and the roofed deck area could easily function as a carport if desired. This is a single floor house with high 10′ ceilings which helps to create the feeling of spaciousness despite it small size. The roof could potentially be carved out to add a second floor if desired and stair access would be added via a spiral stair where the current laundry closet is located. If one did require future expansion, I will be posting a slightly less tiny home in my next post that features a second floor based on this model. Enjoy.

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Reviews – Revit 2019

Hello again readers,
It is that time again, time for my annual review of the latest version of Revit from Autodesk. For the 2019 release, Revit gets a new tabbed interface which I love. Initially when I read about this feature I was thinking that it might turn out like the introduction of the ribbon back in 2009 which created a steep learning curve for previous users of the software, however this felt completely natural and integrated with the existing UI (no learning curve or adjustment period at all). After using it for a couple of days, I can’t believe how much of a time saver it is not having to pull down the view menu and/or scroll through a long list of open windows to find the view you want to look at. Below is a screenshot of the new tabbed interface. I have 3 views open in this screen shot.

The New tabbed interface
You can adjust the layout of the tabs for a tiled or tabbed view of the project, but for the way I work the default one view at a time works just fine. Multi-monitor support was added as well allowing one to have tiled views on the left screen with a large single view on the right screen.

The only issue with the new tabs that I noticed was the lack of the project name on the tabs. If you are only working on one project at a time, it isn’t an issue, but I can easily see it becoming an issue in a large office that uses templates to create pre-defined views and sheet names. Therefore it would be nice if the tabs were color coded to differentiate which tabs were associated with which project in the use case of multiple open projects. Two different projects created with the same template will both have similarly titled views such as a “level 1 plan” and there is no way to differentiate which level 1 tab corresponds to which project unless you select the tab and look carefully at the contents of the floor plan to know which project you are working on. The tab doesn’t include the name of the project, just the name of the view. (Hopefully that deficiency will be addressed in the first service pack for this release).

Another UI improvement is the ability to collapse the tree in the project browser to make things tidier. The project browser can get unwieldy if you have lots of families loaded into your project, so having a simple way to navigate without scrolling excessively is a time saver. Just highlight in the project browser and right click and select Collapse All. Easy.

The New Collapse All function

2019 also introduced version identifiers for Revit projects and families. When you select a project to open in Revit, it will tell you what version the project currently exists in prior to opening. This is useful to know if you get a project from a different office that may have been created using an older version of Revit. That same identifier also applies to opening families as well.

Version Info for families

Version Info for projects

Updates & Improvements Since 2016
I had been using Revit 2016, so the 2019 version comes with 3 years worth of changes and upgrades which are new to me. Autodesk streamlined their product line incorporating Revit Architecture, MEP, Structure, and HVAC into one product doing away with the different flavors. (so if you had been using a particular flavor exclusively you now also get the others as a bonus). One the plus side, I can now become familiar with how to use all those versions. While Revit 2016 SP2 was extremely stable, if not the best release to date, there were some bugs that I just always lived with; happily those issues have been addressed and seem resolved with the 2019 release. Bug 1 from 2016 was the inability to create new lighting groups from anything other than a ceiling plan view. You could never create a new lighting group on demand from within a 3d view. Another irritating issue was the need to have to execute the zoom extents(ZE) command every time you create a new family as the base reference planes were out of view in the default templates for a new Revit family. Both issues no longer exist in 2019.

Rendering functionality has also been significantly improved since the first version of the Autodesk Raytracer was introduced in 2016. You can now adjust the light levels after rendering without having to re-run the render (same functionality as the old Metal Ray Engine). In fact I was surprised to see that the Metal Ray engine is no longer even offered in 2019 (it was removed in 2017). With 3 years worth of improvements and the introduction of high def materials this year, you finally get a product that is equal to what it replaced. Rendering of the sky and clouds is much more realistic as are shadows which didn’t really show up at all in the 2016 version of the Raytracer. You still need to scale every 3D view to make it into a C-size or D-size image to get good resolution and photo realistic image quality (screen resolution renderings are still crappy even at the high or best setting, always use printer settings), but the nice thing is you can get photo realistic images using only the draft setting saving oodles of time unlike the old Metal Ray engine that would take hours to complete a C-size image even at low quality.

The ability to create fencing that follows the site topography (introduced in Revit 2018) is another feature that I am loving. Autodesk seems to have embraced a 3rd party product (FormIt) to address the limitations/difficulty in using the massing tools within Revit. FormIt is now a default AddIn to the product. While it is nice that they have attempted to make things easier with this new integrated tool, the best solution (in my opinion) would have been to just use Sketchup’s modeling API, but that would have resulted in licensing fees going to Trimble which is something that Autodesk understandably wanted to avoid.

Functionality Removed/Bugs
One complaint I have with 2019 is that they have removed the ability to add the load component button to the quick launch toolbar. When you right click to add it to the toolbar, the item is grayed out and is not select-able. I use that functionality all the time and having to first select the component button just to access the load button adds unnecessary steps. Hopefully this is just a bug, and if Autodesk is listening, they will fix this ASAP.

Load button not selectable to add to quick launch toolbar

Summary
Revit 2019 offers significant upgrades to the user experience with the introduction of tabs and other time saving features. There are many other little upgrades that I didn’t touch on which are summarized nicely in Dan Stine’s blog post on Revit 2019’s new features. A link to his article is included below. Overall Revit 2019 is a good release and gets my thumbs up.

AEC Bytes article

Residential Design – The Peninsula Palace

Hello again readers.
This month I am featuring my grandest and most ornate house to date, which I am naming the peninsula palace. This house was situated on a point overlooking the ocean on 3 sides. This house has it all; every feature, every detail, every desire that you could possibly want in a dream house by the sea. The design was developed using the shape of Max Bill’s Ulm stool to layout the different spaces in the house.

The Ulm Stool
While there is nothing about this house that evokes Bill’s work or the Bauhaus style, the simplicity of Bill’s stool ended up serving as an excellent driver for the design and layout of the rooms. The house is inherently symmetrical which gives it its pleasing shape and facade. Some might be reminded of Palladio’s Villa Rotunda with its 4 porticoes. The house features a 1st floor master suite, a paneled study, a formal dining room, an eat-in kitchen, a large living room, and a grand foyer with a total of 6 fireplaces in the house. Upstairs are 4 good sized bedrooms each with its own bath centered around a grand rotunda lit by a large cupola. There is a 3 car garage, a pool house, and a tea house with a unique elliptical window that is connected to the main house via a gracious loggia. All these buildings are located around the swimming pool with its eternal flame overlooking the sea. A set of stairs descend down to the ocean with a small boat dock for sea-faring guests arriving by boat. The house uses all of the land on the peninsula to its full advantage, yet still kept enough space open for a sunken water garden on the North side of the house which one can gaze at from the tub in the master bath. Below are renderings of the different spaces inside and around the house.

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