Daily Dose: American Colonial Homes

Add to TwitterIn the “spirit” of Thanksgiving, I think it’s timely to break out a mini history lesson on colonial homes built in early America. The French, Spanish, German, Dutch, Swiss and British styles have all remained popular in America and can be found all over the country from New England to Florida to California.

New England Colonial Home; Rebecca Nurse Homestead

Our first home is a New England style colonial which was built beginning in the 1600s through 1740. This particular home was built in 1678 and has been extensively restored to appear in its current state. It was the home of Rebecca Nurse who was executed in the Salem Witch Trials. A typical New England colonial home was two storeys high with a steep roof and side gables, a large, centered chimney and a wood frame with clapboard or shingles. Because of the wooden frame, very few of these homes are still standing today.

Spanish Colonial Home; Gonzalez-Alvarez Residence

Built between 1600 and 1900, the Spanish colonial style home had very thick walls made of stone, adobe brick, stucco or coquina – a sedimentary rock made up of many shell fragments. It was typically a one-storey home with a flat roof. The windows often had interior shutters. The pictured Gonzalez-Alvarez house resides in St. Augustine, Florida and has been extensively remodeled since its construction in the early 1700s.

Dutch Colonial Home; John Teller House

Before I talk about Dutch colonial homes, I need to admit that I primarily associate these residences with the game of Life, in which I believe you can buy a greyish-blue one for a reasonable price (cladding, though, not brick). Most “real-life” Dutch colonials, however, utilize masonry construction (brick or stone) and were built between 1625 and the mid 1800s. They often have gambrel roofs with identical chimneys on opposite ends. Some very lucky residents may still have Dutch doors in their homes; the tops and bottoms open independently of one another. The above image shows the John Teller house in Schenectady, NY which was built in 1740.

French Colonial Home; Creole Plantation

Finally, and most strikingly different for those of us used to seeing midwestern homes, we have the French colonial which combines architectural elements found in France, the Caribbean and the West Indies. This particular mix of styles has been dubbed “Creole” architecture. Typically, these home are found along the Mississippi valley in temperate climates. They have timber frames with brick or bousillage (bu’ si jaʒ) – mud mixed with moss and animal hair. Many thin wooden columns line the elevated living quarters and wide porches known as galleries. There are no interior hallways; the porches are used as routes between rooms. (Just a note, Iowans: I don’t see this becoming a popular January trend for us.) The pictured plantation is located in Louisiana.

I hope you enjoyed this gathering of information on early American colonial homes. If you’re traveling for the holidays, have a safe trip, and for everyone – Happy Thanksgiving and eat up!

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Daily Dose: Symbiotic Green Wall

Symbiotic Green Wall for construction sites

Add to TwitterTo be quite frank, I don’t think that my home town has ever had construction extensive enough to warrant a wall separating it from the surrounding civilization. I have, however, experienced the eyesores around construction sites in larger cities that can put a definite damper on an otherwise enjoyable urban landscape. No longer, though! I predict that every city will be wracking its collective brain over what it can construct in order to try out the new Symbiotic Green Wall designed by Kooho Jung and Hayeon Kelly Choi. It’s promoted as an “urban ecosystem for construction areas” and its insightful design takes many environmental factors into consideration.

symbiotic green wall

Symbiotic Green Wall "pods"

The Symbiotic Green Wall is a double-layered wall system whose interior wall collects rainwater and grey water from the construction site, filters and stores it and redistributes it around the site. Part of its redistribution includes a sprinkler system to control dust. The exterior wall has a variety of “pods” that house grasses or other plants (watered via the wall collection system), birds’ nests, lighting and even provide seating to passersby. Some of the pods contain gauges (shown in blue in the above rendering) for environmental sensors that monitor noise, air quality, dust, vibrations and odors; this information is made transparent for the public. The Symbiotic double-wall system also helps to control some of these environmental factors by absorbing heat and noise. Now I just need to hope that Cresco will soon be needing some long-term construction; I volunteer us as a test city!

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Daily Dose: Graffiti on Masonry

Add to TwitterGraffiti on buildings is something of a touchy subject. If it’s done with malicious or destructive intent, it’s merely another hassle for the (likely) already over-worked owner of the building. However, some street art pieces are mural-esque and can actually enhance the beauty of a fallen or forgotten neighborhood. Because of the destructive/artistic dualism of the graffiti act, today’s Daily Dose will include reflections on both sides of the issue. I’ll share a few tips I found on how to remove graffiti from masonry walls as well as images of some stunning examples of this every-person’s art.

Ancient Graffiti

First off: a little history. Graffiti isn’t just the doings of the past 50 years’ worth of youths. In fact, it’s been found on structures that predate the ancient Greeks and Romans! From the Italian “graffio”, meaning “to scratch”, graffiti’s popularity has increased in recent years largely because of the availability of cheap mark-making devices such as spray paint, decals/stickers and markers.

There are a number of steps you should take if you find that your building has been “tagged” (and you’d like to remove the marks). They include: (1) Photograph the scene.   (2) Inform the police in case there have been related incidents or tags in the area.  (3) Conduct cleaning trials on the surface of the building. This involves testing small, less noticeable areas and beginning with the least aggressive treatment and working your way up until you find an effective method.  (4) Consider a removable barrier-coating system to make any future graffiti easier to clean from the building.

I won’t go into depth on the removal techniques; if you need more explicit directions, visit the sources listed at the bottom of this post. Your chosen method of removal will depend on the media used by the vandal/artist and the surface type. Porous materials like brick and stone are much more difficult to clean and require careful attention. Chemical methods are usually preferred in cases of graffiti on masonry surfaces. This focuses on dissolving the media. Poulticing can be very useful as it keeps the cleaning solution in contact with the surface for an extended period of time and prevents it from being redeposited in the masonry. Mechanical methods such as wire-brushing or grit-blasting focus on abrading the mark from the surface of the building and are much rougher on the existing structure. Laser removal, although quite effective for fragile surfaces, is less accessible to many building owners because of its high cost.

Graffiti Mural in Fremont District of Seattle, WA

Now for the art-sy side of graffiti. Though it’s often condemned for initiating the downward spiral of a neighborhood’s condition, graffiti can also allow for the expression of social discontent or even bring beauty into an otherwise lifeless urban landscape. I’m sure the above mural in this bohemian district of Seattle, WA brightens up many a rainy day!

Graffiti in Paris

The above picture is one I made while I was visiting the Montmartre district of Paris. The incredible detail and control of line, depth and color is truly the work of an artist. Apparently, the building owners thought so, too since this yards-long mural surely wasn’t painted in day! Montmartre’s graffiti was undeniably a highlight of my trip to Paris, but I would have looked much less fondly on it had it been on the side of the Sacre Coeur. I guess what I’m saying is that, as admiringly or disparagingly as people may see graffiti, it has its place – socially and environmentally. Whether it’s celebrated or scrubbed away depends on the physical context and the nature of the mark; consider your audience before you tag!

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The Art of Waterproofing Window Openings

"Eyebrow" detail

*This article was featured in MTI’s most recent quarterly newsletter which contained additional news about the company and the services we offer. If you’d like to join this mailing list, please send an email to sarah@mtidry.com. Thank you!

Add to TwitterOne of the most difficult areas to address in the prevention of moisture infiltration is a window or door opening. Our ancestors solved this problem in a beautiful and effective way – the inclusion of artistic architectural details above window and door openings. These details deflected moisture around and away from windows and doors. Unfortunately, many modern buildings have moved away from this practice. Too often, water can run directly into window and door openings and work its way into the building envelope.

Masonry Technology has two innovative, new products that help in the battle against moisture intrusion around window and door openings. MTI’s Moisture DiverterTM is a moisture deflection product that moves water that penetrates above a window or door off to the side and down into the drainage plane – just like the “eyebrow” detail of the Victorian era. The only difference is that MTI’s Moisture DiverterTM is placed above a window or door inside the building envelope. This “invisibility” makes it a good choice regardless of the building’s façade.

The second Masonry Technology product that deals with moisture problems around window openings is MTI’s Window Drainage PlaneTM. This product goes on top of the sill before the window is slid into the opening. When installed according to MTI’s specifications, moisture problems such as rot that so often plague the bottom of the framing are eliminated. These two products and the animations showing how to incorporate them into the building envelope can be found in the HyperSpecsTM and Products sections of MTI’s website.

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Daily Dose: Gaudí and Candy-Land

Add to TwitterFor all the radical, almost space-agey, architecture that’s going on nowadays, you can’t tell me we have as much fun with the design of our constructions as we used to. Sure, the new, sleek materials and designs are chic and sophisticated, but they’re a little lacking in spontaneity and COLOR, for goodness’ sake! The buildings I’ll give tours of today aren’t as “hip” (built anywhere from the 1500s to the early 1900s), but their children’s book-appearances are sure to appeal to anyone’s imagination.

I mentioned in one of the earliest Daily Doses (Stilettos and Skyscrapers) that I’d not be opposed to wearing shoes designed by Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí, and now I think it’s time to give him some credit for his fantastical art nouveau architecture.

Roof of Casa Battló by Antoni Gaudí

The radiant image above is the mosaic roof of the Casa Battló in Barcelona, Spain. It leads me to think of the scaly spine of a dinosaur or a dragon. Others get a similar impression – the visceral appearance of the 1877 residence has earned it the local nickname of the “house of bones.”

Casa Batlló balconies and interior staircase

Cooperative Bank Building in Ljubljana, Slovenia

Now, you may have been taken aback by my initial suggestion that we just don’t enjoy ourselves as we used to when it comes to building design. And it’d be easy to look at Gaudí’s Batlló home, credit it to the (presumably) very cool people who lived there and leave it at that. But there’s really no excuse for the blasé when you see a bank like the one on the right. I’d be finding reasons to make transactions at least once a day!

I’ve been saving the best for last. Russia, if I may say so myself, really knows how to do it up right. Well, at least they did in 1555! That’s when the famed St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow underwent construction. The designers of the spiraling turrets and whimsically-patterned towers had no qualms about combining red, green, gold and blue in such a way that you may start to feel like it’s you, not the design, that’s spinning…

St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow, Russia; Candy-Land cover

…that, and it looks like it’s been built strictly according to the prototype on the Candy-Land board game box. (Although, considering the respective dates of creation, it’s probably the other way around). Architects, if you’re listening, it’s time for color to make its comeback!

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Daily Dose: Vetsch Underground Homes

Estate Lättenstrasse in Dietikon, Switzerland

Add to TwitterOnce again, I am impressed at the innovation and dedication to environmentally-friendly practices exhibited by architects worldwide. In particular, this Daily Dose addresses the Earth Houses designed by Peter Vetsch. More than seventy such homes exist in Switzerland and other (mainly European) countries today.

Dolder Residential House in Widen, Switzerland

Vetsch’s designs make the most of the insulating and aesthetic qualities of the natural landscape. He holds that “architecture should not dictate nature; it should cooperate with it.” The residents of the Earth Houses do not merely live under or in the earth, but with it. The soil-covered roofs increase the amount of usable space for planting grasses and other plants. Of course, this helps enhance the amount of oxygen released into the air which is important to maintaining a healthy atmosphere. It also provides energy-saving insulation from rain, low temperatures and winds. Land is used efficiently in that the homes can be built into hillsides or on uneven terrain – and their beautifully undulating exteriors make them seem like natural outgrowths of their surroundings. They remind me of the habitable sculptures by Sarah Bonnemaison and Christine Macy (Gestures).

Schweizer Residential House in Flurlingen, Switzerland

As you can see from the image of the Schweizer House, not all of Vetsch’s Earth Homes are built fully underground. The above photograph shows the house’s three open sides, while it is only the back of the home that disappears into the hill slope. This resolves what would have been a definite issue for me – light. People who have had the experience of living with me know that I have “a thing” (honestly, it nears obsession) about having the absolute maximum amount of natural lighting in an interior room. Curtains have never graced my windows and the shades don’t see any use from me… so I’m sure you can see the potential problem with me (or any other light-obsessor) living underground. Reassuringly, Vetsch’s homes receive natural light to interior rooms through rooftop windows and their white finishes are sure to brighten up the space. I know I said earlier that you could visit me in my Z-Glass, but the organic, flowing constructions of these habitations are just too much to pass up!

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Daily Dose: Feng Shui Architecture

Add to TwitterAdmittedly, I’ve always been pretty dismissive whenever I’ve seen books or magazine articles about how to “feng shui” (yes, as a verb) your home, office space, etc. While I have respect for the ancient Eastern art, it seems that popular culture has capitalized on its intrigue and made it into the trendy home solution. I’m not about to tell you how you should or should not rearrange your kleenex boxes, but I will relay a few things I learned about the art that seem to just make sense for living a healthy, harmonious life.

Feng shui can be literally translated as wind water. Whether or not your space has “good” or “bad” feng shui depends on how chi (energy) is allowed to move through the building. It is also dependent on how much your dwelling reflects the balance achieved in nature. For architecture, this has bearing on site selection, design, construction and interior design/arrangement.

One thing to consider in a home is whether or not symmetry successfully translates into balance or harmony. It’s common for doors and windows to be placed opposite one another, but that’s not good feng shui. The chi is allowed to move too quickly through the space. Something else that lets the chi exit a space too quickly is if there is a view from the entrance of a home straight out a window or door to the back. The incoming energy leaves directly which can be distracting or unsettling.

High ceilings are another feature to reconsider – at least for some rooms. Their dramatic, enlarging effect can result in trouble concentrating or sleeping. Odd angles or wall shapes are also said to lead to a lack of focus or irritability, since the chi bounces around the room. Spiral staircases can be positive additions to your home, if placed in an area with positive feng shui as they will engage all the surrounding energy and amplify it.

REN People's Building in Shanghai, China

The REN People’s Building in Shanghai, China embodies principles of feng shui (in fact, all capital cities of China are designed based on this architectural spirituality). One section of the building emerges from the water and is dedicated to activities of the body; it houses a water culture center. The other emerges from land and is dedicated to the spirit and enlightenment; it has the building’s conference and meeting centers. The two sections meet to form the Chinese character for “people” and all five elements of feng shui (earth, water, fire, wood and metal) are embedded in the architecture.

Other uses of feng shui in China include deciding how to orient your home. The ideal orientation is facing to a southerly lake or river with a hill behind the building to the north. (In Eastern cultures, South – not North – is considered the “front.”) This has a practical application since harsh winds in China often come from the North, while most sun and warm winds come from the South.

I know that feng shui can seem a little wishy-washy or too left-field for some, but many of its principles actually make sense. For instance, I feel more comfortable in spaces that are suited for the scope of work that I’ll be doing in them – and while I may love tall ceilings in a concert hall, I’m equally grateful for the coziness of my small living room. Whether or not it’s because of my traveling chi is hard to say, but as long as it suits my needs, I can leave the details for later!

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