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!


John Curran said...

Scheme C is certainly the most interesting jumping-off point. I imagine the final plans will vary quite a bit, as considerations mentioned on the blog are integrated into the revised version. I will be following along enthusiastically, and wish you all the best with the process of designing and building your new home.

John said...

I guess the basement issue never crossed my mind, since I have never had a basement in any home (mainly due to the moisture issues that you pointed out). I'm very excited for you, now that you've decided where to begin.

Brendan Koop said...

Thanks John and John. My brother has always said (in regard to any building design I have asked him about) that the finished product won't look anything like its first models. That's been in regard to bigger buildings though, I think the house will look similar to Scheme C, but certainly with some major differences.

jeffrey said...

Brendan I saw this book from Ignatius Press and I thought you might be interested.

No Place for God

Brendan Koop said...

Jeffery thank you. I have seen this book (on the internet), and the only reason I didn't buy it was because of the stack of 20 new books on my nightstand that are waiting to be read. I'll point out that the picture on the front cover is of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in LA, which is one of the churches that I posted about some time back as being one of the worst examples of Catholic church architecture in the country. Somehow one whishes that Cathedral could be undone, but I'm afraid LA will be stuck with that one for a while. I may pick up this book after all ;-)

LeeAnn said...

I just finished "No Place for God." It's excellent! But more about tracing the philosophy behind the modern architecture movement and how it permeated church architecture than picture book of terrible Catholic churches (like Rose's "Ugly as Sin"). I'd say Doorly picks up where Rose left off, going even deeper into the writings and other works of architects that inspired the 20th century's ugliest churches.

I have to say, for a family that wants to incorporate a chapel in their home, I am surprised at some of the design choices you are making. I haven't read all the posts but your home plans are much more Modern (in the strict architectural sense) than what I would expect of devout religious folk. I'm thinking particularly of the images of floor to ceiling windows and the modernistic pillars in one of the chapel views. Isn't one of the points of "A Pattern Language" that gigantic windows are out of proportion to the human body and thus not really suited to a home?

Or maybe that's just the "beauty" of CAD images? It's just un-adorned as yet? For instance, compared to the type of Neoclassical homes that I've seen in Duncan Stroik's portfolio, this is a big departure from what I would expect when I hear that a family wants a place to have Mass in their home.

I'm not sure there's anything wrong with the fact that your design taste seems to be fairly Modern--it's not like Catholics are required to live in Neoclassic manors--but it's interesting to me to watch how this plays out. Particularly if you can redeem Modernism from its atheistic philosophical underpinnings. Which brings us right back to "No Place for God," which addresses exactly that. It's not a huge book...might be worth reading before those other 20. :)

No basements here either, at least not in built-since-1970 homes. Do you live in tornado country? Then I'd wonder.

Best of luck with your design decisions--I am participating in something similar for my parish. When the possibilities are endless, it is almost worse than having only one choice determined by the meager budget.

LeeAnn said...

Rereading my post--I don't mean to sound snippy in that second paragraph. I'm just genuniely surprised at the lack of adornment present in the photos you have thus far presented as "things we like."

Brendan Koop said...


Don't worry at all, I knew exactly what you were saying in your first post. Thank you for having the intellectual fortitude to wonder about the design and ask about it, that's exactly the type of discussions I'm looking for. And it seems like I say this over and over, but you brought up a point that I was just going to post about! You all are too smart for me.

At any rate, you have interpreted the issue exactly right. I am speaking just for myself here (because Molly is a little bit different), but what I prefer is "truth-in-advertising" in design. Part of this is the engineer in me, but luckily my brother and I are on the same page, because he thinks this way as well as an architect. Basically, if something is visible in a space, it should be there for a reason. So if a pillar is there, it should actually be there because it is needed, and it is supporting the weight of the home. In some sense I support that notion in terms of the ornamentation of a space as well. The ancient Greeks and Romans used classical architectural forms that they fashioned out of SOLID marble or stone, which makes sense to me. But if in today's era I would have to tack up a prefabricated wood veneer that had a corinthian decorative pattern, I'm not as big into that because it's not really truth-in-design. What I do wholeheartedly support is classical design principals, which are present in any timeless design (proportion, pattern, etc.). I need to post on this, because it's getting too long.

Now, the exception to what I noted above is the chapel. For that space, and for a church, truth-in-design takes on a whole different meaning. There, iconography, for example, has real meaning, regardless of the underlying construction or material because a Catholic space needs to say something about the faith. The same with formality, there needs to be formality, and there one may need to incorporate very classical design ornamentation or the like.

Tie this all together, and you nailed what I believe we would like to do with this home, and that is to have the home be a reclaiming of the conversation between the modern and the ancient. Like faith and reason, the modern and the ancient do not have to be opposed and can be in conversation with each other. In some ways I think that philosophy important for the Catholic faith, such that we can respond when it is accused that Catholic teachings are "ancient" or "outdated" by explaining the faith to the modern world.

I will definitely be posting on this in the near future, so please stay tuned, I'd love to hear your further comments!

David L Alexander said...

What a great concept. Best of luck to you. But if I lived in this house and ever needed a bathroom, I'd pick A. And for a chapel of this scale, I'd personally avoid pews, as do some Orthodox Christians, in favor of chairs with kneelers.

Too bad you can't find three other like-minded families, then you could have a co-housing village. Now there's something I'd love to see someday.

And you'd only need one chapel.

Cathy_of_Alex said...

Hey, interesting blog! I'll be reading.

Brendan Koop said...


I like the community idea, I think that could be done. I think it would be great if a bunch of awesome Catholic families bought a large parcel of land and divided it up and built houses on it together, with an almost community design. Since that wasn't forthcoming, we went off on our own!

Brian Crane said...

One consideration in favor of having at least a small basement (perhaps under only a small section of the house, such as under the kitchen), is for having a cool space for storage of things like produce (if you ever plan to raise any of your own food, even on a small-scale basis -- such as potatoes and onions), and of course a cool place for the storage of a suitable supply of red wine.

Brendan Koop said...


Ugh, I would love to have a wine cellar! Can't afford that, so maybe a wine "corner." At any rate, a basement under a section of the house is still in play, and my brother said he may draw that into the next revision just to see what we think and how it works.


Thanks for stopping by, I always want to greet my fellow Minnesotans. I checked out your blog and it's awesome! And thanks for the link.

Sara Freund said...

I'm glad you started with Scheme C--I figured it would be the most expensive, but I thought it was most expressive of what you're trying to do. And the most interesting, architecturally! The concrete slab surprised me at first--hey, this isn't Texas!--but then I realized it makes a lot of sense being near wetlands. I haven't really considered basements in the world of "domestic church," other than the wine cellar piece (brilliant!), but being reminded of tornado country (yes, Midwest) and things like home canning projects, I remember the importance of basements in some aspects of family life--that's always where we played as kids. It's like the final frontier of the home. It makes me think of the catacombs as well--not that I'm advocating you bury your dead there! But it's interesting to imagine how the basement could serve anything other than a functional role, and perhaps still not be part of the finished square footage.