The Mouzon Design Blog is the back-story to our work. Primarily, it's the story of why we do what we do. If there's something about architecture or place-making you'd like for us to blog about, please email us to let us know.
I've participated in several "most important books" discussions recently. The following are the ones I consider most important to designers and builders. I'm using those terms broadly, focused on but not completely constrained to designing and building physical places, because other acts of designing and building can teach us a lot about physical place-making.
One note: It may seem very strange, but I've included my own books in this list. Every author, in my opinion, should be passionate about the subject matter in their own books. As a matter of fact, if they don't consider that subject matter important enough to include it in a list of books that are most important to them, they never should have written the book in the first place… that's a "soup pot author"… something we all should hope never to be.
Another note: What about preservation? I regard preservation as essential to sustainability, and also an integral part of architecture, so books that deal with preservation and reuse are included within whichever of the two categories for which they are most appropriate.
The final note: There's no shadow of doubt that I've left off some very important books, because I've compiled this list by adding titles simply as they occur to me. So please let me know what you think I've forgotten. Also, there are some new releases such as The Plazas of New Mexico that I'm sure I'll add to the list, but I haven't seen them yet.
Janine de la Salle & Mark Holland, editors, Green Frigate Books, 2010.
This book sprang out of the work done at DPZ’s Southlands charrette near Vancouver, where several longstanding barriers to agricultural urbanism were shattered.
Darrin Nordahl, Island Press, 2009.
Excellent new book on agricultural urbanism.
Michael Pollan, Penguin, 2009.
Drawing distinctions between “edible food-like substances” and real food, this book has multiple implications for the places where food is grown.
Michael Pollan, Penguin, 2007.
Now a classic, this book draws a bright line between the industrial food chain and more sustainable ways of growing what we eat. Essential to fully understanding Nourishable Places.
Dr. Barbara Kenda & Steven Parissien, editors, Rizzoli, 2010.
A collection of essays on sustainability; most take a far broader view than you ordinarily hear. Full disclosure: I wrote one of the essays, but there's a lot of material that's better than mine in the book.
His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales, Harper, 2010.
Prince Charles' watershed new book is hard to categorize because it is such a sweeping re-ordering of the way we view ourselves and the environment. I've put it with Original Green titles because the Original Green is also a broad re-ordering of ideas on sustainability, but really, this book is broader than any one category.
Robin Wilson & Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Greenleaf Book Group Press, 2010.
This book recounts the reconstruction of Bobby Kennedy, Jr.’s personal home after a devastating flood and mold & mildew infestation. This home exhibits numerous Original Green principles; Bobby wrote the Foreword to the Original Green.
Stephen A. Mouzon, Guild Foundation Press, 2010.
This book lays out the broad proposition of the Original Green initiative.
New Urbanism Theory
Léon Krier, Island Press, 2009.
Watershed work by arguably the most important architecture & urbanism thinker of our time, who also happens to be an honorary member of the New Urban Guild.
Jane Jacobs, Vintage, 1992.
Classic definitive description of the sociology of American cities.
James Howard Kunstler, Simon & Schuster, 1993.
Both hilarious and incisive, Kunstler skewers the world of sprawl we’ve built recently.
Dhiru Thadani, Rizzoli, 2010.
Excellent new work seems at first to be a richly-illustrated lexicon of town-making terms, but it’s actually much more than that. Beautifully illustrated with the author’s endearing pen-and-ink drawings.
Peter Katz, McGraw-Hill, 1994.
This is the early catalog of the emerging New Urbanism, and covers the pioneering developments. Still a best-seller after more than a decade.
Christopher Alexander, Oxford University Press, 1977.
This book is considered by many to be “the bible of New Urbanism.”
Ellen Dunham-Jones & June Williamson, Wiley, 2008.
This was the first authoritative New Urbanist book on the principles of suburban repair.
Galina Tachieva, Island Press, 2010.
Essential book containing the latest sprawl repair techniques; a highly useful handbook. Galina sits on the board of the Guild Foundation.
Andrés Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, Jeff Speck, North Point Press, 2001.
Must-read story of how American suburbia was built, and why that’s a problem. A classic.
Douglas Farr, Wiley, 2007.
Excellent new book by an author who is considered an authority both by New Urbanists and by mainstream sustainability advocates. Doug is also a member of the New Urban Guild.
Christopher Alexander, Oxford University Press, 1979.
This is the absolutely essential precursor to A Pattern Language.
New Urbanism Practice
Werner Hegemann, Elbert Peets, Princeton Architectural Press, 1988.
Recent reprint of the 1922 classic which has been rediscovered by an entire generation of town planners. A valuable catalog of timeless techniques.
Allan Jacobs, Elizabeth Macdonald, Yodan Rofe, MIT Press, 2002
Clearly the best resource available on multi-way boulevards that were once the staple of great urban places (and can be again).
Richard Longstreth, American Association for State & Local History Book Series, 2000
This is the definitive book on Main Street building types. Town centers should not be designed or re-designed without it.
Stephanos Polyzoides, Roger Sherwood, James Tice, Julius Shulman, Princeton Architectural Press, 1992.
This is a great analysis of a building type that is flexible enough to become a staple of higher-density urban fabric in many places.
Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, and Robert Alminana, Rizzoli, 2003.
Enormous new catalog of the elements of town planning. This book pays homage to the original Civic Art of a century ago, but is entirely new material.
Charles Bohl, Urban Land Institute, 2002.
Excellent new summary of many of the new options in mixed-use places.
Ross Chapin, Taunton, 2011.
Excellent new book on housing clusters & courts, focusing on both the theory and the practice of their creation.
Raymond Unwin, Princeton Architectural Press, 1994.
Nearly a century after its initial publication, this book remains one of the best manuals available for the techniques of making great places.
New Urbanism Reference
Thomas Sharp, Penguin, 1946.
Long out of print but still occasionally available, this little book is pound-for-pound the best reference ever printed on the English village structure.
Congress for the New Urbanism, McGraw-Hill, 2000.
A 194-page expansion on the original 27-point Charter of the New Urbanism, written by the founders. Out of print, but worth it if you can get it.
Robert Steuteville, Philip Langdon, New Urban News Publications, 2009.
Quite possibly the most complete reference to the New Urbanism written to date.
Process Architecture #16, 1980.
This book, if you can find it, is a tremendously valuable resource, containing scale drawings and photos of dozens of well-known plazas. Most are in Italy, but a few other notable ones in the region are included.
Andrés Duany, Jeff Speck, Mike Lydon, McGraw-Hill, 2009.
Best new book on New Urbanism; clear, concise guide to powerful patterns.
Urban Design Associates, Norton, 2003.
A rare and intriguing comprehensive view inside the office practices of one of the most highly-respected planning firms operating today.
Julie Campoli, Alex MacLean, Lincoln Institute, 2007.
One of the greatest impediments to building compact places is the public outcry against density. This book does a wonderful job of turning units per acre into pictures.
Leon Krier, Andreas Papadakis Publisher, 1998.
This theoretical work by one of the most important thinkers of our day encompasses both the urban scale and the architectural scale. Intriguing read.
Alireza Sagharchi & Lucien Steil, ArtMedia, 2010.
Contemporary survey of architects working in the classical tradition.
Steven Semes, Norton, 2009.
This book brings rare clarity to issues bedeviling the presentation community today. An essential read whether you're involved in preservation or re-use.
His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales, A. G. Carrick Ltd., 1989.
A book written fairly early in HRH The Prince of Wales’ career as a healer of places; it includes some of the foundation ideas upon which his current principles of sustainable places are built.
Stephen A. Mouzon, Guild Foundation Press, 2007.
This book rebuilds the architectural pattern book by including principles, not just particulars. “We do this because...”
Asher Benjamin, Dover Publications, Inc., 1969.
This was one of the most important pattern books of early 19th century American architecture.
Lisa C. Mullins, National Historical Society, 1988.
This essential series of volumes contains most of the White Pine series of monographs from the 1920's and is the largest single collection of reference material I have ever seen on 18th and 19th century eastern and southern American architecture.
Arthur Drexler, MIT Press, 1977.
This is one of the essential history books on the classicism of the 19th century.
Mills Lane, Beehive Press, 1993.
This is the summary volume of Lane's work. He has two books broken down by style and a series broken down by state. If you can afford it, buy the state series or the style series. If not, buy this one. Better yet, buy them all. They're that good.
Robert Adam, Harry N. Abrams, 1990.
This is the other absolutely essential recent work on classical architecture (Chitham's being the first).
Robert Chitham, Rizzoli, 1995.
This absolutely essential book describes both the orders and the origins of classical architecture in as great of detail as any contemporary work.
Asher Benjamin, Applewood Books, 1992.
This was another of Benjamin's books that shaped the early American republic.
Russell Versaci, Erik Kvalsvik, Taunton, 2007.
This very popular book successfully told a present-day story of traditional design.
Sarah Susanka, Grey Crawford, Taunton, 2002.
This classic forever changed the way that people view houses, and in several ways paved the way for both the Katrina Cottages initiative, and the broader move to downsize American homes post-Meltdown.
Henry H. Reed, W. W. Norton & Co., Inc., 2001.
Great new book on classicism.
Stephen Calloway, Simon & Schuster, 1996.
This book summarizes the salient characteristics of elements such as doors, windows, stairs, etc. for a range of styles beginning generally in the 18th century. This very detailed work should be considered essential for anyone detailing a building in an existing style.
Carole Rifkind, Bonanza Books, 1980.
Concise, excellent style guide.
Aaron Lubeck, New Society Publishers, 2010.
Excellent new book on a subject that sorely needs more attention.
Ralph Reinhold, Dover Publications, Inc., 1970.
This 2-volume set contains a wealth of wonderfully-composed detailed drawings of Georgian era buildings drawn as part of a public works project during the Great Depression.
Sir Banister Fletcher, Scribners, 1975.
This is the greatest single history of architecture ever written, with numerous reprints and updates through the years.
Johann Matthaus von Mauch, Acanthus Press, 1998.
This volume illustrates the range of the five orders in antiquity, dispelling the Renaissance myth that classicism was built on fixed canons.
Arthur Guptill, Watson Guptill, 1997.
OK, so this reprint of the 1937 classic isn’t strictly about architecture, but it should be considered essential by anyone who is drawing architecture. Don’t go on a charrette without it.
Vincent Scully, Jr., Yale University Press, 1971.
This continues to be the definitive history of a uniquely American style that developed from vernacular roots in the 19th century.
Stephen A. Mouzon, McGraw-Hill, 2004.
This book lays out the do’s and don’ts of traditional construction, focusing on 108 patterns that are most often screwed up.
Pierre Esquie, William Helburn, 1890.
Extremely important book if you can find it. There have been reprints in recent years.
House Plan Collections
Stephen A. Mouzon & Wanda W. Mouzon, Mouzon Design, 2007.
This collection contains designs that are mixed-use like live/works, attached like townhouses, or both. Please note that none of the plans are based on specific buildings on Bienville Street. Rather, Bienville Street is an iconic place for this sort of architecture.
Allison Ramsey Architects, 2001.
First plan book by one of the most prolific architecture firms of the New Urbanism.
Allison Ramsey Architects, 2007.
Second plan book in series.
Allison Ramsey Architects, 2001.
Third plan book in series.
Stephen A. Mouzon, New Urban Guild Foundation, 2006.
This is the first book of Katrina Cottage designs, done in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. It contains designs by over a dozen designers, most members of the New Urban Guild.
Stephen A. Mouzon & Wanda W. Mouzon, Mouzon Design, 2007.
This collection contains all types of Katrina Cottages, from Tiny Cottages to Kernel Cottages to Courtyard Cottages and more.
Stephen A. Mouzon & Wanda W. Mouzon, Mouzon Design, 2007.
This collection contains designs that are smaller and wood frame. Please note that none of the plans are based on specific houses in Key West. Rather, Key West is an iconic place for this sort of architecture.
Stephen A. Mouzon & Wanda W. Mouzon, Mouzon Design, 2007.
This collection contains designs that are larger, several of which are built of brick. Please note that none of the plans are based on specific houses in Mooresville. Rather, Mooresville is an iconic place for this sort of architecture.
Allison Ramsey Architects, 2005.
This collection contains smaller structures meant to complement a larger main house.
Stephen A. Mouzon & Wanda W. Mouzon, Mouzon Design, 2007.
This collection contains outbuilding designs, such as garages, carriage houses, pavilions, gazebos, towers, barns, and even an outhouse.
Stephen A. Mouzon & Wanda W. Mouzon, Mouzon Design, 2007.
This collection contains designs appropriate to regions that are hot and humid and frequented by hurricanes, such as the American Gulf Coast and the Caribbean. Please note that none of the plans are based on specific houses in St. Augustine. Rather, St. Augustine is the most iconic place in the US for this sort of architecture.
Moser Design Group, Digital Catalog, 2011.
This online collection is the only non-book included in this reading list because it is important enough; The Moser Design Group is one of a small handful of the most prolific residential designers of the New Urbanism.
Christopher Steiner, Grand Central Publishing, 2009.
Without doubt, the most optimistic take to date on the implications of the inevitable rise in gas prices.
Malcolm Gladwell, Little, Brown, and Company, 2005.
Gladwell’s follow-up to The Tipping Point makes the case that our gut reaction may often be far more accurate than over-deliberation. This notion supports several underpinnings of the idea of living traditions.
Daniel H. Pink, Business Plus, 2002.
Pink lays out a new form of doing business that is overtaking the corporate model.
Thomas L. Friedman, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008.
Friedman’s follow-up to The World is Flat looks at implications of flattening and population growth on sustainability. It was the first best-seller outside the New Urbanism to properly affix blame to sprawl.
Albert-Lazlo Barabasi, Plume, 2003.
This book lays out the new reality of vibrant webs of interconnected nodes versus the old hierarchical system; contains many implications for the operation of living traditions.
James Howard Kunstler, Atlantic Monthly Press, 2005.
Kunstler’s words read like a horror story when written. Now, in retrospect, they read like prophecy as so many of the events have come true since the beginning of the Meltdown, and others seem to be shaping up to do so as well.
Chris Anderson, Hyperion, 2008.
Groundbreaking book laying out the mechanics of the new niche-based markets that toppled the long-running “greatest hits” system, and is radically changing both the publishing and music industries.
Chip Heath & Dan Heath, Random House, 2007.
Excellent book about sticky ideas. Several principles underlaid the advances at the 2008 Rose Town Charrette.
Kevin Kelly, Penguin, 1998.
Considered obsolete by some because it was written before the dot-com bubble burst, it nonetheless contains a number of foundation ideas applicable to what we’re building today.
Malcolm Gladwell, Little, Brown, 2008.
Gladwell’s tale of invisible advantages that lead to greatness carries several implications for place-making and sustainability.
Richard Florida, Basic Books, 2002.
Florida’s classic work has been trashed a bit recently because places restructuring according to his principles took a beating in the Meltdown. Other places did as well, of course. The core ideas are still sound.
Malcolm Gladwell, Back Bay Books, 2002.
Classic book that analyzes how trends begin. Contains strong implications for the beginnings of living traditions as well.
Daniel Pink, Riverhead Books, 2005.
Pink proposes that the era of left-brained dominance is giving way to an age when the scales tip to the right-brained creatives.
James Surowiecki, Anchor, 2005.
Great description of the new collaborative environment that is flourishing outside the walls of “Fort Business.”
Thomas L. Friedman, Picador, 2007.
This important work examines the confluence of a number of trends that have leveled the global playing field between the West and developing nations. Some flattening factors may be disappearing as energy costs increase, but many of the points remain valid.
This category includes books on all environmental issues not specifically related to placemaking.
Michael Shellenberger & Ted Nordhaus, Houghton Mifflin, 2007.
Pivotal treatise makes the case that today’s environmentalism can’t save the environment.
This category includes book on emerging sciences such as randomness and new developments in existing scientific disciplines such as quantum physics.
Janine M. Benyus, Harper Perennial, 2002.
This classic spawned a movement that examines natural processes as inspiration for manmade.
Margaret J. Wheatley, Berrett Koehler Publishers, 2006.
Written as a business management tool, this book has the added benefit of deciphering the new sciences for the rest of us in a more plain-spoken fashion than could have previously been imagined for quantum physics, etc. Lots of great cross-discipline insights.
William McDonough, Michael Braungart, North Point Press, 2002.
Highly influential; advocates radical expansion of our methods of reusing everything.
Christopher Locke, Rick Levine, Doc Searls, David Weinberger, Perseus Books, 2000.
The 95 theses in this book underlie much of the thinking that has followed in the years since on Web 2.0.
Seth Godin, Portfolio Hardcover, 2010.
Greatest rant yet on the end of the Factory Era, where you show up, take orders, and do your job.
Larry Weber, Wiley, 2007.
Superficially about marketing, this book deals more with network-building.
Paul Gillin, Quill Driver Books, 2007.
Contains several living tradition implications.
William Whyte, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002 (originally published 1957.)
Classic book describing conditions of the Era of the Company, the demise of which was largely the result of Web 2.0.
Seth Godin, Portfolio Hardcover, 2008.
Godin looks at the antithesis of the place-based urban tribe, which is interest-based tribes that may be geographically dispersed. Living tradition implications.
Joel Comm, Wiley, 2009.
This is the best Web 2.0 how-to manual I have seen. Clear & concise style, exhaustive content.
Seth Godin, Hyperion, 2001.
Godin’s classic lays out the operations of ideas that spread… essential to the development of a living tradition.
Amy Shuen, O’Reilly, 2008.
This wide-ranging overview of the interactive web covers the bases that existed when it was written.
Ted Demopoulos, Kaplan Publishing, 2007.
It’s a few years old, but it’s still got lots of highly useful stuff.
I have a predicament, but you may be able to help me solve it. For the past 3 years, I've been shooting RAW images, and for almost that long, I've been tagging them with metadata such as keywords to make it much easier for anyone (including me) to find what they're looking for.
In that length of time, I've shot tens of thousands of images per year, but as you can see on my Zenfolio site, I've only processed and tagged a couple thousand of them.
Here's why: I've found that if I spend 8 hours on a photo shoot, I'll likely spend 10-12 hours converting them from RAW to jpg and tagging them with metadata.
It's hard enough to get away and shoot for a few days, but when I return home, things are usually piled up to the point that it's completely impossible to find several more days to process the images.
I've come to the realization recently that at this rate, I'll get to the end of my career with over a million excellent images that are no good to me or anyone else because they've never been processed. Depressing, eh?
So here's what I'm proposing: I've spent the money and the time to go across the country and abroad to collect these images, and I sort out the good ones from the not-so-good. If you'll spend the time to process some of the good ones, you will have spent a little more time than me, but possibly no money (if you have the software already.) So I shoot and sort, you tag & process, and we both get the images. Cool, eh?
You can do anything you want with the images except sell or give them to anyone else. Use them in books, reports, graphics, research, whatever. Here's the fine print… it's short, and written in plain English, so be sure to read it.
The sample images in this post are some of my recent work, so these are the sorts of images you're likely to find in the ones you process: great places and the architecture within them, populated with interesting people. Please note that these are only shots from a few towns on a single trip to Italy last fall, not a "best-of-the-best."
If you're interested, email me to let me know. I'll soon be adding a list of shoots to the end of this post, so you can see what you have to choose from. I'll also send you a RAW conversion procedure and a metadata tagging procedure so you'll know exactly what to do.
What's the software? You'll need Photo Mechanic to tag the images. It's a relatively inexpensive app that's used by newspapers all across the country. I researched all the available apps when I first got started tagging, and it was by far the cleanest and fastest.
You'll also need PhotoShop CS5 to convert from RAW. Why CS5? Because Adobe has significantly improved the RAW conversion capabilities since earlier versions, so you can't do some of the things I'll be asking you to without it.
You can take as much or as little work as you like. Because I'm crowd-sourcing this work, I'm confident there will eventually be enough volunteers to get it all done. Thanks for considering this, and let me know!
Wanda and I designed SmartDwelling II for a competition recently that we never expected to win. The competition was sponsored by two very respectable organizations which will remain nameless, but the program really disturbed us. It purported to call for a home in a hot climate (north Texas) that was both highly affordable and sustainable, but it was classic Gizmo Green, focusing solely on better equipment and materials, and inexplicably banning several passive measures. For example, it required 8' ceilings throughout although tall ceilings are essential in the deep South because they let the heat rise away from you in the afternoon.
I was disgusted with the program and didn't want to participate, but Wanda kept pushing, saying "why don't you use our entry as an opportunity to show what they should have been looking for?" So we decided to do the competition as a critique of the program in order to call attention to this completely backwards but very common approach to sustainability.
The two biggest "game-changers" that affect many other sustainability measures are things we call "Conditioning People First" and "Smaller & Smarter." Here's how Wanda and I accomplished these things in SmartDwelling II:
Conditioning People First
I blogged a few years ago on the Original Green Blog about an idea I call Living in Season. Briefly, the idea is that if you entice people outside, they get more acclimated to the local environment, needing less heating or cooling when they return indoors. I've proven this personally since moving to South Beach nearly 9 years ago, and there are other benefits, as you'll see if you scroll down in this post.
We did several things in SmartDwelling II to entice both the occupants and the neighbors outside. First, we designed the entire site as either outdoor rooms or passages… there's no standard lawn anywhere on the site (the lawn outside the fence is public property.)
Each outdoor room and passage has distinct uses. The Inner Court just off the Keeping Room is the outdoor living room. The Master Garden is a small, very private outdoor room just off the master suite where the parents can have a bit of time to themselves.
The Outer Court (just visible above at the left end of the garage) is completely paved for shooting hoops and other activities requiring a solid surface. The Kitchen Garden at the rear of the site can replace a substantial amount of grocery budget with home-grown nourishment, helping make the neighborhood a Nourishable Place.
The edible landscape isn't confined to the Kitchen Garden, however. The Green Fence is similar in concept to the Green Wall in SmartDwelling I, and it runs all along the rear and right side of the lot has fruit trees espaliered on the top half and beans, peas, and other vegetables trained up below.
Edibles continue all around the house as well. The setbacks required by the city are narrow, and are often wasted because what can you do in a 5' strip of land except let the dogs run? Here, however, we use them as a linear orchard, with fruit trees all down the left side of the house. Oh, and that's the West side, so they also shade the house from the scorching Texas afternoon sun. The front yard is a bit of a flight of fancy. People rhapsodize about "amber waves of grain," so why not have a wheat lawn as shown here? If the residents would rather have vegetables, then we're beginning to learn how to grow them beautifully, so the neighbors won't mind.
We're not just trying to entice the residents outdoors, but the neighbors as well. If every home on a block gave some sort of Gift to the Street, then the street becomes a place more people want to walk. Anything we can do to enhance a neighborhood's walkability builds its overall sustainability as well. In this case, the Gift to the Street is built into a fence recess at the front gate. It houses a bench on one side, for a place to rest, and potted flowers to the right, for a bit of visual delight.
Smaller & Smarter
SmartDwelling II is only 1,043 square feet, substantially smaller than the 1,400 square foot program. It houses three bedrooms and two baths within this envelope by doing a number of innovative things. Clothes are stored in armoires rather than closets, saving roughly 4" per wall. It doesn't sound like much, but it really adds up. We carved into interior walls throughout the house, using the wall cavities as storage instead of wasting them. We used a dining booth rather than a dining room, saving a lot of square footage by seating people in a cozier setting. Go to a restaurant anywhere, and you can see how decisively people choose booths over open tables when given the choice.
Other Frugal Things
Building a smaller footprint starts many virtuous cycles. For example, smaller floor plans are much easier to cross-ventilate because they are small enough that you can give every room windows on at least two different walls, enhancing air flow. And light from two sides isn't just more beautiful, it helps to daylight the room so that you likely don't need to cut on the lights until evening. But we incorporated a number of other natural features as well:
The program required a front-facing garage, but we ignored this requirement for several reasons, chiefly because of the fact that buildings in temperate regions should be as long as possible East to West, reducing the length of the Western wall and increasing the Southern wall, where it's easier to admit the low winter sun while shading out the high summer sun. But a front-facing garage would force the house to be long North-to-South, dramatically lengthening the Western wall to the Texas sun. Front-facing garages also reduce the walkability of the street for several reasons, including the fact that houses with garage doors as major street features are notoriously less lovable. Because this house sat on a corner lot, we entered the garage from the side street. And as noted in a caption above, if this design is used in the middle of the block, a driveway can run down the right side to the Outer Court, which then doubles as a motor court.
The roofing is a major passive cooling device. Mill-finish 5V Crimp metal roofing was the predominant roofing material for many years in the South because it bounces roughly 90% of the sun's heat back up to the sky before it even gets into the building envelope. We've designed this vent hood similar to the Breeze Chimneys on SmartDwelling I: The fin turns the hood into the wind, so that the air flowing across it pulls warm air out of the house. It's sort of like a whole-house fan that doesn't need electricity.
There's more, of course. I'll have to do another blog post showing the interior innovations that haven't been mentioned here… there's some really cool stuff. But what about the competition? We were right: SmartDwelling II never stood a chance. The prime sponsoring organization apparently took offense at the number of program requirements we ignored, but I'm still happy Wanda talked me into doing it, because more of us have to start calling out the Gizmo Green for what it really is: a strategy that cannot deliver real sustainability on its own.
Of all the elements in today's American homes, closets just might be considered the second-most essential, right behind the bathroom. How could we possibly live without closets? But if you'll look at plans of the greatest American homes ever built, you'll notice that most of the ones built before the 1920s had very few if any closets for clothes. How was that possible? Didn't they have more than a single change of clothes?
Yes, they did, and it was actually quite easy. Rather than having fixed closets, they had a number of different pieces of furniture such as armoires, bureaus, chests-of-drawers, etc., for storing hanging clothing, folded clothing, etc. And when you look at those plans, you'll notice that the fact that they're not "gunked up" with closets all over the place allows the plans to be much cleaner, with better-proportioned rooms, doors, and windows.
Clean plans, however, are just the beginning. Storing clothes in furniture rather than closets allows much more flexibility because it allows rooms to do the unthinkable: change from a bedroom to an office, dining room, den, study, library, and back again, just by moving furniture around.
It also saves a lot of space. A stud wall with 5/8" sheetrock on either side is nearly 5" thick by the time you get it mudded and painted or finished with wallcovering. An armoire wall thickness is likely closer to 3/4". Reduce every closet wall by over 4" and you pick up some really usable space in a plan.
You may also save money. We don't often consider the real cost of closets. By the time you frame the walls, sheetrock them, install the door frames, the doors, the hinges, the latches, the baseboard and possibly the crown mold on the outside of the closet, you've easily spent more than enough money to build a really nice armoire that can store just as much clothing as the closet. And if you've designed it well, the armoire is far more attractive than the closet.
There's another benefit as well: Closet walls built to the ceiling make the bedroom smaller. But when you use armoires instead, they don't go all the way to the ceiling and as a result, the room looks bigger.
With all these benefits, why would you not want to store your clothes this way? Like drywall-free walls, replacing closets with armoires is scary to most designers and builders because it isn't their normal way of doing things. Wanda and I designed Coastal Living's 2011 Idea House, and we designed all of the clothing storage in furniture pieces instead of closets. Just like the walls I blogged about earlier, the developer cautiously went along with the idea… until the drawings were done and the interior decorator got involved. Her influence was just enough to push the house back into using closets again. So remember that with any revolutionary idea, all of the experts (architects, designers, decorators, builders, developers, and real estate agents) will likely recommend against it because it's not what they're accustomed to. They're accustomed to doing ordinary things. But if you want an extraordinary home, make that very clear to them… if you prevail, they'll likely thank you for it once it's built.
Drywall is such a pervasive building material today that it's almost impossible to imagine building a house (or office) without it. It wasn't always that way. Drywall has only existed for just over a century, and didn't become the normal way of building interior walls until after WWII.
Think about the "drywall" term for a minute. Ever think what it really means? Yeah, that's right - it works fairly well… so long as the wall is dry. But leave the window open while a summer shower blows in, or let the roof leak, and "dry-wall" turns into "wet-mush." One dousing of water, and it's a moldy, mildewy mess. You have to rip it all off, down to the studs, and rebuild the room. So the slogan should be "dry-wall or mush-wall"! And remember the Chinese Sheetrock Disaster recently… it doesn't necessarily even need to get wet to breed mold and mildew.
Simply put, drywall can't endure imperfection. Not only does it fail when a bit of moisture causes it to breed disease-causing mold and mildew, but it's really fragile in other conditions as well. Have a couple teenage kids that like to horse around? Chances are, they'll probably smash a hole in the drywall before too long. Bump the vacuum against it a bit too hard? You'll knock its paper face off. Try hanging a picture and can't find the strength of a wood stud behind the powdery drywall? You just may make a real mess of things.
There is a better way that doesn't cost so much more, and we've started to improve it for today's needs. Ever been to a little Atlantic beachfront cottage built before WWII? You might remember that the walls were sheathed in wood boards, and often left open on one side so you don't need wood on both sides of the wall. Really charming. And really useful as well. You can hang a picture, attach a peg, hang a cabinet or a shelf, and never have to worry about whether it's solidly attached. And you can actually build shelves within the wall as well, so that you're using ever cubic inch for storage instead of the hidden cavities of drywall-sheathed walls that breed mold and mildew when wet, and house roaches and mice.
Some immediately protest "but what about the acoustical privacy?" What about it? Who is in the house with you? Your kids? Do you really not want to hear what your kids are doing? OK, maybe there are some times you don't… like when you're already in your bedroom for the night, but the need for acoustical privacy elsewhere in a house is dramatically overblown. If we're talking about a powder room just off the living room, then yes, you probably want to insulate those walls. But most other walls don't require insulation so much as we might think.
I should note that we tried - and failed - to build drywall-free walls recently. Wanda and I designed the Coastal Living Idea House this year, and it was designed with many of the walls open. The developer was cautious about it because he had never built anything that way before, but he agreed to do it… all the way up to the point when the drawings were finished. But once the decorator (who had never done it before, either) got involved, her influence was just enough to tip the scales against it. So if you're planning on doing this, just be aware that the deck is stacked against you because everyone you work with will be in unfamiliar territory, and the unfamiliar makes people nervous. But the usefulness and charm you get in return for a few extra dollars is well worth it, and how can you put a dollar figure on a healthier house for your family?
Booths are some of the most delightful and hardworking square footage you can design into a home. The New Urban Guild’s Project:SmartDwelling initiative, as you’ll recall, is all about building dramatically smaller and smarter. Nothing accomplishes this better than a booth. Here’s why:
If you want to seat 6 people comfortably in a conventional dining room, you need about 180 square feet. If you want to accomplish the same task using a booth, you need about 36 square feet, or 1/5 as much area. Yet ask yourself this: when you go to a restaurant, which tables do you notice filling up quicker? The booths, of course! They’re cozy and personal, whereas a table in the middle of the room is... just a table in the middle of the room. Not so special. So a booth delivers what most people prefer, but in only 1/5 the space... what’s not to love about that?
But there’s more. The booth pictured above is in the 2011 Coastal Living Idea House in East Beach Norfolkwhich Wanda and I are designing. The booth is at the heart of the house; the wall of glass to the left looks into the Great Room, the Kitchen is just above, and the windows just below the booth look out into the Hearth Garden (more on that in a later post.) As you can see, it’s an L-shaped booth, rather than the conventional booth with two benches facing each other. By itself, it can seat 4 people comfortably. Pull up chairs to the two open sides, and it can seat 8.
It’s not just a dining booth, either, as you can see. It doubles as the kids’ homework station, where they can spread out and work in the evening, just across from the kitchen so they can get help from Mom (or whoever the cook is in the family.) It also makes a great home office workstation as well, where you can set up with your laptop and work in an airy, light-filled environment with a view to the garden. Just below those windows, in a band of trim just above the top of the booth’s back, is a row of several plugs to accommodate whatever you or your kids might need to charge as you work.
And it doesn’t end there. SmartDwellings don’t waste space. There’s a little space in the seat back against the Great Room wall to the left, so we’ll carve into that for some narrow shelves. Below that, under the seat, there’s much more room, so we’ll slide some cool-looking wicker baskets under the seat from the Great Room side. We’ll also slide a long basket under the garden-side seat from the Garden Entry.
Like it? Keep checking back... there’s lots more where this came from.
Love it. Talk about making that space earn its keep...!
Tuesday, February 15, 2011 - 10:23 PM
OK, here’s what these blog posts are all about... Wanda and I are designing the 2011 Coastal Living Idea House. It’ll be located in East Beach Norfolk. I can’t scoop Coastal Living, of course... you’ll have to read the magazine to see the entire house for the first time, but I’ll cover many of the ideas here over the next few weeks as the house breaks ground and gets underway.
One really cool thing about this Idea House is the fact that it’s shaping up to be the very first SmartDwelling to be built. Project:SmartDwelling is a New Urban Guild initiative to redesign the American home to be dramatically smaller and smarter. You can’t just shrink the house, of course, because nobody wants to see their life put in a vise. But we can’t keep doing what we’ve been doing, either, because McMansions are getting to look an awful lot like dinosaurs. What to do?
The New Urban Guild believes that if houses get smarter as they get smaller, then people may do what they did with the Katrina Cottages we designed... they’ll say “I could live there... matter of fact, I’d rather live there!” So a house can be small, so long as it lives large. The goal of Project:SmartDwelling is to design houses so smart that they live as big as houses twice their size.
The 2011 Coastal Living Idea House will paint this picture with great clarity. Until now, idea houses built by almost any organization have typically been behemoths, tipping the scales at 6,000 to 10,000 square feet. This one won’t even top 3,000 square feet, but it will house three generations of your family in very creative ways, plus your home office. There’s lots more to talk about over the next few weeks, but for now, let’s look at the “alternating tread stair,” or if you’d like a less technical name, the “Jefferson Stair.” That’s because Thomas Jefferson was always inventing new ways to travel from floor to floor without taking up so much space.
The Jefferson Stair in the idea house leads to the attic, which could eventually be finished out for many uses. By alternating the treads, you get a full-depth tread for each foot, but you ascend twice as fast because each foot only needs to step forward 10” rather than the normal 20”. You don’t climb any higher with each step, so it’s arguably an easier climb. And unlike a stepladder, you can go down this one facing downward because each foot has a full step to step onto.
Cool, huh? Stay tuned... there’s lots more to come.
Wonderful idea! Do you have the floor plan sketches for viewing yet?
Sunday, February 13, 2011 - 05:45 PM
Be careful with these in terms of NFPA 101!
Thursday, June 2, 2011 - 02:12 PM
Here’s a great idea Eric Moser introduced me to. Crawl spaces are normally the dark underbellies of houses where the dirt floor is always damp if not downright standing in water in wet times of the year. Mold and mildew often abounds there, and if cancer-causing radon gas gets into your house, it usually gets there by coming through the crawl space.
The crawl space is as cold as the outdoor air in winter, because you have to ventilate it in order to remove at least some of the moisture so that your floor joists don’t rot... and sometimes, they rot anyway. And so you have to insulate the floor system, almost always with fiberglass batts. Problem is, anytime a plumber or other service person is in your crawl space, it’s really easy to dislodge some of the fiberglass, giving that unconditioned air direct access to your floor.
Plumbers aren’t the only creatures in your crawl space. Most crawl spaces are teeming with all sorts of vermin, from feral cats and squirrels (sometimes having a fight) to rats, bugs, and other creeping things. And all of those unwanted critters probably do more to dislodge your soggy floor insulation than the plumbers do.
When Eric introduced me to the idea of a conditioned crawl space, it sounded at first like the latest way to spend more money, which is unusual, because Eric is normally so practical. But the more I listened, the better it sounded. Here’s what you do:
A. Insulate the foundation walls with rigid closed-cell insulation, rather than insulating the floor system. Unless your house is on a steep slope, there’s probably a lot less surface area of walls to insulate than the area of the floor. So you may actually save money on the insulation.
B. Skip the foundation vents; you won’t be needing them. Savings are minor here, but every dollar counts, right?
C. Use a really good vapor barrier (at least 20 mils thick) and seal it tightly to the top of the foundation wall. Cover the rigid insulation on the foundation wall, and extend it all the way across the floor. Make sure all the joints are taped securely. You’ll need to insulate the band joist above the top of the foundation wall with rigid insulation, but don’t cover this with the vapor barrier, as the band joist needs to be inspected from time to time in order to satisfy termite inspectors or property inspectors if you’re selling the house.
D. If you really want to do the best job, install a 2” thick “rat slab” over the vapor barrier on the floor of the crawl space. This slab doesn’t need to be troweled, nor does it even need to be particularly level... just make sure that it’s not thinner than 2” in spots.
Building a crawl space this way has benefits beyond the elimination of mold, mildew, vermin, rot, and diseases for your family. Your plumber will thank you profusely whenever he has to service something in the crawl space, but it doesn’t stop there. You won’t have to worry about pipes freezing under the house anymore, because you’ll actually be piping a bit of conditioned air into the crawl space. It might be 10 degrees cooler than your living room, but it’ll be much warmer than the winter air outside. This also means that ductwork running through the crawl space isn’t subjected to summer heat or freezing temperatures in winter, so your equipment will be more efficient. You can also put your airhandling unit in the crawl space, where it can be serviced in a clean and dry environment. Like the attic units I blogged about earlier, this can save a couple thousand dollars or more in finished space, because you won’t be needing that HVAC closet next to the great room anymore.
Bottom line: you’ll likely spend a bit more money upfront on a conditioned crawl space. Estimates run as low as $1,500 if you do all the work yourself (without the rat slab) up to several thousand if a contractor does everything for you. But you’ll clearly save that money back before long on service and operation costs alone, and that doesn’t even begin to count the health benefits. What’s your family’s health worth?
Only way we will construct one these days. We just do not have any maintenance or long term health issues & it does increase Energy efficiency. The other thing we do as standard practice is line all footer trenches with 6 mil vapor barrier, which eliminates any wick effect of the concrete and extends useful life dramatically because water can't get to the re-bar and rust it.
Monday, November 29, 2010 - 08:19 PM
We've been doing this in our project of Warwick Grove for several years now. Being in New York State we needed to get a variance to exclude foundation vents and had to install rigid insulation that met the fire exposure requirements. Our mechanical systems are installed in the crawl space and we also supply "conditioned" air into that space. The results have been considerable savings in energy costs.
Wednesday, December 1, 2010 - 09:52 AM
Insulated attics are emerging as an excellent new way of building a better home. Insulated attics possible because of the development of spray foam insulation, which allows insulation to be installed between the rafters and not fall out. Fiberglass, which is only friction-fit, would fall out almost immediately and therefore has to be installed on top of the ceiling, which holds it in place... so long as nobody ever goes into the attic and disturbs any of it.
You might say “Wait, but now you have more insulation, because you’re having to run up the slope and back down again, and you’re conditioning more space (the attic); doesn’t that cost more to operate?” The answers are “Yes,” and “No.” Here’s why:
A. It’s definitely true that you’re using more insulation because there are more square feet on the roof than there are on the ceiling, because the roof is on a slope.
B. You would think you’re spending more on utilities because that extra area of insulation on the slope will lose more heat, right? That would be true if everything else were equal, but it’s not. Spray foam seals tight around framing, pipes, wires, or whatever else is in the way. Fiberglass is notorious for leaving gaps and holes everywhere. So the performance of the spray foam is better than the fiberglass, meaning that you’re spending less. And that’s only the beginning.
C. Ever been in an attic on a sunny summer day? The heat is stifling. Matter of fact, it’s a huge heat trap. Attics can easily heat up to 140 degrees or higher; in hotter parts of the country, they sometimes reach 180 degrees. So that less efficient fiberglass insulation has a much taller order to fill: insulating against the 140 degrees or higher in the attic, rather than the 80 to 90 degrees outdoors. Because spray foam only has to insulate against the outside air temperature, an insulated attic might only be 10 or 15 degrees warmer than the inside air, and somewhat cooler than the outside air... a far cry from the 70+ degrees of difference between inside air and attic air in a heat-trapping uninsulated attic.
D. Uninsulated attics are ventilated, but only just enough to supposedly allow moisture to escape. But that ventilation is problematic... you’ll never convince me that rain doesn’t blow in the vents during a bad storm. Spray foam, meanwhile, doesn’t require the attic to be ventilated because it installs tight to the roof deck, leaving no air space for condensation on the unconditioned side of the insulation. Eliminating attic ventilation doesn’t just keep out a blowing rain. It also lets you avoid those unsightly ridge vents that crush so easily every time someone is on the roof for maintenance.
E. There are other benefits as well: Horizontal-flow heating and cooling units in the attic save a lot of money, because at $200 per square foot (a common price in many places) a closet in your floor plan for the air conditioner can easily cost $2,000 or more. Putting the unit in the attic lets you actually use those square feet for living rather than equipment. But units in the attic are problematic if the attic is 140 degrees or more through the summer. How insane is it to try to make cool air in the hottest part of the house? Try putting your icemaker up there and see if it makes any ice. But if it’s an insulated attic, then the problem is solved, and you save money from now on with equipment that runs more efficiently.
F. Here’s another one: Water pipes run through an uninsulated attic must be heavily insulated, and still run the risk of freezing in winter if any of the insulation is improperly installed or damaged accidentally by humans or other creatures. Anyone who has had frozen pipes knows the repair costs only begin with the plumber.
G. Finally, there’s some really cool stuff that becomes possible on your top floor that’s impossible with an uninsulated attic. I’ll blog about it later; it’s worthy of several blog posts, actually. These are ideas that I’ve been developing for several years. Recently, I’ve discovered that some of my colleagues have independently been developing these ideas as well. One of the leaders is New Urban Guild architect Eric Moser. Eric has promised to start blogging on these developments shortly; I’ll link to his posts when he does, so you get his perspective as well.
Steve - Excellent points about insulated roof lines vs. ceilings. I have been a strong proponent of spray foam rooflines for many years, but as I continue to learn about sustainable building, I find that my opinion has evolved. Spray foam is a petroleum product and does contain many toxic chemicals that can do harm to installers and occupants. Fiberglass, mineral wool, and cellulose, while none are perfect provide alternatives to consider, although none provide the air sealing of foam. As to conditioning the attic, this makes sense, particularly if there is HVAC equipment there, but that in itself can be considered a design flaw. If you don't put stuff in the attic that needs to be heated and cooled, then you don't need to condition it. I recently saw the results of a study showing that the interior space below a well insulated and air sealed ceiling did not suffer measurable temperature changes from unconditioned attics. This does require, however, that the ceiling be perfectly sealed and insulated and avoid recessed lights and other penetrations. Most applications of ceiling insulation are very poorly installed, if they were done properly, they would perform much more closely to spray foam, but they would probably cost much more. Basically, there is no single answer to the question of where to insulate the top of a house. It depends on the design, budget, mechanical design, and other factors. To me, the great thing about construction is that it's complicated. I get bored with simple solutions.
Monday, November 29, 2010 - 04:50 PM
Like Carl, I'm also a big advocate for insulated rooflines. I built a house with one and have been involved in many home performance jobs where we sprayed foam on the roofline, too.
In addition to spray foam, though, it's possible to insulate a roofline other ways. The house I built had structural insulated panels as the roof, which, in addition to the air sealing benefits, also reduced the amount of thermal bridging because the 2x8 splines holding the panels together were every 4' apart instead of every 16" or 24". SIPs also save a step because the framing and insulation happen at the same time. You can use fiberglass or cellulose as well, but you have to have a rigid sheathing below, as you do in vaulted ceilings.
Regarding the temperatures, they're not quite as high or as low as you said, though. The Florida Solar Energy Center (FSEC) found that ventilated attic temperatures get up to around 130 degrees F, not 140 or higher. There's also significant stratification, so the temperature near the top of the ceiling insulation will be even lower.
Also, the temperature that the foam sees will be higher than the outdoor air temperature. Without insulation, the bottom side of a roof deck can get up above 150 degrees because of heat conducting down from the shingles. That's the temperature that the foam will see.
Here's a related article I wrote about shingle temperatures based on a study from FSEC called "Literature Review of the Impact and Need for Attic Ventilation in Florida Homes."
Monday, November 29, 2010 - 09:34 PM
I'm inclined to agree with my curmudgeonly brother from another mother on this one. Unvented attic assemblies have been around for some time and I am generally a fan. I've installed more than a few, even my own home, ignoring state codes to do so. However, sealing and insulating across the lid allows for greater R-value at significantly reduced cost and less volume to condition. (Recessed lights in insulated ceiling should be illegal, and sure as heck won't make it into one of our projects.)
Where unvented attic assemblies really shine are in vaulted, scissors truss, ceilings and existing 1 1/2 story homes. That upper half story is a nightmare waiting to happen with current code requirements for insulating. They are the perfect candidates for spray foam insulation to seal the many penetrations, get around that birds mouth, seal up that shiplap subfloor, and get decent insulation levels on the sloped ceiling and tiny section of collar tied ceiling.
Petroleum is a resource. Using it for insulation and air sealing doesn't bug me, but using it in the right location at the right time rather as a catch all is important. Blown place fiberglass is less toxic, less damaging to the environment, and achieves air sealing at levels similar to foams. Permeability is another story, but I've already chewed up enough space here. Nice post.
Monday, November 29, 2010 - 09:34 PM