Resurrecting a Lost Icon – The Victorian House

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.

Pool house entry for guests
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 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

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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Residential Design – Overlapping Roofs

It’s March and time for another update. Today I am featuring a design based on the idea of overlapping, specifically the overlapping of roofs. Typically roofs are not overlapped on residences, one only sees this detail executed on concert halls or perhaps in a modernist church (see the Meyer Jubilee church below). On this house the main gable is built up with multiple roofs layered on top of one another acting to visually draw the eye upwards. From the side view this roof overlapping has the opposite effect to show the building degrading. Either way the overlapping roofs create an interesting effect on the inside of the house within the master bedroom creating an implied enclosure to the bed area.

View of the MBR
Speaking of bedrooms, the house has 3 bedrooms and 3.5 baths with a separate pool house and an observatory for astronomy lovers. An in-ground swimming pool and tennis court round out the feature list for this house.

The main living hall takes advantage of the steeply pitched roof with soaring ceilings, while a portion of the room was kept at a more modest height creating a more intimate spot for tv viewing.

View of the Living Room

The living room features a 5′ W1 Hale wooden clock
W1 Clock
as the focal point for the space along with a wall of windows looking out onto the pool deck just outside. Check out my image gallery below for photos of the different spaces within this coastal farmhouse with its overlapping roofs.

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For more information on wooden clocks, check out Rick Hale’s website. The URL is below.

Residential Project – The Ulm Stool Estate

South Elevation

The fourth house in this week’s new houses for 2018 is a design that I created after pondering Max Bill’s Ulm Stool. The stool, a project Bill created at the Bauhaus school in Dessau, Germany was unique for its simplicity. Despite having only 4 pieces, the stool could be transformed into multiple objects depending on how it was positioned.

The Ulm Stool
Using the bracket shape of the stool, I created a house with wings and walls that mimicked that shape. The house was aligned on two parallel central axis both passing through the chimneys in the design, resulting in a highly symmetrical and ordered layout. The house has a strong German influence echoing the work of both Mies and Spear. Features include an in-ground pool with pool house, an outdoor pergola covered dining area with firepit, a master suite with his and hers dressing rooms, a guest bedroom with bath, a separate staff apartment with its own entrance, a 3-car garage, his and hers offices, a kitchen with pantry and a Miesian tea house situated at the end of mall.

Ground Floor & Site Plan

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Residential Project – The Cellini House

The third house in on our series to start the new year is a 3-floor art deco town house. I was inspired by this Rolex wristwatch, the Cellini Prince and its art deco styling.

The Rolex Cellini Prince Ref 5441-9
The Rolex Prince was originally produced in the 1930s and kept with the styling of that era. Rolex created a re-issue of their Prince line in 2005 which remained in production until 2015. While the watch was never a best seller it was a standout for its design qualities. In addition to its deco lines, the watch’s concentric circles on the dial reminded me of the lines created in the sand in many Japanese zen gardens.

Fusing both the Japanese and art deco influences I was able to create a 3-story townhouse befitting a stylish city family. The ground floor has a 1-car garage plus additional off-street parking for guests. Upon entering the glass block lined foyer you are greeted by a hall that leads to the kitchen and dining room. The kitchen/dr open onto the rear yard with its own patio and a small yard. Floor 2 has a study/library, the main 2-story living room, a billiards room with its own wet bar, and a lav. The top floor contain the master suite, 2 bedrooms, a laundry, and an additional bath. An elevator was also installed to ferry food from the kitchen to the entertaining spaces on the second floor. See the image gallery for photos and plans.

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Residential Project – The Popup Camera House

The second in our series of houses for the new year I entitled the Popup Camera House. I fashioned it after an early 90s Polaroid instant camera where the 2nd floor would appear to be able to fold down into the 1st floor similar to a traveling camper roof.
An alternate name for this property is the not so simple house. Although the house’s footprint is a simple box with few lines and even fewer fenestration details, it makes up for this simplicity by being very complicated to construct. Unlike most houses, the second story walls don’t align with the walls below it on two of the house’s four sides, so the upper story must be supported by beams and columns that runs the length of the house to properly support the second story. Reducing the footprint of the upper floor allows for strip roof lighting to be installed above the first floor running the length of the living room as well as in the 1st floor lav. Light washes down the 1st floor walls providing a soft and indirect lighting to the home’s inhabitants. (see photo below)

I opted for this indirect lighting approach as this house was designed for a high density locale where houses may have minimal or no setbacks between a neighbor’s property and the owner would prefer to keep windows facing the neighbors to a minimum. Another key feature is the inclusion of a walled garden. The garden provides a visual focal point for the home’s interior when exterior views are absent. The house has 2 bedrooms and 2.5 baths with the option of a 3rd bedroom on the second floor if desired. Other spaces include a sunken hearth, a dining room, library, separate office, mud room, eat-in kitchen with pantry, 2nd floor laundry, and a one car garage. I also designed a small shed for bike storage or tools. There is a small patio off the living room which descends to a sunken firepit with a water feature. These outdoor spaces make the most of limited yard space. Given the urban environment, I also designed a neighborhood park on the adjacent property to create some recreation space for the neighborhood’s children.

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