Thursday, August 30, 2007

Building a new parish? Think about hiring this guy...

Thankfully, there are some new Catholic churches that are reclaiming our artistic patrimony. One of those awesome churches was just finished in 2004 in the Minneapolis, MN suburb of St. Michael. Not coincidentally, the local parish in St. Michael is the Church of St. Michael (the archangel, that is). A friend, knowing my interests, recently asked me if I had seen the new church in St. Michael, and I mistakenly told him that I had seen it, thinking that he was referring to what I now know is the "old" St. Michael parish church, or historic church. I had been to a wedding there, and the old church is beautiful, and I thought he was referring to a refurbishment of that church. I didn't realize the parish had exceeded their capacity there and built a new church. Here you can see a picture of the facade of the historic church, and a picture of the new church.

Right away you can tell the pastor of St. Michael's and the lay faithful there have their collective head on straight, in that they did not simply get rid of the old church, nor did they renovate the old church "in the spirit of Vatican II." (For those who are not Catholic, an inside joke referring to some of the horrible renovations of historic churches that have occurred after Vatican II, done in the mistaken notion that the "spirit of Vatican II" mandated that we move the altar to the center of the church, carpet the floors, and put up felt banners everywhere). In fact, the old church is still used for masses and weddings. Further, they did not create a new, modernist church with the hope of "fitting in" with the perceived directions of church architecture. Instead, they hit the big five right on: verticality, iconography, formality, transcendence, and hierarchy. Now, without seeing the church in person yet, I don't know the extent that these goals were accomplished, but the few exterior pictures I have seen look promising, and I know they nailed the iconography. They hired Vladislav Andrejev (pictured above).

Mr. Andrejev is a Russian and a Russian Orthodox iconographer (he "writes" icons, as it's called), and actually has founded his own school in New York, the Prosopon School of Iconology. The Orthodox churches and the Catholic church have much in common in terms of icons and other artistic representations of the faith, and so it made a lot of sense for St. Michael's to hire Mr. Andrejev to complete the iconography for their new church, especially since I have heard that the pastor there wished to have the church serve as an example of breaking down the barriers between Western and Eastern Christianity. The result is quite stunning.
In the center and bottom pictures is Mr. Andrejev himself giving a tour of his work. Fantastically, you can take a slideshow tour of his work as well, and listen to him explain the art of iconography (courtesy of the Star Tribune, which ran a story in January of this year on St. Michael's). Go here for the multimedia sildeshow (has audio, so you'll want your speakers or headphones on).

If you'd like more info on how he "writes" an icon, here's an explanation of his school's method. And here's a wonderful, 10-second animation of the method from start to finish.

I'm looking forward to taking a visit out to St. Michael sometime soon to see all this in person. I'd also consider undertaking to learn the icon writing process, but it's a little different from oil painting (he uses egg tempera) and the style would definitely take some learning. I've got enough to do for now on my current pursuits!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

A couple more private chapel examples...


I've got one more private, residential chapel that I have found on the internet (so this makes three total, including the two I have posted about previously). This one was done as an "outbuilding", or structure that is not attached to the main home (even if we wanted to do the same, outbuildings are not allowed by our neighborhood covenants). It was done in Scotland by a British classical architect, with St. Rita of Cascia as the patron of the chapel.

The chapel even includes an original sculpture of St. Rita by excellent Scottish artist Alexander Stottart:
Having an original sculpture of the patron of the chapel echoes what we would like to do, with Anthony Visco as the artist (see here).

The chapel itself certainly has a low level of relation in style (and in cost) to what ours will be, but I still like seeing what others have done. It's also much bigger than anything we would need or be able to do. I appreciate the respect for the sacredness of the chapel and the use of the traditions of church architecture.

I also would like to show another private chapel that has been pointed out to me. In a previous post, Sara Fruend pointed out some details on a chapel in the University of St. Thomas' Rome campus. This isn't strictly a residential use of a chapel, as this building is used by a University, and I think a chapel at a campus like this would be quite common. But, it is a chapel that is worked into a "home-like" floor plan, and I think that is interesting.
I like the location of the chapel right next to a study area, and this is similar to our chosen Scheme C (see here and here) as we would like a library area or sitting area right off the chapel (it's currently listed as "living room," but this would be revised later). I also like the mini-sanctuary that is "carved out" of the wall of the chapel with the altar. Even in a "box-like" floor plan, there's still things like this that can be done to unite the space to Church traditions.

I'm a little jealous of the fine UST students, like Sara, who got to study at this campus for a semester! Being from the Twin Cities, and despite having attended sports arch rival St. John's in Collegeville, MN in my undergraduate years, I thank God for the solid Catholic witness UST provides our metro area. UST is also connected with the St. Paul Seminary (right across the street) where my younger brother Evan is discerning the priesthood.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Barn at the Historic Oliver Kelley Farm

The Historic Oliver Kelley Farm is an amazing historical and educational resource we have right here in Anoka County, MN (it's about 15 minutes away from us currently). It's a a farm of a famous Minnesotan, Oliver H. Kelley (at right), who bought a large parcel of land in 1850 near Elk River, MN in the speculation that Elk River would be named the capitol of the new state of Minnesota. Minnesota had just been named a territory in 1849, and would go on to become the 32nd state of the union in 1858... of course with St. Paul as its capitol. Whoops. Oh well, Mr. Kelley figured he better make use of the land, and eventually not only learned how to farm, but became an expert and nationally sought-after resource on the topic of farming.

The Kelley farm was donated to the Minnesota Historical Society in 1961, and since then has been operating as a fully functional farm just as it was in the 1850's. Going there is like taking a tour back in time. One of the best things about the farm is that it is an incredible homeschooling resource. Not only are the tours educational, but the staff there who do all of the farming (with the same tools and methods as were used in the 1850's) encourage kids and adults to come and pitch in to do the work. So, for instance, there are events during harvest season to actually assist the workers, and it's great work for homeschoolers to get a taste of life in a different time.
Here's more info on the events they have for families to participate.

Recently we took the kids to hear a musical, bluegrass-style storyteller in-concert on a weekday evening, and I was walking around the farm and saw this fantastic barn (below).
The barn is circa 1860, and I immediately thought the design looked similar in form to some of the conceptual elevations of our future home (for instance, in Scheme C).
Regarding the barn, you can also see the vertical wood siding that is similar to suggestions that my brother has made (see here), and you even see the uncluttered, clean shape of the barn that is similar in characteristic to the conceptual design of the exterior of our home. I think the windows above the side door are quite interesting for a building from the 1860's. Driving around and looking at other barns in the area it's interesting that such barns also frequently involve stone or brick on the bottom, which is similar to what our design will involve. At any rate, if our home ends up echoing nearby historic architecture, distincly Minnesotan even, that would be cool! And my family has quite a large farming contingent, so echoing this type of architecture would be quite apropos.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Does a truly Catholic home need to be neo-classical architecture?

A commenter to the last post brought up a fantastic point for discussion, one which I had been planning on posting about but had neglected to do so to this point. It would have been better had I done this post closer to the unveiling of the schemes, because it probably would have answered a lot of questions about the design. So the comment is something like this: the home designs look a lot more modern than expected given my statements about church architecture, Duncan Stroik's architecture, etc., and this is surprising.

This is a totally fair question or comment, so I'd love to address it. First, here is an example that the commenter (Leeann) was referring to, a rendering from Scheme A:
What you see here is a couple things that brought about the comment. First, there's floor-to-ceiling windows, which are definitely more of a contemporary design thing. Also, the columns that are supporting the structure are "unadorned;" i.e. they aren't "classical" in terms of doric, ionic, or corinthian, or other classical design themes. What you see is very linear lines (that's kind of redundant I suppose, but you know what I mean), and uncluttered design feel, etc. So the question is, is this type of design philosophy opposed to beauty, the human person, or even transcendence, which are things that are usually acknowledged as being supported in classical architecture?

My answer would be "no." First off, I think anyone would acknowledge that a portion of design is simply personal taste. My personal tastes gravitate toward uncluttered, simple, elegant design. You can see that in the design of this blog, which I have been very careful in doing (though hopefully it looks like I didn't spend a lot of effort). I think ornamentation can, if it's not done properly, add to a space feeling cluttered. So that's some background on my personal tastes, and as a reminder there is more specifics here for both myself and Molly. (Molly's tastes are obviously a little different, so part of this process is melding our tastes to produce something both of us can really relate to).

Secondly, one of the overarching philosophies in the design you see above is "tectonics." That is, that the physical structures you see before you in a space actually mean something; they're there for a reason. So, when you see the columns above, those are there because they are actually supporting the structure of the home. There are no extra columns just for looks. Also, even the vaulted ceilings are tectonic in that they conform to the shape of the roof. There is no unnecessary dead space, which would be created by having a simple horizontal ceiling. So in my own words, tectonics is "truth-in-design", what you see has meaning for the physical structure. The physics and the design are melded into one form. I think that can be elegant and beautiful. I don't think it would be truth-in-design to tack up corinthian veneers all over the place to make the space look "classical." I don't think that's necessary or very elegant. I think ancient Greek and Roman architecture was tectonic in that the ornamentation you saw was actually physically carved into solid marble or stone, and that makes sense to me. Today's cost structures certainly would not allow for that (and it's not like the peasants of these ancient societies were running around building their own classical homes either).

All this said, what I do wholeheartedly support are classical design principles, which aid in making a design "timeless." Things like proportion and pattern, use of the golden ratio, these things can be part of any design. Let me show you some examples of architecture that I think relate to Scheme C, are contemporary, and employ timeless design principles. This is all stuff I have found on my own, so I don't want to put words in my brother's mouth that these relate to the design of Scheme C, but I think they do from my own viewpoint. First, here's a reminder of the side elevations of Scheme C:
A great contemporary architect that I think produces good residential designs is Hugh Newell Jacobsen. Now, he generally seems to produce designs that are quite a bit more expensive than our home will be, but here are some of his designs that I think relate well to the design of Scheme C:
I especially like the last one. The design is so elegant, with everything so rationally ordered and balanced, it's quite beautiful. You can see the so-called "clean lines" in his designs, and the uncluttered nature of them, but I think it would be hard to argue that if these designs were shown to a person from, say, the 1700's that they would find the designs unintelligble. I think they would understand the designs quite nicely, which relates to the timeless principles of the designs.

Where I depart from the contemporary philosophy is in the design of a Catholic space, whether it be a church or chapel. There you need a whole different sort of tectonics, a spiritual tectonics. A Catholic space has to have iconography and some degree of ornamentation and formality to communicate truths of the faith. Stripping a Catholic church of these things strips the church of the spiritual meaning that is intended to be communicated to the faithful. So here is where I wholeheartedly endorse the church architecture of Duncan Stroik and others like him who are reclaiming the sacred language of church architecture and revitalizing the Church. If you are interested, here is a piece by Duncan McRoberts, another fine Catholic church architect, on spiritual tectonics in specifically Catholic spaces like churches and chapels. So, our chapel in the home will necessarily be a different space than the rest. Part if that is coming from me; I will be creating sacred art for the chapel and the rest of the home that will add the necessary iconography. But the design of the chapel itself will be different too, and we really haven't gotten to that point yet.

I think, in general in regard to the home as a whole, there are two extremes that need to be avoided. One extreme is the claim that ALL architecture must be "classical" or neo-classical in form. I totally disagree with this. I would say that Duncan Stroik may lean this way; if you look at his portfolio at his non-religious architecture, he designs every home or office building using Classicism. I don't have a problem with that at all, but if one were to argue that this is the ONLY way these buildings should be done, and that any contemporary architecture is unsuited for the task, that's where I would not agree.

The other extreme is rampant in the architecture and art world today. That is that one MUST design architecture or art to be something completely new (often couched in the term "of our time"), or that you completely throw off the old or ancient human knowledge about design and try to "invent" everything yourself. If a building includes classical elements, or utilizes the language of architecture from past eras, then it is automatically disqualified from getting recognition as a "good" building because you didn't do something "new." This, again, is something I totally disagree with. Today's novelty is tomorrow's fad, and unless universal principles of timeless design are used, new architecture risks being a fad, cast off later in favor of whatever the next new thing is.

In then end, my hope is that the home can meld the contemporary and the ancient, two things that are often presented as opposing one another. The home can then show that the contemporary and the ancient can be in conversation with one another, which incidentally is also important for presentation of the Catholic faith to the modern world, much of which feels that the "ancient" teachings of the Church have no place in the modern world. Truth is timeless.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

So we're going with Scheme C, but...

In the two days that followed my brother's visit to present the schemes in early July, after much discussions, Molly and I decided that Scheme C was the best starting point for us. It was interesting to see the poll results of what other visitors would choose as their starting point for the design (the poll was just kind of a fun way of getting some feedback and to see what others thought, even though we had already made our decision beforehand). It turns out of course that Scheme C was the most selected in the poll as well. Here were the final results (19 total votes):

We think it's great that Scheme C is at least recognizable as a good architectural concept of the home by many people, because we would want the home to be easily interpretable to any visitor once it is built. Of course keep in mind that though Scheme C is the starting point for the design, there are going to be other aspects of Scheme A and Scheme B that we would like incorporated or considered for Scheme C. For instance, the exterior landscape of the home seemed best developed in Scheme A, and we'd like a lot of those ideas to port over to C. And the chapel was furthest developed in Scheme B, and we'd like a lot of those ideas kept in mind for C. The main reason we liked scheme C was that it offered some centrality to the home and bedrooms on the same level (both of which Scheme A doesn't have), as well as uniqueness and design intelligibility from the outside of the home (which we didn't feel Scheme B had as much of).

Now for the major news, the first piece of real-time news I have posted on this site (!). Up until now, everything has been a narrative of what has occurred in the past. For any of you who watch Lost on ABC, this is the point where we stop doing the flashbacks and start doing the flash-forwards, as in the last season finale. At any rate, I talked to my brother last week after he had just finished doing a cost ranking of each of the schemes. His process was to walk through each scheme with multiple other architects who have lots of experience in residential design and get lots of independent perspective. Here's the general cost ranking, from least to most expensive (not really a surprise):
  • Scheme B
  • Scheme A
  • Scheme C
So, Scheme C would be the most expensive of the three. In order to do the cost ranking, my brother had to assume some things about the materials of the home, which were the following (same for all three schemes):
  • Concrete foundation
  • Concrete slab on grade for ground floors
  • Structural wood framing
  • Pre-engineered wood trusses constructed off-site for roofs
  • Radiant heating for ground-floor spaces
  • Wood batten exterior enclosure
  • Standardized windows and doors, with exceptions for premium spaces (chapel)
  • Gypsum wall board (drywall) standard finish for the home, with exceptions for premium spaces
No, we're not using a lot of luxurious materials here, but we do care about craftsmanship. Incidentally, regarding the concrete slab, did any of you notice that we don't have a basement in any of the three schemes? C'mon people! I thought that would be one of the first things people asked about. That was the initial starting point anyway, as eliminating the basement eliminates the possibility of moisture issues (since we border a wetland) and simplifies construction. It's also a little more elegant for the design. But this could change.

I don't want to go into all the details as to the cost advantages and disadvantages of each scheme, especially since I already mentioned that going into the cost ranking we had picked Scheme C as our design starting point. So we'll just focus on that one, and there are some significant issues. Here they are, transcribed from my brother's analysis he sent me (put together from the other architects' comments):
  • The lack of an overall orthagonality to the entire home will be a challenging issue from a cost standpoint. Coordinating the construction of the structure will be more complex than a contractor normally encounters, which will raise the cost considerably.
  • The intersection of the building pieces which cuts a corner off is problematic from a structural point of view. It will require transferring of loads on heavy sills, which will raise costs.
Ugh. The next words out of my mouth were, "So do we need to go back to Scheme A as a starting point?" Sorry Scheme B likers, Scheme A was our second choice. In another aside, when I asked, "So what were the general comments of the other architects? I mean, what did they say, were they interested?" My brother said, "Yeah, of course it's architects, so they could not resist offering unsolicited criticism [I'm hearing the tongue-in-cheek smile over the phone]. Once they grasped the concept, that this was going to be a very different home, with elements that make it incredibly unique, their main criticism was of Scheme B. They didn't think it expressed, from the outside of the home, the uniqueness of what was going on inside. They felt that Scheme B was almost masking or hiding the unique spaces inside the home, and so they thought Scheme A and Scheme C did better job of communicating the design." Interesting.

Anyway, back to the concerns with Scheme C. Here's Scheme C again, where you can see the lack of "orthagonality", i.e. there are lots of acute angles:
And, here are a couple examples where a corner of a space is cut-off, causing a structural support challenge:
Since I am an engineer, my first question is whether a few well-placed columns or other support structures could resolve this issue. It's not like these intersections have to be completely free-floating. I'm not the expert on these issues from an architecture standpoint, so I'm sure this will be discussed further.

In the end, we did decide to stay with Scheme C as the starting point (partly with the enthusiasm of my brother for continuing with this scheme) with the understanding that he is going to have to re-work it to potentially add more orthagonality. One thing the architects all agreed upon is that regardless of any of the challenges, there were no red flags and they agreed it could be done. They also agreed that even taking into account the extra costs associated with the design, the overriding cost driver is still simple square footage. Therefore, we can save significant costs by simply optimizing the square footage of each space (i.e. cut some square footage and we'll save some dough, and this is perhaps the best way to save cost). There were some other points the architects mentioned, which we have considered as well, as ways of saving costs. For instance, any walls that extend into the landscape could be phased in over time, and the driveway could be paved at a later date.

Still, it feels good to have officially settled on a starting point, and my brother is already working on the re-design!

Monday, August 20, 2007

Some more pub on other blogs


Many thanks to Thomas Peters over at American Papist for featuring Ecclesia Domestica on his blog!

Also, I noticed another referral over at Veritatis Splendor from a wonderful blogger who is apparently a friend of Sara Freund's (whom I blogged about in the last post) and noticed before I posted on Sara that this project fit her thesis exactly! Pretty perceptive...

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Ecclesia Domestica... on Tap

Late in June of this Summer, I was at work when I got a call from a friend of mine inviting me to our local Theology on Tap presentation that evening. I remember him saying that the presentation was on Church architecture or something of the sort, and he thought I would be interested (I suppose knowing my own interest in Church architecture). We had swimming lessons with the kids that night, so I told him it sounded cool but I wouldn't be able to make it. Later he forwarded me the official e-mail invite from the Cathedral Young Adults for that week's Theology on Tap, because he thought from our phone conversation that I didn't understand the opportunity I would be missing (and I was to find out that the topic was not exactly as he had explained on the phone). I read the e-mail invite, which went something like this:
Join us this Wednesday night for this week's Theology on Tap, where our friend and fellow Bible study buddy Sara Freund will present on the very provocation topic, "Designing and Building Homes to Foster the Domestic Church: Catholic Principles for Residential Architecture." Doors open at 7pm...
After talking further with my friend who had extended the invite, I found out that he knew Sara through studying with her in various classes, and that Sara had actually recently completed her Master's degree in Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis (an extremely solid and faithful program with amazing professors who are committed to the Faith), and she had done her Master's thesis on the same topic as her presentation that night. This made me even more excited; as someone who had completed a Master's thesis myself and am working on a Ph.D. thesis (in Mechanical Engineering) I understood the amount of research and thought that she had to put into the subject to have it be accepted as a thesis by her department. This meant I was certainly going to learn lots of things I hadn't thought of before, and maybe could get a copy of her thesis to read.

The presentation was a lot of fun, and even better was being able to corral Sara afterwards to sit and talk with our little group. We chatted for a couple hours (over a few pints) about our family's project, and Sara seemed to be similarly floored at the fact that a family in the Twin Cities seemed to be putting into practice the very ideas she wrote her thesis on. In fact, she didn't cite in her talk, nor does she in her thesis, any actual examples of a home designed for the family as the "domestic Church," simply because she couldn't find any. We resolved to stay in touch so she could follow the progress, and for Sara to send me her thesis so that I could read it. With Sara's permission, I post it below:

"Designing and Building Homes to Foster the Domestic Church: Catholic Principles for Residential Architecture," by Sara Elizabeth Freund (copyright), 2005

I put the copyright in there because I didn't see it in her thesis and I think it's best-practice.

I don't yet fully know what the Holy Spirit had in mind in making sure we connected, but I know for sure that there have been certain aspects of our feedback to my brother on our conceptual schemes that have been influenced by Sara's ideas. Here's of few from her thesis that struck me:
  • The entry to the home is vitally important in communicating a message to visitors, for instance that they are welcome to experience the family life within;
Thus our appreciation of the entry design of Scheme C (the "triptych").
  • The master bedroom should be designed as a space of sacramental sanctity in the home. As Sara (very poetically) puts it:
Christopher Alexander—an architect and mathematician whose influential “Pattern Language” details the process of designing and constructing homes for a more human life—suggests that within a home there should be a “hierarchy of privacy” that denotes what or who is most important in the home. This, as Thomas Howard points out, has the effect of transforming what appears to be ordinary into something sacred. The Sacrament of Matrimony sanctifies the institution of marriage, so that even the sexual union of spouses becomes sacred. As such, it deserves reverence: Just as the Blessed Sacrament is reserved in a tabernacle and reverenced beyond the veil, so should the private life of spouses be set apart in a room of its own, that its mysteriousness may evoke a sort of reverent appreciation.

Lest you accuse me of TMI, I didn't write it, I'm just quoting it. And besides, maybe you should go read John Paul II's Theology of the Body!

Sara goes on to note:

At the same time that this room or suite should be a private haven for a married couple, it should not be an unwelcoming fortress unto itself… The demands of solidarity in the home include a fundamental disposition of welcome toward others, most especially the life conceived within the home. Because a married couple must always be disposed toward this welcoming, even their private haven should express, by its placement and arrangement, that children are the delight of and one of the good ends toward which their conjugal life is aimed. This suggests, first of all, that their space be in some proximity to the children’s areas (likely their bedrooms).

Thus our decision against the bedroom arrangement in Scheme A (the master bedroom on a different floor than the kids' bedrooms).
  • I also very much liked Sara's communication of the necessity of architecture, or why architecture matters, in the design of a home - it gives form to what's going on inside:
The form is what, in one sense, gives a metaphysical “shape” to material objects; it expresses, as one modern author so simply states, “what this thing is trying to do.”… If we know that architecture, as an art form, is capable of revealing Truth, then we must ask, What is it about the Christian message that can provide the inspiration, or the form, for good architecture, particularly of family homes, such that both the material and spiritual needs of the person can be met more successfully?
Sara's answer?... the idea of the family as the "domestic Church." The structure of the home gives form to the life of the family within, analagous to the human body giving form to the soul. And that's why the architecture of the home matters and has meaning.
Sara is also starting a blog of her own on this topic, and you can check that out here.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Our Chapel and "Liturgical East"

Molly has mentioned, and I have mentioned, on previous posts that one of the requests we gave my brother at the beginning of this whole process was that our chapel face East, as a simple way of uniting it to Church tradition. Why would one want to have a chapel (or a church) face East? This link has a thorough, yet quick, explanation. It's interesting reading.

I was most interested in the comments of some of the early Church fathers in regard to the value of facing East during prayer. Some of the more salient quotes:
Tertullian informs us that Christian churches are "always" oriented "towards the light."

Origen asserts that the direction of the rising sun obviously indicates that we ought to pray inclining in that direction, an act which symbolizes the soul looking toward the rising of the true light, the Sun of Justice, Jesus Christ.

St. John Damascene says that, while waiting for the coming of the Lord, "we adore him facing East", for that is the tradition passed down to us from the Apostles. Other Church fathers who confirm this usage are Clement of Alexandria, Saint Basil, and Saint Augustine.
I dispense with any attempt at intellectualism and just say, "way cool." With such a historical legacy of facing East, this was something that we had to try to work into our home. In fact, beyond the historical legacy, with the knowledge of the liturgical basis for prayer toward the rising sun, as Christ is our true light and the light of the world, I think this will really add to our prayer lives in the chapel (I know it will for me).

Though Scheme A and Scheme B accomplish the desire for the chapel to face East exactly, Scheme C was a little different. Here's a reminder of how the chapels look in each scheme, with straight left being North, as shown with the little circle to the side in each case:
You kind of feel like reaching into the Scheme C diagram, grabbing the chapel, and twisting it just a little to get it exactly East. And if were going to have the chapel face East, it might as well be exact (any engineer knows there's always some tolerance, but I won't go there). So, we did tell my brother we'd like to have the chapel in Scheme C rotated slightly, and he didn't see any problem with this. In fact, as this point we thought that it may be a nice touch to have a short hallway connect to the chapel so that it could be rotated effectively AND add to the feeling of the uniqueness of the space and drama as you enter it. One commenter on the previous post actually came up with the same idea independently. We'll see what happens, the design modifications continue as we speak (or you read).

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Wrap-Up of Conceptual Schemes

If you haven't voted in the poll, here's the posts on Scheme A, Scheme B, and Scheme C. It will be interesting for us to see the results!

They'll be just a couple goals of this post: first, to briefly summarize some notes on the schemes (which will probably include a few we haven't mentioned yet), and second, to show a few more images that my brother presented with the schemes that give a preview of the direction of the materiality of the outside of the home.

When we were finished going through all three of the schemes, Molly and I sat down and typed up a list of general notes for my brother (applying to any of the schemes) and a list of likes and dislikes for each scheme. Molly and I have already gone over most of the likes/dislikes of each scheme in the posts. As far as general notes, some that we came up with (which aren't in any order) are:
  • There needs to be a pantry of some sort in the kitchen area
  • We're unsure of how a play area for the kids will fit in (where will their playthings go?)
  • Needs to be more thought about where a TV would go - not in the Family Room, not in a high traffic area, not near the entry... there should be an "act of the will" necessary to watch TV for a specific reason
  • Kids' rooms design is too rigid currently, we'd like to have the ability to move things around and rearrange
  • Upper space of garage would be good for storage if designed properly
  • Kitchen must be nearer to the garage, and near to dining areas
  • The laundry area needs to be a room, and it needs to be on the upper floor by all of the bedrooms
  • Would prefer Master Bedroom in proximity to the kids' bedrooms
  • The nursery should always be adjacent to the Master Bedroom, with a door in between (in this case, the "nursery" is where the youngest child sleeps)
My brother has been working with these notes and suggestions for a few weeks now, along with getting some idea of the relative expense of each of the schemes, in order to refine the design.

As far as design directions for the materials on the outside of the home, my brother presented a few images that scoped out some directions in that regard. First. you may have noticed a few things from the side elevations of the schemes, such as that there may be some use of vertically oriented wood. I like this idea because it's different from the norm, it recalls some native Minnesotan architecture (that I'll blog about soon), and I think it can assist with "verticality" in critical structures like the chapel. An example of this type of exterior is shown below:
This also a good example of melding a timeless design with a clean and uncluttered look, which is what I'm sure my brother gravitates towards and we like as well. I'm not saying this is the way our home will look, but its a design direction. This doesn't scream "modernism," but it's refined and simple. The pitch of the roof is also similar to many of the side elevations in the schemes. One way of having an uncluttered design is to get rid of gutters. My brother brought this up, and commented that "If a house has gutters, that's a sign that the architect didn't do his or her job," at least regarding the details (it also assumes an architect designed the home at all, which is a big assumption). A skilled architect can design in water drainage to specific areas, where water can be captured by landscaped features or routed away from the home (or dispersed). And the end result is a much less cluttered exterior.

One item you may remember me mentioning in the original post on Scheme A, is that we have to adhere to certain architectural covenants of the neighborhood, one specifically being that at least 30% of the front facade of the home must be made up of materials such as brick or stone. You can see some of the influence of this next picture on the integration of the brick wall in Scheme A, and as an example of how this material covenant might be gracefully accomplished:
Here again you can see the vertically oriented wood, now melded with a brick exterior. And also again you see a more timeless design that still incorporated an uncluttered, clean, and simple feel. And also, no gutters :-) The snow is totally Minnesota in this picture, the mountains... not so much (we can't have it all here in God's country!).

One final note, not related to exterior design, is a pic that my brother showed us as providing him inspiration for the doors for our chapel:
I remember Molly and I were both.... perplexed. After which he quickly clarified that he wasn't referring to the height of the doors, just that he thought they should be different from all of the other doors of the home, perhaps heavier and more substantial, to assist in the feeling that the chapel was a different space. This of course made lots of sense; at least we wouldn't need to work in 30-foot ceilings to accommodate these specific doors, along with a winch and steel cables to open them.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Last (but not least)... Scheme C

As promised, we now present the third schematic concept, Scheme C. If you're coming into the presentation of the schemes late, here's Scheme A, Molly comments on Scheme A, and Scheme B. We didn't do a separate post on the likes and dislikes of Scheme B because I mentioned most of them in the post on Scheme B. In the end, many of the things we would change ended up being common to all three schemes, while the likes are more specific to each Scheme. I'll do a summary post after this one to try to tie it all together.

Alright, this time I'll present the overhead shot of Scheme C first, and here it is (click to enlarge)...
I present the overhead shot first because we've shown the schematic drawings of our home to a few friends and family in person, and every time we get to Scheme C, the reaction always is "whoa." As in, "whoa... this one looks really different." You can tell right away that Scheme C is pretty different than Schemes A and B simply by the angles within the home, and the fact that the separate spaces of the home are visible even from the outside (or overhead). Here's the organizational diagram:
Describing Scheme C as my brother did to us is pretty fun too. I was even able to generate the "give me a break" eye roll from my seminarian brother, Evan, when I said (cue sarcastic newscaster voice), "Now, in order to really understand the conceptual design of Scheme C, we need to take a little trip back to Hadrian's Villa in ancient Rome..." Hadrian's Villa, on the Eastern outskirts of Rome, was built by the Emperor Hadrian in the early 2nd century. It's widely studied in architecture because of the way the architect used the topography of the land to design the entire complex. The complex is oriented along a series of axes that naturally follow the flow of the land and take advantage of the views available. Here's an image (click to enlarge):
And here's a quote from Sir Banister Fletcher in his "History of Architecture,":
Walking around it today, it is still possible to experience something of the variety of architectural forms and settings, and the skillful way in which Hadrian and his architect have contrived the meetings of the axes, the surprises that await the turning of a corner, and the vistas that open to view.
So the gist of Scheme C is that my brother employed the same principles that are evidenced in Hadrian's Villa in the design of the home. Spaces are oriented along linear axes that make the most sense in terms of flow of the home, and also which align with viewing axes of the wetlands. Here's the organization diagram depicting this, with the blue triangles representing the main views...
Here's the floor plan for Scheme C (rotated back 90 degrees, click to enlarge):
Just a note, the "wall" separating the master bedroom from the kids' bedrooms on the second level wouldn't really be there. My brother didn't have enough time to sketch in a connection between the two areas before he flew out to meet us. The area between the two areas is also actually a prime spot to have the laundry, instead of on the first floor.

There are quite a few differences in the floor plan of Scheme C as compared to Schemes A and B. First, an advantage over Scheme A is that the home is a little more centralized, allowing us to keep track of the kids while still being in a different area. Second, the entry of the home is a lot more developed than both Scheme A or B. I think my brother has some great ideas on the entry. His concept was that of a "triptych," which for anyone who is familiar with Midieval and Rennaissance painting is a familiar term. A triptych is a three-paneled painting (or a relief sculpture), where each panel is usually held together by hinges. These works of art were often used in churches as altarpieces or in side-chapels. An example of one of the more famous triptychs is shown below, "The Decent from the Cross," by Peter Paul Rubens (ca. 1614):
So my brother's concept was that as you approach the entry of the home, the door (containing a window) and two angled windows on either side of the door would form a type of triptych, with each "panel" offering a preview of the inner life of the home. The left-hand window would be oriented to be directly in-line with the chapel, the right-hand window would be directly in-line with a view all the way through the home and out to the wetland, and the center window (door) would view a sitting area as a way of welcoming guests into the life of the family. Here's a schematic below where I illustrate this concept:
Another difference in Scheme C was the way the homeschool area was designed. This time, the homeschool was completely integrated into the kitchen, which is a concept that seemed interesting at first, but in the end we decided we didn't like this arrangement (having all the children at a linearly oriented table with no defined space or working area seemed to encourage clutter).
Of course you may have noticed that you couldn't get any further away from the garage if you were standing in the kitchen, so the whole kitchen would have to be moved to a different place, closer to the garage.

One cool aspect of the design of Scheme C was actually the garage. It's hard to notice from the floor plan, but the garage is designed in a pass-through arrangement, with the intent of having two garage doors (one on either side).
Again thinking independent of cost, this would be cool because we're going to end up having a big van some day, and never having to back out would be a good thing safety-wise and annoyance-wise.

Having just mentioned cost, that is one factor that is a big unknown with Scheme C. On the face of it, it would seem like Scheme C would be the most expensive of the three schemes. It has the most roof, the most exterior surface area, and it's unclear whether the angles themselves would add to the cost (not to mention the garage design, though that seems like it would just be the added cost of another garage door). My brother is currently working out the "costing" of the three schemes, at least an arrangement of most expensive scheme to least expensive scheme and some general magnitudes between the three, and so he will be providing this guidance soon.

Here's the side elevations of Scheme C (click to enlarge):
What can be seen more easily from the elevations is that the design is to communicate that, again, there is something very different about the home, as well as to communicate that there are many different aspects to family life inside (by the multiple visible "buildings"). In fact, the design almost seems like a small "village" from the outside.

There you have the last of the three Schemes! Our task now was to consolidate what we liked and didn't like about each Scheme, and pick one as the best starting point for the formal design of the home (while also trying to incorporate elements that we liked from each of the three schemes).

Let us know any comments/ideas, and don't forget to participate in the poll in the upper right of the blog!

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Scheme B

In case you are wondering what "Scheme B" is, go here to read the post on the conceptual drawings my brother has prepared.

Without further adieu, I'll attempt go through Scheme B in the same order of presentation for Scheme A. First is the overall organization diagram for Scheme B:
The defining theme of Scheme B is "overlapping spaces." Each space is designed so that it "bleeds" into the spaces next to it, to eliminate the feeling of each room as a box, and to increase the integration of the home. This organization is a lot more compact as compared to Scheme A.

Here's how this scheme looks from above, in a birds-eye view. The home is rotated 90-degrees from the organization diagram (up/down is North/South, click to enlarge)...

The main views to the wetland areas have again been taken into account in the design, as shown below:
Here's the floor plan for Scheme B (rotated back 90-degrees, click to enlarge):
Again, the R4 and R5 labels I placed there to denote where two virtual rendering images were generated (we'll get to those below). From the floor plan you can see the major organizational differences with Scheme A. This time the chapel is in the center of the home, actually sharing walls with adjacent rooms. Another difference is that the master bedroom is upstairs, on the same level as the boys' and girls' bedrooms. As Molly noted in her post on Scheme A, this is the arrangement we prefer so that, while still having some level of seclusion, we are near the kids during the nighttime. A further difference here is that the patio is a lot more scaled back, though still oriented to take advantage of the views available. One big thing that would still have to be changed is that the kitchen is too far from the garage.

One thing you may notice is the interesting shape of the walls of the chapel. My brother got that inspiration from looking at typical floor plans for basilicas, such as the one shown below, left (a zoomed-in pic of the chapel floor plan is at right):
The main idea he was interested in here was the various undulations of the sides of the nave, which are there to provide for side chapels for devotions to saints. Taking this theme into account, my brother worked something similar into the chapel design for Scheme B, knowing that we had hoped for defined places we could use as almost mini-side chapels. The renderings depict this design a lot more clearly. Here's a rendering if you were standing in the school room next to the chapel (click to enlarge):
I like this not only for places for statues and other artwork, it sets apart the chapel from the rest of the home even though it is integrated into the center of the home. Natural light adds transcendence as it filters down from above in each of the "side chapels." One other thing to note about the rendering above is you can see a bookshelf jutting into the school room area. This is one way of having the spaces bleed together and integrate.

Below is another rendering, from the opposite side of the chapel (click to enlarge):
From this side you see one aspect of this design we did not like, which is a "pass-through" walking area that goes through the back part of the chapel. We didn't want the importance of that room to be diminished by eventually using the back of the chapel as a hallway. It also encourages kids to run wildly through there (again, thinking Aidan here) and that is another thing we don't want.

Here are the side elevations for Scheme B (click to enlarge):
I really like the East elevation (which is the front facade of the home, facing the street). One thing my brother noted about the multiple windows on the upper level (each with a little dormer) was that this was a visual way of communicating to the outside viewer that there are a lot of children in the home (at first he said "the number of children in the home," after which we pointed out that it's not likely that we'll have exactly 6 kids).

There you have Scheme B. Compared to Scheme A, it's a fairly different take on accomplishing the same goals we are looking for.