Residential Design – Domed Delight

Hello again readers,
This month’s design is something a little more modern. This house features not one but 3 domes; a dome in the foyer, a dome in the living room and a special domed space on the second floor. I created this house out of a fascination with domed and spherical spaces. I was particularly inspired by Boullee’s Cenotaph to Newton project. Although his monument to Issac Newton was never built, Boullee’s design clarity and the project’s monumental scale was certainly inspiring. I attempted to recreate a smaller version of Boullee’s cenotaph within my 2nd floor domed space. Like Boullee’s design, my space is illuminated with a large lamp at night while I opted to install thousands of tiny led lights embedded into the underside of the dome to simulate the stars in the night sky present during the daylight hours.

Cross section of Boulle’s Cenotaph to Newton

An alternative construction method utilizes embedded fiber optic wires which are fed into a solar collector on the roof. This method comes closest to achieving Boulle’s simulated night sky during the daylight hours. A more low tech approach used by John Lautner on the Sheets Goldstein project utilized jelly glasses embedded within the concrete roof to create a dappled light pattern reflected on the ground below.

Photo of Sheets Goldstein home taken from The Architecture of John Lautner by Weintraub & Hess.

Below is a rendering of my Cenotaph to Newton.

Outside of these domed spaces the house has every creature comfort imaginable. There are 3 bedrooms and 3.5 baths with a swimming pool, hot tub, home gym with sauna, an office with a concealed vault, a 1-car attached garage, and even an elevator. Elevations and plans are shown below.

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Reviews – Revit 2020

Hello readers,
It has been a couple of months since Autodesk released its annual update of the Revit software, so I figured that it was about time to create my annual review of the new features. Compared to last year’s life-changing introduction of tabs, this year’s feature list pales in comparison. If you are using Revit 2019 now, I would almost not bother upgrading, unless your firm absolutely requires it. That is not to say that 2020 is useless, it simplifies a few things. Here are a list of the most important new features implemented in the new iteration of the software.

Feature 1 PDF Import
This feature basically automates opening a pdf in Photoshop and converting it to jpg then performing an image import using Revit. That is how I used to do this prior to 2020 and Autodesk, almost verbatim copied Photoshop’s dialog boxes then leveraged its pick tool functionality to allow you to choose the lines from an imported pdf to transform them into walls. It is certainly a time saver for sure, particularly if you have to recreate a project initially created in Autocad and make it into a 3D model. From a coding perspective, this was low hanging fruit as the import pdf functionality has existed in Autocad (another Autodesk product) for several years now. Just a matter of copying/pasting the code.

Feature 2 Creation of Elliptical Walls

This is probably my favorite feature of this year’s release. When I created my model of the Robert Mills House (see post) it called for the creation of an elliptical room. Prior to this release you could either create a mass and then create walls around it or do what I did and draw a line-based ellipse and then create short arc wall segments to create the shape of an ellipse. It wasn’t ideal and often the wall joins would be awkward and generate errors/crashes. This new tool simplifies things considerably.

The new elliptical wall tool use case

Feature 3 Path of Travel Tool
This is an egress code requirement and Revit created a tool to allow you to find the shortest route to exit a building. This is definitely a useful feature particularly if you are working on commercial or institutional projects. For residential work it is not as important but nice to have.

Feature 4 Better Importation of Sketchup Files
This bug has been on my hit list for a long time. Up until 2019, Sketchup files seemed to only import successfully with files saved in Sketchup 8 (Sketchup is currently at version 2019) so support for the current version saves you from first opening a Sketchup model within Sketchup, then saving it down to an older version to then allow you to import it into a Revit project or family. Sketchup materials will now import with their Sketchup names rather than the old RGB color value names, and you can also filter on the materials list for Sketchup imported materials. That is huge as you don’t have to play the guess the material game anymore testing out colors to see what part of the Sketchup model corresponds to what RGB material Revit assigned to it. This was such a time waster in the past. Unfortunately Revit engineers didn’t completely eliminate the headache that was Sketchup importing. One still has to manually enter the RGB color values that match or come close to matching the original colors for materials used in the Sketchup model for them to show up in realistic mode within Revit. I don’t know why Autodesk can’t simply obtain Sketchup’s default material library and offer it as an additional material library that you could install with the installation of Revit. That way Revit would be able to just pull in Sketchup’s materials cleanly and everything would render properly without user input. That is the path of least resistance, but the improvements we got are something and are better than nothing.

Feature 5 Material UI Improvements
You can now get large (i.e. readable) thumbnails of the materials in the material library UI. This is nice. Would be nice to get the same large thumbnails for the Archvision plant/entourage libraries as well. More photo realistic materials were added to supplement the default materials library as well. All nice upgrades, although most larger firms end up using 3rd party rendering/visualization tools to create their final project renderings (Luminor, etc.) making these improvements almost a moot point.

Feature 6 Import to the Cloud
You can now save a project to the cloud if you so choose (assuming that you have paid the $420 fee for a cloud subscription). In an era of data insecurity and constant reports of sites getting hacked, I would be hesitant to put copywritable files out on the web, but this feature allows greater portability and access to a Revit project particularly on a very complex job that may require input/changes from multiple outside consultants.

Summary
Outside of the ellipse tool and egress path tool, most of the 2020 release features were devoted to enhancing file portability with 3rd party products such as Sketchup or Adobe pdfs. These are important considerations as everyone uses pdf files and most all design offices use the free Sketchup tool for some if not all of their design development work. Revit’s commitment to supporting these 3rd party tools is crucial if it wants to maintain its dominance over the BIM market. For a more in-depth discussion of the new features check out Revit Pure’s blog post on Revit 2020.

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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