Residential Project – The 20-30-40 House

This week I wanted to delve a little into the design process and how one formulates a project. Generally I start with a brief sketch or parti that distills the general idea or massing of the project to a minimal number of lines. For this week’s project the parti had 2 lines, a straight line and a curving line. I interpreted this as a snake leaving its den. I then went about exploring shapes to use in the massing of the project. Manipulating these shapes created voids between my chosen shapes that I found had potential. I then placed rooms within my oriented shapes to plan out the flow and location of the individual rooms. Finally I opted to add a grid system that was laid over my shapes to organize the structural members supporting the roof structure. My grid used a spacing of 20ft as the min separation distance between columns and that grid was widened to 30 ft and finally 40ft, hence the name of this design, the 20-30-40 house. Historically grid-based plans tend to generate very successful outcomes, no matter what scale they are used at. A grid can be used to lay out a city (such a NYC) or can be used to divide a small space like a room (using tatami mats in Japan for example); the grid gives order and clarity to a project.

Bringing the parti, the grid and the shapes together resulted in a house with 2 bedrooms and 2.5 baths with a 2 car garage, a workshop, and a swimming pool and spa. This house was sited on a hill overlooking the ocean and manages to evoke a Miami beach art deco vibe. The snake theme was expressed through the roofs and columns with pairs of columns indicating the snake’s fangs and the pointed roof the snake’s head. Look for the 3 snake heads in the North Elevation and in the entry gate that I designed for the property. I painted 2 pairs of columns red to indicate that the visitor might miss being bitten by the first snake, but the remaining 2 snakes heads manage to draw blood from the victim as one traverses the property.

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Take Away Lesson
On reflection, this design demonstrated the many ways one can use a column and a curve in a project. Mastering curves and columns is one of the more difficult concepts to master and execute successfully. Few if any design professors will ever be this clear or direct in grad school, so I am going to give you a list of rules for how to use a column and the curve. Below is a summary of the different ways a column can be used in a project. Each of these 6 uses was employed in this project.

Uses for the Column
1. as a door hinge
2. as a center point
3. in a series forming a colonnade (porch)
4. as a support
5. to demark an entrance
6. as a guide post

Rules for Using Curves in a Project
1. Use against or adjacent to straight lines (as in the parti for this project)
2. Use to conceal objects lying behind the curve (example elliptical colonnade at Vatican City in Rome hiding the less attractive buildings in Vatican city adjacent to St. Peters)
3. Use to draw people in (an embrace) (example elliptical colonnade at Vatican City in Rome to draw people into the church)
4 Use in the middle of an open space to divide an area.
5. Use to soften a straight line
6. Use to form a ramp.

Residential Design – Extruded Staircase

Hello viewers,
The idea for this house came from taking a modern detail and applying it to traditional design. I wanted to create a house where the staircase was pulled out from inside the shell of the house and put on display. This type of detail is common in modern houses where you have a stair tower enclosed by a curtain system, but it is almost never done in traditional design. A large window is at most the attention a staircase would receive if you were designing a colonial or shingle style house. I took cues from the work of McKim Mead & White, the masters of neoclassical revival in their treatment of chimneys in particular as a source of inspiration. Stamford White’s design of the chimney on the James Hampden Robb house (1885) weaves the chimney in and out of the facade to great effect.

Chimney detail on the James Hampden Robb house
I ended up using this weaving technique with my staircase. My showcased stairwell was further highlighted by patina copper paneling making it the focal-point of the facade.

My stair detail also subtly references even older architectural traditions mimicking the appearance of the triglyphs in a Doric order entablature. Notice the negative space between the windows in the stair tower and the pattern of the lower windows at the stair landing.

The Doric Order

While the staircase may have been the primary focus, other spaces in the house are also noteworthy. I created a sunken courtyard between the 3-car garage and main house with its own outdoor fireplace. It makes a great place to have an outdoor meal. The house also has a dramatic in-ground pool and spa with its own pool house. There are 3 bedrooms and 2.5 bath with each bedroom having its own deck. There are a total of 4 fireplaces in the house as well as a 3-season porch. Below are photos of the individual spaces.

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Residential Project Update – The Artist’s Home & Gallery

Hello again readers,
This week I decided to continue my review of older projects, giving them a second look to improve the overall design and functionality. I chose to update this project that I created back in 2012 and posted on my blog(see post). The original design was captivating, but it lacked good flow between the spaces and contained a lot of wasted space particularly in the kitchen. I revamped the floor plan completely and added a lav to the gallery space as well as giving each of the 3 bedrooms its own bath. I eliminated the library area on the second floor, relocated the stairs and eliminated the basement. I also added a pool and pool house to the program. I feel that the kitchen is by far the most improved space in the new design with its own pantry area and desk space. This design was always about the circle but this iteration manages to take the circles and fuse them into a more complex and polished design. Below is a new gallery of images with the new floor plans.

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Commentary/Reviews – Revit 2018 Review

Hello again readers,
It is time for my annual review of the Revit software, the most commonly used BIM software by architecture students and professionals. The 2018 version was released on April 14 of this month and it contains a lot of minor fixes. They moved the print button to the quick launch ribbon, so you don’t have to go through the Revit R pull-down anymore to print something. The Revit R pull-down has also undergone a transformation. The big R has been reduced to screen minimization/maximization and closing the app now and does nothing else with its core functionality moved to a new file tab in the UI. (see below) My question is why keep the R at all?

The New File Tab

Another cosmetic change is the addition of stretchable dialogs for sheet names. In prior versions you had to go through some gymnastics to see the entire name of the sheet if it possessed a long title. Below is a photo of the new stretchable dialog box.

Variable Size Dialog Box

The Revit app also added more robust support for reference planes within families. In prior versions, you could always align a family off of the centerline reference plane within the family (useful for aligning or measuring from the centerpoint to the centerpoint of multiple windows for example). The app now picks up all reference planes within the family and allows you to see the name assigned to that plane if you named it within the family so you can know what plane you are aligning to. The photo below shows the prompts that you get from attempting an align with a family based reference plane.

Notice the little dialog that indicated the plane & its type (strong or weak reference)

They also added support for adding common architectural symbols to text inserts. In prior releases you had to open Microsoft’s Character Map and then copy and paste the character to get the symbol you wanted. Now you can just right click, select symbol and select from a list of symbol options. I know I used to have to go poking around for the diameter symbol a lot, so that is a nice addition.

All of this sounds like small potatoes, which it is, and if this were all we were getting I would recommend not bothering with the upgrade and sticking with the current version, however they did make some important changes to this release as well. The biggest change which has been a long, long time coming is the ability to host a railing to a topo surface. You can now create a fence that follows the terrain without going through the pain of creating an adaptive family for each fence post to do it. This is huge.

The developers also upgraded railing support and multi-story support to make it actually adaptable. In prior versions anytime you altered a previously created stair, you always ran the risk that any alterations made after the fact would hose the railing attached to it. There was always railing cleanup after changing the stair configuration. Extending the railing off the stair would bring the entire railing to ground level or you would get a railing that wasn’t parallel to the stair, or most often you would get the annoying please split the railing dialog to tell the application where the stair run should end. Railings and the railing editor have always been a weakpoint of the Revit application; the addition of actual adaptable railings should help minimize the pain of creating stairs. These railing upgrades are an important first step, but the railing editor still isn’t completely fixed and still needs a complete overhaul. The user still lacks the ability to create a complex railing where you can independently set the distance between different balusters without using that god awful railing dialog.

Multi-story stairs systems now will work even if you have uneven heights between levels. That is a nice time saver.

You can have varying heights between levels now

Other nice upgrades include more robust support of imported Rino models. You can dimension off of the imported elements as well as Revit seeing them as their own family (without embedding them in a mass family/generic model first) as well as being able to place Revit families on the surfaces of those imported objects (see below).

A light fixture family was affixed to this imported Rino object
Check out this video for a demonstration of the workflow for importing non-Revit native objects.

For further details on the new features in Revit 2018, check out Revitpure’s blog post.

Residential Design – The Eyebrow House

Hello again readers,

The month of March is dedicated to the 18th century architect Etienne Boullee who was known for has literal use of planar solids in his design output. Very few of Boullee’s designs were ever built, as the scale of his projects tended towards the monumental and achieving the pure shapes he drew was somewhat beyond the construction capabilities of his time period. Boullee is most famous for his cenotaph projects, all of which were never built. His spherical cenotaph dedicated to Newton is probably the most familiar of all of his projects. You can see photos of that in the slideshow running at the homepage of this site. It is interesting to note that today’s architects will often return to the simple shapes that Boullee employed so successfully such as the doughnut shaped Apple campus designed by Foster & Partners or the Buckminster Fuller sphere.

I decided to design something in the vein of Boullee that uses his simple shapes and monumental scale to great effect. My eyebrow house takes a typical eyebrow dormer and transforms that element into a 3-dimensional curtain wall roof. The shape of the eyebrow is repeated on the rear deck mimicking the shape in the roof-line. The side roofs also echo that dormer shape. H.H. Richardson popularized the use of the eyebrow dormer on his masonry clad libraries around New England (as seen below).

Crane Library by Richardson

My eyebrow house also employs the circle (as seen in the garage door and windows) as well as the use of a pyramid which houses the owner’s study. This house is sited over an ocean vista which I included in the photo from the study. The house itself has 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, 2 lavs, 2 elevators, parking for 6 cars, as well as an infinity edge swimming pool & hot tub. Other spaces include a grand formal foyer, a home gym, a formal dining room with its own wine cellar, and a boat dock to allow sea visitors a place to dock. This house is complete fantasy, and most of the elements utilized would never be found in a traditional home. In fact the house is in some ways almost set like. One enters at the ground floor into this surreal columned hall covered with checkerboard tile on the floor and walls. You ascend the stairs inside a hollow large column and arrive upstairs in what appears like an outdoor environment outside of your house. You are inside but seemingly outside at the house’s “front door”. This indoor garden area looks out onto a pond that cascades into a waterfall all of which can be taken in from the gym or before you enter the house. Once past the front door you enter a grand foyer with its own fireplace. You get your first glimpses of the eyebrow roof structure in this room. Beyond the foyer is the main living area. At its center hovering above the seating area is a pyramid supported by 4 columns. The pyramid houses the study but it also serves as a sun shade diffusing the light that comes in from the glass roof. Moving outside, you face a massive sun deck also in the shape of eyebrow. The deck has a water feature that runs around the outside edge reaching out to the sea below. Two shaded pergolas emanate from the side roofs to create shaded area for the master bedroom and the gym. The house is highly symmetrical which contributes to its overall pleasing proportions. Like Boullee’s projects, this eyebrow house would be very complex and very expensive to build despite its spare lines.

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Architecture News – Video Library Upgrade

Hello viewers,

Today I have a little housekeeping issue to report. The Flash multi-media plug and all of the malware associated with it has become too huge a vulnerability to ignore any longer and Microsoft’s delayed release of the current Flash plug-in built-in to their browsers (IE & Edge) convinced me to migrate all of my video files embedded in earlier posts to the new HTML5 standard. All videos that were created in the Flash format have now been converted to HTML5 so all browsers should be able to access the media files without prompts to download Flash or having to worry about virus or malware attack associated with the Flash plugin. I predict that Flash will likely be dead by the end of 2017, so now seemed like a good time to move to the new standard while file conversion tools were still available. Hope you find this useful and you can feel safer browsing knowing that A Point In Design in now HTML5 video compliant and no longer a Flash supported site.

Blog Author

PS If you happen to need the latest Flash plug-in release for IE/Edge browsers (released today by Microsoft) you can find them here or the update can be downloaded & installed via Windows Update (if it feels like working).

Residential Design – Homes from TV Shows (The Fosters)

Exterior Shot of the Fosters home courtesy of ABC Family Television

This week I designed a house based on the exterior shots of the home used on the ABC family tv show the Fosters, a show about the trials of raising children in the foster care system. Television architecture tends to glorify the exaggerated and often unrealistic lifestyles of the fictional characters created for our tv screens. The typical tv home tends to be much more elaborate and much more costly then what the average person could ever afford and is often much more costly then even what the fictional characters could possibly afford to live in, given their circumstances and backstories. Television by design tends to shy away from the subject of money/jobs or financial status in any detail in the stories, (to keep it light) but our consumer driven culture makes sure that those details aren’t forgotten when the design of space is concerned. Tv homes are stocked with all of the latest wears/fads and fancies that corporate America pushes on us. The Friends NYC loft apartment being the quintessential tv pad that everyone living in NYC would love to inhabit, yet no one could realistically afford.

The Foster’s home is in that rich tradition of grandiose living. The Adams-Fosters family live in a period Craftsman style home with lots of wood paneling, detail and custom touches. Although it is an older home built at the turn of the last century, it manages to exude comfort and livability. Using just the exterior shots taken from a real Craftsman house in the LA area, I designed a similarly ornate Craftsman home that would fit right in in the tv set universe. The house has 3 bedrooms, 3 baths, 2 lavs, a library, a study with its own entrance, a kitchen, dining room, tea room, butler’s pantry, screened porch with garden and outdoor spaces and a 1-car garage to stage all of that tv drama. Even the colors used on the walls are consistent with the Craftsman period making it look authentic.

Residential Design – Palladian Villa Revisited

From time to time I like to revisit previously created work to see if it could be improved or altered for better use and functionality. I created this villa back in 2014 (see post) and this past week revisited it for the first time. I ended up significantly reworking the villa by adding a porte-cochére, removing a couple fireplaces in the foyer/kitchen, eliminating levels in the living area, adding an additional bedroom and bath upstairs bringing the total to a 4 bedroom 4.5 bath house as well as creating outside basement access and housing for the pool equipment. I also eliminated an entire structure, the architect’s office and incorporated it into a home office with its own entrance within the main house. Additional changes might include adding a 3rd bay onto the garage as well, but I opted not to do that. Hope you like it.

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Residential Design – Something Cool

Hello again readers,
A belated welcome to the new year. My latest design represents a fusion of styles with elements taken from the Craftsman style, the Shingle style and even elements from a Lutyens English manor. I would say that it is my favorite house design to date. The house has 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, 2 lavs and a guest bedroom and bath over the carriage house for visitors. A porte-cochére allows guests to arrive in style without being exposed to the elements. They enter into a mudroom with its own fireplace watched over by the lady of the house cast in stone who sits at the foot of the staircase. Other rooms on the first floor include a dining room, breakfast room, the great hall and the kitchen. The second floor is devoted to the sleeping quarters as well as a library found at the top of the stairs. From the master bedroom access to a third floor study and music room round out the space. The study was designed with a secret panic room as well complete with a concealed door. Look at the photo, can you find it? I bet you can’t. The house has 4 fireplaces and garage space for 1 car. Outside the kitchen is a vegetable garden, a formal garden path as well as a frog pond directly off the patio.

Image Gallery Updated with New Images 12/28/17

Residential Project – The Lighthouse House


Hello again readers,
This month I am featuring nautical themed architecture on my blog, so I designed something that would reflect the sea and its relationship to design. The most common building associated with the sea is the lighthouse, the guide post for ships at sea. I incorporated a decommissioned light into the house design and attached it to the main house. Traditionally, the lighthouse keeper’s home was separate from the light, but I chose to connect the two and turn the light into a stairwell/2-story library. Access to the lamp is retained and the once active light now becomes a great lookout spot for the homeowner. The attached home has 3 bedrooms and 3 full bath with 2 lavs. A separate home office space above the 2-car garage is provided for work or as as study. Other features of the home include a putting green, a gazebo, a pool with hot tub and its own pool facilities, as well as a separate boathouse for housing water craft. The house was designed in the Shingle style and is typical of houses found on the Eastern seaboard at the turn of the 20th century.

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