Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Style Banter: Re-purposed Objects

A neglected vinyl record finds new life. The record was found in a thrift store, 5 for $1.00, placed in the oven until soft enough to mold, and voila-- a stylish bowl, for objects or for decoration.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Happy Holidays from D+A Studio

Spheres of Christmas lights, Seattle Center

Monday, December 21, 2009

Would you live in a cave?

Daily Green Cave House Slide Show

The slide show features:
Caveland Home in Festus, Missouri.

The Cave House in Bisbee, Arizona. This house is currently for sale for $1,950,000. The "Pools and Patios" Gallery is amazing.


Friday, December 18, 2009

World's Strangest Houses

From Popular Mechanics: this is a great slideshow of the world's strangest houses.

The Monte-Silo by Gigaplex Architects is a great example of adaptive re-use. Two grain silos were combined to create an 1,800 square foot residence in Utah. The house combines one of the most basic and rudimentary concepts of shelter with high tech heating and entertainment technology.

The Steel House is a great marriage of sculpture and shelter by artist and architect Robert Bruno.

I have wandered by the Mushroom House many times during walks around Hyde Park in Cincinnati. The neighborhood is an urban treasure of early 20th century homes, and this house certainly sticks out. I was saddened to see the for sale sign. I believe that re-sale should not be the most important consideration when creating a custom home. If you love what you are creating, chances are there is another person out there who will love it. But building a house like this definitely limits the pool of future inhabitants.

I have never lived in a "strange" house, so I wonder: would the novelty wear off? Would you just sometimes wish that you had a straight surface to hang a picture? On the other hand, most of us live in dry-walled boxes. Some of these womb-like homes in a way provide a much more intuitive and natural form of shelter than the standard home of today. They are less about sheltering the person's "stuff", like their dining room table or car, and more about sheltering the person.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

New Hare House Phase One Photos

Anna recently took photos of the competed interior of the Guest House. More new photos will be added to our web site soon.

This project was completed last year. The clients are living here while the main house is under construction. Phase 1 (the Guest House) has a first floor office, second floor residence and third floor loft.

Contractor: Ravenhill Construction, Consultants: Geotest, Peter A. Opsahl Structural Engineering.

7 new photos

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Importance of a Feasibility Study

When purchasing property to develop or build on, it's important to know the legal parameters of the property. This also applies to adding on to an existing structure. Some of these are not readily available without a deeper look into the city or county code. This is also known as a code or zoning review. We regularly provide these services at the beginning of each project. Some things to look for when considering a property:
  • Setback Lines: how far back from the property line can you build on the front, rear and sides?
  • Are there limits on impervious surface? What controls are required for the amount of impervious surface you would like to add?
  • Height limits: how high can you build, and how is the height determined? Are there any incentives that allow for extra height (for example, a steeper roof pitch)?
  • Is your property located in any overlay zones that may affect your development, like a Historic zone?
  • Are you in a zone that will require more extensive review or more restrictive setbacks, such as an environmentally critical zone or shoreline? Is there a wetland on your property, or a bald eagle's nest nearby?
  • Can you include a guest house or accessory dwelling unit (ADU) on your property? With the call for greater density and more options for smaller and affordable housing, cities are continually updating their codes to keep pace with the public sentiment. An ADU or guest area can provide flexibility and income generation through rental, if the jurisdiction allows.
  • Are there restrictions on the size or style of building? For example, some home owners associations require minimum areas (to maintain values in a neighborhood), certain materials, or layout restrictions (such as whether or not the garage door can face the street).
Don't make assumptions about what you can do on a property based on what you see on neighboring properties. Zoning restrictions change over time and new development may be subject to more restrictive regulations than existing development, even though they are in the same zone or even next door to each other. Considering these factors along with considering the price and location of a property will eliminate unwelcome surprises down the line.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Inspirational Movie Worlds

I love constructed movie worlds. The set designer's imagination is the limit, and these worlds exist absent of building codes, fire departments, accessibility, and most noticeably absent, cars. So much of our built environment is built around the car, while these constructed movie worlds are built at human scale, and I believe the reason these worlds are so attractive is that we are naturally drawn to a world that is built at our scale, not the fire truck's standard turning radius.

From the movie "City of Ember" (the inspiration for this post)

From "The Goonies" (my favorite movie world as child...I would have given anything to go down the waterslide in the cave)

(Photo: Teapots Happen)

I always wanted to hang out in the caves "down in Fraggle Rock."

(Photo: MuppetWikea)

Whoville from "How the Grinch Stole Christmas"

(Photo: JimCarreyOnline)

And of course, the original color movie world: Munchkinland

(Photo: La.MetBlog)

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Big Box Banter & Book Review-Part 2

The subject of empty Big Boxes is one of many touched on in John Wasik's 2009 book, "The CUL-DE-SAC Syndrome: Turning Around the Unsustainable American Dream." View his blog, the Cul-de-Sac Syndrome.

Among the many interesting stats in the book, Wasik states that in 2008, there were 4,000 abandoned (I would say "empty," as obviously someone owns them) stores, and that before the bust there was about 20 SF of shopping space for every person in America (the number is 2 SF in Great Britain). Decay of central (or even just older) shopping centers "fell prey to the American obsession with newness and giantism."

The first few chapters are informative but somewhat painful, with generalizations, assumptions, and too many "we's". ("We" did not all decide to buy huge houses we could not afford and buy cars with the equity line of credit). And the negative role that government, codes, and zoning have played in the landscape of America, the dominance of the car and affordablity is barely mentioned in the multiple chapters that cover the subject.
I enjoyed the case studies towards the end of the book, but as much as I love to read, as a designer I would like to see more color photos and maps of areas he is referring to.

Overall, the book is good, in-depth overview of what has happened to the "American Dream."

Monday, December 7, 2009

Big Box Banter & Book Review-Part 1

We've all seen it: the once "big" box plat left for the new "bigger" box. Julie Christensen's 2008 book, "Big Box ReUse,", explores ways that these buildings are finding second life.

Disclaimer: as a designer and admitted city snob, I don't love the aesthetic affect of of Big Box stores on a town's landscape, and there are many ways that these developments could be done more sustainably, beautifully, or city-friendly. BUT, that said, these stores are successful for a reason, and I love cruising the aisles at Target as much as the next person. Besides, I am only speaking here of aesthetic considerations and not trying to bring up any political or economic issues related to Big Box Stores.

An example of a city-friendly Big Box (some may argue if there is such a thing, but let's say the most city-friendly) is the South Loop Target in Chicago.

Example of pedestrian entry to a big box store (follow link for photo credit)

Ideas for Big Box Reuse from Christensen's book include a spam museum, a library, a charter school, a church (with the old garden section as a basketball court court) and indoor raceway. See a slide show of images here.

The empty canvas for reuse is large: Wal-Mart Realty lists all of the buildings for sale or lease (for example, regular stores no longer needed after a super store was built nearby). This is enough to get any architect or developer's creative juices flowing.

A theme that arises in the book in the notion of the new Main Street, which is not the romanticized pedestrian mom and pop town center, but rather the main strip or drag, which today is more, if not entirely, oriented to the car. The advantage of an empty Big Box store, as was the case with a K-mart building turned public library in Missouri, is that it is located in this new "center" of town (and has plenty of parking spaces).

More ideas:

The Big Box Reuse website has links to projects around the country.

Indoor urban/suburban agriculture from Reburbia. Big Box Agriculture: A Productive Suburb by Forrest Fulton

"The example presented is a reversal of a function for a big box grocery store, from retailer of food – food detached from processes from which it came to be – to producer of food. The parking lot becomes a park-farm. The inside of the big box becomes a greenhouse and restaurant. Asphalt farming techniques allow for layering of soil, compost in containers on top of asphalt. The big box store’s roof is partially replaced with a greenhouse roof. Other details, such as the reversal of parking lot light poles into solar trees that hold photovoltaics can be implemented. One can imagine pushing a shopping cart through this suburban farm and picking your produce right from the vine, with the option to bring your harvest to the restaurant chef for preparation and eating your harvest on the spot. As other types of businesses become obsolete, out of fashion, they may need to imagine themselves as part of a productive suburb."

Friday, December 4, 2009

Tax Credit News

From Homebuyer Credit Extended to April 30, 2010; Some Current Homeowners Now Also Qualify

WASHINGTON — A new law that went into effect Nov. 6 extends the first-time homebuyer credit five months and expands the eligibility requirements for purchasers.

The Worker, Homeownership, and Business Assistance Act of 2009 extends the deadline for qualifying home purchases from Nov. 30, 2009, to April 30, 2010. Additionally, if a buyer enters into a binding contract by April 30, 2010, the buyer has until June 30, 2010, to settle on the purchase.

The maximum credit amount remains at $8,000 for a first-time homebuyer –– that is, a buyer who has not owned a primary residence during the three years up to the date of purchase.

But the new law also provides a “long-time resident” credit of up to $6,500 to others who do not qualify as “first-time homebuyers.” To qualify this way, a buyer must have owned and used the same home as a principal or primary residence for at least five consecutive years of the eight-year period ending on the date of purchase of a new home as a primary residence.

For all qualifying purchases in 2010, taxpayers have the option of claiming the credit on either their 2009 or 2010 tax returns.

A new version of Form 5405, First-Time Homebuyer Credit, will be available in the next few weeks. A taxpayer who purchases a home after Nov. 6 must use this new version of the form to claim the credit. Likewise, taxpayers claiming the credit on their 2009 returns, no matter when the house was purchased, must also use the new version of Form 5405. Taxpayers who claim the credit on their 2009 tax return will not be able to file electronically but instead will need to file a paper return.

A taxpayer who purchased a home on or before Nov. 6 and chooses to claim the credit on an original or amended 2008 return may continue to use the current version of Form 5405.


Continue Article at

Also, tax credits for energy efficiency extend to 2010.

Nonbusiness energy property credit. This credit, which expired after 2007, has been reinstated. You may be able to claim a nonbusiness energy property credit of 30% of the cost of certain energy-efficient property or improvements you placed in service in 2009. This property can include high-efficiency heat pumps, air conditioners, and water heaters. It also may include energy-efficient windows, doors, insulation materials, and certain roofs. The credit has been expanded to include certain asphalt roofs and stoves that burn biomass fuel.

Limitation. The total amount of credit you can claim in 2009 and 2010 is limited to $1,500.

Residential energy efficient property credit. Beginning in 2009, there is no limitation on the credit amount for qualified solar electric property costs, qualified solar water heating property costs, qualified small wind energy property costs, and qualified geothermal heat pump property costs. The limitation on the credit amount for qualified fuel cell property costs remains the same.

Qualified energy efficiency improvements must be new and expected to last 5 years. Improved insulation, exterior windows, skylights, exterior doors, or roof designed to reduce heat gain.

See Chapter 37 of the IRS's Pub 17 for more information.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Sun in Seattle

In honor of this rare sunny December day in Seattle, here is an excerpt from Brian Clark Howard's article in The Daily Green, "6 Surprising Places Where People Are Choosing Home Solar Power: You don't have to live in the Sun Belt to take advantage of solar panels."

Follow the link the article to view the map.

"A look at this map shows some of the trends above (wealth and progressive values tend to correlate to interest in solar power in Seattle and Boston, for example, despite a relative lack of sun.) Also worth noting is the hotpots in New Jersey and Colorado, two states with incentive systems that promote adoption of solar technology, in addition to California. But there are also some regions that may surprise some observers. One note is that the interest map does skew toward regions with more dense populations, but even taking that important fact under consideration we think some trends are worth noting:

Washington State

While the Evergreen State does have a concentration of progressive, tech-savvy and green leaning folks in the Seattle area and Bellingham, it's interesting to note that interest in solar power is still fairly strong in rural areas and, to a lesser extent, the eastern part of the state, where incomes are much lower. Further, Washington is the cloudiest state, both in reputation and according to the data. In fact, the first 14 least sunny cities in the nation are all in Washington"

Read more:

More solar energy information.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Design Counseling

See our most current design counseling project on our Facebook page.

When a budget will not allow for a designer, we provide as-needed, hourly services. Anna has been working with a couple, both artists, who are constructing a modern addition to their traditional home. These sketches are a part of the process to provide ideas and inspiration for the project.

6 new photos

Monday, November 30, 2009


I ran across this great new sustainable neighborhood happening in Boulder, Colorado. There are several net-zero homes under construction in the States, but this is the first neighborhood that I've come across. Hopefully, it will turn out as well as planned. It could become a great leader in the next generation of neighborhood design.


First Net-Zero Neighborhood in the US Being Built in Boulder

by Bridgette Meinhold, 11/30/09

Boulder Zero Energy Neighborhood

A new development in the north of Boulder, CO stands to be the first completely net-zero neighborhood in the US. Dubbed SpringLeaf Boulder, the project aims to bring net-zero homes “to the masses” by streamlining green technologies and driving down costs. The twelve homes are designed for LEED Platinum certification, will be fully powered by photovoltaic systems, and are very close to shops and restaurants, creating a little eco-community within Boulder.

net zero, net zero home, zero energy, zero energy housing, LEED platinum, LEED, boulder, colorado, net zero neighborhood, springleaf homes

With the SpringLeaf model home already completed and construction the other homes started, this exciting project looks like it will serve as a great example for future communities and neighborhoods. Built according to LEED standards in hopes of achieving Platinum certification, the interior is outfitted with non-toxic paints and furnishings, like recycled countertops and bamboo cabinets. A strong focus was placed on insulation to make the home more efficient, and smart design allowed builders to conserve resources by using less lumber. A geothermal heat pump system works to provide efficient heating and cooling and the entire home is electric, which is powered by the pv system, so there is no natural gas used whatsoever.

Located on Broadway and Poplar Ave in Northern Boulder, the 1.5 acre neighborhood is conveniently located across from a market, shops and restaurants and with easy access via bus to the rest of the city. Six townhomes border Broadway, while six single-family homes sit back behind around a communal park. All the homes will be orientated to the south and photovoltaic systems can installed on the roof, which will completely provide the homes with all the energy they need.

The townhomes will be about 2,800 sq ft, while the largest single family home will be about 4,000 sq ft. The model home was built at a cost of about $300 per square foot, but the developers estimate the rest of the homes will cost $200 per square foot. SpringLeaf Homes was designed by architect, George Watt and is being built by Silver Lining Builders

Read more on this project at:


DiggersList is a Craigslist for the construction trades. There is not site for Seattle yet, but hopefully as word spreads this will be as popular and widespread as Craigslist. DiggersList has been around for just over a year, and they are expecting over 200 more cities to join by the end of next year.

Each location's site lists separate categories for building materials, home and office, services, and projects. The search engine is basic. While Craigslist does not have the detailed categories that makes DiggersList easy to navigate, the Craigslist search feature makes it easy to search by price, image included, neighborhood, etc.

It's not the most glamourous part of the design and construction process to talk about, but purchasing items from Craiglist, as we did for the San Juan Channel House, saves money, reduces the use of raw materials, and benefits each party in the transaction.

Not always sexy, but very practical Craigslist purchases:

Read about DiggersList at Custom Home Online. From the article:

Founder Matt Knox:

"We learned that there's 160 million tons of construction waste generated every year, largely because people don't have a good resource to help them do something with it," says Knox. "We thought we could help economically and environmentally."

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Photos: Temporary Permanence in the Natural World

Graffiti as permanent and as temporary as the landscape

Ironic graffiti

These concrete stairs were built to last. They have lasted past serving their original purpose.

Lincoln City, Oregon, on the Pacific Coast.

Monday, November 23, 2009

More Solar News

Only a small portion of the optical fibers need to be exposed to the sun. The article reports that this science holds great potential for vehicles and for buildings, as no bulky or obtrusive equipment will be needed. According to ABC Science, the average cable length for a home would need to be about one meter.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Vision vs. Reality

It's fun to look back at our concepts for a project and see how it compares to the final product.

The Hare House, Phase I, Friday Harbor, WA. Contractor: Ravenhill Construction.

Hare House Phase II is currently under construction. Kent Ducote of KDL Builders has recently completed the framing. Our Design Build team, Studio How, is the GC for the project.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Good News about Green Building

Article by Jennifer Goodwin in EcoHome Magazine, "Green Building to Support Nearly 8 Million U.S. Jobs through 2013."

The United States Green Building Council (USGBC) President Rick Fedrizzi expresses our hope:

"“Our goal is for the phrase ‘green building’ to become obsolete, by making all building and retrofits green--and transforming every job in our industry into a green job,” said Fedrizzi."

Friday, November 13, 2009

Green Footstep

The Green Footstep is a new carbon calculator from the Rocky Mountain Institute.

I used the simple version and plugged in a project that is currently in design development. In this version, you enter the region, lot size, natural state of lot, building type (for example, single family residence) and building size. The advanced version allows for more detail.
After this is entered, you come to "Design Decisions," which allows you to set targets for your project. A chart allows you to see how adding, changing or taking away certain elements increases the project's "Positive Footprint" or "Carbon Debt."

You can adjust the size and lifespan of the building. This site is already developed with out buildings and an existing cabin, but with adding the new residence native vegetation still covers about 41% of the site. This "on site carbon storage" decreases the carbon debt of the project. No new trees will likely be planted as the proposed footprint is in a clearing, but this would also help our on site storage. In their model, planting trees does not decrease the carbon debt, only increases the positive footprint.

It is very helpful to watch the animation on the carbon chart change as the elements are adjusted. However, this is largely intuitive. Currently, we don't concentrate on exact carbon footprint with our clients. To do this would involve a timely and costly analysis of life cycle costs, embodied energy, miles traveled, etc of all materials used. We mostly rely on accuracy of manufacturer's claims on green products, sourcing materials as locally as possible, current knowledge about green products, and in general creating smart designs while still giving our clients what they want.

We strive to create a long "expected building lifespan," which is a way on the Green Footstep calculator of reducing your footprint, accomplished by creating a space which is appropriate, adaptable, durable, and most of all, enjoyable.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

"Chemical Blacklist for Designers"

Yesterday reported that the architecture firm Perkins + Will introduced their Chemical Blacklist for designers, listing 25 hazardous chemicals that are commonly used in the building industry. Read the article and view the Perkins + Will Precautionary List.

You can search the list alphabetically, by category, CSI division or health affect. Each entry lists the origin of the chemical, building p
roducts it may be found in and the CSI division of those products, health effects, and alternative materials that can be used. It is very helpful to have this information all in one place, and a great reference for clients and designers alike. When I want to research a chemical or affect, I usually go to the EPA website. Their A-Z index is a great way to find out the current findings about certain materials and their affects.

We strive to use safe products in the homes we design. Although the contractor basically has final say in what is actually ordered, we specify certain products and chemicals that should be avoided. For example, that insulation should have no added formaldeyhyde, which is one of the dangerous chemicals listed on the Precautionary List (under Urea-formaldeyhyde).

No vinyl or formaldehyde in this kid's bedroom: solid wood windows and cabinets finished with non-toxic OSMO

Another consideration is not just the health of the end users, but the health of the producers. Some products, such as vinyl windows, do not pose an air quality risk to the owners (except in the case of a fire, when the fumes can be dangerous), but can very hazardous to those manufacturing vinyl windows or who live around factories. So though vinyl can be touted as a green product because of the energy efficiency, I don't believe it can be because of this hazard. The subject is fascinating and the movie Blue Vinyl is a great overview. It is not the best documentary I've ever seen, but it's a great introduction to the hazards of the manufacturing and lack of ways to recycle vinyl.

A great in-depth book that covers the use of chemicals in the building industry is Deceit and Denial: The Deadly Politics of Industrial Pollution by Gerald Markowitz and David Rosner.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Solar Panels for Rent

Looking at the rain pouring down outside my window, it is an odd time to be thinking about solar panels in the Pacific Northwest. Solar power is an exciting developing technology, but the huge upfront cost of solar currently prevents it from becoming more widely used.

The solution from Citizenre REnU:
"Citizen REnU program packages solar power for you in a simple and smart way. Plainly put, the Citizen Corporation pays for, installs, owns and operates the solar installation."

Citizenre Corporation has a calculator to figure your savings and the savings to the environment for renting their panels. Here is an example of savings for someone living on San Juan Island currently paying $60 a month in electricity bills.

Savings Forecast Today's Rate End of Year-5 End of Year-10
Citizenre REnU 7.2 cents 7.2 cents 7.2 cents
Current Electricity Provider 7.2 cents 8.7 cents 10.5 cents
Total Savings
$443.75 $1739.99
If you were to invest all of the money that you saved over the term of a 10-year contract, and you received the investment grade bond yield average of 9.44%, then your decision to participate in the REnU Program would yield $1,977.59 by the end of your contract.
Additionally, over that same time period, your REnU will eliminate 16 tons of CO2, 61 lbs of NOx, 175 lbs of SO2, 7 lbs of PM, 1 lbs of VOC, and 12 lbs of CO. That is equivalent to taking approximately, 3 automobiles off of the road, or planting 47 trees.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

San Juan Channel House is certified Built Green 3-Star

The San Juan Channel House has been certified Built Green 3-Star. View the current Built Green Newsletter here.

Points were earned for incorporating many green building techniques, including retaining a minimum of 30% of the trees on the site, setting aside a percentage of the buildable area to be undisturbed, using local materials, installing dual flush toilets, installing rigid insulation beneath the slab on grade, installing insulated headers and corners, using advanced framing with Greenguard certified insulation and a rainscreen system for siding, employing passive solar techniques, usin
g a hydronic heating system on separate zones with a high efficiency heat pump and geothermal heat pump, using concrete slab as the first floor flooring material, using Energy Star rated equipment and appliances, hard wiring for compact fluorescent lighting and installing dimmers, using no vinyl windows or carpet, detaching the garage, cabinets with no added urea-formaldehyde, using all low-VOC, non-toxic interior paints and finishes, reducing interior walls, and many waste-reducing efforts on site such as providing a detailed take-off list to framers and selling, giving away or recycling any construction waste.

Features earning Built Green points include the passive solar design, finished slab, local wood doors and windows and Energy Star appliances. Photo by John Sinclair, Concepia.

Built Green of King and Snohomish Counties is a non-profit environmental building program. For more information visit www.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Design is the Problem?

Click here for an in-depth interview with Nathan Shedroff, author of "Design is the Problem: The future of Design Must Be Sustainable." The interview is by Editor-in-chief Allan Chochinov of Core77, design magazine and resource.

From the interview: "We need to say to the rest of the world, essentially, 'Look, we did a lot of this wrong. Try to take the best of what we've accomplished without the worst.

Related: "Green is the Old Standard"

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Real Green, Real World: Builder/Architect Magazine November 2009

D+A Studio profile in the November issue of the Seattle Builder/Architect Magazine.