Archive for the “sustainable architecture” Category

Cars – a love hate relationship

Thomas Bayrle  IMG_2402  IMG_2399

Cars have propelled our centrifugal expansion away from centers of density, and as we have spread across the countryside we have drawn behind us an increasingly expensive, complex, and energy-dependent train of civic infrastructure. This effects everyone. Local governments absorb much of the cost of more and more local roadways, longer water and electrical lines, and much larger sewer systems to support sprawling developments.  They must also fund public services to new residents who live farther and farther from the core community. These new services such as police and fire protection, schools, libraries, trash removal are to name a few.  Stretching all these basic services over these geographic areas of sprawl presents a great burden on local governments.  And all of this is sustained by the car.

This unrestrained mobility and rise of the automobile shaped the country’s first zoning regulations. Zoning is the practice of segregating like civic uses in zones or districts such as single-family residences here, apartment buildings over there, stores beyond, factories across the tracks – all connected by roads. Spreading out is the concept at the heart of virtually all traditional zoning ordinances. Zoning tends to fully separate residential and commercial uses, to move buildings farther apart and farther from streets and sidewalks, to force low-density development by limiting building height and lot coverage and to require the creation of oversized parking garages, which move buildings farther apart, usually making them inaccessible to anyone who isn’t driving.

It is our cars that stand between us and solutions to our problems. Cars have defined our culture and our lives and a car makes its driver a self-sufficient nation of one. It is basically everything a city is not.

While visiting Miami last December, we stumbled across an exhibit by Thomas Bayrle at the Institute of Contemporary Art. His show, “One Day on Success Street”, focused on the his preoccupation with the relationship of citizens to the environments and infrastructures they inhabit.  As we traveled through the exhibit, these images made us laugh and made us sad.

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An overhaul of a Southern Living house with a view of Pinnacle Mountain, Little Rock

Sometimes people who are considering purchasing land for a project ask us to dissect it.  Tell them what we think. We take in the views, vistas, solar angles, winds, topography, drainage, composition of soil, vegetation, approach and overall feel of a place.  For three years, we worked with a family of nine searching for a site within the city limits where they could build a home and have some land.  Finally, the search paid off –  It wasn’t until they found this wonderful piece of land with a north view of Pinnacle Mountain, an existing baseball field, a pond and a Southern Living house that we told them to purchase the land (quickly), and we’ll work with the bones of the house.  It was and still is a spectacular site. We kept a majority of the structure of the house, removed the existing front porch, brick, columns, dormers and pool in the back yard. We renovated the existing house, designed a bedroom addition, a separate garage/gym/studio apartment as well as re-positioned the new pool/outdoor fireplace at the front of the house with the view to Pinnacle.

Photos of the existing site before construction:

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Before/After photos of the front porch:

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Photos below – Before (same elevation):         After:

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Before of rear yard with pool:                           After of rear yard with paving (pool in front yard)

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Details of addition and view looking towards Pinnacle Mountain:

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Interiors at kitchen, base and window detail

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House in Chenal Valley – What is beauty in architecture?

Reflecting this week on a recent excerpt in a local publication on Prime Property: 10 of the most beautiful homes in Little Rock. One of the projects we designed is included in this list and is quite different from the other selections. So, we’ve been discussing beauty in architecture and re-questioning what we think beauty means to us.

We realize beauty is dependent to some extent on culture and experience; but can beauty be universally understood at some level?

Aesthetic, in architecture, is often linked with order and balance. Rhythm, for instance is frequently desired within striking compositions. So, is architecture nothing more than the manipulation of space to follow certain rules of beauty? Can architecture break or challenge such rules that are directly connected to the human senses?

When the human nervous system experiences beauty, certain parts of the brain light up. It seems that, to some extent, humans can be taught what beauty means. Again, culture and experience may have a significant role. Yet, there are certain qualities that are constantly found regardless of culture or experience. According to Beauty and Brain these are: grids, zigzags, spirals and curves.  Such findings indicate that on some level, beauty may be universal.

As architects, we strive to create beautiful forms and spaces that inspire humans within. It is often said that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”; however, there are a collection of architectural spaces that never fail to stir occupants deeply. Like many designers, architects follow rules and consciously bend them. To advance as a profession, it is important to learn from the discoveries of neuroaesthetics; but it is equally important to challenge them. Architects should not feel limited by such findings, but rather they should feel freed to learn why occupants respond the way they do – to certain arrangements of space.

The experience of beauty is fundamental to what makes us all human. We may find beauty in different things at different times; however, the joy found in surrounding architectural space and form is universal. As spacial compositions continue to evolve, so too will our understanding of the meaning behind beauty.

Below is the house we designed that was included in the list of the 10 Most Beautiful Homes in Little Rock.

And we can’t help but think of this weeks happenings that beauty of the human race is all the differences between us.


HH_Vural_Front3-94d   HH_Vural_Back3-36b


Modern Infill in Historic Neighborhood

wooten front elev

arch street view

wooten corner view

arch & 13th street view

Above is a single-family residence we designed for review and approval in an historic district in Little Rock, Arkansas.  We submitted for a design review permit to the Capitol Zoning District Commission and the staff report can be downloaded here 1300 S. Arch 9-1-10. Based on our client’s needs and desires, we proposed a modern interpretation of a dogtrot prototype.

Historically, the dogtrot house consisted of two equal one story rooms on either side of a central hall joined by a common gable roof.  The dogtrot was named by early observers who saw the purpose of the passage as an animal shelter – a place where dogs could run through the house.  This type was prevalent in the South, where the passage also functioned as a shady breezeway where meals could be taken in hot weather.  Richard Hulan in an article for Pioneer America wrote: “The true dogtrot house is not so much a way of framing space as a way of living in space.”  Mark Twain in Huckleberry Finn described a dogtrot as, “It was a double house, and a big, open place betwixt them was roofed and floored, and sometimes the table was set there in the middle of the day, and it was cool, comfortable place.”

When approaching this type of house and its relationship to the site, the view through the opening (void) onto the landscape of gardens to the south and to an historic cemetery to the north that dates back to 1843, emphasizes the center of gravity of the house.  It is the clarity of the opening or void which distinguishes this simple scheme and is an emblem of its character.

Not only is the form important, but also the relationship of the form to the street, the block and the neighborhood.  We  located the building within the setbacks established by the historic district as well as took into consideration the rhythm and pattern of the existing historic housing along the street.  We tend to agree with Steve Luoni, Director of the University of Arkansas Community Design Center on this thought, “From my point of view the most important considerations for establishing compatibility involve relationships more than materials (both bad and good buildings are made from brick for instance). Relationships would be considered at different scales: the block, street and property parcel.”

Regarding materials, we proposed the use of coated metal for the exterior finish of the roof and exterior walls. Metal is a great product that has been used for decades and we have written about the benefits in our other posts, “Metal roofs with ecological benefits” and “Metal roofs/tax credits”.  Historically, this material was used on roofs, but is less common as a wall material.  However, vertical siding similar to board and batten is represented in the historic district and we thought this approach was complimentary.

During the presentation to the Design Review Committee, Mansion Area Advisory Committee and the Capital Zoning District Commissioners, the conversation revolved around the proposed metal material and discussion about whether or not metal is an approved material for the exterior walls in an historic district.  To some, metal need not be considered, instead Hardiplank horizontal siding.  But to the majority, the metal was seen as an appropriate use of material for the exterior walls.

To conclude this blog:

“Preservation is not about freezing time and ensuring all buildings never change, and places never evolve. In fact it is just the opposite. Preservation helps people understand the evolution. By maintaining older buildings, a place suddenly has a visible history that you can read by simply walking down the street.  Preservation ensures that the city reads with multiple layers of history, rather than solely new development. Attempting to reproduce historic styles in new modern materials and forms is not only confusing, but can also quickly go wrong. Simply put, slapping on a set of columns and decorative ornamentation does not magically create history.” – excerpts from “Will the Preservation Ordinance Stifle Modern Architects?”

Stay tuned for photos during construction.

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Architect’s Choice

We thought we’d put together a list of products and materials that we believe are worthy of mentioning because of their function, design and performance.

Here’s our list of what we feel we can not do without:

Diamond polished concrete floors – easy to clean, feels good on your feet, just plain beautiful. Read more


Metal Roofs/tax credit

The 2009 Stimulus Package provides substantial tax credits to homeowners who make energy efficient updates to their home. One of the best ways to qualify for the credit is installation of a painted or coated Energy Star labeled metal roof. Homeowners installing qualified roofs in 2009 and 2010 may be eligible for a tax credit worth up to 30% of the materials cost (materials only) up to $1,500 per home.

Not only is metal roof eligible for a tax credit, but can also save up to 40% on energy costs, depending upon your regional climate.

For Homeowners: Confirm that the metal roof you select is a prepainted or coated Energy Star-labeled metal roof with pigmented coating/paint film specifically designed to reduce heat gain, and obtain certification from your contractor or the manufacturer.

Have the metal roof installed on your principal residence between January 1, 2009 and December 31, 2010 – there’s still time.

Fill out the IRS Form 5695 Residential Energy Credits when filing your taxes for 2010.

Other great websites to visit about this: and


Metal roofs and ecological benefits

Metal roofing has been around for a long, long time and worldwide.  There are many handmade metal roofs that date back to the 1800’s.  So what is it about metal that makes this material so fantastic that they were using it many years ago? Well, the roof of a building is a major component of a structure and it is a component where the product chosen can have a dramatic effect on the life cycle costs and energy costs of a building.  Read below for more info/benefits of metal.

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