Sunday, July 29, 2012

Design With Restrictive Budgets



            "Because  we  had  an  ordinary  piece  of property and  a  restricted
            budget we knew we needed to have a good architect."  An OGB Client

We do not think of ourselves as needing to have any particular budget amount – whether high or low – it's just another element of the total design equation.  Low budget projects can be a joy to work with if the client is realistic and open-minded, but can be very challenging if the client is hoping for a bargain using medium budget forms and materials. 

Our initial strategies for restrictive budget projects include 1) keep it simple, 2) keep it small, and 3) team up with a sympathetic builder ASAP. One essentially gets about what one pays for and it is important that reduction in quality of materials and installation not reduce longevity and/or increase the long-term maintenance.

            "While   it  is  certainly  a  plus  to  have   enough   finances  to  allow
             flexibility in  solving  problems, tight budgets  can lead to some very
             interesting and refreshing solutions." OGB

WALK-IN CABINS:  A truncated cube was employed in order to minimize surface area relative to the volume enclosed. Remote parking and an H-shaped foundation further responded to this project's Spartan budget (1).

ZACHARY HOUSE: This addition to, and make-over of, an existing hippie house was treated as a contrasting pair with reduced work on the existing portion in order to increase work on the addition- although even the addition used a square plan to minimize wall area and standard sliding glass doors to achieve large, yet affordable, windows (2).

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HUBBARD HOUSE: This long low form preserved the ocean view for the adjacent uphill lot (which our clients also owned) assuring its sale and resulting income to pay for the construction loan on the house.  Inexpensive materials and close association with the builder were keys to meeting the restrictive budget while achieving a high level of design (3).

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WINDHOVER: This vacation house was designed on a rectangular plywood module and is quite modest on the entry end, allowing a celebration of features on the (opposite) view end including a high ceiling, generous glazing, and driftwood tree trunk columns that visually connect the house to an adjacent Monterey Cypress hedgerow (4).
IRBY HOUSE: This retirement house used a strategy of  overall modesty (in just about every way one can think of) to achieve an economical yet delightful farmhouse-like project.  We were able to include a spa, all wood interior, and even some custom fabricated hardware items (5). 

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Friday, July 6, 2012

Complexity Without Contradiction

In the under-appreciated, time squeezed, and chaotic situation most architects work in it is a welcome blessing to have sets of rules to help guide and lead oneself through the design process. Architects align themselves with particular rule sets which become like camps with names like Brutalism, Deconstructionism, Post Modernism, Mediterranean, Green Architecture, etcetera.  Rote following of the "isms" can lead to boredom and minor modifications, if handled skillfully, are often viewed as welcome and refreshing relief, although they seldom stray too far from camp.

When architects vehemently adhere to a specific style, movement, look, or trend it can be a bit like using a kind of cheat sheet – allowing focus on just one set of rules or viewpoint.  The good news is that over time this can refine both one's thinking and work product – the bad news is that this pretty much shuts out all the rest of reality.  Consistency is gained by working with a diminished pallet but the results all too often fall short of its potential. The successful mixing of different styles, ideas, eras, and technologies is more challenging and requires a greater skill level than working with a predetermined set of rules, but the resulting experience can possess a depth of richness unachievable with simpler approaches.  Is this modernism working outside the box?   Traditionalism embracing contemporary technology?  Might it be easier to get the Donkeys and Elephants to agree? Is it anything more than eclecticism?  It's obviously post-modern (but then what isn't?).  I applaud being inclusive, encompassing, embracing, and responsive to the given circumstances.  Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture comes to mind – although not the vapid, mundane work that later claimed homage to it.

This kind of thinking requires the willingness to orchestrate disparate elements, each with integrity and grace, into a composition with a unique life of their own.  Perhaps it is a matter of making the best choices available – beyond the constraints of this and that "ism."  This would support inclusive rather than exclusive decision making: perhaps the technical efficiency of a contemporary construction system, the richness of a site crafted element, the historical connectedness of a family heirloom, and more. 


(1)       (2)

Quality work comes from quality architects and is not related to which camp they align with or historians place them in.   I respond to work which incorporates as much as possible in a manner that resonates with both the setting and the knowledgeable observer.  I am humbled by such multivalent compositions – often creating an overall sense of order just short of chaos. Examples include some architect's own houses: Frank Gehry's in Santa Monica (1) and Charles Moore's in Orinda, New Haven, and Austin (2).  Tom Kundig approaches multi-valence with his gizmos (3) and Bill Turnbull did it by incorporating the landscape into the very soul of his work (4).  These are wonderful works of quality architecture and celebrate complexity without contradiction.


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