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construction

The cost of building in Boulder

RESIDENTIAL CONSTRUCTION COST

Housing construction costs have risen sharply in the last few years.  This means that not only the large, market developer home builder prices are up, but so are those of the small general contractors and all the associated trades - plumbers, carpenters, electricians, etc.  

That is very apparent especially in Boulder.

house construction and being local

In many ways, building or remodeling is about the most local, job-creating activity within the economy.  Unless your construction is from very unconventional materials, they are most likely sourced relatively closely to the place of construction.  "Local" may mean the US, not the preferred 500 mile definition, but very few of the things consumers typically purchase can even say that.  Most of the wood in residential construction comes from the US or Canada (the importing of subsidized Canadian softwoods is a touchy subject for US manufacturers).

in Louisville

I am spending a week in Louisville with family and I slid out for a bit to take a look at a couple of buildings that I remember fondly from growing up here. The first building is really only a small structure, a park gateway that was located across the street from my Dad's office when I was little.  We only had one car, so on occasion my sister, Mother and I had to come downtown to pick up my Dad.  If we were early or he was still on the phone, we would spend time in this small park across the street, it would be called a pocket park in today's parlance.  The entrance to the little park was on the corner created by a small, white hyperbolic paraboloid.

hyper01

hyper01

Of course for the early 1970s, this was pretty cool stuff for a kid, sort of space-age and strangely naturalistic at the same time.  It is surprisingly small, maybe 15 feet across and most intriguing for a small boy, you could scramble up is two dropped vertices and sit up in the saddle.  I don't how often we visited this park, but this simple structure made a strong impression on me and I was very glad to see it is still there, a bit in need of some fresh paint, but still gamely holding down that little corner as larger hospital buildings arise across the street.

Hyperbolic paraboloids are particularly fascinating from a construction point of view as these double curving surfaces can be made up from all straight members rotating around a pair of axis.

Hyperbolic-paraboloid

Hyperbolic-paraboloid

I'm sure I didn't know that then, but when it came time in an architectural structures class to write a research project about a specific project type, in typically geeky fashion, I jumped at the chance to learn a bit more about the shape of the little park sentinel.

image

image

The other building in Louisville that I felt I had to visit was the downtown main branch of the Louisville Free Public Library.  In fact, it was probably on trips back from the library that we were sitting in the little park waiting on my father to finish something up.  The library looms large in my memory not just as an institution with a world of eye-opening books and an especially fascinating globe in the children's section, but also as a building itself.  Even though a much more modern addition had been added on moving the main entrance away from this neo-classical facade, my memories are filled with hanging out amongst these fluted columns.

lfpl02

lfpl02

Like fluted stone columns anywhere, they are oddly hard and unforgiving and yet smooth and tactile sensuous.  But just looking at them reminds me that it was the coolness of the stone, especially in the concave shadowy flutes, that I found most satisfying.

The interior of the building has changed a lot, the children's section sensibly moved to ground level.  However, with that move kids no longer have to tread up the cool marble stair, holding on to the over-wrought iron rails and gaze incomprehensibly at the frescoes of Froebel and Herodotus.

image (1)

image (1)

I guess this made a trip to the library a fairly solemn affair, but I don't remember them as such, maybe their frequency muted the stoic marble and vaguely military iron railings.

Of course it only occurs to me now that these two structures were in some ways so different and yet so alike.  I could write a number of comparisons and contrasts, metaphors of their style and construction that were so instructive to a budding architect or subconsciously absorbed to later bloom in drawings and models.  That however is mere projection, more an outcome of too many seminars and graduate school presumptions.  These buildings were part of a weekly circuit of my family, encountered by chance and remembered through repetition.  In my own self-absorbed way however, I am awfully glad they are still with us.

Container House Taking Shape, by Boulder architects M. Gerwing Architects

Container setting 02

Container setting 02

The shipping container house that we have been working on for quite a while has finally started to take shape.  The first box was delivered on Wednesday, lifted high above the neighborhood and swung into place on the second story.

Another container will be set in a few months immediate to the north of this one, making a long line with a small terrace between.  A very challenging building site, hemmed in with zoning requirements to a maximum building envelope of 20' wide by 145'  long, suggested the use of these long, narrow boxes.  The homeowner's desire for a eco-conscious house, including these re-purposed containers, drove the much of the design as well.  The restrictive solar shadow ordinance here in Boulder allowed us to build up to only 10' wide on the second level.

GB 06

GB 06

The final outcome will be sustainable design that incorporates the owner's solar panel array and stretches north to south over 140'.

Container setting 01

Container setting 01

The lifting and setting of the first box was quite an event, bringing out curious, and somewhat concerned neighbors.

The amazing views from this new second level will reveal Boulder's famous flatirons to the south and the city dropping off to the northeast.  The neighborhood of two- and three-story homes will be joined by this construction, long and narrow, of shipping containers anchored in their new port.

Container setting 03

Container setting 03

505 College 02

505 College 02

by Boulder architects M. Gerwing Architects

enter ACI - architecture, construction, integration

We haven't added new blog posts in quite a while as we have been more than ordinarily busy with a new joint venture - ACI design/build. Jim Walker and I have been friends since our Chicago-days, now almost 16 years ago.  Jim is also an architect and he has spent many years with New York architecture firms doing design/build work as the on-site architect and construction manager.  In the same capacity, he and I have done a number of projects over the years both here in Colorado as well as in Chicago.  Now our occasional collaboration is a full-time occupation embodied in ACI.  While M. Gerwing Architects still exists and works with a number of excellent local contractors, some of our projects will be joint ventures with ACI as both design and construction professionals.

The design/build process offers some unique advantages over the traditional architect-and-contractor process.  The communication and coordination is certainly streamlined as is the process of designing, detailing and documenting a project.  This realizes significant savings for our clients and makes the process much more rewarding for ourselves, being able to spend more time on design and less on paperwork.

For as interesting as design/build is, there are limitations.  Very large or significantly complex projects benefit from the long experience and solid focus of an experienced general contractor.  And, for my part, I have learned so much from general contractors over the years that I would never give up using that more traditional process for many of my projects.

We spend a lot of time custom designing a project for clients.  We avidly search through the project to find the unique aspects of the client and the site to highlight these issues and create tailored projects.  However, we don't often adjust our process to the needs of our clients.  We are the experts at that process and we often bend each client and project into that form.  I think now, with the addition of ACI, we have options we can present to our clients for not just the design of the project, but the process to get there as well.