stillwater dwellings

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.

Why Stillwater?

I often get asked how we came up with the name “Stillwater”.
First, we new we wanted a name that dissociated itself with architectural service since for our clients, most of the design has already been completed. People come to us for a home, not a long, drawn out process, so naming the company after ourselves, as is the typical architectural convention, was a non-starter.
On the surface, we build affordable prefab housing; just beneath lies a wealth of detailed knowledge and a full-spectrum, sophisticated housing system that might not be apparent at first.
Channeling this thought in a brainstorming session with Bart and Brad, I mentioned a favorite proverb of mine, “The still water runs deep”. Bart, an avid trout fisherman, agreed that he’d always loved the term “still water” because it’s the best place to cast a fly and it sounds sweet.
That was it, done.
Photo credit:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/joshcon/4450007889/in/photostream/
Joshua Conley

The cost-per-square-foot game

Costs “per/sf” are like the 10-day weather forecast: they exist because there is a huge demand for them and the fact that they are usually woefully inaccurate is hardly ever factored. To use a favorite Bushism, there’s a lot of misunderestimating going on.
When comparing costs per square foot it is critical to make sure you are using an apples-to-apples comparison. On the top of the equation ask yourself what costs are included. Does it include landscape, hardscape, permit fees, architect and engineering fees, cost of money, sales tax and contingency?
On the bottom of the equation, what exactly, is the area measured? Just livable spaces, or are the garage, mechanical, storage, covered areas, deck and patio areas also included?  Manipulate these numbers for any project and you can easily have a 100% swing.
And that’s not accounting for the human factor; sometimes the most telling metric would be the delta nose length, measured before and after some people spout out these numbers.

Livable Cities are Bike-Friendly

The New York Times T Magazine design section recently showcased the stylish Linus bicycle:
And a few days later the BBC picked up the trend of America’s increased interest in bicycles as transportation, not merely recreation:
“America is known for its enduring love affair with the automobile. But in the last few years cities across the US have reported a surge in bicycle use, as people search for greener, healthier – and cheaper – transport options.”
However:
“…even the most bike-friendly US cities have years to go before catching European cities such as Copenhagen, where an estimated 30% of residents commute to work or school on a bicycle.
But Copenhagen cyclists have benefited from decades of pro-bike planning decisions, while US urban planners must overcome a century of energy politics and urban policy designed to promote vehicle use.”
Read the entire story over on BBC online
Cycle commuting in the US
Portland, Oregon – 5.96%
Minneapolis – 4.27%
Seattle – 2.94%
Sacramento – 2.72%
San Francisco – 2.72%
Washington, DC – 2.33%
Oakland – 2.15%
Tucson – 2.04%
Albuquerque – 1.75%
US – 0.55%
Source: US Census Bureau

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/

Materials for Modern Design: I Love Perfect Plank

Perfect Plank has long been a favorite material of mine. It’s a beautiful, versatile material for tables, stair treads, light shelves, bookshelves, countertops, column wraps and the like. It comes in alder, maple, plantation grown mahogany and even western red cedar for outdoor use.
Made to Last
Made from “finger jointing” and laminating off-cuts and wood from renewable sources, the lads at Perfect Plank offer a great value product. I love its heft; you can see and feel its thickness, up to a couple of inches. Because it’s not a veneer, dings and scratches can be sanded out and the surface refinished.
It’s a permanent, renewable, refinish-able, reusable and biodegradable material that will last for generations.
http://www.perfectplank.com/

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/