architecture

Projects in development

We have a number of interesting projects in process right now - great clients, great sites.

BL front 01.JPG

The image above is for a new house for a young couple in the Newlands section of North Boulder. It sits on a challenging corner lot with significant zoning restrictions. The rear of the lot has great views of the Mt. Sanitas foothills and the new house is designed to take advantage of those views while still engaging the surrounding neighborhood.

Historic farmhouse addition

One of the projects that we are working on intermittingly is the renovation and addition to a historic farmhouse in Boulder. The farmhouse consists of an original older section and a number of past additions, including a series of enclosed porches. We are studying the practicality of providing new foundations, stablizing existing conditions and bringing the historic farmhouse into the future.

Inca Parkway schematic design plan

The projects above and below are in early stages of Schematic Design, both extensive re-ordering of existing houses.

ET sd model 03.jpg

We are taking on a couple of new projects every quarter or so and as long as they all stay in their proper phases, that allows us to have 5-4 projects in construction simultaneously. That allows us to be on site every day on every project - absolutely critical to doing design/build at the level of quality and invention that we think makes is all worth while for ourselves and our clients.

Price Tower

Price-Tower-exterior-01.jpg

In northeast Oklahoma, just west of the Osage Indian Reservation, lies Bartlesville, home of Phillips Petroleum and Frank Lloyd Wright's only completed "skyscraper" building, the Price Tower.

The history of the Price Tower is long and complex and Frank Lloyd Wright's recycling of an earlier unbuilt tower design is well documented.  It is all worth reading and a little study, but it really does not prepare you for a confrontation with the building itself.  And even though by today's standard the building is not so tall and the motifs a bit dated, the building itself has a magnificent sculptural presence.

Designed for multi-purpose usage, the tower houses offices and residential space on each of its central floors.  From the outside of the building, the horizontal slats and fenestration define the office spaces while the vertical louvers identify the residential portions.  Instead of subdividing the building vertically and stacking one use exclusively upon the other, Wright and his client choose to intermingle the two, with only the base and top-most floors housing a single function.

Price-Tower-plan.jpg

Price Tower plan

It is often easy to forget how ornate Wright's work was when fully executed.  The prairie houses he created had such a streamlined, simple and bold expression, that only actually visiting a work reveals the little carved panels and decorative embellishments.  At the Price Tower, those embellishments take center stage as patterned, aged copper panels dominate the entire building and you will find smaller, more refined expressions on the interior.

Like so many of Wright's best works, the Price Tower is simultaneously bold and sculptural, refined and almost precious.  It teeters on the edge of gilding-the-lily with its decorative motifs splashed across so much of the lower levels.  But it is worth remembering the unlike so many of his modernist European contemporaries like Gropius and Mies, Wright believed in a very earthy kind of romantic sensibility and transcendent Beauty.  In that sense, the Price Tower, like Wright himself, is a last echo of the nineteenth century passing through the end of the millenium.  The Price Tower feels like a beautiful mash-up of Craftsman materiality and the Jetsons sci-fi retro-futurism.

Price-Tower-section.jpg

Price Tower section

It's not exactly on the beaten path, but a visit to the building is worthy of a prolonged side trip.  You can have a drink in the roof top bar or even stay in the boutique hotel created within, the Price Company's offices having long since removed themselves.  And in Bartlesville you can get quite excellent chicken-fried steak, so go to it.

(Much of the historical info and imagery here is from The Price Tower, published by Rizzoli, Anthony Alofsin, Editor)

habitual patterns of use

BL-angled-front.jpg

We work on a lot of smaller projects that largely entail the internal reorganization of an existing house.  Most often these are houses that were built in the 1960's and the current homeowners are struggling with small, awkward kitchens and houses that are more formally arranged than currently lifestyles are well suited.

Seeing the forest

New houses and restaurants are projects that allow for the most creative freedom, but it is these difficult spatial re-ordering projects that pose the greatest challenges and result in our greatest satisfaction.  Most of these projects are hemmed in with zoning constraints and building restrictions, but the single largest constraint is often in the minds of our clients.  Very often they have lived in the house for a number of years and although they are frustrated with it, it is very difficult for them to conceive of moving a critical function like the kitchen from one room to another.  They have developed habitual patterns of use that make seeing the forest through the trees extraordinarily difficult.

BL-pres-before-and-after-plan.jpg

I found this to be true in my own home renovation.  Even as an architect, while living in the house it was difficult to imagine such a radical notion of demolishing and moving a kitchen across the house.  Sitting with the drawings in front of me it was clearly the right move to make, but standing in the house it seemed daunting.  And not just because of the associated cost and complexity that such a move would add to an already trying project, but because I had frankly become so used to getting my coffee and cooking so many meals there.

Running the possibilities

It is our habit that whenever we are faced with this kind of project we always run through a few exercises that test the possibilities of just these kinds of moves.  What if the dining room flipped positions with the living room?  How about if the entrance was on the other side of the house?  Or, as in a recent project, what if the kitchen moved into the master bedroom?

I make it a practice not to talk about the potential changes to a house when I visit the property for the first time.  For myself, it is the space and distance created while working in the studio that will most likely generate the most interesting solutions to a project, not walking around the house.  It seems a bit counter-intuitive, but going to the actual site often makes the possibilities of a project less real, the potential of a project diminishes with the distance to the actual building.

In the dust, and clouds

In the end, it is a balanced attack on a project that provides the best answers and brings up the most interesting questions.  As an architect, you have to go to the building and study it, but you also have to go to your studio and take it apart in your head.  Architecture is practiced in the real world of walls and floors and dense materials, but it is best conceived in the imagination with paper and pencil, cardboard and glue.

Mullen Building, Denver

Mullen 01.jpg

One of Denver's sort of hidden architectural gems is the Mullen Building, part of the Saint Joseph hospital complex.

Built in 1933, the Mullen Building was designed as a nursing school and dormitory by Denver architect Temple Hoyne Buell.  Buell was from Chicago and like so many Coloradans, came out West for the treatment of tuberculosis. (I'm sure there is fascinating doctoral work out there on how some city's and regions were founded by a disease trajectory.  Much of Boulder's early history is directly tied to health, well-being and the founding of sanitariums for TB victims.)

Temple-Hoyne-Buell.jpg

Temple Hoyne Buell

mullen-building-04.jpg

The Mullen Building is an art deco fantasy, more specifically it is one of the best examples of that strange stylistic hybrid that is vaguely Mayan/Aztec Revival Art Deco.  The vertical bands of dark red brick blast up the facade and over the top of the building's parapet and are oddly akin to a Mayan headress, albeit executed in abstracted brick geometry.  Frank Lloyd Wright's Hollyhock house in LA is probably the most well-known example of this kind of stylistic appropriation, but the Mayan Theatre, also in Los Angeles, built in 1927, is a building that may have influenced Buell. (Denver's Mayan Theatre of 1930 is a another example of Mayan Revival architecture, but one that is explicitly kitsch and although remarkable, likely not an influence for Buell)

mayan-headdress-02.jpg
Mayan-Theaters.jpg

Mayan Revivial movie theatres

The masonry work is truly remarkable.  Almost entirely constructed from standard, modular bricks, the fanciful plasticity of the window bands and especially the entry surround, undulates and flows in brick units.  It as if a very disciplined, obsessive kid spent a long, rainy weekend stacking their lego blocks, one after one. This kind of brickwork is often described as "waterfall" brick, but I hardly think that term does justice to the resolution of this work.  Certainly the brick seems to cascade down the facade, but its simultaneous ascending dynamism sets up a delicate balance that is tempered by the soft, blond brick expanses.  It certainly is the most exciting dormitory I have ever seen, an exuberant expression of what brick can do and how amazing an otherwise simple building can be. I’d like to imagine that long after they retired, the masons took their families by this building - “I made that.”

mullen-building-01.jpg

shadow plans

CD-shadow-image.jpg

These are shadow plans of buildings currently in design, construction or already built by M. Gerwing Architects and ACI design:build.  The shadow plan is an interesting tool for architects.

BC-shadow-image.jpg

We used to make these by hand by drawing the roof plan and projecting the shadows for a selected day and time.  These images are made from 3D computer models, geo-located, and a day and time selected to best cast shadows that describe the architectural forms.

AS-shadow-image.jpg

Seeing a project from above like this is not expressing a desire to see what the project would look like as you jet out of town, but rather the disposition of forms defined by their shadows give us another perspective on the relationships between forms.

BL-shadow-image.jpg

I usually find that the similarities of these shadow plans are more indicative of an architect's style than looking at exterior or interior images might reveal

SW-shadow-image.jpg
FB-shadow-image.jpg
GB-shadow-image.jpg

programmatic determinism

a few brief thoughts on the relationships between rooms and the role of functionalism in designing a house

Great Gear Dilema

Boulder is known as an outdoor enthusiast's kind of town.  Almost everyone I know has a plethora of outdoor gear - multiple bikes, skis, helmets of every configuration, packs and bags, tents, stoves, and the occasional kayak and canoe.  Largely this equipment has usurped the car from its usual haunt in the garage.  It is a rare Boulderite who can actually fit their car in their garage because of the ever-expanding collection of bikes if nothing else.

tile, pattern, geometry

As I have probably spoken about in previous posts, we draw no real distinction between architecture and interiors.  They are all a part of crafting a series of spaces that are made of various materials that make up a building.  To that extent, we spend as much time, and often considerably more, choosing interior materials

Designing for aging in place

AGING IN PLACE - DESIGN FOR THE LONG VIEW

Recently we have found ourselves working on projects that are explicitly designed for aging in place.  These are houses with  single-floor plans, adaptable kitchens, and a load of other simple, functional solutions to allow folks to stay in their houses as long as possible.  We have gotten the local code enforcement officials to approve curbless roll-in showers and other code modifications that are becoming increasingly requested and required for aging homeowners.