Tuesday, November 1, 2016



This is the second half of Obie’s CRAN Symposium presentation.

          Oregon Coast House is on a heavily wind swept bluff with views both up and down the  coastline.  The desire for corresponding walls of glass led to the use of cedar log buttresses – which harken back to the driftwood logs found along the beaches.
          I particularly like the way this exoskeleton reaches out and grabs ahold of the site.
          Aesthetics are very important to me – so important that I need them to have purposeful  underpinnings. 
          I’m not a fan of Buckminster Fuller’s aesthetics, but I really like his statement: “When  I’m working on a problem I never think about beauty, but when I have finished, if it is not beautiful, I know I did something wrong.”
          With economics limiting so much traditional detail and embellishment I tend to expose a   lot of the structural elements.        
          Speaking of functional expressions I have been fascinated by exposed framing for some  time and in this case the studs on the interior hypotenuse wall are exposed, there becoming a wall of shelves and niches.

          Looking straight out we see a view loft above a small piece of covered porch below.
          I seldom use conventional hallways to access the various rooms of the house.  Here the     bedrooms can open entirely onto the main space via a steel framed pocket door of stained         Hardibacker panels.

          This is the Johnson House in the Dry Creek Valley.  It’s in a forest setting, and is   elongated east-west to maximize light and views for each room, and included a program    requirement for covered porches.   
          To avoid blocking light the covered porches are placed at the ends of the house and light openings are incorporated. 
          Except for a patch of grass off the dining terrace and a few other exceptions, only native landscaping is used.  This helps preserve continuity with the larger landscape.
          The cantilevered roofs are made practical because the primary structure is steel – requested by the owners to protect against widow makers – and steel easily handles the outreach.
          The exterior is primarily metal (for fireproofing) and we wanted some contrast to help  identify the entry.  It is concrete and while one might yell “foul/inconsistent” I reply  “Get over it – the contrast is good.” 
          Our world is imperfect and inconsistent (at least by human standards) and there are  shortcomings everywhere we look – it’s just the way it is.  In the search for meaning every theory, criticism, and philosophy is incomplete but I tend to like Louis  Sullivan’s “Art is doing things right.”
          The interior has an asymmetrical gable ceiling and a continuous band clerestories along  the south wall. 
          By the way, this house is on today’s house tour.
          Sonoma Coast House is a whole house makeover.  It sits on the bluff at The Sea Ranch  and had been built with a number of sloping walls with conventional windows in them.          
          They leaked profusely and although we preserved the sloping walls the new house has very little similarity to the original.
          Working with the sloping walls was in some ways counter intuitive, yet for me intuition  played a significant role in the design process.  Intuition often gets a bad rap, but I think it can be a valuable design tool.
          Integrating an entry onto the sloping wall was very challenging.  By making the entry   element appear as a free-standing trellis I seemingly avoided the difficult aesthetic  juncture.
          As in all of these projects natural landscaping helps achieve continuity with the larger  landscape. 
          Upon approach one passes beneath a huge shore pine.  From the interior one looks back out onto the old tree.  This braced frame replaces a former shear wall.
          The interior is quite complicated so a very limited material pallet was used – in this case    all surfaces are Douglas fir – a very warm hued local species.
          I think I know that you should look to yourself for answers, but do not hesitate to borrow (I don’t consider it stealing) from anyone or  anything. I certainly was aware of other architects using log columns, profile doors, exposed framing and industrial lighting…
          This is Malcolm Wells’ work on the left.  Many people and things have influenced me, but one of the first nature oriented architectural philosophies to really catch my attention  was Malcolm Wells’ comparison of the natural to the man-made in “The Absolutely Constant Incontestably Stable Architectural Value Scale.”  Quite a mouthful.  In this system performance is rated based on its positive or negative affect on things like pure air, pure water, wildlife habitat, and so forth. 
          Bill Turnbull’s Zimmerman House is on the right.  Bill had a great   architectural sense of the landscape and, I believe, is very much under appreciated.
          In the 1980s all manner of solar heating and controls were being experimented with. By the 1990s awareness of environmental issues were beginning to reach the architectural profession at large and concern with style began to include concern for the environment.
          As human densities have increased so have our impacts on the environment – the   landscape – and so have the calls for more rules, codes, and oversights regarding every   aspect of construction:  water, sewage, materials, structure, …The best part of so called “green architecture” for me is that perhaps it will raise general awareness that Mother Earth is beginning to squirm a bit – perhaps quite a bit!
          Some say environmental consciousness has arrived – at least that’s the talk.  You would  think that we can’t help but create “green architecture” – practically every product we specify is touted as green or eco-friendly or sustainable.  Everyone claims to be part of the solution, but what solution?  We follow some agency’s guidelines, perhaps feel good about ourselves, and continue business as usual. 
          The continuing problem is that reductions in impact are soon offset by increases in  population.  Further regulations just continue a cycle of ever increasing depletion of  resources. This is not sustainability – it’s postponement!
          Here is a U.S. Population graph – world population graphs are similar. With birth rates  being higher than death rates the population obviously increases continuously.  And the  greater the number the greater the increase.
          Any thought of human sustainability has to be rooted in population stabilization and I  presume this means stabilization of the economy and as such is a topic that is taboo for politicians and just about everyone else (including you and me) –  no one ever mentions  the “P” word.  It’s common sense that we can achieve population stability more easily with 5 billion than 10 billion, more easily with 10 billion than 15 billion – what sense is  there in continuing to increase our numbers?
          Other than air this is my favorite resource. Numerous governing agencies regulate and  restrict water usage in the name of “green philosophy” but the next day these or other agencies approve the increase of more housing and/or greater densities
          More people need water so we make do with less water so we can accommodate more  people.  That may not sound like good news, but you haven’t heard the really bad  news…
          We are all so involved with our own lives and society that it is difficult to have a good   sense of how the total system works and our impact on the rest of our planet.  We require     massive supply and refuse systems to keep our society functioning.  According to National Geographic in an average lifetime each person’s impact (often called the human  footprint) will:
·         Use 1.8 million gallons of water
·         Burn 31,350 gallons of gasoline
·         Use 29,700 pounds of plastic
·         Use 43,371 aluminum cans
·         Discard 64 tons of garbage to landfills
·         Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera
          I see conserving water as actually detrimental to the environment because the more we  conserve – the more we sacrifice – the more people we can accommodate to ravage the  earth in a plethora of other ways.  It’s not just water that is the culprit, it’s everything that befriends population growth – seemingly good things like clean energy, disease control, increased food production, and on and on.
          As resources diminish our options are reduced and the quality of life is inevitably reduced. Many reductions occur slowly enough that we don’t necessarily even take      notice – perhaps things like the incremental replacement of the land with development. We don’t have very compassionate ethics for developing the natural landscape – most lots are essentially placemats for houses and offer the inhabitants little exchange with their surroundings.
          Other reductions can occur catastrophically – like the paving of the LA River or the  American Plains Indians’ horrific loss of land and entire way of life through non- indigenous hunting and targeted killing to eliminate their food and resource supply, the buffalo.  It is estimated that between 1868 and 1885 the buffalo population dropped from  31 million to 500 and the Native American population in the 19th century dropped from 1 million to 237 thousand.
          This is not my idea of minimalist architecture in the future – rather it’s a poignant reminder that while we may think of pure air and water as our most valuable resources – our freedom and quality of life are also being eroded away.
          Every year there are added restrictions…
          So now we’ve some full circle – my inherent sympathies are with preserving the natural landscape.  I think of us as a species among species where the golden rule might apply to all life – “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.”
          I hope I’ve given you food for thought and that something from this morning’s  presentation will prove helpful to your own work and practice.  Thank you.

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