Project updates, March 2017

As Spring approaches with its usual companions of high winds and tantalizing warm days, we are busy ushering a number of projects to the building permit process.  Land prices are so expensive here in Boulder, that the majority of our projects are renovations and additions, not new construction.

South Boulder renovation image

One of the major challenges of many of these projects is to integrate the new addition with the existing building.  This is particularly complicated when the existing building is a smaller, simple ranch house that does not easily accommodate additional volume.


West Arapahoe project shadow plan

For older houses, a simple addition can be added to the rear or side of the existing structure and a small linking structure can knit the two together.  This sets up a nice dialogue between new and old, street and yard, public and private spaces.


Martin Acres renovation front elevation

Some projects add such large additions, more than doubling the size of the existing building, that establishing a new-old dialogue is almost impossible and we try to find a new language for the entire property.


Hillsdale Way front elevation

Hidden beneath, and within, these new designs are the vestiges of the typical 1960s builders suburban models - ranches, bi-levels and the dreaded tri-level.  Refining and enlarging these structures for use for another 50 years usually means fine-tuning them for specific views and being significantly more precise regading the use of spaces within the house. 


Vassar Drive project skylights

Carrying those ideas of refinement and craft through the construction makes each building unique for its site and owners.  Construction details are smaller manifestations of the initial big design moves.


traditional trim profiles sketch

adobe, churches and some thoughts on walls

adobe, churches and some thoughts on walls

I recently took a brief trip down to Taos and Santa Fe, New Mexico and drove along the scenic High Road to Taos.  Of course, along the way, in addition to stopping off to admire the vast chaparral landscape, I stopped at a number of the old adobe churches that are some of the oldest still-standing buildings in North America.  


Las Truces, New Mexico

The dominant building material here is adobe - mud and straw bricks, left to dry in the sun.  As you can see in the photo above, the adobe walls are usually coated with another clay/mud layer that helps to protect the exterior surface and renders the entire building into a massive, monolithic volume.


Rancho del Taos, New Mexico

Further accentuating the bulging masses, the height of the unsupported adobe walls required buttresses, not unlike classic North European cathedrals, to keep the walls vaguely vertical.  In the case of many of the churches, these buttresses at the front and corners of the building, were integrated into the wall planes of the church.  The overall effect is one of a gigantic lump of clay, albeit hollowed out for occupation.


adobe chapel sketch

These massive structures dominate the landscape, and although they do not in any way try to meld sympathetically with the immediate topography, the consistency of color and form of the slathered adobe, makes them clearly native to their environment.


adobe chapel

These are sacred spaces, but also buildings of oppression, often severe.  In most cases, they are the only building over 1 story high and clearly the pride of their communities.  They dominate the landscape and it would seem, at least at one time, the lives of the villages they inhabit.  Their impressive stature lies not in their ornament or even craftsmanship, but their bulk, unyielding and stoic, baking in the landscape.

Aging in Place - design for the long view

Aging in Place - design for the long view

Recently we have found ourselves working on projects that are explicitly designed for aging in place.  These are houses with  single-floor plans, adaptable kitchens, and a load of other simple, functional solutions to allow folks to stay in their houses as long as possible. 

Beinecke Library, Yale University

Beinecke Library, Yale University

This remarkable jewel-box is the Beinecke Library for Rare Books on the campus of Yale University.  It is as close to a perfectly conceived and executed building as I have seen, certainly one of the greatest work of American architecture.

Yale Art and Architecture Building

Yale Art and Architecture Building

I recently made a trip back to New Haven and visited my grad school haunt, the Yale Art and Architecture building. To say that it is a remarkable building does not do justice to its monumental and cruel presence.  Siting on the edge of Yale's collegiate gothic campus, the stark Brutalist hulk has a severe monumentality that perfectly reflects the role of architecture and architects at its 1963 completion.

Return to New Haven

Return to New Haven

I recently spent a long weekend in New Haven, Connecticut, the town of my grad school and a place I have not visited in more than twenty years.  I can happily confirm what so many folks have told me - that New Haven is a dramatically nicer and safer place than it was when I was at Yale in the early 1990s.