Great Design

XBO Mobile Structure / 70ºN Arkitektur

I particularly like the exterior of this mobile habitat with its uncompromising simplicity. Statement making architecture in a stunning setting, featured in www.archdaily.com
The xbo is primarily a result of the Rotterdam based project ‘PARASITE’ (Prototypes for Advanced/ Ready-made/ Amphibious/ Small scale/ Individual/ Temporary/ Ecological houses). The idea of the xbo is to provide a mobile habitat for 2 young people on the move. The structure consists of two movable parts in sum twelve meters long, 3,2m wide and almost 3,5m high, the xbo is an attempt to keep things to a minimum, to stick to the basics and focus on the essential.
Today many people are economical prisoners in their homes. One way out could be to change our way of living. In a small house the focus is on what is actually needed. The house may be a tool for such a change. This means that simple and basic qualities of life is the main theme for the development of this minimal space. We want to use this tool as an object of investigation and discussion. Not only while it is created, but also when it is put into use.”

Contemporary Architecture: Constraints Are Your Friend

Frank Lloyd Wright once said “constraints are your friend” and although one would think that limitations of creative thinking would be counterintuitive in the design world, it actually makes a lot of sense. Constraints define the character of the solution.
Besides the obvious constraints of topography, sun, wind, budget, etc., there are also constraints imposed by the properties of materials and systems; it’s from all of these constraints one can tease out meaningful solutions that are not arbitrary or faddish but are a thoughtfully considered response.
At Stilllwater Dwellings, modular construction is integral to the aesthetic language we have developed without dominating or overpowering it. For instance, the structural expression of the roof beams at the module ”marriage lines” create a secondary scale that define individual spaces within a larger room, giving a human scale to balance the overall dimensions.
In the Living Hall, the kitchen, dining, and sitting areas are given identity by the structural expression of the exposed wood beams which are regulated by modular dimensions.

The Forerunner of Prefabricated Semi-Custom Homes

I have always loved Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonion homes, but I hadn’t thought about them for quite some time. Recently, I noticed the influence on our Stillwater designs; see the first elevation below. Maybe the Usonion home would have been more successful if it had been prefabricated?
“He called his modest house “Usonian,” after the United States. It was a single story built on a monolithic concrete slab and joined to a carport and not a garage. Wright believed that it could be replicated all across the country.
His main desire, which no contemporary architects pay any attention to whatever, is shelter for ordinary people…he got it down at one point in 1940 to $5000 per house for a family with children and a kitchen and gardens…and openness and a real milieu in which it was a highly civilized way to live. He thought about it all the time; he took commissions from the poor as well as from the rich, something unheard of in 1995, 1996… We’re not like that anymore and this was very important in any appraisal of what his work represents because he hasn’t had the following that he should have had in respect to shelter.”
—Brendan Gill, Writer
“What would be really sensible in this matter of the modest dwelling for our time and place? Let’s see how far the Herbert Jacobs house at Madison, Wisconsin, is a sensible house. This house for a young journalist, his wife, and small daughter, is now under roof. Cost: Fifty-five hundred dollars, including architect’s fee of four hundred and fifty. Contract let to P. B. Grove.
To give the small Jacobs family the benefit of the advantages of the era in which they live, many simplifications must take place. Mr. and Mrs. Jacobs must themselves see life in somewhat simplified terms. What are essentials in their case, a typical case? It is not only necessary to get rid of all unnecessary complications in construction, necessary to use work in the mill to good advantage, necessary to eliminate so far as possible, field labor which is always expensive: it is necessary to consolidate and simplify the three appurtenance systems—heating, lighting, and sanitation. At least this must be our economy if we are to achieve the sense of spaciousness and vista we desire in order to liberate the people living in the house. And it would be ideal to complete the building in one operation as it goes along. Inside and outside should be complete in one operation. The house finished inside as it is completed outside. There should be no complicated roofs.”
From An Autobiography, by Frank Lloyd Wright

Playa Prefab

I love these Buckminster Fuller-inspired prefabricated geodesic domes; their simplicity is cool and their detail and execution shows a well-designed, clean solution.
Originally designed as more humane temporary shelter for displaced people in emergency situations, Icosa Pods were first tested at Burning Man. Gorgeous to behold and out of this world.
The structures, from Folded Homes, are basic prefab huts made of plastic pieces that snap together like an Erector set. Easy to build with no need for special tools or skills, the Pods are extremely strong and yet very lightweight.

Middle Class Modern

A recent New York Times piece on Mies van der Rohe’s Lafayette Park complex in Detroit belies the notion that the ‘average homeowner’ simply doesn’t like modernism. In fact, there’s nothing simple about it. Taste in housing is influenced by many factors including:
•          Sentiment; where you grew up, and the architectural roots of the family home
•          Professional aspirations, aka ‘keeping up with the Jones’
•          Need, as with a large, perhaps extended family
•          Or just proximity. You might not know a craftsman from a Chrysler, but you want to live near the #5 bus line.
“We wanted to hear how residents — especially people with long-term, intimate knowledge of living with Mies — think about this unique modernist environment and how they confront and adapt it to meet their needs. During our research, we were struck by the casual attitude that many residents have toward the architecture. Then again, Detroit has an abundance of beautiful housing options: one can live in a huge Victorian mansion, a beautiful arts and crafts house or a cavernous loft-conversion space in a former factory. Living in a townhouse built by a renowned architect isn’t as noteworthy as one might think. At the same time, such nonchalance is a mark of success: the homes are great because they work, not because they come affixed with a famous name.”

Roof Overhangs

I love roof overhangs on so many levels. On the symbolic level they convey a sense of protection and security as they shield us from the elements. They’re welcoming, like open arms saying, “…hello, here is the entry, come inside”.
On a purely functional level they are great climate modifiers, keeping the walls dry at critical joints, and are particularly effective at shading summer sun.
As a crusty waterproofing consultant once told me “I would be out of business if every building had generous roof overhangs; a poorly designed or constructed detail will not leak a bit if it doesn’t get wet”.  At Stillwater we have embraced generous roof overhangs and always try and employ them, particularly over windows.

When Joy met Frank… the SQUARE by Sp0re

It’s often really hard to find the right products or group of products, but sometimes it’s a snap, and at Stillwater nothing snapped faster than the Sp0re doorbell. I immediately knew it was right; it just hit me in the gut. But I only recently I figured out why.
It has two emotions, seemingly polar opposites that work surprisingly well together. A delightful joy is married to a frank minimalism resulting in a synergy that feels so “meant to be”.
Long neglected as an afterthought, designers at Sp0re have transformed the lowly doorbell button to a higher and more stylish place in the entry procession. The rubbery, colored resin button is backlit by LEDs and centered in a machined aluminum faceplate with a beveled interior edge. There are a variety of vibrant button colors, each having a deep iridescent glow that is just so… cool.
Choosing the doorbell color can be a big decision for some of our clients: she wants green; but he needs orange… good thing we’ve already designed the rest of the house!

Housing Design Now: A Small Matter

Sarah Susanka is rather ironic, a bestselling author and ahead of her time. And now, every developer and real estate agent who would dismiss her “Not So Small” approach as a “niche” are suddenly all over her maxim. Her latest book on residential architecture is reviewed in the Atlantic City Weekly.
Downsizing the McMansion
Book Review: ‘More Not So Big Solutions for Your Home’
By Sarah Susanka
“Bigness, that staple of American values and culture, is, in the words of Heidi Klum, “Out.” (Note the capital “O.”) Mega, ultra, super, jumbo stuff has generally declined in popularity over this recent recession, first motivated by cost-cutting and, later, by the realization that life smells just as sweet (or even sweeter) without all the “extra” our bodies and budgets are perfectly capable of doing without.
In early 2009, the story broke that American homes were trending down in size for the first year in many. Authorities from the National Association of Home Builders, the American Institute of Architects and even groups of real estate professionals started noticing homeowners at all income levels beginning to express a preference for smaller, better-built homes — some even before the recession. And they project that the trend will continue when the recession is just a memory.
Enter Sarah Susanka, an architect and advocate of homes that are smaller, practically and efficiently designed, yet still beautiful and comfortable. With her first book a decade back, “The Not So Big House,” Susanka likely felt like the lone voice of reason crying out against excessively large homes in the wilderness of rapidly multiplying McMansions that was the American new-home market at the time.”

Less is More? It Depends on Who You Ask.

In a recent gloomy and hand wringing report on Japan’s declining living standards and intractable economic stagnation, the New York Times’ Martin Fackler decries a unique solution to urban infill:
“The downsizing of Japan’s ambitions can be seen on the streets of Tokyo, where concrete “micro houses” have become popular among younger Japanese who cannot afford even the famously cramped housing of their parents, or lack the job security to take out a traditional multi-decade loan.
These matchbox-size homes stand on plots of land barely large enough to park a sport utility vehicle, yet have three stories of closet-size bedrooms, suitcase-size closets and a tiny kitchen that properly belongs on a submarine.”
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/17/world/asia/17japan.html?_r=1&src=me&ref=general
While over at Inhabitat, a Japanese micro house is featured as a model of intelligent design:
“The Showa-cho House in Osaka Japan is an amazingly airy residence despite its miniscule 59 x 13-foot lot. Architect Fujiwara Muro made incredible use of the limited space available by building up and splitting the home in half with a staircase, which acts as both a transition space and delineates the private and public sides of the home without a wall. Plenty of daylight flows in, and a simplified modern interior streamlines the space, adding a tranquil feeling to a home dictated by a ten foot-wide interior dimension.”
Read the complete story: Amazing Japanese Micro House is Only Ten Feet Wide Inside
http://inhabitat.com/2010/08/26/amazing-showa-cho-micro-house-is-only-ten-feet-wide-inside/

Architecture that succeeds without showing off

There are some “show-off” buildings that I love; the uplifting Bilbo is one such building, but all too often signature buildings that overreach can become a self-indulgent mess. In the world of prefabricated homes this is probably even truer as a decadent display will seem even more pretentious when repeated in multiples.
Witold Rybczynski’s succinct article in Slate makes the case for a little more restraint:
In Praise of the Anti-Icon
By Witold Rybczynski
“Painter Paul Klee once wrote that while painters could make wheels square, architects had to make them round. Not any more. In the past, public and institutional buildings were expected to convey a sense of solidity and order; today they can just as easily suggest collapse and disharmony. In his forthcoming book, Architecture of the Absurd, John Silber takes aim at architects such as Frank Gehry, Steven Holl, and Daniel Libeskind, who, in a desire to create iconic architecture, frequently make their wheels square.
Silber, the outspoken president of Boston University for 25 years, excoriates these architects—and, by implication, their clients—for disfiguring, as he puts it, what should be a practical art. His spirited, if sometimes perfunctory, essay raises an interesting question: if not architectural high jinks, then what?
The new addition to the Seattle Art Museum, which opened last summer, provides one answer: an anti-icon. Instead of architectural pyrotechnics, the designer, Brad Cloepfil of Allied Works Architecture, opted for what, at first glance, appears to be almost corporate blandness. Almost, but not quite. The dull stainless steel suits the often overcast Northwest light, and the sliding shutters that control light entering the galleries create changing patterns on the exterior wall. The upper floors of this loftlike building, currently leased as offices, can be converted into gallery space in the future, when the museum expands. This pragmatic approach gives the museum maximum flexibility, although at the price of somewhat uninspired interiors.”
To read the full article, go to:
http://www.slate.com/id/2175080/