Tag: design

Iconic House of the Month | February 2018 | Fallingwater

“Can you say when your building is complete, that the landscape is more beautiful than it was before?”

– Frank Lloyd Wright

Frank Lloyd Wright, Fallingwater (Edgar J. Kaufmann House), 1935-38, Bear Run, Pennsylvania (photo: Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress #LC-DIG-highsm-04261)

Floating above a mountain waterfall on a forested hillside in Southwestern Pennsylvania, about a 90-minute drive from Pittsburgh, is perhaps America’s most famous private residence designed by the most famous American architect.

The Kaufmann residence was completed in 1934. Its unique design makes it look like the house stretches out over a 30ft waterfall, with no solid ground beneath it. Of course, this isn’t the case, but the innovative design demands one’s attention upon arrival. Now a national historic landmark, it was instantly iconic.

The home’s commission was a late-career milestone for the architect Frank Lloyd Wright, then sixty-seven-year-old. A notable tale to come out of the project is that the initial design was conceived in the time it took the Kaufman’s to drive the 140 miles – about two hours – from Milwaukee to Wright’s studio, after the architect procrastinated for nearly nine months.

An apprentice to Wright recalled that upon talking with the client over the phone, the architect sat down and started to draw saying, “Liliane and E.J. will have tea on the balcony…they’ll cross the bridge to walk in the woods.” The feverish tempo culminated with a bold title below a rendering of the future home. It read Fallingwater.

Frank Lloyd Wright, Fallingwater (Edgar J. Kaufmann House), Mill Run, Pennsylvania, 1935, Color pencil on tracing paper, 15-3/8 x 27-1/4 inches, © The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation

Believing that human life was part of nature, Wright endeavored to build in ways that reflected this belief. He expressed this in the Kaufmann house in several ways.

One approach was to incorporate an existing rock outcropping projecting above the height of the living room floor into a great central hearth instead of destroying it, bringing the earth into the home.

Another approach emphasizing connection with nature was the abundant use of glass. Wright avoided using solid walls facing onto the stream and falls, offering panoramic views beyond to the forest. His creative use of “corner turning windows” without mullions dematerializes corners of the house where they’re used.

Another example of Wright’s respect for nature can be seen in the bending a trellis beam to accommodate a pre-existing tree.

Frank Lloyd Wright, Fallingwater, detail with tree (Edgar J. Kaufmann House), 1937 (photo: Daderot, CC0 1.0)

Architecture historian Vincent Scully wrote that Wright’s Fallingwater reflects “an image of Modern man caught up in constant change and flow, holding on…to whatever seems solid but no longer regarding himself as the center of the world.”







Three Design Concepts for a More Livable Home

Whether you’re building a new home from the ground up or undertaking a major renovation to an existing house, hiring an architect is money well invested in creating a more livable home that suits your personal lifestyle while simultaneously improving the value of one of your most important assets. Before hastily purchasing a set of stock plans (seriously, why would you?) or making your wish list of home renovation improvements, consider the following three concepts first.

Important things first.

What’s important? Differentiate the decisions that need to be made as either difficult-to-change-later or easy-to-change-later. Important decisions are the ones you need to make early in the process. Less important decisions are those made later and can be changed in the future without major disruption to the more important ones.

Selecting the right context (e. g., urban, suburban, rural) is the first step followed by the neighborhood and then the specific building lot. Having your architect conduct a site analysis to determine the best location for your home is critical and ensures that the end result takes advantage of the site’s assets while mitigating any disadvantages the lot may have.

The next step is organizing the spaces, and the relationships between them, that you need and want. You and your architect will want to discuss things like a typical day for everyone in your family. What works well now, and what doesn’t? What activities require dedicated spaces? What interior spaces should have direct access to the outside, and which do not? How should the flow of space move people through the home?

From here, other aspects of the design are incorporated, including the construction method, building systems (mechanical, electrical, and plumbing), exterior materials and colors, and interior materials and finishes. Working out decisions with your architect from most important to lesser important decisions will lead to the development of a comprehensive design solution.

Smaller can be smarter.

Meis van der Rohe adopted the motto “less is more,” a phrase originally attributed to Ad Reinhardt, an abstract expressionist artist. Think of designing and building a more livable home as distilling the best features and options into a smaller but more impactful home. Consider what activities can occur together in the same space. What spaces should be adjacent to each other, possibly eliminating hallways?

In the case of renovation projects or additions, aim to maximize and improve what you already have first. Identify those areas that are rarely used or no longer contributing to your lifestyle. These spaces are resources that could be repurposed to serve your family’s current needs. Additionally, you may want to address the furniture layout of an existing room to improve your homes livability and reduce the need for additional construction.

A home should be a dynamic assembly of spaces and functions if it’s going to serve a family with a myriad of different interests and priorities. An architect’s service is invaluable in making the most of all the decisions that go into building a new home, renovating, or adding to an existing home.

Take it outside.

Along the South Carolina coast, and particularly more so in Florida, outdoor living spaces are used year-round. Here in the Lowcountry, the addition of an outdoor fireplace can increase the usable living space during those colder winter evenings.

Porches are ubiquitous throughout the South, and they work best when connecting interior living spaces with outdoor dining areas, kitchens, terraces, and pools. Balconies that provide enough space for a couple of chairs and small table are a great feature for less public rooms in the home such as bedrooms or a study.

A new residential design or improvement project should improve your family’s connectivity as well as satisfy each family members individual needs. Selecting an architect specialized in residential design will help you increase your odds of getting it right by coordinating all the important decisions necessary for a successful project.

Iconic House of the Month | May 2017 | The Glass House

Philip Johnson’s Glass House was completed in 1949. The Glass House was Johnson’s first of many architectural experiments in form, material, and ideas that now dot the forty-acre landscape he called home.

With obvious inspiration taken from Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House in Plano, IL, – exterior walls of glass and no interior walls – it is considered another radical departure from contemporary residences. It is best understood as a steel, glass and brick pavilion for viewing the surrounding landscape.


The house is situated on a hill overlooking a pond and views of the woods in the distance. Fifty-five feet long by thirty-three feet wide, the 1,815 square foot glazed structure is accessed on each side by a centrally located glass door. The house is considered iconic for its innovative use of new materials in residential construction and its visually integrated effect with the landscape. The Glass house was but one-half of a composition conceived by Johnson. The other, The Brick House, was more solid and it’s where Johnson slept.

The floor plan of the house is actually less radical a living space. Despite the very innovative construction method, the floor plan could easily belong to a colonial era home, which Johnson himself noted as well as other historical references including the Parthenon, the English garden, the Romantic Movement, and the asymmetry of the 19th century.

While the only full-height walls are those that enclose a small circular bathroom, Johnson referred to specific areas in the rectangular volume as “rooms.” A formal entrance, living room, dining room, kitchen, and bedroom make up a continuous uninterrupted space, punctuated by the cylindrical hearth and enclosed bathroom.

Placement of furniture, the use of rugs, and built-in storage cabinets make up the architectural cues for defining the “rooms” in Johnsons house. The living room is centrally positioned, with the rest of the areas and their functions arranged around it.

The open plan and glass walls merge with the landscape in all directions. Although such floor plans are quite common today, it was highly unusual in 1949. Noting the glass walls, Johnson said it was “the only house in the world where you can see the sunset and the moonrise at the same time, standing in the same place. Because that’s an impossibility in any house; you have to walk to another room to see one or the other of those effects.” Perhaps he should have called it the Sunset Moonrise House.

What strikes me about The Glass House from my own vantage point in time and place is the associations it conjures up that aren’t so radical. Granted, for its time and location in Connecticut, it was hugely so, but for me it recalls screen porches, cooking sheds, covered carports that served as an impromptu outdoor dining area, and gazebos (interestingly, Johnson noted a similar reference to mid-western bandstands).

With so many much that close us off from our environment, the lessons and historical references of the iconic Glass House are a testament to the ability of architecture to shelter us without disconnecting us from nature. For a better experience of the house, check out this 360 degree views online here, The Glass House | 360° Views.

You can learn more about Philip Johnson, his Glass House, and other works at The Glass House.


Designing Your Home with Artwork in Mind

Photo: Dirk Vogel

For anyone building a new house, one of the things that deserves a discussion with your architect is the display of artwork. Whether it’s an extensive art collection, family portraits and photos, or just one very special piece, careful planning is important in showcasing the things you value most. Because there are so many variables, there’s not a one-size-fits-all approach when displaying your artwork. But, by applying a few simple strategies and avoiding certain pitfalls, your artwork will enliven the spaces it calls home.

The Artwork

Let’s first consider what you’ll be displaying. Different kinds of artwork have qualities that will influence how you display them.

Oil paintings can present problems without properly considering the lighting that’s directed at the them, producing unwanted spectral highlights. An evenly diffused light source works best for oil-base artwork.

Acrylic paintings are usually not glossy and therefore don’t have the glare problems associated with oils, so any type of light source may be used.

Artwork that has been placed behind glass often has problems with reflection and glare. Non-reflective glass with proper lighting placement can help solve these problems.

Sculpture and other three-dimensional artwork can be more complicated to display. These are ideally lit from three different angles. Some, however, can be lit by a single light source. In these cases, the location and angle of the light is up to the owner. It may look best lit directly from above, from below, or from one side to create a desired effect.

Photo: Alexandra Lechner

Ambient, Direct, or Both

When designing spaces that will have artwork, it’s important to consider whether you’ll use ambient, direct, or a combination of both.

Ambient light is the general lighting of the room. This is easily calculated using the area of the room (width x depth) multiplying that by 1.5: width x depth x 1.5 = Recommended Wattage.

The general rule for accenting a piece of art is to light it three times brighter than the rest of the room. So, if you are using a combination of ambient and direct lighting in a room, make sure the artwork’s lighting is three times brighter than the space’s ambient light.

Creating layers of light enhances the overall ambiance of the space. With today’s technology, you can create custom scenes that mix varying levels of illumination across both ambient and direct light sources for different times of day.

Work the Angles

The consensus of lighting professionals is that a 30-degree angle from the vertical viewing plane is optimal for projecting light onto a piece of art, preferably, from a ceiling-mounted source, and aimed at the center of the work.

If the piece has a large frame, adding 5 degrees to the angle can help avoid casting an unwanted shadow on the work. To accent the texture in a piece of art, reduce the angle by five degrees. If the angle of the light source is too close, it will produce unwanted raking shadows. If it’s too far way, it could produce unwanted glare.

For large pieces, even illumination is best achieved with either a linear surface-mounted light or multiple recessed fixtures from above to ensure full light distribution and prevent glare and annoying shadows.

Light Fixtures

To best illuminate the art work, it’s best to use bulbs that have a Color Rendering Index (CRI) of 90 or above. The index is a scale from 0–100 that rates how accurately a light source reflects color and intensity compared to natural light.

As far as the light source’s temperature, 2000–3000 Kelvin (K) is considered the best range for artwork, producing a warm, soft glow that will highlight the work without distorting the color palette.

World-renown museums are installing LED (light emitting diode) lighting. These bulbs emit less heat and block ultraviolet light rays. While more expensive, they’re a sound investment in the long run by consuming less energy and not causing damage to your prized photographs and paintings.

Ceiling-Mounted Accent Lights

Directional pinhole spotlights are a great way to illuminate individual art pieces. They can be recessed or surface-mounted. Their ability to adjust the light’s direction and control the light’s beam spread ensures that all the artwork is illuminated, not just a portion of it.

Photo: Gustavo Bernasconi

Track Lights

Track-lighting systems perform much the same as ceiling-mounted accent lights, but provide the additional advantage of flexibility. A recessed ceiling fixture isn’t easily moved if you decide to relocate a painting, but track lighting allows you to conveniently move a fixture or take one off.

Photo: Dirk Vogel

Wall Washers

It’s not necessary have to have dedicated lighting for each artwork. Instead you can wash the wall with light. Using wall washing fixtures is a more casual way of lighting artwork that delivers a wide distribution of light. They come in many types including recessed, surface-mounted, and track-mounted fixtures that can be placed on walls, ceilings, and floors. Wall washers accomplish two things.

Photo: Dirk Vogel

First, they create a brighter wall where art is displayed. Second, indirectly light the rest of the room. This technique is preferred by many contemporary art collectors. It also provides flexibility for changing what’s displayed on the wall. Since it’s evenly lit, there’s no need to add, remove, or adjust fixtures.

Picture Lights

Picture lights are mounted on the wall or directly on the frames of individual artworks. As a result, the fixtures are typically equipped with very low-wattage bulbs. Picture lights create an intimate space in front of the work and are better suited for smaller works of art. However, there are a few manufacturers that make very large picture lights capable of illuminating areas taken up by larger pieces.

Because of their visibility and location, the style of these lights should be considered with the overall look and feel of the room. While the fixtures themselves don’t require rough-in during construction, picture lights with cords require an outlet and hard-wired models need power run directly to them, so coordinating this during the design process is crucial.

Things to Avoid

It should go without saying to avoid direct sunlight. But, I’ll say it. Avoid. Direct. Sunlight. If the artwork is particularly delicate, e.g. works on paper, this is especially important.

Wherever possible, use walls that are north-facing, and avoid westward facing walls that receive the brunt of afternoon heat.

Avoid using fluorescent bulbs. Just don’t use the garish things.

Avoid unsecured and frame-attached lighting. Lighting fixtures that aren’t properly secured could move and damage your artwork, especially frame-attached fixtures. Avoid these wherever you can, but if you must use them, take extra precautions to ensure they’re properly attached.

Decorative light fixtures can cast unwanted patterns of light and shadows on walls were artwork is being displayed. Narrow spaces like foyers, hallways and smaller rooms are particularly susceptible to this occurring. Beautifully designed decorative light fixtures should be given enough space for their own appreciation while not compromising the display of your artwork.

Decorative lighting by David Trubridge.

To minimize damage, keep halogen lamps a safe distance away and equip the fixtures with lenses that filter UV light. Better yet, use LED bulbs. LED bulbs do not emit UV light and produce very little heat. Think ahead and invest in the right lighting during the design and construction of your new home so it doesn’t end up costing you what can’t be replaced.

Iconic Building of the Month | April 2017 | e.1027

Since I missed sending out the newsletter during Women’s History Month, and since I like to take any chance to share some great architecture, the featured iconic building this month was designed by a lesser known, but no less talented, woman architect.

e.1027 is a modernist villa design by Eileen Gray (1878–1976) in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, in the Alpes-Maritimes department of France. The “L”-shaped, flat-roofed villa with floor-to-ceiling windows was designed and built from 1926-29 for herself and her lover Jean Badovici. The unique name of the house is code for something. Can you guess what it is?

She envisioned a white retreat washed in southern French sunlight, cooled by Mediterranean breezes, and furnished with practical minimalist furnishings of leisure. The two-story building was conceived as a simple rectangular box positioned parallel to the hillside and supported by pillars with the partial lower floor being tucked into the hillside. The upper rectangular volume was punctuated by at one end by a simple cube and protruding horizontal strips of dark shuttered windows.

The design of e.1027 is said to have taken shape around the furniture and the way occupants would move in the space. Gray created built-in cabinets and drawers for seasonal clothes. Guest rooms and nooks allowed retreat and privacy from open areas. Windows were positioned to afford carefully chosen views.

At the villa’s entrance, Gray painted the words Entrez lentement—enter slowly—an invitation to guests to relax and leave their worries behind. A small kitchen is located to the left, and to the right, the main living area with bi-folding glass doors that open to the deck and the sea beyond. A foldout dining table was stored in a corner for dining al fresco. A reading nook that doubles as an extra guest bedroom occupied the other corner. Gray deliberately violated Le Corbusier’s tenet of clean, straight lines through slight offsets of stacked shelves and storage spaces.

Demonstrating her obvious obsession with light and air, e.1027 also demonstrates Gray’s interest in privacy. The master bedroom and bathroom suite invites retreat, tucked away on the first floor.


Not only the designer, Gray carried building materials by wheelbarrow, building the place herself with help from local laborers. Gray and Badovici would part ways shortly after e.1027 was completed.

The architect Le Corbusier was a friend of Badovici, and while staying as a guest in the house in 1938 and 1939, he painted murals on the walls. Gray considered these actions vandalism and an intrusion onto her design. The critic Rowan Moore said that Le Corbusier’s murals were indicative of an offense “that a woman could create such a fine work of modernism” so he “asserted his dominion, like a urinating dog, over [her] territory”.

Though a modernist work, Gray departed from Le Corbusier’s assertion that “the house is a machine to live in.” Instead, she described the house as a living organism, countering that “it is not a matter of simply constructing beautiful ensembles of lines, but above all, dwellings for people.” “Formulas are nothing,” she insisted, “Life is everything.”

Any guesses on the name’s meaning? I’ll give you a hint. It has to do with the names of two people.

Unfortunately, Gray was slow at putting her name forward as the architect of e.1027that for many years it was assumed by journalists, and even historians, that Le Corbusier was the designer.

The French government designated it as a national cultural monument and purchased the villa in 1999. After many years of neglect and isolation, restoration work on e.1027started after 2000. The bulk of the restoration took place between 2006 and 2010 with further restoration work done in 2014.So, about the odd name for Gray’s house, any ideas? 

Well, e.1027, is code of Eileen Gray and Jean Badovici, her lover. ‘e’ stands for Eileen, ’10’ for Jean, ‘2’ for Badovici, and ‘7’ for Gray. The encoded name was Gray’s way of showing their relationship at the time the villa was completed!

You can learn more about Eileen Gray and e.1027 at Friends of e.1027.

Iconic Building of the Month | February 2017 | Herron House

Herron House, Venus, FL, 1957. 

This month’s Iconic Building is a house designed by one of the leaders of the Sarasota School of Architecture, a regional style of post-war architecture that emerged on Florida’s Central West Coast. The style was characterized by attention to climate and terrain, incorporating large sunshades, innovative ventilation systems, oversized sliding glass doors, floating staircases, and walls of jalousie windows.

The Iconic Building of the Month features a series of gluelam structural components that support an wood plank roof that spans the entire plan of the home. The gluelam components arch away from the interior of the home to provide deep overhangs to provide shading. Interior spaces requiring privacy, like bedrooms and baths are screened with patterned Brikcrete walls. Curtain walls of glass frame patios and views to the outside.

The main living and dining area of the home is partitioned off with two curving low walls of glazed brick that are punctuated with views through the home toward the front and back through glass-enclosed patios. The planked wood ceiling arches across the space, unifying the interior and disappearing behind the top of the low glazed brick wall to form lower ceilings in the surrounding rooms.

The home recently underwent an extensive renovation where every effort was made to maintain the design intent that the original architect had envisioned, complete with complimenting period furniture and and furnishings.

The end result is a remarkable rebirth of architect Victor Lundy’s (b. 1923) Herron House located in Venice, Florida, and originally constructed in 1957.

Asked if he considered himself more of and artist or an architect…

“I consider myself both,” he says. “For me, art is architecture — and architecture is art. They’re forms of creative expression in very different media, but they come from the same place.”

Iconic Building of the Month | November 2016 | Villa dall’Ava

Villa dall’Ava by Rem Koolhaas, Paris, France, 1985–91.
The Villa dall’Ava is one of Rem Koolhaas’ iconic residences. Positioned on a hilloverlooking the Seine and the city of Paris, the villa is nestled into a neighborhood of 19th century houses.
Koolhaas provided a design that satisfied the client’s requirements of having a glass house, a swimming pool on the roof with a panoramic view of Paris, and two separate apartments – one for the clients’ parents and the second for their daughter.
The home’s site is likened to an outdoor room. It’s boundaries are marked by landscaping, garden walls, and the sloping terrain. The formal composition consists of three parts: a sloping garden, the main volume of the villa, and a street-level garage.
The house is conceived as glass pavilion containing living and dining areas. The two apartments are arranged perpendicular to the living area and shifted in opposite directions to take advantage of the view. The swimming pool, positioned above the glass-enclosed concrete structure,connects the hovering volumes.