10 Architectural Features That Should Be Taken Out Of Rotation

Columns-02 One of the most inspiring aspects of architecture is its constant evolution. Over time, new technologies push materials and their assemblies to new capabilities, while new ways of thinking introduce different geometries and relationships within design. Staying true to this process of evolution produces an architecture of the current time. And as we like to say, creating an architecture of the current time is authentic. The unfortunate flip side to this equation is all of those architectural features that linger around are based on nothing but the nostalgia of the past. These are elements that have long been superseded by different and better ways of doing things, but they keep popping up like card-board cut-outs, offering a romanticized illusion of times past. Today’s post calls out 10 architectural features that should have been taken out of rotation by now. These architecture features may have been useful at one time, and some of them should even be credited as important stepping stones, getting us to where we currently are in design. But by thoughtlessly sticking these features onto the sides of houses and buildings in this day and age, we’re not only fooling ourselves, but we’re pushing design backwards.* The Nine-Light Window or Door
The most ironic thing about nine-light windows and doors is that the aesthetic wasn’t even desired when it was originally developed. The small glass panels were simply a product of the technological limitations at the time. Today, conventional residential double-pane glass panels can easily be produced in sheets of 50 square feet (and larger for custom applications). In fact, the limitations of window sizes today are more typically governed by the gravity and lateral forces acting on the glass, rather than the technology of manufacturing glass. Adding insult to injury, many off-the-shelf nine-light applications are actually two large pieces of glass with 4 plastic runners in between creating a geometrical illusion of nine separate panes of glass. Uhgo. 9-light-doors The Half-Timber Infill
Way back in Medieval Europe, when tall and straight trees became scarce, architects and builders turned to smaller, scrawnier trees to frame the exterior walls of a structure. This produced the classic Tudor look with the stick framing enhanced by its white stucco counterpart filling in the cavities between wood members. Where do we even start with this one? Never mind the abundance of tall straight trees in regions like the Pacific Northwest, this aesthetic is entirely irrelevant to every aspect of construction in the modern world. Today, the entire half-timber visual is stuck onto conventionally framed walls made out of 2x6s and plywood. It is, quite literally, exterior wallpaper. Wallpaper that screams, “I live in the dark ages! But only superficially.” Tudor-Style-01 The Knee Brace
Knee braces made a name for themselves in the early 1900’s within the craftsman style and were even considered embellishments at that time. Modern day framing has long since replaced the need for exterior mounted supports at roof eaves and a decent structural engineer can design a roof system that avoids knee braces in their sleep. Oddly enough, these “supports” are often one of the first exterior elements of a house in need of replacement. Knee-Braces The Decorative Shutter
The worst thing about the decorative shutter is that, well … it doesn’t shut. These ornamental panels are typically mounted to the exterior walls on either side of the windows permanently. Our favorite version of the inoperable shutter is when the sizes of the shutters don’t even correlate to the window itself. Stunning! Shutters-02 The Doric, Ionic, Corinthian, and Composite Column Orders
The Greeks invented the Doric order and Ionic order (known for the volutes of its capital) in the Archaic Period between 750 and 480 BC. Around 430 BC, the Greek city-state of Corinth produced its namesake order which was modeled after the acanthus leaf. Much later, the Romans designed the Composite order which combines elements from the Ionic and Corinthian orders and first appeared in 82 AD. The point is this, the Greek and Roman orders have twenty-five hundred years of architectural history embedded in their DNA. Don’t tack these onto the side of your 1980’s ranch style house. Just don’t. Columns-03 The Double-Hung Window
Made from one part romance and two parts impracticality, this historic window type relies on counter-weights at each side of the window buried within the walls. Lighter, modern day versions have eliminated the counter-weights but always seem to retain the awkward mechanics of actually opening the window typically caused by the window racking as it attempts to battle gravity. For an authentic application of this window, we recommend globbing on numerous coats of paint to further inconvenience the user. Bonus points for combining the double-hung window with the nine-light window. Double-Hung-windows The Gambrel Roof and Mansard Roof
Both the Gambrel and Mansard roof geometries were originally designed as strategies to balance the facades of large, stately buildings into an appropriately proportioned base, middle and cap. And when applied to the Chateau de Fontainebleau, this approach produces a monumental example of historic architecture. When applied to the American single family residence, however, it not only fails to create visual harmony, but it devastates the structure’s scale. Mansard-Roof-02 The Mini-Dormer and Eyebrow
The mini-dormer or eyebrow window is a clear sign of architectural denial. The house wants to have a second story but doesn’t want to admit it to the world. The inhabitants pay the price for this condition by having to twist their necks and angle their heads just to use the bathroom mirror. Worse yet, design denial is only the first stage in mourning the loss of functional architecture, followed by anger, bargaining, depression, and finally, acceptance. Eyebrow-Dormer-01 Quoins
Originally, these corner blocks were made from solid stone and were visually enhanced at the corners of a building, suggesting that your great-grandfather hauled them by wagon and heaved them into place by hand. Modern day examples are applied like peel-n-stick styrofoam and are often painted a different color to “create an impression of permanence and strength, and reinforce the onlooker’s sense of a structure’s presence” (thanks Wikipedia). Great-grandpa would be proud. Quoins-02 The Palladian Window
Praising the modern-day Palladian window is, without a doubt, the swiftest and most reliable way to piss-off your contemporary design friends. Not only is it the most adulterated architectural element in western civilization, but it’s typically used in conjunction with a hodge-podge of items from the list above. Don’t get us wrong, there’s nothing architecturally unethical about traditional examples of this window configuration. Italian examples dating from the late 1400’s remain pure expressions of Palladianism with their central semicircular arched window centered between two rectangular geometries. But installing spring-loaded vinyl roller shades behind a double-hung, nine-light Palladian window, flanked by ill proportioned shutters would have caused Andrea Palladio to launch his pasta across the room. Palladian-window-04
  • There’s an important disclaimer to mention involving historic restoration, which we support. Just as the architecture of today should be authentic to the present time, architectures of the past should be authentic to theirs. Restoring and/or preserving traditional buildings may very well require the use of many of the architectural elements in this list and if it helps respect and maintain these architectures, we’re all for it.
Cheers from Team BUILD

The Modern List Jackson

[Image Source:  Carney Logan Burke Architects] On a recent visit to Jackson, Wyoming, it really became clear to us that Modernism, is in fact, everywhere. A picturesque mountain town at the edge of the gorgeous Teton Range where the bison population nearly matches the human population, Jackson Hole has a fair share of high-caliber design and architecture both in town and up on the trails. Here’s our first pass at the modern side of Jackson we encountered. Enjoy, and share any spots we missed in the comments below. FOOD | DRINK
While one might expect cowboy cuisine to have a monopoly on the town, Jackson is much more diverse in its edible options — ranging from boutique baked goods, to third wave coffee, and craft cocktails. Persephone Bakery, 145 E. Broadway, 307.200.6708
[Image Source: BUILD LLC] Healthy Being Juicery, 165 E. Broadway, 307.200.9006
[Image Source: Healthy Being] Bin 22, 200 W. Broadway, 307.739.9463
[Image Source: Bin 22] The Rose, 50 W. Broadway, 307.733.1500
[Image Source:  Dynia Architects] Local Restaurant + Bar, 55 N. Cache St., 307.201.1717
[Image Source: Carney Logan Burke Architects] ART + ARCHITECTURE
From touchdown at the airport to hiking a trail to one of the glacial lakes in Grand Teton National Park, there’s a true commitment to making buildings and structures more than just a derivative of log cabin architecture. We barely scratched the surface with this list, but are definitely looking forward to what comes up next in this wave of Mountain Modernism. Jackson Hole Airport, 1250 E. Airport Rd., 307.733,7682 by Carney Logan Burke Architects
[Image Source: Carney Logan Burke Architects] Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve Center, GTNP, 307.739.3654 by Carney Logan Burke Architects
[Image Source: Carney Logan Burke Architects] Craig Thomas Discovery & Visitor Center,  GTNP, 307.739.3399 by Bohlin Cywinski Jackson
[Image Source: Bohlin Cywinski Jackson] Jackson Lake Lodge, 101 Jackson Lake Lodge Rd., Moran, 307.543.2811 by Strout Architects
[Image Source:  Eddimer] Pacific Building by Berlin Architects
[Image Source:  Homestead] Teton County Library, 125 Virginian Ln., 307.733.2164
original building by Will Bruder Architects, addition by Gilday Architects
[Image Source: Gilday Architects] Center for the Arts, 265 S. Cache St., 307-734-8956 by Dynia Architects + Carney Logan Burke Architects
[Image Source: Dynia Architects] Plateau Live/Work Lofts, 1085 W. Broadway by Dynia Architects
[Image Source: Dynia Architects] SHOP
More and more, towns across the country have elevated the shopping experience from running an errand at a soulless cookie-cutter strip mall to a day of browsing and exploring the place itself. From the hybridization the retail business model to highlighting local artisan-made wares, the days of souvenir shopping for the same old tchotchkes are (thankfully) behind us. Wool + Whiskey, 3285 Village Dr., Teton Village, 307.732.4080
[Image Source: Wool and Whiskey] Paper & Grace, 55 N. Glenwood, 307.733.8900
[Image Source: Paper & Grace] MADE, 125 N. Cache St. (Gaslight Alley), 307.690.7957
[Image Source: MADE] Mountain Dandy, Gaslight Alley, 307.690.0606
[Image Source: Mountain Dandy]

The Modern List Jackson

[Image Source:  Carney Logan Burke Architects] On a recent visit to Jackson, Wyoming, it really became clear to us that Modernism, is in fact, everywhere. A picturesque mountain town at the edge of the gorgeous Teton Range where the bison population nearly matches the human population, Jackson Hole has a fair share of high-caliber design and architecture both in town and up on the trails. Here’s our first pass at the modern side of Jackson we encountered. Enjoy, and share any spots we missed in the comments below. FOOD | DRINK
While one might expect cowboy cuisine to have a monopoly on the town, Jackson is much more diverse in its edible options — ranging from boutique baked goods, to third wave coffee, and craft cocktails. Persephone Bakery, 145 E. Broadway, 307.200.6708
[Image Source: BUILD LLC] Healthy Being Juicery, 165 E. Broadway, 307.200.9006
[Image Source: Healthy Being] Bin 22, 200 W. Broadway, 307.739.9463
[Image Source: Bin 22] The Rose, 50 W. Broadway, 307.733.1500
[Image Source:  Dynia Architects] Local Restaurant + Bar, 55 N. Cache St., 307.201.1717
[Image Source: Carney Logan Burke Architects] ART + ARCHITECTURE
From touchdown at the airport to hiking a trail to one of the glacial lakes in Grand Teton National Park, there’s a true commitment to making buildings and structures more than just a derivative of log cabin architecture. We barely scratched the surface with this list, but are definitely looking forward to what comes up next in this wave of Mountain Modernism. Jackson Hole Airport, 1250 E. Airport Rd., 307.733,7682 by Carney Logan Burke Architects
[Image Source: Carney Logan Burke Architects] Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve Center, GTNP, 307.739.3654 by Carney Logan Burke Architects
[Image Source: Carney Logan Burke Architects] Craig Thomas Discovery & Visitor Center,  GTNP, 307.739.3399 by Bohlin Cywinski Jackson
[Image Source: Bohlin Cywinski Jackson] Jackson Lake Lodge, 101 Jackson Lake Lodge Rd., Moran, 307.543.2811 by Strout Architects
[Image Source:  Eddimer] Pacific Building by Berlin Architects
[Image Source:  Homestead] Teton County Library, 125 Virginian Ln., 307.733.2164
original building by Will Bruder Architects, addition by Gilday Architects
[Image Source: Gilday Architects] Center for the Arts, 265 S. Cache St., 307-734-8956 by Dynia Architects + Carney Logan Burke Architects
[Image Source: Dynia Architects] Plateau Live/Work Lofts, 1085 W. Broadway by Dynia Architects
[Image Source: Dynia Architects] SHOP
More and more, towns across the country have elevated the shopping experience from running an errand at a soulless cookie-cutter strip mall to a day of browsing and exploring the place itself. From the hybridization the retail business model to highlighting local artisan-made wares, the days of souvenir shopping for the same old tchotchkes are (thankfully) behind us. Wool + Whiskey, 3285 Village Dr., Teton Village, 307.732.4080
[Image Source: Wool and Whiskey] Paper & Grace, 55 N. Glenwood, 307.733.8900
[Image Source: Paper & Grace] MADE, 125 N. Cache St. (Gaslight Alley), 307.690.7957
[Image Source: MADE] Mountain Dandy, Gaslight Alley, 307.690.0606
[Image Source: Mountain Dandy]

Introducing the BUILD Case Study House 2014

BUILD-LLC-CSH-2014-Render As much as we love our Park Modern community, one of us (and our growing family) has taken the plunge into single family home ownership. The light bulb went off early one morning while realizing that the pitter-patter of little feet had since turned into the sprinting cleats of two nearly teenage boys. If a SFR (Single Family Residence, in architectural parlance,) was to be designed, the time was now — before the teenagers grow into young men and head off to college. In relatively short order, we located property in the thriving Roosevelt neighborhood of Seattle just as the real estate market here went from a heavy simmer to a roiling boil. Although it was a huge financial commitment and an economic stretch, we’ve moved from being concerned about the acquisition cost of the property back in January to feeling downright fortunate to have secured it at this point. (The real estate market in Seattle has escalated dramatically in just months.) Roosevelt-Map We sat down and started the project as we do all others, with information gathering and our client questionnaire. The only difference was that we sat on both sides of the table this time. We quickly realized that this project, although very personal, will follow the exact same process as our other SFR’s. We move through the data gathering, regulatory review, diagramming, and design phases methodically, almost scientifically. As the process unfolds, the poetics surface and evolve from a disciplined design method. So, welcome to the beginning of our new blog series on the project. If you follow the BUILDblog you know that we’re big proponents of establishing systems over reinventing the wheel with each and every project. You also know that when we find systems that work, we like to share them and put them out into the world as open source architecture. Like our previous Case Study House, our coverage of the 2014 CSH aims to do the same. Much of the architecture on this project is the evolution of a 15 year design process and we’re looking forward pulling back the veil and talking shop. Now, let’s get down to business with three important pre-design factors. FOLLOW THE ROADMAP YOU PRESCRIBE TO OTHERS
The most important aspect to communicate at this stage of the project is really just a simple concept; that we follow the same design process on our own projects as we prescribe to any of our clients. Just because we’re architects doesn’t mean that we need to spend years fiddling with every design idea we’ve ever had. It doesn’t mean that we’re up on the site each weekend with our sketchbooks and water colors dreaming up all sorts of romantic (but impractical) illustrations of what the house could look like. Nor does it mean that we’re scouring the earth for exotic materials that you’ve never heard of to create a truly bespoke residence. We don’t recommend these design strategies to our clients and we don’t intend to veer from the very path that we so fundamentally believe in as architects. BUILD-LLC-CSH-2014-survey THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS A BLANK CANVAS IN ARCHITECTURE
The property currently hosts a cute little 500 square foot, foundation-free, post and pier cottage from 1912.  But before we get too sentimental, consider that one gets seasick just stepping inside due to the crooked and dilapidated nature of the existing “structure” (or lack thereof). It’s long overdue for a refresh. BUILD-LLC-CSH-2014-Existing But just because the existing home will be demolished, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t play a role in the process. An artist friend of ours, Mindy Barker, saw potential in the structure which came about quite serendipitously. The hazardous material survey, which was conducted on the existing structure, left random patterns of holes throughout the house which were too much for the artistic mind to disregard. Mindy was inspired by these excavations and she is currently working on an art installation to connect the points in various ways. Shortly thereafter, and as a liberating extension of the art installation, the house will be turned into dust when it’s demolished. Every site has a history that matters and a memory to be taken into consideration. Stay tuned for additional coverage on the installation. PROJECTS DON’T HAVE TO BE SINGULAR
Even if it’s a just single family residence, a project always has the potential to be something bigger than itself; for the good of a broader population. If there is one thing we’ve learned as bloggers, it’s that architecture and construction projects make for incredible tools of teaching and learning, especially when you publish the actual data that matters — not just pretty pictures, but costs, specifications, and details. The important design and construction steps of the 2014 CSH will be documented and launched out into the world as synergistic opportunities for the BUILDblog audience as well as ourselves. We learn a tremendous amount when we bounce our ideas and solutions around out there. Social media like blogs, Facebook, and Twitter allow us to share with just about anyone around the globe. A post on a single topic can be tested, evaluated, and responded to everywhere from Australia to Ireland in just hours. A project is only singular when architects keep it locked up and shrouded in secrecy. That’s a quick taste of what we’re doing with the 2014 Case Study House and why. Stay tuned, much more to follow. Cheers from Team BUILD

Shearwalls 101: Why You Can’t Have a Window There

  BUILD LLC Shearwalls 02 As important as shearwalls are to architecture, it’s surprising how unappreciated they remain in the design process of most homes. Moreover, it’s always discouraging to realize how few people (and sometimes even architects!) understand the mechanics behind shearwalls. For the amount of work shearwalls do, they get very little time in the spotlight of design conversation, in fact they’re usually only mentioned as a byproduct of where the windows can and cannot be located. We can’t help but think that this is a bit of an insult to shearwalls, as they do have their own Wikipedia entry and all. So to keep our structural Karma on the good side of lateral design, today’s post pays respect to shearwalls and explains why they’re so important. A well-engineered shearwall resolves the lateral (wind and earthquake) forces on a house and directs those forces to the foundation, where they are resisted by the concrete and the ground. The magnitude of these natural forces varies depending on the region, proximity to seismic zones, exposure to wind, etc. Most people don’t realize that even in earthquake zones, wind forces tend to govern the design of shearwalls more often than seismic forces. In heavy winds, the walls of a house tend to act like big sails, and something needs to keep those sails in place. That something is not, we are sorry to say, big windows. The diagram below shows a simple roof/floor and wall relationship. When wind or earthquake forces are applied to the house, the floors and roofs want to move sideways. In order to keep those roofs and walls right where they’re supposed to be, a sturdy connection to a shearwall below is required. BUILD-LLC-Shearwall-Diagram-1 Getting the lateral force from the exterior walls to the roof or floor and into the shearwall is only one step in the sequence, though. Once the forces are distributed to the shearwall, the integrity of the shearwall itself becomes an important factor. The diagram below to the left shows how a shearwall resolves the applicable lateral forces applied to it. The connections between the framing (2x4s or 2x6s) and the sheathing (plywood) creates a wall member that works as one element (think of it like a big wood block). BUILD-LLC-Shearwall-Diagram-2&3 Without the sheathing, the wall fails to act as one member and the individual connections between framing members fail under the same lateral forces as in the diagram above to the right. When the shearwalls of a project are inadequate (or absent) and cannot resolve the load of the shifting weight above due to lateral forces, it can result in something like the image below. Garage doors, as it turns out, are not recommended in lieu of shearwalls. failure-01 Wood has its limitations as far as shearwalls are concerned and there are certainly other solutions, but they come at an expense. Steel braced frames (below, left) are excellent at resolving lateral forces but they’re expensive and the diagonal steel members still get right in the way of the view. Moment frames (below, right) keep the structure to orthogonal lines, opening up the majority of the wall for that nice, big window, but the steel and labor involved puts a price tag on that window in the thousands (or tens of thousands) of dollars. braced-frame-&-moment-frame
[Image left via Forell, Image right via Bay Area Soft Story Retrofit] We also think it’s the job of a good architect to figure out elegant structural solutions within typical conventions; without the gratuitous use of steel, without throwing a bag of money at the issue. So back to wood … There is an important relationship between the proportions of a typical wood shearwall; the taller it is, the more of a tendency it has to turn over when a lateral force is applied. In order to be effective, tall, skinny shearwalls either need to grow in width or the connections between the sheathing and framing members need to be increased. Increasing the connections typically results in larger nails at a greater frequency attaching the sheathing to the framing. As a general rule of thumb, shearwalls should have a minimum length of five feet. Shorter than that and you should plan on sending your structural engineer a bottle of something nice. If we take a closer look at the shearwall diagram, you’ll notice that the lateral pressure of the wind or earthquake creates a rotational force on the shearwall. Because the shearwall acts as one member, the single force on the wall produces a compression force at one corner of the wall and a tension force at the other. This “couple,” as engineers like to call it, is reversed when the lateral force comes from the opposite direction. So both sides of the wall typically need to resolve a compression force as well as a tension force. As difficult as it is to resist making a joke about couples and tension, let’s stay on track here. BUILD-LLC-Shearwall-Diagram-4&5 Compression forces in the shearwall assembly are resisted through columns (or studs in wood framing speak); multiple 2x4s or 2x6s typically satisfy most situations, 4x4s or 4x6s can be used for larger compression forces, and the occasional steel post is used for excessive conditions. If these posts sit on the foundation, they transfer the force directly into the concrete. If they sit on a wood framed floor, the load is transferred to the next floor down and resolved in a similar way until the force reaches the foundation. The photo below shows a very hard working shearwall with (8) 2×6 studs at the edge to resist the compression forces (in addition to picking up the gravity load of the beam above). BUILD LLC Shearwalls 01 Because wood framing is poor at resisting tension forces, significant tension forces in a shearwall are typically resisted by steel straps between the shearwall and the floor or foundation below. The photo (below) shows a shearwall on the left side of the house with (2) sets of Simpson CS16 straps on each side of the shearwall to transfer the tension forces to the wall underneath. BUILD LLC Shearwalls 03 Most construction drawing sets include a shearwall schedule which indentifies the attachment specifications of several different shearwalls. The higher the shearwall’s number (SW1, SW2, SW3 …), the more lateral force it can resolve. This particular schedule goes all the way up to a SW7 — keep in mind that anything above a SW5 requires sheathing on both sides of the framing. This schedule calls out the attachment of sheathing to framing as well as the attachment of the wall on top and bottom. Shearwall-schedule-1 On multi-story structures, the forces from upper floors collect and add their forces to the lower floors all the way down through the structure. The lower floors must then resolve their own forces and the forces generated from above as outlined in this diagram. BUILD-LLC-Shearwall-Diagram-6 It should be apparent by now that there are numerous variables in the design, calculations, and construction of shearwalls. One tweak to the equation (like changing the width of a shearwall) creates a ripple effect and can change the requirements of other factors. Perhaps the single most successful strategy to deal with these variables is having a good relationship with an experienced structural engineer. A skillful structural engineer can design shearwalls that are effective and attenuated, leaving as much space as possible for doors and windows. For bonus points, an architect that understands the logic of structural engineering allows for clear communication and an effective design process. So to summarize; no you can’t have a full window wall where you need to transfer lateral forces from the roof down to the foundation — without throwing bags of money at it. But if you approach the design process intelligently and respect the structural engineering, the shearwalls can most likely be smaller and smarter. Most importantly, don’t mess with mother nature — she cares less about your windows than you might think. Cheers from Team BUILD

Fashion-Proof Material Palettes

BUILD LLC material compilation 06
[All photos by BUILD LLC] On most residential projects, once we’re into the design development phase, it’s an appropriate time to discuss materials. Interestingly enough, the first comments from most clients on the topic of materials tend to be quite similar — most homeowners want the material palette to be timeless, and for good reason. A quick recall of your parents’ avocado green Formica countertops is all it usually takes to appreciate the value of materials that don’t go out of fashion. Needless to say, the request of a timeless palette dovetails nicely with our philosophy of design. In addition to creating fashion-proof design, we also find value in establishing reliable systems. Rather than scouring the corners of the earth for new and different materials each time a project is being designed, we trust materials that are known to work well together. These materials are cost-effective, predictable, low-maintenance, and, you guessed it: timeless. We experiment with materials here and there, and perform some research to see if anything new or better has emerged in the market, but for the most part, we rely on solid material palettes that have proven themselves over time. For us, the process of material selection is more about editing rather than exploration. This applies to both the exterior of the house as well as the interior. Today’s post breaks down four material palettes for the kitchen and surrounding interiors. There are some important guidelines that we’ve learned over the years about the selection of materials inside the home. Most importantly, that certain materials should be chosen first, as they tend to guide many of the secondary material decisions. In our experience, the single most important material of a residential interior is typically the floor. The color, tone and texture of the floor sets the path for many of the remaining decisions such as the cabinets, which in turn influence the countertops which affect the backsplashes. Given that it can be a chain reaction of decisions, we find that the process is most effective with lots of experience and a healthy dose of discipline. Simply walking into a design showroom with its overwhelming material options can do more harm than good. As architects and designers, an important part of the service we offer is that of curation. Ideally, the process of material selection should have some structure behind it and some previous examples to study. BUILD-LLC-Ext-living-21
We’ve also found that the most successful interiors packages tend to establish a balanced contrast between the floors, cabinets and countertops. For instance, light floors, darker cabinets and light countertops. Or the inverse of dark floors, light cabinets, and dark countertops. This contrast shouldn’t be so bold as to visually knock you over when you walk into the room, but there should be a distinct difference in tone between one adjacent material and the next (rather than a muddy blend of materials). Visual tools like these have helped us establish the palettes covered in today’s post. These four have served our projects well, and since we only work on new residences and full house remodels, they commonly set the tone for the entire house. They hit the requirements above, and we’re willing to bet our liquor cabinet that they stand the test of time.
Floor: Combination of rift-sawn and quarter-sawn oak with a Swedish matte finish
Cabinets: Quarter-sawn walnut
Countertop: Pentalquartz Cascade White
Backsplash: Stainless steel with a non-directional finish
Options: Vertical grain carmelized bamboo flooring, Pental Park Botticino tile flooring, Pental Feel Colonial tile flooring, Statements Flow Glacier glass tile backsplash*
Similar Job: West Seattle BUILD LLC material palette 01 BUILD-LLC-OM-Kitchen-01#
Floor: Combination of rift-sawn and quarter-sawn oak with light gray stain
Cabinets: Quarter-sawn walnut
Countertop: Natural stone (Courtyard Fleur Light, Cashmere White, or Perla Venata all from Pental)
Backsplash: Stainless steel with a non-directional finish
Options: Pentalquartz Oasis Polished countertops
Similar Jobs: Innis Arden, Magnolia Residence
Note: Although using the natural stone as the backsplash seems intuitive, it actually creates a chunky profile that becomes too much of a visual distraction. Instead, we like the sleek, minimal look of the stainless steel for the backsplash with this palette. BUILD LLC material palette 02 BUILD-LLC-Innis-Arden BUILD-LLC-Magnolia-Kitchen-03
Floor: Combination of rift-sawn and quarter-sawn oak with ebonized finish
Cabinets: Non-figured anigre
Countertop: Pentalquartz Mesa Polished
Backsplash: Stainless steel with a non-directional finish
Options: Cherry cabinets, Statements Flow Grey Mist glass tile backsplash*
Similar Job: Risley BUILD LLC material palette 03 BUILD-LLC-Risley-Int-Kitchen-03
Floor: Maple with clear finish
Cabinets: Gray laminate
Countertop: Pentalquartz Alpine Polished
Backsplash: Stainless steel with a non-directional finish
Option: Vertical grain bamboo flooring with natural finish, Statements Flow Ice Grey Mist glass tile backsplash*
Similar Job: Queen Anne BUILD LLC material palette 04 BUILD-LLC-Queen-Anne
*While we occasionally use glass tile as the backsplash, the application comes with a disclaimer. Typically we’re trying to downplay the backsplash, which is why our preferred backsplash is stainless steel with a non-directional finish. While glass backsplashes can be a nice feature in some kitchens, it’s also a highly specialized surface that can draw too much attention away from some of the more important features, like the cabinets and appliances. BUILD LLC material compilation set 03
Cheers from Team BUILD

Something is Very Wrong

Codes-11   As architects, we think of ourselves as a pretty thoughtful and progressive group. We like to think that we leave things better than we find them. And, although we are in an industry and region with pretty inflated financial barriers to entry, we maintain a disciplined and responsible approach to spending the hard-earned funds our clients trust us with. Thrifty isn’t necessarily the word for it, but we provide great value for the time, energy, and dollars entrusted to us. A friend once told us, “Liberalism is wonderful as long as you don’t mind paying for it.” We believe that paying a fair share of taxes and “user fees” (a ubiquitous term now used to cover everything from supporting state parks to applying for building permits and then some) is the bedrock parameter for maintaining a civil society and a community we’ll continue living in. This philosophy makes common sense to us and we don’t at all mind paying to fix potholes, uphold life safety in the built environment, keep city pools open, and allow some element of access to community for everyone. You know, the basic covenants America was based on. But lately, we’ve noticed something very disturbing, and it’s become an increasingly troubling pattern. At a time when our industry is finally rebounding from the recession, we see a new threat on the horizon — a bureaucratic embellishment of sorts, along with “user fees” that have tipped to unprecedented and unbalanced levels. Here are our own personal, first-hand, real-world experiences indicating that things have tipped: Excessive fees by regulatory groups
A recent project of ours required that the city sidewalk in front of the remodeled residence be replaced. The requirement isn’t unusual, however the permit fees for the sidewalk alone cost more than the actual tearing out and replacing of the sidewalk. If the project was located along the busy corridors downtown, such fees might be justified. But in an outer neighborhood with low pedestrian traffic, excessive fees like this indicate that something is ridiculously out of balance. BUILD-LLC-MPR-Ext.-South-02   Overreach by third party inspectors
Third party inspectors are additional design professionals that the client is required to hire to ensure conformance with the building code. In the past, city and county building inspectors would conduct this work, while the building permit fees would cover the time for performing site inspections and the accompanying administrative work. This system took a pivotal change in the last decade and it’s now common for building departments to farm this work out to third party inspectors. Another recent residential project involved four geotechnical site inspections and related reports, totaling less than 8 hours of site time by the third party inspector. Yet, the billed cost of this observation and related administration was $7000. And the kicker: the services and related city fees totaled more than the actual physical work and material costs of the excavation, material placement, drainage system, and backfill. You read that correctly. The watching of the work, cost more than the doing of the work. Again, when the paperwork and inspection fees exceed the cost of laborious site work, the alarm bells in our minds start sounding off. Codes-07   Architects are becoming Permit Technicians
The photo above features most of the building codes that an architect must satisfy in order to submit a residential project to the building department for permit approval. These books get a little larger with each release and the amendments from state, county, and city jurisdictions continue to add to the complexity. The photo below shows the growth of the code between 1994, 1997, 2009 and 2012. Codes-01   We like meeting (and exceeding) the requirements of the building code. We like designing buildings that are environmentally responsible, structurally sound, and safe for the inhabitants. But the amount of time required to satisfy the permit review process is becoming excessive to the point that it’s jeopardizing doing good architecture. We know what you’re thinking: Meeting the building code and designing the building should be one in the same. And we couldn’t agree more. However, the permit submittal process is quickly evolving into a set of documents that serve the bureaucratic process alone, mutually exclusive of the construction documents. A few examples include drainage calculations that become mathematically abstract, impractical temporary site provisions (wrapping the trees in plywood for protection, really?!), and unrealistic furnace specifications intended to address policy rather than the reality of heating a home. Many of these requirements become mere exercises in checking boxes, reverse engineering, or worse: gaming the system to produce the desired results. All of this competes with the bandwidth required of the more significant and tangible aspects of architecture, like the nuts and bolts of the structural system, coordinating with the manufacturers for the most appropriate products, and creating a piece of architecture that will be a value add to the built environment. Not to mention, actually focusing on making a project more sensible, sustainable, and low impact. Architects are becoming permit technicians at the expense of doing good architecture. Overlapping Liability
Most of us architects were trained by schools subsidized by the state, we take professional state exams, we maintain professional state licenses, and we are required by the state to carry professional liability insurance to cover the work we do. With all of those checks and regulations in place, it’s a shame that the state has to then police an architecture project down to every last detail. For instance, it seems unnecessary for a building department to concern themselves with something as granular as providing adequate ventilation at the roof of a new residence. No doubt, ventilation is very important, and any architect worth their education, license, and liability should know this. But the fact of the matter is that if the ventilation isn’t properly designed, the architect will have a host of obligations to face entirely independent of the building department. Obligations such as contributing to the solution, (be it financial or sweat equity,) relying on their liability insurance, getting sued, or having their license revoked. Instead of the checks and re-checks of an architect’s work via the lengthy permit review process, maybe architects who don’t understand the basic principles of construction shouldn’t be given licenses in the first place. There seems to be too many layers of scrutiny on projects and not enough emphasis on an architect’s training. Ambiguity of accountability
A current design project of ours is sited approximately 500’ feet from a possible eagle’s nest. Given that bald eagles were recently on the endangered species list, there are typically requirements for a construction project within a certain radius of the nest. Easy enough. Get the requirements and incorporate them into the project, right? Wrong. This seemingly straight-forward task required a dozen phone calls to The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, 11 of which led to pre-recorded message loops, inactive voice mail boxes, WDF&W employees unfamiliar with the issue, and other black holes of a nebulous state-operated phone routing system. WDF&W employees moved on (left their jobs) without forwarding information, emails bounced back from the replacement, and no one was returning our calls. Finally, a representative directed us to the eagle hotline (there’s a hotline?!) where we left a message which was returned several days later by a very helpful gentleman who told us to call another guy who directed us to a list of guidelines on the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services website. Finally, something in writing! As it turns out, since bald eagles were recently delisted from the endangered species list, the list of guidelines is now just a handful of recommendations. Fine, no problem, happy to comply. But shouldn’t someone at the building department, or a majority of the folks at fish and wildlife departments know where to point an architect for this info? Surely we aren’t the first (or last) to inquire about this requirement/recommendation. Wild goose chases like this cost architects, builders, and homeowners a lot of time. Time that could be better spent designing and building better buildings. BUILD-LLC-MPR-Ext.-South-01   The way we see it, the excessive fees and disproportionate time required of the permitting and inspection phases of a project are clear indicators that the needle of the sensibility-o-meter is red-lining. The system has tipped into a dangerous zone, and not only has the process become inefficient, it’s become wasteful. A clear vision of the seas we’re all trying to navigate is becoming obstructed by the tidal wave of hyper-regulation. It’s situations like this that paralyze communities, cities and societies, and if you ask us, it’s time to sound the alarm bell. Most of us (architects, builders, trades-people, plan reviewers, inspectors) want to do work we’re proud of, work that is environmentally responsible, work that makes the built-environment better, work that gets us excited when we hop out of bed in the morning. There are no enemies here — we’re all after the same goal — but we need to work more intelligently, resourcefully, sensibly, and with more accountability. Codes-13   As always, we’re open to your thoughts. Cheers from Team BUILD

The Inconspicuousness of Sensible Sustainability

[All images by BUILD LLC] Anyone familiar with BUILD’s work knows that many of our “new” projects strategically reuse the concrete foundations from previous homes on our jobsites. This has made sense on our projects for a number of reasons:
  • It eliminates or reduces the required earthwork on site
  • It eliminates or reduces the amount of foundation work for the project
  • It saves time in the construction schedule
  • It minimizes the impact in environmentally critical areas (when applicable)
  • It can expedite the permit review process
  • Building departments are more likely to  approve exceptions on the project (when applicable)
  • It treads lightly on the land
  • It saves the homeowners construction dollars
  • It lends discipline to the design
Most of these items simply make good, practical sense to us as architects, builders, and professionals who like to keep both feet on the ground. They make so much sense, in fact, that we rarely figure out the mathematics behind the decision to retain and reuse an existing foundation. If the foundation was poured in the 1950’s or later, if it’s in good structural shape, and if there is a way to merge the existing foundation with a new design for the home (which there usually is), we move forward into schematic design with confidence (and with an existing foundation). Recently, we started design work on a project that will be a textbook example of reusing an existing foundation. This particular project maximizes the advantages listed above to such an extent that it really got us thinking about the metrics. So today’s post is a deep-dive of sorts. To satisfy our own curiosity and because we thought it might be of interest to a community increasingly concerned with sustainability, we sharpened our pencils and figured out the math behind keeping an existing foundation. Here goes: THE EXISTING HOUSE, originally constructed in the 1950’s, has a footprint of 3,529 square feet. It’s a solidly built one-story structure with partial basement, partial crawl-space and partial slab on grade. While the home itself is outdated and in need of modifications, the foundation is in very good shape. THE SITE is situated on Magnolia bluff, a steep slope zone highly scrutinized by the Seattle building department. The adjacent landscaping is mature and well maintained. The house and surrounding trees show no signs of movement,  drainage issues or unusual settling. THE PROPOSED DESIGN, will retain all of the existing concrete foundation except a 288 square foot addition which was poorly constructed and doesn’t fit with the house or the site. BUILD-LLC-foundations   THE EXISTING FOUNDATION TO REMAIN is equal to the amount of concrete that will not be going to the landfill or the recycling facility; it adds up to 2,035 cubic feet (75.4 cubic yards) or 226,200 lbs (113.1 tons) of concrete. This number includes all of the concrete within the footprint of the home (footings, retaining walls, and slabs on grade). Not trucking this material to the landfill or recycling station saves an estimated 56 gallons of fuel and eliminates a dump truck on the roads for 8 round-trips totaling 384 miles. The elimination of an excavator on site saves an estimated 100 gallons of fuel. THE EXISTING FOUNDATION TO BE DEMOLISHED results in 96 cubic feet (5.8 cubic yards) or 17,400 lbs (8.7 tons) of concrete and is equivalent to one dump truck load. This will likely be crushed and reused on site as fill for the proposed landscaping. THE NEW FOUNDATION THAT WON’T BE NECESSARY (even if it were constructed in the exact footprint of the existing house) would consume more concrete and steel than the existing foundation, simply because today’s building codes and standards are a bit more stringent. The concrete required to build a new house of the same footprint would consume 2,265 cubic feet (83.9 cubic yards) or 251,700 lbs (125.9 tons) of concrete. This concrete work would require 13.4 cubic feet of reinforcing steel. The trucking required of this foundation would require an estimated 21 gallons of fuel with the concrete mixer on the roads for 9 round-trips totaling 100 miles.  Once you factor in waiting times, concrete pumping, delivering the reinforcing, etc., the fuel amount would most likely be doubled. THE TOTALS of reusing the existing foundation eliminates over 226,000 lbs of concrete from entering the landfill or recycling facility, it prevents 2,265 cubic feet of concrete and 13.4 cubic feet of steel from being produced/used and saves approximately 200 gallons of fuel, and this is just for the actual material conveyance and placement (more on the other carbon impacts in a moment). Obviously there are some variables involved in this calculation, such as distances to the concrete/landfill/recycling facilities, type of machinery being used, and the efficiency of work on site. But even with a healthy margin of error, these are big numbers for a single family residence. THE LIMITATIONS of our math here are obvious. For instance we don’t address the resources/fuel it would take to put the crushed and recycled concrete back into use once it’s been delivered to the recycling facility. The resources required to produce the new concrete and steel for a new foundation also aren’t addressed. It would be an interesting study to follow the thread further and determine the carbon footprint of reusing the foundation as opposed to demolishing and existing foundation and pouring a new one. But not only is that math a bit beyond our expertise, we’ve got a house to continue designing here. The bottom line is that these fully developed numbers would simply reinforce (pun intended) the environmental significance of keeping an existing foundation. THE COST of all this is perhaps the most important clincher. All of this material and fuel is eliminated, reduced, reused and recycled for the minimal cost of the design team sharpening their pencils and figuring out an elegant and strategic method to reuse a perfectly good foundation. There’s no proprietary technology to acquire, no ironic “green” home gadget to buy, and no esoteric information to decipher. Any design and construction team can do this. THE DISCLAIMER of this method of sustainable design is both encouraging and maybe a bit depressing for some readers. As beneficial to the environment (and frankly, to a project’s target budget and schedule) as reusing a foundation is, it’s never going to sound all that stimulating at a dinner party. The conversation will likely be trumped with talk of “sexier” technologies:  solar panels, geothermal heating, gray-water collection tanks, what have you. And while all of these sustainable and “green” technologies have their merits, none beats the energy spent vs. value gained equation of simply reusing an existing foundation. THE POINT of all this was to take our best crack at the sustainability metrics of reusing an existing foundation for a typical residential project. As we suspected, the numbers are substantial and the environmental savings is significant. It is most certainly worth the bit of extra design and coordination time to implement. True sustainability typically lacks the sound-bites and marketing gloss that so many “green” products have developed over the years to sell more products.  More often than not, the real methods of sustainability are sensible and inconspicuous. House-01   Keep both feet on the ground and cheers from Team BUILD.

The Questions of Cooking; A Guest Post by Aaron Freedman, Appliance Sherpa

When you’re a residential architect, kitchen appliances are a big deal. In fact, it’s not unusual for our clients to be more concerned with the kitchen appliances than any other specific item within the home. And of all the appliances, cooking is, well, on the front burner. Homeowners typically have strong preferences about their cooking methods and selecting the right appliance for the job is an exercise in research, expertise, experience, and filtering down the overwhelming choices out there. Over the years we’ve found that the best results are achieved through a long-standing relationship with a trusted supplier; this has allowed our projects to incorporate appliances that are highly functional, cost-effective, and aesthetically appropriate to the design of the home. When our favorite appliance rep agreed to be a guest blogger on the topic of cooking, we were thrilled. Please give a scorching-hot welcome to Aaron Freedman of Metropolitan Appliance here in Seattle.

My favorite product category to discuss with builders and homeowners that visit our showroom is cooking. It’s tough to get really excited about air conditioners or trash compactors — but cooking is fun. Store visitors are so much more interested in cooking, and both the quality and quantity of options have increased. While clients have a better chance to get exactly what they want, I regularly see that this abundance of options comes with a cost: analysis paralysis.

[Image source: xkcd via Chadwick Martin Bailey Research Blog]

A short sidenote: you really need to spend some time offline consulting with an expert in your local marketplace. The web-space is filled with passionate folks who got to that point because they had a bad experience and are eager to share. It is good to know how poor of an experience you could potentially have, but it’s tough to understand the likelihood of having that experience solely from reading web posts. Your local expert will be able to explain the resources that are at their disposal in working through the challenges that you read about online. They’ll also be able to give you more information as to how frequently a manufacturer has had the issues that you’re concerned about and what kind of support that manufacturer provides the expert’s organization to resolve those issues for their customers. In selecting an appliance store to purchase from, you’ll really want to consider how each manufacturer and each appliance store will help you resolve any product issues after installation.

What follows is a handy list of questions and some bonus dialogue to help you describe to your appliance expert what exactly you’re looking to install in your kitchen.

What fuel(s) are available in your home to cook with? Electricity, gas, or both? What fuel would you like to cook with?

You’ve likely had some experience with one or both the fuel types, but perhaps not with the latest technology that employs either of those fuels. Electric induction cook-surfaces blow the doors off of any other type of electric cooking top. They are as responsive as gas, easy to clean, energy efficient, and far safer than any of the other cooking alternatives.

[Electric induction cooktops only heat what’s in the pan – the glass surface stays cool]

Newer gas cooktops can deliver heat faster and simmer down lower than older gas-fueled surfaces. The difference between gas heated and electric heated ovens has narrowed significantly as the engineers for each major manufacturer compete to provide the most consistent oven temperatures throughout the oven cavity regardless of fuel. If you cook a lot of bread and pastry, you’d likely want an electric oven as its drier heat does a better job with baked goods. If you do more roasting and braising in the oven, you’ll really like a gas oven. Because the differences between the two fuels are relatively slim, and most folks cook a little bit of everything, it is likely that you’ll end up satisfied with either. If you know that you are likely to do more of one thing (i.e. roasting) than another (i.e. pizza) you should let that help make the fuel decision. If you aren’t completely certain which fuel you want to cook with, visit a local showroom and see both in action. In homes where a customer wants two ovens, we will often see a built-in (electric) wall oven installed in addition to the gas range (gas top + gas oven).

Are you cooking for survival or cooking for enjoyment?

GE-Double-OvenIf it is the former, barring any impacts on the resale value of your home, you can “get away” with spending far less on a more than adequate range or cooktop/wall oven. Most people that we talk to in the showroom are somewhere in the middle; usually wanting to cook for enjoyment but haven’t really got the time. Features that ten years ago were only available in professional level appliances (i.e. low simmer, high output burners, convection ovens) are now included in much more affordable options. The quality, effectiveness, and durability of those options compared to their professional versions varies. Occasionally, you’ll gain more functionality in considering non-professional options (like the pictured 30” GE PGS950SEFSS Double Oven Gas Convection Slide-in Range).  It is worth mentioning that these extra features can potentially expose you to a greater likelihood of requiring service down the road.

In general, most folks are pleased to discover that they don’t need to spend $4,000 to get a spectacular cooking instrument. So what’s the advantage to buying professional appliances (like those made by Wolf, GE Monogram, Viking, etc.)? All (true) professional products offer greater flexibility on the cooking surface (burners that both get very hot and simmer down very low) and larger convection oven capacities. Most professional products are manufactured with higher quality components and their after-the-sale-support, in varying degrees, is higher than non-professional products.

Would you prefer a range (burners + oven in one appliance) or a cooktop/rangetop and separate built-in wall oven?

This is very much a matter of personal preference and is largely a design choice. Some people prefer built-in wall ovens because they can be mounted higher which minimizes the amount of bending over that’s required getting food in and out of the oven. In my experience, most customers are surprised by the costs of built-in wall ovens. You should expect to spend 30% more for a comparable cooktop+wall oven over the price of a range. If you do elect to install a cooktop and wall oven(s), you’ll need to decide if you want a cooktop or rangetop. Cooktops are less powerful and take up less space. Rangetops offer higher performance and give you more cooking surface making it easier to use a greater variety of pots and pans at the same time.

In thinking through the size of the range or cooktop/rangetop: What is the maximum number of guests you’ll want to be able to prepare a meal for?

Your overall kitchen space also plays a major part in determining what is appropriate. You will want to consider how well whatever cooking appliance(s) you select will scale in comparison to the larger overall space. Ranges, rangetops, and cooktops are all approximately the same height and depth, which allows them to line up with standard cabinetry and countertops. While most ranges are 30” wide, many pro ranges and rangetops are available in 30”, 36”, 48” and 60” widths.  Cooktops usually are manufactured in 30” and 36” widths.

[Left: Jenn-Air JGC7636BP 36” Gas Cooktop, Right: Wolf SRT366 36” Sealed Burner Rangetop]

How important is it that your cooking appliance selection positively impacts your home’s marketability?

If you’re looking to sell your home in the next couple of years, be sure to think through how much you’re willing to give away to the next homeowner by buying and installing a fancier product than what is commensurate with the average quality in your neighborhood. If you are in the “cooking for survival” camp, you may want to consider installing some of the more upscale brands that offer features you wouldn’t normally benefit from if you know that your home’s potential buyer is likely to be seeing those products installed in comparable neighbouring properties.

How will you be ventilating your cooktop/rangetop?

Know that selecting a non-exterior wall for your range or cooktop installation location comes with some additional planning challenges (mostly related to ducting) and costs (island hoods and downdraft ranges are relatively costly compared to their traditional alternatives). If you know that you aren’t going to want an island hood canopy hanging down in the middle of your kitchen you may not be able to install a professional range or rangetop in that space. If that’s of little concern, there is an ever-growing assortment of alternative ventilation products available for island installs. If you’re interested in a more detailed discussion of the various ventilation products and application, check out Build LLC’s October 8, 2013 blog post, “Design Strategies for Kitchen Hood Venting.”

After you’ve had the opportunity to work through the questions above, prioritize your responses so that you know which of the answers above you feel the strongest about. Armed with answers to the above and a good understanding of what you know you want and what you know you are interested in knowing more about will make your visit into the local appliance shop far more valuable. You’ll end up that much closer to selecting the perfect kitchen appliances for your needs and home.

Aaron Freedman is Vice President and Appliance Sherpa of Metropolitan Appliance in Seattle, Washington. He was born into the appliance industry and studied business at the University of Washington, taking an active role in the family-owned operation in 1998. His responsibilities include business strategy, business evolution, and sales management. When time allows, he enjoys wearing the chef’s hat and firing up the range to cook for his wife and three kids.

BUILD Status Report

build_BUILD LLC innis north 3[Image Source: BUILD LLC] We’re nearly a third of the way through the year, and there’s been a ton of activity buzzing around BUILD World Headquarters. Projects wrapping up, a handful more started up, and our construction schedule’s busier than ever. We’ve even managed to squeeze in some in-house tinkering. ARCHITECTing
House + Guesthouse is the newest project to come through our doors. Perched on a hillside in Magnolia with panoramic views of Puget Sound, this unique project involves two separate lots, one for a main residence, the other operating as a guest house.
arch_BUILD LLC house guesthouse
[Image Source: BUILD LLC] A couple commercial projects are brewing around the office, but as is usually the case, we’ve gotta keep things under the radar, for now. More to come soon, so stay tuned …
[Image Source: BUILD LLC] Home in the Woods falls into that rare category of project, where the lot is undeveloped and beautifully wooded.
arch_BUILD LLC home in the woods 1
[Image Source: BUILD LLC] PERMITing
The Desai Residence up on Queen Anne Hill is in permit review as we speak. For those in the Seattle area, this project is also on exhibit at UW Headlines (see below).
permit_BUILD LLC desai
[Image Source: BUILD LLC] Case Study House 2014? This yet-to-be-named project on our boards is a case study less so for the architecture, and more so for the strategies around designing and building a project on a standard lot in the City of Seattle. Stay tuned for a blog post about this in the very near future.
[Image Source: BUILD LLC] BUILDing
Innis Arden North is looking sharp as ever: concrete poured, walls painted, and exterior finishes near-complete.
build_BUILD LLC innis north 2
[Image Source: BUILD LLC] Up on Beacon Hill, the Bell Residence is making progress, wrapping up siding.
build_BUILD LLC bell
[Image Source: BUILD LLC] And just a bit further south, Lake Washington Residence is taking shape: full-speed ahead with framing.
[Image Source: BUILD LLC] A little bit of office remodeling happened last month with a new overhead shelf installed to give our models a permanent home and display area.
[Image Source: BUILD LLC] WRAPPing
Madison Park Remodel finished up earlier this year, featuring one of our slickest staircases to date.
[Image Source: BUILD LLC] MODELing
Tinkering on the BUILDbot, our current model for Lake Washington Residence  is our latest experiment in hybridizing hand-built with bot-built. So far, we dig it.
[Image Source: BUILD LLC] DIAGRAMMing
Nothing gets our archi-geek groove on like some serious research and spot-on graphics for a contributing piece in an upcoming issue of ARCADE Magazine.
diagram_BUILD LLC manifesto
[Image Source: BUILD LLC] BRANDing
It’s been some time since we refreshed our branding, so with the current supply of business cards dwindling, we took the opportunity to update our business card design. This round is super-simple, double-sided, and extra-thick. Thanks to MOO for the sharp output.
[Image Source: BUILD LLC] INTERVIEWing
Our Laurie Hawkinson interview is out now in the current issue of ARCADE Magazine. Check it out in print or online.
[Image Source: BUILD LLC] On our last visit to NYC we had the chance to sit down with the design powerhouse AvroKO. Look for the interview in an upcoming issue of ARCADE.
publish_Arcade AvroKO
[Image Source: AvroKO] And finally, we just wrapped an interview with last week with Kate Ascher while she was in town promoting her latest book, The Way to Go: Moving by Sea, Land, and Air. With two previous infographic-forward books under her belt, the series makes for a great triad of coffee table books.
interview_Kate Ascher
[Image Source: BUILD LLC] EXHIBITing
A year goes by fast. It’s already Spring again, which means Seattle firms give a glimpse into their projects on the boards (and not yet in the ground) at the annual UW Headlines Exhibit. They’ve been up on display as of last week, but the official reception is this Friday, April 18th.
exhibit_BUILD LLC uw headlines
[Image Source: BUILD LLC] PARTYing
Last month closed off with another fantastic ARCADE Launch Party, introducing their latest issue 32.1 After Growth: Rethinking the Narrative of Modernization. The venue was none other than the glowing icon on Seattle’s Beacon Hill, Pacific Tower.
party_arcade 32.1
[Image Source: ARCADE] Friend and local shop owner Peter Miller is proprietor to Seattle’s go-to bookstore for design and architecture books. Recently, we attended a launch event for his very own book, Lunch at the Shop, featuring simple recipes for freshly crafted mid-day meals. Available, of course, at Peter Miller Books.
[Image Source:  The Kitchn] PUBLISHing
Beaux-Arts Village Residence continues its press rounds with a spread in Sunday’s Pacific NW Magazine.
[Image Source: BUILD LLC] We’re feeling pretty honored that Sir Richard Branson mentioned our build-out of CreativeLive San Francisco in his latest blog post about dynamic office spaces. Also showing the CreativeLive some love this week is Barn Light Electric, whose fixtures we’ve used for several commercial projects.
You can always see what we’re up to on our Twitter feed.
The scene behind the scenes is over at our Facebook page.
What’s inspiring us at the moment over on our Pinterest boards.
And now you can follow our LinkedIn profile. Cheers from Team BUILD

Roof Decks Over Conditioned Area

[Photo by BUILD LLC] The subject might seem overly particular, but properly designing a deck over living space demonstrates architectural sophistication and consideration to the design process. It’s also a piece of the architectural puzzle that should be tackled early on in the design process, as it has many dependencies. Today’s post reviews the architectural and structural strategies that BUILD has developed over the years along with a review of several projects. BUILD-LLC-BAV-Ext-NW-01#
[Photo by BUILD LLC] Creating a level surface between the interior floors and an exterior deck is a clean and highly-functional aesthetic that might typically go unnoticed simply because you don’t see problems that aren’t there. But it would be glaringly obtrusive if the deck were higher than the interior floor.  Nothing says “we didn’t figure out the framing system prior to building the deck” quite like having to step up to the deck from an adjacent room. A level relationship is easy enough to achieve at decks that sit over exterior areas, as the structure can just be dropped to accommodate the alignment of floor and deck. But over habitable conditioned area, it’s a different beast all together. Here are 5 reasons why: 1.    Decks need to slope to drain. This typically requires that the structural joists are tapered or that there’s an additional layer of non-structural tapered joists (or sleepers as they’re sometimes called). Either scenario typically requires additional depth. BUILD-LLC-Kirsch-Ext-Dusk-NE-01
[Photo by BUILD LLC] 2.    The water proof membrane should sit below the walking surface. This allows the water to pass through the walking surface (usually wood decking with air gaps in between), gather on the waterproof membrane, and drain according to the slope. The space between the waterproof membrane and the walking surface requires additional depth. BUILD-LLC-Kirsch-Roof-Deck-02
[Photo by BUILD LLC] 3.    Sloped decks usually want be at their lowest point around the perimeter of the structure, right where the beams and headers are commonly located. This overlap typically requires some head-scratching, a bit of structural coordination, and (you guessed it) additional depth. BUILD-LLC-CSH01-Ext-04
[Photo by BUILD LLC] 4.    Most successful solutions to the items noted above compress the structural and drainage systems into an efficient and minimal vertical dimension. Unfortunately this rarely leaves enough room for the batt insulation required to develop the appropriate R-value. BUILD-LLC-CSH01-Deck-03#
[Photo by BUILD LLC] 5.     The build-up of assembly due to drainage, structure, and insulation systems frequently necessitates a drop soffit at the interior of the home. These 5 items are intricately intertwined and the success in resolving one, invariably affects the others. Subsequently, the design of decks over habitable areas are delicate solutions and once good assemblies are figured out and drawn up in the office, we tend to employ them as a standard detail on future projects, tweaking them ever so slightly as we find new/better materials and methods. Here is a current project on the drawing board along with it’s detailing for the deck over conditioned area: Desai-012114-Scheme-3-Scene-2 Desai section Model (1)
[Images by BUILD LLC] There’s a few important items to notice with this detail. The level of the exterior deck is perfectly level with the interior finished floor. The drainage slope occurs with the structural joists themselves. And last but not least, the assembly doesn’t use batt insulation. Here’s a quick hit of 5 keys components to solving the issues noted above and arriving at a successful assembly for a deck over conditioned area: A.    The structural engineer should calculate the smallest possible cross section required of the joists; this sets the minimum joist depth at the low side of the drainage. The joists can then be tapered up at ¼” per foot to the high side. This meets the structural criteria and at the same time builds the slope into the structural system. With any luck, the tall side of the joists are shorter than the floor joists at the adjacent interior. The sheathing and waterproof membrane can then be added directly on top of the structural joists. BUILD-LLC-Davidson-Ext-W-02
[Photo by BUILD LLC] B.    The header at the perimeter of the interior envelope (the low side of the deck drainage) can be sized shallow but wide. Because it’s not a drop beam, a wider beam can be concealed within the floor cavity. In this situation, we’ll often use a PSL header as the increased shear and moment resistance allows for a smaller cross section. BUILD-LLC-Davidson-Deck-Sunset-02
[Photo by BUILD LLC] C.    Instead of batt insulation, fill the entire cavity with a blown-in type rigid insulation. Rigid insulations are capable of much higher R-values and are able to meet the energy code with less vertical space. Filling the entire cavity with rigid insulation also eliminates the need for venting which is usually advantageous at areas of tricky framing. pm_Build10-7102t
[Photo by Art Grice] D.    A series of non-structural sleepers are sloped to provide a level walking surface at the deck. These are built like palettes, fastened to the decking, and simply lay on top of the roofing membrane. For obvious reasons, the fewer penetrations in the membrane, the more reliable the waterproof membrane will be over time. BUILD-LLC-Park-Modern-photo-05-by-Chase-Jarvis
[Photo by Chase Jarvis] E.    It’s not at all uncommon for the solutions above to still produce an assembly deeper than the typical interior floor system. When it’s simply not possible to compress the deck assembly to less than the depth of the floor system at the adjacent interior, a lower ceiling will be required beneath. A lower ceiling or drop soffit isn’t necessarily a bad thing -it just involves an added layer of strategy. The project below makes use of a drop soffit above the living room to resolve the deck assembly depth. The soffit is carefully situated between the living room and dining room and you barely notice it. It plays a visual role by delineating the living room from the dining room and it makes the living room a bit more intimate in scale. BUILD-LLC-Massena-Ext-NW-01#
[Photos by BUILD LLC] BUILD-LLC-Massena-Deck-03# BUILD-LLC-Massena-Living-01 The ceiling drop can be further concealed with the use of a soffit if desired -here’s our technical guide to soffits. If you’re interested in more information on the guardrails featured in the projects above, click here. There you have it, the top 5 issues and our top 5 solutions for decks over conditioned area. You know where to put those questions, comments, and concerns. Cheers from team BUILD.

A Student’s Guide to the Architectural Portfolio

BUILD-LLC-Portfolio-00 Each spring we receive an abundance of architectural portfolios, supplemented with resumés, from students eager to secure a summer internship. These portfolios come from all over the world and exhibit a wide range of abilities and design philosophies. While we always enjoy seeing the diversity of design and presentation skills offered by the future architects of the world, diversity isn’t actually what makes the greatest impact when we review a portfolio. The funny thing is, the more variety we see with the presentation of portfolios, the more we rely on a simple and consistent set of guidelines to determine a candidate’s aptitude. These guidelines are timeless, they relate to our own student portfolios (pre-Photoshop) just as they do to today’s highly digitized portfolios. They span all mediums and pertain to physical and digital portfolios alike. They are universal and apply equally from Arkansas to Zimbabwe, and from the university level to professional internships. This is typically the part where we’d tell you that this is just our perspective and that you should take it with a grain of salt; that if you get 10 architects in a room, you’ll get 11 perspectives and so on. But that’s not really the case with this particular topic. The 5 guidelines below were gleaned from our experiences in undergraduate school, graduate school, working for architects and, eventually, running our own shop. Some of these guidelines were handed down to us by the individuals that decide whether or not you’ll get into the graduate school of your preference, others are the convictions of the architectural collective mind. At the very least, every architecture student should consider these 5 guidelines when preparing their portfolio. BUILD-LLC-Portfolio-01 The visuals for this post were pulled from one of our own portfolios, and although this example is practically ancient now (it was completed when camera’s still used film!) it serves the conversation well. The same guidelines applied to this portfolio just as they do with the portfolios we get every day, hot off the press. 1. Don’t overthink the packaging. Whether it’s the binding form-factor for a physical portfolio or the choice of presentation templates for an online portfolio, simple and straight-forward is typically more effective than overly creative attempts. If you’ve got a clever idea, by all means, use it, but don’t concoct something just for the sake of being different at the expense of clarity and accuracy. Remember, it’s the work inside the portfolio that is the focus, the binder or website is simply the vehicle. For physical portfolios, there’s nothing that beats the attenuation of the plain and simple Profolio by Itoya or, for something nicer, our favorite is the Prat Paris 112 Rod Binder in black leather. For online presentations, we like the Squarespace templates because they allow for simple navigation and full screen images. There’s a wealth of similar templates out there for free. For digital portfolios that can be emailed, PDFs books are the way to go, but be respectful of an architect’s time and inbox limitations by keeping the memory reasonable (less than 5MB please). BUILD-LLC-Portfolio-03 2. The Rule of Thirds. A portfolio is the summary of your life’s design accomplishments, it should show the best examples from three primary aspects of your architectural endeavors: 1/3rd ACADEMIC WORK: filling a third of your portfolio with inspirational student work should be a no-brainer. If this presents a challenge, might we recommend switching to another school. 1/3rd PROFESSIONAL WORK: get an internship with a good architecture firm as soon as you can. Even if it’s just for a week or two during winter break, it will give you a chance to include real world projects in your portfolio with reference to a professional architecture firm. Work on everything you can get your hands on during an internship and diligently document your work. 1/3rd PERSONAL WORK: it’s important that your portfolio demonstrate that you’ve got personality, that you’re up to engaging activities, and that your involvement in design extends beyond 9am to 5pm. Maybe your personal work highlights travel experience to reveal your worldly adventures or maybe it covers built side-projects to demonstrate that you know how to get your hands dirty. Design firms and graduate schools all want go-getters with personality. BUILD-LLC-Portfolio-04 3. Big images, little text. Ready for some shocking news? Nobody is going to read your portfolio. Now take a deep breath and be at peace with this fact. Keep the text minimal and include only the facts: the project type, studio or professor, year, medium, materials or techniques. BUILD-LLC-Portfolio-05 4. Drawing and sketching by hand will always be essential. Glossy high-end renderings are great, and if you can do them well, you should definitely include them in your portfolio. But there’s an unwritten understanding among architects that anyone who designs should know how to sketch with competence. This speaks not only to the handwork of sketching but of the social and communication skills which are a necessity in architecture. It also shows other architects how you think. Find opportunities to include sketching into your portfolio even if it’s just process sketches to support other documents. A portfolio without sketches or hand drawings isn’t an architecture portfolio — it’s a rendering portfolio. BUILD-LLC-Portfolio-06 5. Maintain a consistent format. A design portfolio should create a narrative that deliberately weaves your best projects together into one cohesive presentation. There should be a common geometry or system of visual rules that carries from one page to the next. A successful format can take disparate projects from separate periods of your academic career and relate them to the same storyline. And don’t be afraid of blank space; it shows confidence that the images you choose to show are important. Plus a bit of blank space enhances the geometric format of the portfolio. BUILD-LLC-Portfolio-02 There are probably a few more guidelines that should be considered when creating a design portfolio but these 5 have stood the test of time better than any others. Each time a portfolio arrives at the BUILD World Headquarters, it is these 5 guidelines that differentiate the successful portfolios from the mediocre submissions. Oh, there’s one more thing, and this one is entirely opinion. At the end of the day, just remember that your portfolio isn’t the Holy Grail. You’ll put sweat, blood, and tears into your portfolio and for a brief moment in time it may seem like the most important document on the face of the earth. Your portfolio will be one of your greatest assets as a designer and it may very well be the tipping point to getting into that incredible graduate program or landing an internship with that amazing firm. But someday, closer than you may realize, you’ll find your portfolio collecting dust under a stack old design magazines. And if you followed the rules above, and your portfolio got you where you wanted to go, you can leave it right there. BUILD-LLC-Portfolio-cover-02 Cheers from Team BUILD

Personal Financing for Residential Clients

House-of-money Some of our clients have the financial means to largely pay for their projects with available resources (or “cash” as it’s called). This makes the financial equation of building a home straight-forward and convenient (it also makes us, as financially leveraged architects, rethink our career choice). Lately, however, we’ve noticed a returning trend here at the BUILD World Headquarters; that many current clients are using construction lending to finance a large portion of their projects. Our sense is, with interest rates still very low, construction (and mortgage) lending is attractive. As the saying goes, money is cheap right now. Regardless of how our client’s are paying for their project, we pride ourselves on putting our client’s resources to good use while achieving functional and elegant designs they’ll enjoy for many years. It’s also our intent to do everything we can to see projects get realized — whether the efforts are focused on design, construction or even finance. (We don’t call ourselves BUILD for nothing.) Given the importance of this topic, today’s blog post is a short course on construction financing. Take this information with a grain of salt, we are not lenders and have earned our limited amount of economic understanding from the School of Hard Knocks (SHK™). While this is just our overview of how we’ve seen construction lending work, we’ve seen it in action time and again. We’ve also recently taken on (another) personal project that relies on financing and, with skin in the game, our knowledge and insights are being put to real world tests. (More on this project in a future post.) Here’s our construction financing 101 course: OTC loans
The most useful loan we’ve encountered is the one-time-close (OTC) loan that covers the majority of construction costs, and automatically converts to a permanent mortgage once the project is complete. If you are considering new construction or a substantial remodel, this is the loan to know and ask your bank about. Benefits of the OTC loan
An OTC loan only involves one set of fees for what is in essence, two types of loans built into one package. Banks that offer an OTC loan are familiar with construction lending and the many variables involving design and construction. The permanent mortgage rate locks at the time of loan closing (even though there is likely some 5-9 months of construction before that mortgage goes into effect). Banks
We typically work with Washington Federal for clients who want an OTC construction loan and permanent mortgage. WaFed continued to offer the OTC loan over the past several years when all other construction lending seemed to vanish or become difficult to obtain and they earned our loyalty. Even though the market has significantly changed since then, WaFed still offers desirable terms and we’re currently using them for the personal project mentioned above. Typical Construction Cost Breakdown
While each project varies in design, scope, and cost, the numbers below achieve the caliber of work on our website. These initial numbers provide a baseline for how the lending occurs. $25,000       Demolition, disposal, hazardous material abatement
$5,000          Utilities
$600,000    Construction costs at $200/sf (based on 3,000sf)
$70,000       Design fees, structural, surveyor, other consultants
$10,000       Permits
$50,000       Terraces, hardscape, landscape (basic allowance)
$760,000    Estimated project costs beyond property and financing costs These costs are typical for a general custom home in the greater Seattle area. There are many factors including scale, location, site conditions and particular client requests, but most of our projects are ±10% of this breakdown. Lending Amount
Typically, lenders will lend either (up to 100% of) the anticipated costs of the project or some percentage of the appraised value of the project, whichever value is less. The value also depends on a variety of factors including the specific lender, financial standing of the client, the amount being lent, etc. Typically, the OTC financing covers about 80% of the projects we’re involved with; the balance is then paid out-of-pocket by the client. In this vein, clients typically have some equity in the property and pay for items directly like the survey, permits and design fees. Sometimes, when a client has significant equity in the property, they may pull some of that equity out of the property and use that for other project expenses. Regardless, in our experience, the bank lending is focused primarily on paying off the balance of the property cost and the construction costs themselves. Lending Schedule
Clients tend to contact us very early in the process, which is a good move if construction financing hasn’t yet been secured. We can often guide clients to a lender we have a good relationship with so they get pre-approved before we embark on a project. With a reasonable understanding of a client’s goals, we can pencil out preliminary costs that can then be used as a basis for starting the loan process (furthering what we’ve laid out above and tailoring costs specifically for their intended project). The client works directly with the lender to sort through the paperwork, the process, and to get the loan ready. We help a client put together the general specifications, anticipated costs and other supporting documents that the lender needs to complete the application. From that point, once the construction permit is applied for and becomes available, the loan can be closed and construction can begin in a matter of days. From that point, the project team works with the lender during construction to have monthly draw values released that correspond to the level of work completed, and typically installed on-site, over the preceding months. Once again, having a good relationship with the bank and its representatives is key for timely draws and subsequent (prompt) payments to vendors to keep the project on a smooth course. This system is an efficient means of financing construction and we’ve had good success with it on a history of projects. Knowledge is power and these data-points can effectively save time, save money, and save sanity. Cheers from Team BUILD

5 Design Features for Modern Powder Rooms

BUILD-LLC-header Powder rooms are different enough from typical bathrooms that they deserve their own design post. It’s not just that powder room design eliminates the bathtub/shower, but that powder rooms are also less a function of everyday use and more designed specifically for guests. Because powder rooms are usually designed into a home to accommodate visitors, they can (and often should) include a more refined level of design than the typical bathroom. We don’t mean to say that a powder room needs to be over-designed or opulent, but simply that the powder room is a good place to have some fun with the design. This might include a design feature or a pleasant surprise that may not be part of the home’s typical design palette. Today’s post takes a close look at 5 design features for the powder room which can be used on their own or in combination. SINK & CABINET INTEGRATION
Since most powder rooms don’t need to provide countertop space for toothbrushes, perfumes, water glasses, and the like, the sink basin can be smaller and sleeker. We like to use a rectangular porcelain box sink matched with a custom-built cabinet box to match the dimensions of the sink above. It’s a sleek and deliberate look that provides visual clarity to the powder room and offers just enough storage for toiletries and supplies. Our Case Study House 01 example below uses a careful alignment between cabinet, sink box, backsplash and mirror. BUILD-LLC-CSH01-Powder-02 BUILD-LLC-CSH-planSPECIFICATIONS
Box sink: Lacava Aquagrande #5464, single hole
Faucet: Graff G-6102 M.E.25
Toilet: Toto MS864114 Supreme elongated one-piece
Cabinet: Anigre veneer by Special Projects Division
Backsplash: Stainless steel with non-directional orbital finish
Ceiling fan: Panasonic QT series ceiling fan GLASS TILE FEATURE WALL
Dedicating an entire wall of the powder room as a “feature wall” is a great way to make the design resonate. While people expect to see tile in a bathroom, extending an interesting tile pattern from the floor to the ceiling provides visual relief in an otherwise small room. With a seemingly infinite amount of tiles to select from, for a feature wall application we lean toward glass tiles as they give the room a little more depth while bringing subtle color to the composition. The Davidson Residence below uses long, slender glass tiles mounted vertically for a fabric-like texture on the feature wall. BUILD-LLC-Davidson-Powder-S-01 BUILD-LLC-Davidson-Powder-W-01 BUILD-LLC-Davidson-planSPECIFICATIONS
Sink: Laufen Palomba 814804
Faucet: Graff G-6100 L M37
Toilet: Pacifica CST804S
Cabinet: Anigre veneer by Special Projects Division
Backsplash: Stainless steel with non-directional orbital finish
Ceiling fan: Panasonic QT series ceiling fan CEDAR FEATURE WALL/CEILING
The visual warmth and palpable nature of cedar can be visually stunning at a powder room. The Innis Arden Remodel below extends a wall of variegated horizontal cedar boards from the exterior, into the powder room, broken only by the line of glazing. This application requires complementary wood cabinets that don’t compete with the warm tones of the cedar — in this case the walnut cabinet box provides a healthy contrast to the cedar. BUILD-LLC-Innis-Arden-Powder-02 BUILD-LLC-Innis-Arden-Powder-01 BUILD-LLC-Innis-Arden-plan SPECIFICATIONS
Box sink: Lacava Aquagrande #5464, no holes
Faucet: Kohler Stillness K-T944-4 wall mount
Toilet: Toto CST416M-01, Aqua dual flush
Cabinet: Walnut veneer by Special Projects Division
Backsplash: Stainless steel with non-directional orbital finish
Ceiling fan: Panasonic QT series ceiling fan The Des Moines Remodel provides a similar example where the cedar is used at the lid. Because the design brings three different varieties of wood together (ebonized oak floors, anigre cabinet and cedar ceiling) keeping the cedar on the lid provides the necessary distance between similar woods that might otherwise contrast with one-another. BUILD-LLC-Des-Moines-Powder-02 BUILD-LLC-Des-Moines-plan SPECIFICATIONS
Box sink: Lacava Aquagrande #5464, no holes
Faucet: Kohler Stillness K-T944-4 wall mount
Toilet: Toto CST416M-01, Aqua dual flush
Cabinet: Walnut veneer by Special Projects Division
Backsplash: Stainless steel with non-directional orbital finish
Ceiling fan: Panasonic QT series ceiling fan GLAZING FEATURE WALL
A full height window is the last thing most people expect to find in a powder room, but given the right circumstances, it can be a fresh visual. To maintain the powder room’s privacy, the window needs to be oriented appropriately and specified as etch-matte. When the situation supports it, as in the Queen Anne Residence below, a small powder room can become light, bright and airy. BUILD-LLC-Queen-Anne-Powder-01 BUILD-LLC-Queen-Anne-plan-02 SPECIFICATIONS
Box sink: WetStyle VC-24, white matte finish
Faucet: Graff G-6102 M.E.25
Toilet: Toto MS864114 Supreme elongated one-piece
Cabinet: Walnut veneer by Special Projects Division
Backsplash: Stainless steel with non-directional orbital finish
Ceiling fan: Panasonic QT series ceiling fan WALL MOUNT PLUMBING FIXTURES
While it’s a subtle move, the design conscious will notice the wall mounted faucet. The move minimizes the plumbing fixtures and pairs well with a box sink. The Magnolia Residence example below also uses a glass subway tile feature wall and vertically mounted linear lights for a clean, modern aesthetic. BUILD-LLC-Magnolia-Powder-01 BUILD-LLC-Magnolia-plan SPECIFICATIONS
Sink: Kohler K-2214 Ladena
Faucet: Graff G-6102 M.E.25
Toilet: Nexus CST794SF elongated one-piece
Cabinet: Anigre veneer by Special Projects Division
Countertop: Pentalquartz
Backsplash: Stainless steel with non-directional orbital finish
Lights: Aamsco Alinea linear incandescent
Ceiling fan: Panasonic QT series ceiling fan There are plenty of additional posts for details on the bathroom hardware, bathroom tile, and plumbing fixtures. Cheers from team BUILD

The Selection Process of Design

[All Images by BUILD LLC] With the architecture industry back in full-swing, most design firms are not only busy again, but they’re being challenged by the best “problem” a firm can have: the volume of work coming through the door. Along with that volume, comes a wide range of project types and project scales. At the BUILD World Headquarters, the phone calls and emails we receive involve everything from residential remodels to multi-family and commercial developments — with new single family residences being our most common project. We’re honored by each and every potential client that reaches out to us, and like most firms, we’ve implemented a system of filters to help determine which jobs we’re a good fit for, and which jobs we’re not. As much as we can envision ourselves jumping into all kinds of interesting projects with all kinds of wonderful people who approach us, we’ve learned that our team is better matched for a specific range of project. These filters allow us architects to focus on what project types we are best suited for, and just as important, they help us identify patterns with potential projects. This post takes a closer look at 5 important filters and proposes several considerations for homeowners based on the patterns we’ve seen. Understanding these filters and taking note of the considerations should improve a homeowner’s chance of getting the right architect on board their project. A quick disclaimer — this list primarily relates to residential work but can be related to commercial and hospitality work also (perhaps a future blog post). LWR-01 PROJECT SCALE:  The scale of work on a project may be the most important factor of them all.  Like most small to medium-sized firms, BUILD requires the design work to have critical mass in order to take it on as a project. There is a certain threshold of construction costs where our design & construction fees are cost-effective, but below that threshold we’re not the most effective option. Project types that fit this pattern are typically fully-remodeled or new houses, involving full building permit submittals. CONSIDERATIONS: For smaller remodel work such as interior remodels, basement remodels and second story additions, we recommend looking to solo practitioners. Solo architects tend to be nimble enough to take on a variety of small project types while scaling their fees accordingly. Hiring a medium-sized firm for a small project may invite design fees based on a more robust project type and may not make sense for a client. BUILD-04 PROJECT PHASING: It’s not unusual for homeowners to propose breaking a larger project into smaller phases over time. The advantages of doing so include a greater timeline to spread out the design and construction costs, the possibility of living in a home undergoing a substantial renovation, having the flexibility to make design changes based on previous phases, or being able to stop work at a natural breaking point. As compelling as these options are, the disadvantages typically outweigh the advantages. Phasing typically increases the design and construction costs, it complicates the design and construction process, and it may scare away architects because it doesn’t meet the critical mass of scale discussed above. Plus, projects are, at a minimum, an added responsibility for a client to be involved with, if not a large drain of time, energy, and money. For this reason, we always recommend that clients relocate during construction. (Nothing quite like “camping” while being emotionally drained, over many months — avoid!) CONSIDERATIONS: Most architects are much more likely to take on the work if the entire project can be designed at once. If phasing is important to the project goals, we recommend a “master plan” to include all phases of design work. While the construction could always be broken down into separate phases at different times, the design time (and subsequent design fees) would be limited to one package of work. We also recommend getting the entire package permitted at once to optimize the building department’s time and contain the permitting fees. Lastly, any firm committed to helping their clients get projects completed should also be able to help point their clients to construction lenders that may very well allow a project to be completed in one pass rather than phasing (stay tuned for a future blog post on construction lending). BUILD-03 DESIGN COMPETITION: While architectural competition has become popular among the starchitects (celebrity architects doing high-profile museums around the world), the idea has never translated well to residential work. When a client explains that BUILD will be competing against multiple (as many as five or six other) architects, it’s almost immediate grounds to politely bow-out of the project consideration. While architects like a healthy amount of competition, it’s not difficult to do a quick time vs. value calculation and conclude that the time involved in competing would be better spent on projects you already have on your desk. Current clients tend to appreciate the commitment as well. CONSIDERATIONS: In the information age, it’s easier than ever for homeowner’s to do their homework on design firms. Between an architecture firm’s website, their blog, what they’re broadcasting on Facebook and Twitter, and most importantly, what other forms of social media are saying about them, most homeowners can get an accurate snapshot of a design shop. Social media alone should allow a homeowner to filter their own list down to two or three firms. Add in some references and a completed project visit (or two), and selecting one architect should be straight-forward and painless — for everyone involved. BUILD-02 DESIGN AS PRIORITY: Any architect worth their college diploma and extensive licensing requirements needs to be proud of their design work when the project is complete. Potential clients that express the importance of design on their project will typically elicit more attention from an architect. Client’s committed to good design show it in a variety of ways that may involve having a clear idea of their goals, making decisions, and being organized with their thoughts. As architects, we are not looking for a client to have set thoughts on what the project should look like or how it should lay-out. That’s our job. We typically guide our clients in a process that achieves a relatively clear pathway to a functional and elegant design solution.  It helps when everyone is on-board with this approach and equally excited about the value of good design. CONSIDERATIONS: We understand that there are many things that compete for a client’s hard-earned dollars; we have similar goals as many of our clients and we also have kids (some heading toward things like braces and, before we blink, college). We appreciate the amount of money that it takes to complete a substantial remodel or new home. So, we always emphasize in our potential client meetings that design quality should be a primary motivation so that clients can feel committed to putting the resources (or as previously mentioned, resources and a construction loan) into the project. BUILD-05 FINANCIAL HONESTY: In order to correctly determine the practicality and feasibility of a project, architects need authentic numbers to start with. A potential client that deliberately low-balls the target budget makes it difficult for the architect to determine whether or not the project is a good fit. In fact, a responsible architect would feel compelled to tell a client straight up that their budget and intended project don’t align. In essence, a low-ball strategy may rule out a project or an architect from consideration that may have otherwise been the right fit. We understand this takes some trust which may not be developed until a client/architect relationship is established and some time together has passed. All the more reason for a client to choose a group that has a long track record of establishing budgets early in the design process, and delivering finished projects under those terms. CONSIDERATIONS: If a client feels the need to state an unrealistically low budget with the architect, so that feared cost overages balance the costs out to what they really want to spend — they’ve got the wrong architect to begin with. There are many other filters and considerations to finding the right fit between architects and homeowners but, from the patterns we’ve observed, these 5 matter the most. Cheers from Team BUILD

On the Radar

_Header OtR-030414 It’s been more than a little while since we’ve posted an On the Radar update. We’ve been pretty busy around BUILD World Headquarters, but we’re never too buried in work to stay inspired. Here are the latest people, projects, and perspectives that have caught our eyes and piqued our interest. DESIGNing
The news broke a few months back, but it’s worth another mention as we get more requests for high-tech/high-touch mechanics in their homes. Nest launches a sleek new smoke/carbon dioxide detector: Nest Protect.
-thanks to Fast Co. Design design_nest protect 2 MODELing
Meet master model-maker, Richard Tenguerian.

make_model shop 5 DEVELOPing
Though not open quite yet, there’s a ton of buzz surrounding Liz Dunn’s newest development project on Capitol Hill. It’s the highly anticipated new home for some of Seattle’s upper echelon in the food craft game. And aptly named: Chophouse Row.
-thanks to Seattle Met develop_chophouse liz dunn
[Image Source:  Capitol Hill Seattle] ARCHITECTing
Beautiful, elegant architecture. Take a break and browse Grafton Architects’ portfolio.
-thanks to Ken arch_grafton 2 Menlo Oaks 2, an Eichler home remodeled by Ana Williamson.
-thanks to Erin arch_menlo 2
[Image Source:  Contemporist] Klopf Architecture’s got some razor-sharp remodels of MCM homes.
-thanks to Michelle arch_klopf 5 Don’t let a little burn zone get you down. There are modernist possibilities everywhere. And spectacular ones at that. build_burn zone 7 CALCULATing
Nerd Alert: Ever need to calculate a specific sun angle for a project (or for fun)? Look no further than Sun Calc. We’ve been digging the tool, and fine-tuning our diagrams as a result. Check it out, spread the word.
-thanks to Sandy calculate_suncalc ORGANIZing
Manage your team projects in style with the super-slick Stepsie tool.
-thanks to Damon stepsie

Ever imagine if the Winter Olympics were held in New York City?
-thanks to Charles

diagram_nytimes luge

Insane Sci-Fi Architecture Personified. Because, why not.
-thanks to Fast Co. Design In case the argument needed more support: Math is Beautiful.
-thanks to Angela Warner Bros. presents: The Lego Movie! DISSECTing
An old WWII bunker gets repurposed along with catapults from a staid historical structure to expose a fresh perspective on material, site, and history.
-thanks to Sanne dissect_bunker 4 INSPIRing
Custom Spaces catalogs the sub-sub-genre of startup office design. We’re getting some of BUILD’s commercial projects on there, so stay tuned for more updates.
-thanks to Matt inspire_custom spaces 1 Even the New York Times is getting in on the action covering design for tech. The trend is red-hot. inspire_tech 6 EXHIBITing
One of the not-to-miss exhibits hitting our fine city this year: Beijing 1930 at the Frye showcasing the work of Isamu Noguchi and Qui Baishi. Running until July.
-thanks to the Frye exhibit_frye UW Headlines exhibit for 2014 kicks off in little over a month. For local firms interested in showcasing their works in progress, now’s the time to submit.
-thanks to Kris exhibit_uw-headlines ART BOMBing
Banksy in New York City. art_banksy-nyc PARTYing
ARCADE’s next launch event is on the books for March 27 at Pacific Tower. Issue 32.1 After Growth: Rethinking the Narrative of Modernization is guest edited by The Stranger writer and ARCADE contributor, Charles Mudede.
-thanks to ARCADE party_ARCADE LECTURing
Rick Joy speaks at UW March 5th. (That’s tomorrow, Seattle.)
-thanks to UW lecture_uw rick joy CONTRIBUTing
…And speaking of ARCADE, they’re on the hunt to add members to their board. And they’re reaching beyond the architecture in design industry in this round. Check out their official call, and let them know you want to get involved. contribute_ARCADE board Cheers + Stay Inspired, from your friends at Team BUILD

Mud & Laundry Room Design

[All photos by BUILD LLC] The mud & laundry room is becoming more important to the overall function of modern homes, and the design of this space is no longer just an afterthought. We’ve been seeing a trend for several years now, as the mud & laundry room ups it’s status and the trajectory has become so prominent that it makes a useful topic for today’s post. No doubt, it’s on the duller side of design coverage, but when you’ve got to put pencil to paper (or mouse click to screen) it’s helpful to have guidelines, drawings, specs, and photos of the real deal — even if it’s just the laundry room. While often dismissed as mere service space, we’d like to point out that these rooms are only ugly when architects don’t design them thoughtfully. The primary design factor of most mud & laundry rooms is children. If the homeowners don’t have kids (or if the kiddos have grown up and moved out) the space can be streamlined and minimal. However, if children are in the picture, the space takes the full range of tasks such as drop sort, locker room (for losing the dirty sports gear before entering the house), gear storage, sorting, washing, and keeping the dirt confined. For a young family, the mud & laundry room might just be the hardest working room in the house. And for all that, it gets very little credit (until now). Today’s post reviews three different scenarios and spells out all the details about the design and construction of mud & laundry rooms. Enjoy and, you know, don’t track any dirt in the house. BUILD-LLC-Brodersen-Laundry-03 The Innis Arden Remodel offers a great example of the mud & laundry room that does it all. A simple 9’ x 11’ room that includes a wall to wall bank of open cubby-style cabinets to tackle the sports gear needs of two boys as well as coats, shoes, and the household cleaning equipment (vacuum, brooms, etc.). BUILD-LLC-Brodersen-Laundry-04 BUILD-LLC-Innis-Arden-plan On the opposite side of the room are wall to wall cabinets with door and drawer faces that house the washer, dryer, sink, and household storage in addition to providing plenty of countertop space. BUILD-LLC-Brodersen-Laundry-05 Because the cabinets at a mud & laundry room need to take a bit more abuse, we used an apple-ply with exposed edges. The highly durable and easily cleanable rubber floor is T-106 from Commercial Interiors. (Roppe also makes a good product for this application.) BUILD-LLC-Brodersen-Laundry-01 A more simplified version of the laundry & mud room can be found in the Magnolia Residence. A simple 11’-4” line of cabinets is constructed of gray Nevamar laminate on Europly. Once again, we expose the edges so that the cabinets don’t become too precious (plus we dig the look of the exposed laminations of the Europly). BUILD-LLC-Magnolia-Laundry-01 The floor is a concrete topping which is as durable as a floor can get. The application is cost effective and because the product is self-leveling, gravity takes care of any irregularities with the slab on grade below. Walls are painted with an eggshell acrylic to handle the additional moisture. BUILD-LLC-Magnolia-plan A single cabinet bay is faced with gray laminate doors to match the cabinets, the remaining cabinets are open cubby-style. The continuous line of upper offer four bays of hanging rods. BUILD-LLC-Magnolia-elev Simpler still, is an installation at the Kirsch Residence which uses a single lower cabinet box with accommodations for a future washer and dryer (the primary washer & dryer are upstairs near the bedrooms). BUILD-LLC-Queen Anee-elev-01 Gray Nevamar laminate on Europly, once again, play the lead role for materials, while a concrete slab keeps the space nearly maintenance free.
BUILD-LLC-Queen-Anne-plan Regardless of the complexity (or simplicity) of the mud & laundry room, a handful of specifications are applicable. Here are the ones we like to use: APPLIANCES
Washer: Electrolux EIFLW55HIW front load
Dryer: Electrolux EIGD55HIW front load gas dryer
W&D stacking kit: STACKIT4X
W&D optional pedestals: EPWD15IW
Washing machine supply: JPS Corp. T200 Supply and drain box PLUMBING FIXTURES
Deck mount sink: Mustee 10 Durastone utility sink in white
Free standing sink: Mustee makes a variety of free-standing sink options
Faucet: Hansgrohe 04286000 Talis S single hole Prep Faucet with spray pull-out in polished chrome HARDWARE
Hanging rods: Epco 895  1-5/16” diameter rod in polished chrome w/ 861 series closed flanges each end
Coat hooks: Sugatsune DSH-01 stainless steel hook There you have it, our guide to mud & laundry room design.
Cheers from Team BUILD

Navigating the Hills of Affordable Housing; An Interview With David Baker, Part 2

[Photo by: Stephen Searer for Db Architects]

Last spring we sat down with David Baker while he was in town speaking at the UW Department of Architecture. With his breadth of experience living and working in San Francisco, we got a peek into David’s path and passion towards affordable housing and urbanite living. This is the 2nd part of the series; hop on over to ARCADE Magazine for the first part of the interview.

[Photo by: Matthew Millman]

The video about your office suggests a calm environment of bicycles, tea, and group lunches. Is working at David Baker + Partners really this serene?
It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty nice. We have chair massages, free food, and only 2 out of 23 people drive to work now. There’s an important social movement going on in the office lately. We have a lot of younger people in the office and they want to be in an open studio environment where they can see everybody and have opportunities to collaborate. They don’t seem to like the notion of being isolated in separate offices. Back in the day, people would fight over which chair they got, now the younger folks don’t seem to care as much about those things.

But even in an open studio plan people can become isolated from one another–you don’t have to be a big company to fall into this trap. You can have five people over here and they won’t know anything about what the five people over there are doing. You want to encourage teams to talk to one another. I used to run around the office and say, “Hey, they’re dealing with the exact same problem on this team, you should go talk to them.” Now, more people are doing that. A few weeks ago on a Friday, we had an office happy hour and people were sitting around talking about unit buildings at six o’clock. The entire office was doing this and I didn’t even organize it.

[Image Source: Db Architects]

With the amount of competition to win affordable housing contracts, how much time/budget of the design is spent just securing this work with the all of the Request for Proposals, Request for Qualifications, and presentation process?
90% of what we do is repeat work with established clients. Non-profit developers typically work with stable qualified architects like ourselves. However, cities like to be fair, so they open it up to all the people in the world. The problem is there’s a lot of incompetent people out there. Inexperienced architects would win the job and then had to deal with the entire learning curve of the work and process. This is one of the main issues that HUD faced. They’d hire architects who couldn’t really deliver. But non-profits are a business and they want to work with people who they know have competence. They don’t want to constantly educate architects on the process each time.

Whenever the economy gets bad, we will go after jobs but competing for work isn’t our strong suit. We’ll sometimes get called in to submit alongside seven other architects and we usually respond, “Well, I’m sure one of those seven architects will be really happy getting that job, but we don’t have time to pursue this.” It’s actually a great marketing strategy. Other times we’ll offer some work initially, to see how we all get along.

With the amount of red tape, boxes to check and bureaucracy involved in affordable housing, how do the construction costs compare to market rate work?
It’s the same. The majority of the cost of building is the building. And they are fixed primarily by codes. If you take all the frosting off the cake, you still have the cake; it’s 98% of it. The market-rate people will spend more on finishes but the structure is primarily the same. Since the affordable housing groups rent their projects rather than sell them on the market, they probably build less robustly than they should. Making a lockset that doesn’t fall off in three years costs more than one that does – and there’s a significant cost to items like that. But the affordable housing groups deliver on time.

There was one developer who came in and he said, “You know, the first thing I learned from my former boss was: Never design anything you’d live in yourself because if you do, you’ve spent too much money.” Whoa! I told him I couldn’t see how this was going to work. We always design things we’d live in ourselves. That’s our metric. I just thought it was shocking that he’d say, “I don’t design housing this way because I’d make more money.”

Db Architect_Zero Cottage 2_Matthew Millman
[Photo by: Matthew Millman]

What is the permitting and approval process like in San Francisco?
It’s slow. In the Charter of San Francisco, everything is appealable. There is no right to do anything. This means the environmental review process is lengthy and expensive.

State and city agencies tend to be on the more conservative side of design. How have you achieved so many design-forward projects working with these groups?
Strangely enough, the planning department is the biggest road block to design-forward projects. You’ve got to be contextual to get approval. Somehow the ideas of “New Urbanism” have influenced the neighborhood plan and buildings are supposed to have a base, middle, and top. But the neighborhood folks who originally wrote the plan are now advocating for Stanley Saitowitz modernism. The planning department pushes back and criticizes the designs because they aren’t broken up into 25’-50’ segments, and the don’t have a base, middle, and top. The neighborhood communities and planning department are at odds with one another.

[Photo by: Brian Rose]

How do you deal with the nostalgia of traditional architecture in San Francisco?
At a meeting in Potrero Hill, we were proposing a fairly modern building to the neighborhood. Someone at the meeting stood up and asked why the building wasn’t designed in the Victorian style. My response was that it’s a really big building and the Victorian style depends on scale. Someone else stood up and commented that it should look like a Victorian… if it was 1890, and then proceeded to reprimand the original commenter. The attitudes about traditional versus modern architecture are changing at the community level.

Db Architect_Fillmore Park 02_Bruce Damonte
[Photo by: Bruce Damonte]

Is there a place for design review boards in architecture?
While design review boards raise the bar and often make the bad design slightly better, they also tend to wipe out the really good stuff. Sometimes it seems like they give more grief to people who are doing interesting things than those who are doing the bad stuff.

What has your experience been like with the community review boards in San Francisco, known for making decisive aesthetic judgments?
The process protects design from bad development decisions. We were working on a project in Union City and while the developer was a non-profit, they would cut out good design even if the project was under budget. They had an idea of cutting costs by making the windows smaller.  We told them it would look terrible, but they brushed our comment aside. So we rendered the two schemes up –one with the full size windows and one with the smaller windows for the design review board to compare and make a decision. When the board asked what happened to the windows the developer answered that they made them smaller to save money. The board’s response was, “No you didn’t.” And that was that. So design review boards can be a good thing. If nothing else, it instills in developers the idea that they need to hire good architects so that their projects will be approved by the boards. Building as cheap as possible isn’t going to fly.

[Image Source: Db Architects]

Back in 1992, you contributed your forecasts for 2020 Visions. As 2020 is now only a handful of years away, what do you make of your predictions today?
We came up with some ideas that were totally crazy, like housing in the freeway. I’ve been in this game so long that some of those ideas, once considered crazy, have become standard practice, like micro-housing and hybrid vehicles.

Five years ago I talked about parking garages becoming obsolete and cars that drive themselves. The first few times I said it, people were like, “Sure…Ok…” and would back away. Now, you can’t pick up a magazine without hearing about it. Especially with Google’s technology, people accept the automated car.

How does social media play into your firm?
We’re active on social media and it’s really important now. I like new things, so we do all that stuff like Twitter. I’ve always been attracted to learning new things, and even early on  in the firm we set up a website.

Db Architect 1_Stephen Searer
[Photo by: Stephen Searer for Db Architects]

What can architecture students do to become more valuable to the industry?
They can learn how to draw. Also, students should learn that architecture is a great profession. It pays reasonably well, and you have the advantage of creating something. No matter what you do in architecture, don’t pity yourself.

David Baker founded San Francisco-based David Baker + Partners in 1982, and in 1996 was selected as Fellow of the American Institute of Architects. Honored as one of the 30 most influential people in the affordable housing industry, David’s work has received more than 160 architectural design awards and honors, including six national AIA awards. His firm has gained a reputation as an award-winning, sustainability-minded office where drivers are outnumbered by cyclists.

The Modern List Seattle


With a some major milestones under our belt just over a month into this new year, Seattle’s already received an ample share of the nation’s spotlight. And as any resident or frequent visitor can attest, the changes going on in our fine city don’t stop at sports and entertainment. There’s a countless number of construction cranes, businesses opening and closing (or relocating), and the overall built landscape is undergoing a major upheaval. It keeps us on our toes, and makes for interesting TML installments.


Sure, we’re not a city in need of any more coffee shops. But that doesn’t mean we won’t welcome some new quality shops with open arms. Here are a few favorites that have emerged on the scene, along with an old favorite that opened their newest location in one of Seattle’s (few) coffee deserts.

 Vif Wine|Coffee, 4401 Fremont Ave N, 206.557.7357
Coffee_Vif 3
[Image Source: Vif]

 Tin Umbrella, 5600 Rainier Ave S, 206.743.8802
[Image Source: Tin Umbrella]

 Herkimer Coffee*, 901 Dexter Ave N, 206.274.8242
[Image Source: Herkimer Coffee]

There’s nothing like a cozy brunch to while away the weekend hours. A few of Seattle’s food and drink veterans expand to new neighborhoods to ensure the masses are well fed in both good food and good design.

 Tallulah’s, 550 19th Ave E, 206.860.0077
[Image Source: Suzi Pratt for Eater Seattle]

 Westward, 2501 N Northlake Way, 206.552.8215
Brunch_Westward 1
[Image Source: Thrillist]

 Skillet Diner, 2034 NW 56th St, 206.512.2000
Brunch_Skillet 1

In an unusual turn of events this year, neither Capitol Hill nor Ballard are represented in our TML-vetted spots for your evening meal. It’s a nice change of pace to see some needed pockets of the city enjoy some fine design and fine dining. See if you can spot the one we worked on.

 mkt., 2108 N 55th St, 206.812.1580
Dinner_mkt 1
[Image Source: BUILD LLC]

 Aragona, 96 Union St, 206.682.3590
[Image Source: KOMO News]

 Restaurant Roux, 4201 Fremont Ave N, 206.547.5420
Dinner_Roux 1

While Seattle mourned the loss of several beloved bars in the last couple years, we’re never left thirsting for too long. The quality of drink and the quality of spaces continues along the trajectory of approachable and interesting.

 Barnacle, 4743 Ballard Ave NW, 206.706.3379
Drink_Barnacle 1

 Brimmer & Heeltap, 425 NW Market St, 206.420.2534
[Image Source: website link here]

red Le Caviste, 1919 7th Ave, 206.728.2657
Drink_Le Caviste 1

Sure, we’re a city filled with health nuts, but that doesn’t mean we don’t also have a serious sweet tooth. Coincidentally, a couple of our favorites that opened this year happen to both involve ice cream housed in buildings featured on TML.

 Parfait, 2034 NW 56th St, 206.258.3066
Dessert_Parfait 2
[Image Source: Seattle Met]

 Hello Robin, 522 19th Ave E, 206.735.7970
Dessert_Hello Robin 2
[Image Source: Capitol Hill Seattle]

While there’s not much in the way of clothing boutiques this year, nearly everything else is covered: a bookstore, a food store, and a home good store. And all over the city to boot. It doesn’t hurt to mention a couple of these also offer food you can eat in/adjacent to the shop. We’re on board.

light-blue-a Ada’s Technical Books & Cafe, 425 15th Ave E, 206.322.1058
Retail_Adas 2
[Image Source: Board and Vellum]

 The London Plane, 322 Occidental Ave S, 206.624.1374 Food & cooking
Retail_London Plane
[Image Source: Dylan + Jeni for The London Plane]

 Ludlow Home, 7315 Greenwood Ave N, 206.429.5081 Home goods & accessories
Retail_Ludlow 1
[Image Source: Seattle Met]

 Peter Miller Books, 2326 2nd Ave, 206.441.4114 Architecture & graphic design
Retail_Peter Miller 2
[Image Source: Remodelista]

Art walks seem to happen every week somewhere in the city, so it’s no surprise that galleries and studios emerge with seemingly similar frequency. We’re happy to see some unique spaces emerging in the art venue arena.

 Urban Light Studios, 8537 Greenwood Ave N, 206.708.7281
Gallery_Urban Lights 1
[Image Source: Urban Light Studios]

 Olson Kundig Itinerant Projects, 406 Occidental Ave S, 206.501.1231
[Image Source: Olson Kundig]

While there is a ton of development popping up in our fair city, most of it is unremarkable or just plain unfortunate. However, glimmers of hope for Future Seattle can be seen in some of the thoughtful modernism exemplified in the following projects.

 19th & Mercer, 526 19th Ave E, by Weinstein AU
Building_19th Mercer
[Image Source: Alex Garland for Capitol Hill Seattle]

 Northwest School Gymnasium + Theatre, 401 E. Pike, by Mithun
[Image Source:BUILD LLC]

Though not your typical “landscape” inclusions, there’s definitely a shift happening in Seattle. Namely, veering away from vehicle-focused planning and toward the pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly.

 Olive Way Parklet, 1506 E. Olive Way, by Boxwood
[Image Source:BUILD LLC ]

 Cycle Tracks, Locations vary
[Image Source: Seattle Bike Blog]

Cheers and happy exploring, from Team BUILD.

Explorations in Stair Design


Something we picked up during our architectural training in Scandinavia was the idea of “controlled design experimentation.” Most of the firms we admire most in Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Finland use a similar vocabulary of aesthetics from one project to the next. The benefits of employing a common kit-of-parts on each project are obvious: it allows the design and construction teams to optimize their time, it maintains a reliable quality of construction, and it keeps the budget predictable. (It also builds a regional language and establishes a consistent portfolio of work, but we’ll save that tangent for a different post.) The point is, when you’ve spent your career learning what works best in architecture, there’s little efficiency in reinventing the wheel with each project. With a cache of tried and true details, materials, and techniques, everybody wins.

Now if you know anything about the Scandinavians, you know that they’re much more sophisticated than simply repeating the same beautiful design over and over again. As you might suspect, there is a more subtle strategy at work within the rigor of this system. In each project, there is usually a distinct architectural feature that became the focus of controlled design experimentation. This could be directed at the siding, the window geometry, the interior palette, or any other individually defined component of the project. The key is that the design team experimented with bold ideas they had never implemented before and the area of focus was controlled to a single architectural feature.


This strategy has influenced our own work and we’re usually deliberate in focusing our experimental design energy on just a handful of architectural features, most notably the stair. As timing would have it, BUILD just completed a stair design unlike anything we’ve done previously and it makes an excellent example for today’s topic.


The Madison Park Remodel is a two story home with a full basement where the vertical circulation features prominently on every level. Each of the three floor plans was kept intentionally open, and subsequently the stair is the feature of the house, no matter where you’re standing. Because of this relationship, we wanted the stair to be a sculptural piece within the home.


The design philosophy of the stair was to use what is already necessary about a stairway and make it aesthetically interesting. The zig-zag geometry of the stairway was enhanced by eliminating the nosing at each tread and wrapping the entire stairway volume in white oak to match hardwood floors. Next, a simple plane of translucent safety glass was attached to the side of the stair structure serving as the guardrail; this allows plenty of light to reach the interior, while giving the stairway a soft glow. A slight reveal between the glass guardrail and the stair keeps the materials deliberately separated. To maintain the simplicity of the stair and guardrail relationship, the steel handrail was attached to the adjacent wall. Overall the assembly lends a calming, sculptural feel to each of the floors, while providing the required function of a stairway.


To achieve this assembly at the stringers, we used the C.R. Laurence RSOB20BS Glass Rail Standoff Fitting in brushed stainless and attached directly to the stair stringers. The bulk of this bracket has a bit of a commercial feel, so we buried the mounting plate behind the finished oak paneling and exposed only the round standoffs which hold the glass plate in place via stainless steel compression disks.



At floor conditions, the glass panels are sandwiched between the blocking and the rim joist of the stair opening and shimmed with a lightweight concrete fill. This gives the floor mounted glass guardrail panels enough strength to resist any applied lateral forces without cluttering up the clean aesthetics with a series of bulky floor brackets. Details of other conditions can be found on the C.R. Laurence website.


The glass needs to be safety rated due to the location and as per the building code (IRC 308.4.4, if you want to get all technical). While the edges could have been left exposed, the finished look of the glass layers looked unfinished to us so we applied a thin aluminum edging to the glass panels.


The clear finished steel handrails opposite from the guardrail assembly are the product of Bart Gibson. The minimal handrails are attached to floors and walls at discrete locations as to avoid competition with the stair and glass.


Overall, we’re extremely happy with the results of this design experiment. Stay tuned for additional coverage on the Madison Park Remodel as the interiors are furnished and the family moves in.

Cheers from Team BUILD