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On the boards, Sept 2017

Project Updates , M. Gerwing Architects

Along with the projects under construction that we highlighted in the last post, we have a number of really interesting projects in various design phases.


Hillsdale Way model

The project image above is from an extensive remodel to a split-leve house in South Boulder.  A number of different contractors are looking at the project and we hope to start construction in the next few weeks.

On the verge of submitting for building permits, we have two very different new single-family houses.

The first, below, is located on a steep mountainside just outside of the ski town of Breckinridge, Colorado.  Angled against the surrounding topography, the house looks out across the valley to a panoramic view of the ski slopes and the Continental Divide.


Breckinridge ski house model.jpg
Mapleton Historic District project model.jpg

A very different house, with a model image above, is being designed for a busy, corner location near downtown Boulder, Colorado within the Mapleton Hill Historic District.  This project as gone through an extensive design review process with the city's Landmarks Board and is finally striking a strong balance between a contemporary expression and neighborhood compatibility.

A very different approach is being taken with a small, first-phase, design of a mountain house outside of Golden, Colorado.  Designed for a young couple, the house is designed to be added on in the future, to expand as the family does and gradually take command of its dramatic site.


Blue Mountain estates project model.jpg

Finally, one of our most interesting projects is the design of a multi-generational house compound on a peach farm in Palisade, Colorado.  The design envisions a larger house for the gathering of three sisters and their families along with a smaller cottage.  Located alongside the main irrigation canal, the house ad cottage sits in an amazing bowl of space, a lush orchard surrounded by beautiful but harsh rocky mesas.

Palisade farmhouse plan and images.jpg

Project Updates, Sept 2017

Project Updates, M. Gerwing Architects

As the summer comes to a close, we have a number of great project under construction in Boulder.

West Arapahoe existing house.JPG

We are well under way with the tricky excavation below a 100-year old house on West Arapahoe.  We will be placing the old brick house on a new concrete foundation and then constructing a new addition to the recently Landmarked property.


South Boulder renovation.JPG

Framing is just starting on two projects in South Boulder.  Above, a new second-story addition and two tower-like smaller additions are going to be added to a classic, 1960s ranch house, maintaining its mid-century form and subtle brick coursing.

Also in early framing is this house, below, alongside Martin Park in South Boulder.  A large, traditional gable-front addition will more than double the size of the existing house and compliment its prominent corner location.


Martin Acres renovation and addition.JPG

Finally, our carefully crafted large addition on Vassar Drive is coming to a close.  The rails and stairs are being installed and final painting and details are being executed in anticipation of our client's move-in.  This project has been a great collaboration between ourselves and the clients and we are really looking forward to seeing the house occupied and used as we have been dreaming of and working toward for many months.


Skylight Sundials

Video - skylights as sundials

An all weather construction time-lapse camera is our newest office toy!  We have grand plans to capture some outstanding construction progress videos in the future.  But to get our feet wet with this new tech, we chose to record the peaceful progression of sunlight through the loft at our Upper Vassar Residence.

Yale Art Gallery

Louis Kahn, Yale Art Gallery

I was in New Haven last Fall and in an unusual fit of nostalgia, visited a number of buildings that were in my heavy rotation viewing in grad school.  Louis Kahn's Yale Art Gallery was right across the street from my school and I viewed it so often that I realize now I took its deft expression for granted.

Yale Art Gallery, stair

Kahn's first major commission, the Yale Art Gallery was designed in 1951 as an extension to the collegiate Gothic gallery and was to contain a number of different uses.  Kahn responded by making a flexible space spanned with a tetrahedral waffle slab ceiling.  The strict geometry of that construction not only allowed for changing uses, but established the taut, graceful and, planar expression that evokes a kind of timelessness in its simplicity.

Yale Art Gallery

The building's organization is straight-forward and deceptively simple - clustered service spaces supporting hierarchically dominant galleries and workspaces.  Kahn's desire to instill a quiet monumentality is largely achieved in his explicit contrast of stark, windowless walls sitting adjacent to the fussiness of the faux Gothic campus.


Yale Art Gallery, ceiling
Yale Art Gallery, Kahn plaque
Yale Art Gallery, stair elevation

At the end of his career, Kahn designed the magnificent British Art Center directly across the street from the Yale Art Gallery.  The British Art Center is an architectural masterpiece, understated in its order and simplicity, form and materials.  It further develops and resolves the same questions posed by the Yale Art Gallery twenty years beforehand.  Perhaps the British Art Center's mastery led me to discount Kahn's work of years earlier.  Perhaps at the time, familiarity breed complacency on my appreciation of the Art Gallery.  I'm so very glad to have seen this building again after so many years and maybe I can now see it for its own grace and presence.  Perhaps it took twenty or so years of my own architectural practice to really appreciate the power of what appears so simple and complete.

thank you, Mr. Kahn

thank you, Mr. Kahn

Frank Lloyd Wright in California, 1920s

Frank Lloyd Wright in California

I recently returned from a trip to Los Angeles and when I was there I took the opportunity to visit a number of Wright buildings.  Of particular interest to me were the textile block houses of the early 1920s - the Freeman, Storer, Ennis and Millard houses.

Ennis House, 1923

Ennis House, 1923

Wright's first major work in California is the Hollyhock house, an explicitly Mayan Revival style fantasy, looking down on the city from its perch on Olive Hill.  It is a strange design for an unusual client and maybe represents Wright's first attempts to shed the Prairie Style compositions of hovering roofs and dominantly horizontal planes.  It is a volumetric construction and the large, blocky, overlapping masses foreshadow the more sophisticated and refined textile block houses that were to follow.

Hollyhock, 1919

Hollyhock, 1919

The textile block houses are all designed and executed in the same year, 1923, and represent an amazing body of work for an architect testing new materials on challenging and unfamiliar topography.  These houses gradually abandon the explicitly formal aspects of the Mayan Revival style but maintain the surface patterning and volumetric expressions.


Freeman House, 1923

Freeman House, 1923

Each of these houses sit on incredibly steeply sloping sites among the foothills and mountains north of the LA basin.  It is easy to imagine that the choice of building materials - custom patterned, but standardized concrete blocks - was influenced by the technological and logistical challenge of building on significantly vertical terrain.  The use of concrete blocks drive the houses to express themselves in large, muscular volumes, eschewing conventional windows and doors in lieu of glazed openings between masonry masses.


Storer House, 1923

Storer House, 1923

The textile blocks are fascinating and much has been written about their patterns and motifs. My interest lies more with the overall building massing and how these buildings differ so dramatically from the light, seemingly weightless glass and panel construction that we associate with California Modern - the work of Neutra and Lautner, Eames and Eichler.


Ennis House sketch

Ennis House sketch

Wright's architecture extends the rough hillocks of the landscape and acts more like piled up boulders than built constructions.  The textile block houses are masonry constructions, blocks added to yet more blocks, stepping up the hillside and creating sheltered spaces between.

The later work of the California Modernists, so light and airy, sit lightly on the landscape but are clearly not natural extensions of the terrain.  Lautner's Chemosphere is so divorced from its immediate site to only barely touch it at one point.

John Lautner's Chemosphere - image credit: UCLA Humanities

John Lautner's Chemosphere - image credit: UCLA Humanities

Wright's use of massive, masonry forms in large expressive volumes might be a result of his own internal design process and his progression as a creative architect.  However, I can't help but think that it is also a reaction of a Midwestern architect to the vertiginous building sites, perching on shaking, near-cliffsides sitting on the edge of the continent.  Later architects reacted to these sloping sites by building ever-lighter constructions, buildings softly dropped down from the sky on uncertain earth.  Wright characteristically built his projects from the bottom up, the earth rising up into blocks, inherently and "naturally" tied to their hillsides.

Storer House sketch

Storer House sketch