Wednesday, November 25, 2015

From the Field: new projects arising!

We have two new Passive projects in construction now, "Acorn Glaede" in Downers Grove, and a not-yet-named house in Hinsdale. They both started in the summer; Downers is a slab-on-grade, but Hinsdale has a full basement. Here are some compare-and-contrast images, starting with Hinsdale (we didn't get to the site before framing started):
on PHIUS tour--basement at Hinsdale; note 8" EPS outside exposed concrete foundation

The Architect considers the foundation-wall joint

2x6 framing with Zip sheathing as airtight layer, 5.25" EPS outboard, flush with exterior face of 2x12 bucks

South facade--seen from alley, garage to left begun

From northwest

East facade--the "modern farmhouse" look taking shape

Using Rosboro X-Beams: no-added formaldehyde glulams
Now for Downers Grove:

Frost-depth foundation with 8" exterior, 4" interior EPS; note separation of exterior porch with insulation--no thermal bridge

Closeup of corner

Slab poured, StegoWrap in place

Tom with initial color studies for prefinished color-mix on LP SmartSide siding

Walls going up! 2x6 wall framing; note 2x12 bucks at openings, like Hinsdale...a favorite detail

Second floor walls--that oak tree behind was a major driver of plan layout

View from Living Room through south windows to the other great oak tree

With owner and her parents...

Big bucks on the east wall

Capped out before the cold hit!

That's it for now--more to come as these get enclosed and finished!


As I prepare to head out of town for my favorite holiday, I've been thinking about gratitude. I have to credit my new-found meditation practice for an increased sense of appreciation of those around me and for my work. I've always had a sense of "mission" with my work--to do good for the environment and to create beauty in appreciation of nature wherever possible.

2015 has been a great year for TBDA, and I consider myself incredibly fortunate to be able to practice architecture in line with that mission. And I realize that it is all brought into existence first and foremost by my clients, and made possible by my employees, consultants, and of course, by the support of my family.

So, to all of you, my deepest gratitude...and Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, May 8, 2015

From The Field: Finishes, cont'd

The excitement has been building as the house nears completion. As the cleaning crew wrapped up on Thursday, we saw all the tile, countertops, flooring, and built ins in their finished state at last. The owners  have been doing low-voltage wiring (Paul is a pro--technical director at Fuse Technical Group), and have been learning the details of mechanical equipment use, cabinet adjustments, appliances, etc.

05/01 exterior, porch screen frame not painted yet

05/01 Living Room and entry built-ins

05/01 Kitchen pre-appliances
It's great to walk through a house just before completion and LOVE the smell of the air inside. Big thanks to EHB for their attention to detail on materials not just with the construction, but also with the cleaning products used at the end of construction. The ventilation system and mini-split are up and running--mechanical room is all fitted out:
W/D (drain pan now removed), heat pump water heater, ERV

Energy and temperature/humidity monitoring systems
All cleaned and ready for tomorrow's tour:
concrete stain (RetroPlate) looks great

Natural light on the reclaimed hickory floor in the second floor hall

Timothy checking out the ladder to the bedroom loft
Looking to hall (and Jamie) from bathroom
It's been a beautiful Spring. Landscaping starts Monday!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Drawing On Place

Occasionally I am asked why I named my domain "drawingonplace." The reason behind it is at the core of my aspirations in architecture, so I thought I'd take a shot at explaining it, and then illustrate the idea as I begin to follow our next project on the blog.

I was introduced to the concept of Place by the architectural theorist Christian Norberg-Schulz in his book Genius Loci (Rizzoli, 1979). Beyond mere location, he uses Place to mean qualitative environmental character or "atmosphere," made up of concrete phenomena like texture (material), density (scale), color, and light. It was a refreshingly concrete idea for me against the abstract notions of Deconstruction that were the rage when I was in grad school.

We have all experienced places that have exceptional character--great cities, natural settings, neighborhoods, rooms; what Schulz shows is that we can identify why these places are exceptional, and use that knowledge as designers. But Schulz also takes it a step further to connect the idea of Place to something deeper, which is our connection to landscape and the way we as humans settle in different environments. Desert, forest, prairie, savanna, have traditionally called up powerfully different responses (he uses Khartoum, Prague, Rome, and Chicago as examples), though, sadly, sensitivity to landscape is usually literally and figuratively bulldozed these days.

All of this was simmering in my mind when I was ready to start my own firm in 2006. I knew I wanted to pursue sustainability, but I did not want to sacrifice design for efficiency, or sacrifice efficiency for vanity. So one day on vacation in Charlevoix, Michigan, I was standing and looking at one of Earl Young's Boulder Park Houses, and what was evident to me was Young's love of his place--he made it real in those houses. And the light went on for me: if you really connect a building to its environment in a sensitive way, you are well on the way to both beauty and sustainability; you will be drawing on the native resources (local materials, light, solar gain, ground forms, views), and establishing a sense of place in the process. The best modern building would be like the best traditional building in that it would fit and glorify its locality--I like to call it "resonating" with its surroundings--but it would go beyond appearance to integrate the best in efficiency and technology a la Passive House.

So that's the big idea--"drawing on place" means creating a quality of space-experience in vital balance with its environment; it means "drawing on" the positive, healthy qualities of a place to design a building/landscape that amplifies those qualities while establishing its own character. I often reflect on the Daoist concept of Yin and Yang, the dynamic balance of opposing forces. Our work can be seen using that analogy: if the setting is the Yin, our building is the Yang: the best design will be one that brings a dynamic vitality to the whole.

In my next post I'll put this into action on a project just starting downstate--here's a teaser pic of the restored prairie at the entrance of the site (house will be back by the woods), taken in early March:

Happy Spring!

Monday, March 16, 2015

From the Field: finishes, p. 1

Now that rough mechanicals are in and the air barrier system has been successfully tested, finishes are going in.These will get a lot more exciting pretty soon as tile, wood trim and accents, cabinetry and countertops, etc. get installed, but that will be next.

This stage of construction is where a lot of toxicity can enter a project, but we and Evolutionary Home Builders (contractor) are vigilant about keeping interiors healthy. Adhesives, caulks, primers and paints, and floor finish have been selected to minimize toxicity: low VOC is not enough: we look for zero VOC, non-toxic, GreenGaurd Certified products, and of course no added urea formaldehyde. At the end of construction we hire a third party to test the air for aldehydes and VOCs, so we are especially motivated to keep it clean. It makes such a difference--this jobsite has never had that awful toxic "new car" smell you get on so many construction sites. We're very grateful for the vigilance EHB brings to the project.
upper landing

upper hall looking east to master

ground, polished, and stained concrete floor

reclaimed hickory flooring going in...

...and hickory finished with Rubio Monocoat natural

panels on north side

10" exposure LP SmartSide smooth siding

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

From the filed: more insulation and airtightness!

In Passive architecture, you really don't want your buildings to suck. Technically, you want them to lose less than:
   0.6 air changes per hour when depressurized to 50 Pascals of pressure for the "old" Passive House Standard;
   or .05cfm of air per square foot of exterior envelope area when pressurized to 50 Pascal in the soon-to-be adapted PHIUS standard.
Jason LaFleur of EcoAchievers, a PHIUS+ and LEED-H trained rater did a preliminary blower door test today along with his laptop and Tectite sofware, wirelessly connected to the blower door assembly. Cool tools for sure.
the red door of truth

plotting readings
As you can see on the screen, the device sends a scattering of points which it plots on a curve. We were a little surprised that our first reading was over 0.6ACH50 so we did a walk around the house with his thermal imaging camera to look for leaks.

IR image: "cold" temp is about 66F, 35F outside

We didn't find any at the windows, but found a big one where the ERV exhaust penetration was taped off. Once we taped it off, we tested again and got a much better reading:
129cfm, or .46ACH50
At 129cfm/0.46ACH50, we're comfortably under the threshold! So big congrats to the team at Evolutionary Home Builders. This reading is likely to get better after drywall goes in, but it's not something to count on. One of the lessons of Passive building is to have a single dedicated air barrier system that you can see, test, and repair as needed. Additional layers can help, but first test that system.
living room, facing entry and TV built-in
The house is feeling, aside from warm, much more spatially solid with the insulation (that's blown-in fiberglass, Knauf JetStream, recycled. no formaldehyde). And the late afternoon winter light was very soft in the master bedroom: 

One more shot, looking from front sitting room out to the fireplace--can't wait to see the Elmwood Reclaimed wood mantle, the wood ceiling of the screen porch, and a fire in the grate...

Drywall, cabinetry, doors, siding...exciting month coming up. See you back here soon.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

From the Field: insulation and windows

Here's an update for the Oak Park home in construction--it's been a busy time with roofing, insulation, overhangs, exterior insulation, weather barrier, and windows. First thing after the air barrier (Prosoco, the pink stuff painted on the outside of the plywood) was to frame the overhangs, so they could get a roof on.
west (front) facade

6x6 cedar brackets
Then the polyisocyanurate exterior insulation went up:
working to the corner; there are two layers of polyiso and it's important to stagger the seams

wrapped up tight--polyiso flushes out with window bucks
The roof went on, and the polyiso was wrapped with a Delta weather resistive barrier:
roof is on, wrapped up in stylish black WRB with Prosoco-red trim, and we have a front slab

street facade--someday that plywood will be a real front door
The light and space at the stair is nice to be in:
interior of south facade above stair with Garrett and Rudy from the office

from stair to front bedroom--light!
And no Passive blog would be complete without some photos of the windows going in. These are Zola Thermo uPVC, an incredible value for Passive House performance. They're tilt-tun (open in) windows with jamb clips for fixing:
sill prepared for install--note how air barrier membrane runs to the interior of window plane

jamb clips screwed to framing; next a backer rod and sealant will make the openings airtight
That's it for this install--next will show rough mechanicals.