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Building a Prefab House

A highlight of reporting "A Simple Plan," my story about the Marmol Radziner-designed prefab in Ukiah, California (in our December/January 2012 issue, and online here) was sitting down with the residents and hearing about how the house came together on the site. Residents Abbie and Bill Burton worked with Marmol Radziner to design a two-bedroom, 2,200-square-foot house (with an additional 1,400 square feet of covered decks) for their rural site in Mendocino County. The house, made of ten prefabricated steel modules, took three months to build in the firm's factory—and just a single day to assemble on the site. The Burtons shared their snapshots of the on-site construction process, which they witnessed from lawn chairs on a neighboring hill. "It was instantaneous," said Bill. "We went from having just a foundation on our site to walking around our house a few hours later. You never see architecture come together like that." Here's a glimpse at the wonder of prefab.
November 24, 2011
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Time-Lapse Prefab

I interviewed Peter Anderson of Anderson Anderson Architecture for our "American Prefab: A Shopper's Guide" story in the December/January issue, and found the firm's backstory and approach to prefab inspiring. The brothers trace their interest in modular buildings back to the toys their parents supplied them with when they were kids, including Lincoln Logs and Legos. Today they design all manner of buildings, prefab and otherwise, as well as experimental building systems, like steel building components built on the same production line as shipping containers.
November 22, 2011
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A Zero-Energy Community: Part 5

Project Manager Brad Liljequist chronicles the building of the zHome, a ten-unit townhome in Issaquah, Washington—the first multifamily zero-energy community in the United States. Part 5: How do ground source heat pumps and solar panels work?   Two of our most central technologies in achieving zero net energy are our ground source heat pump system (for heating and hot water), and our solar panels (which generate electricity). The two account for about 60% of getting to zero net energy, so obviously they play a key role.  Ground source heat pumps are a well-known technology, but are generally not mainstream, especially here in the Pacific Northwest. The system combines three highly efficient processes which together result in a system which over three times more efficient than a typical forced air furnace. The slides give a good narrative to how the system works, but if you’d like more details, check out the ground source system sign from the zHome education signage—it is the second sign in sign package one. Solar energy, surprisingly, works quite well in the Northwest—solar panels here put out about 70% of the solar energy of a panel in Sacramento. Solar energy quietly is becoming more and more cost effective, with prices coming down and efficiency going up. Currently solar panels convert about 15-20% of the solar energy hitting them to energy—quite efficient when you consider that photosynthesis is only a half a percent efficient! Also, solar panels are quite durable—many panels from the 1970’s are still functioning well.  There is little to go wrong in them. Given how little maintenance they require (simple occasional  cleaning) there is a huge amount going for them.  
November 16, 2011
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Highlights of Dwell Design Lab

This past weekend I attended Dwell's first annual Design Lab, which took over a raw penthouse space in the new Millenium Tower in San Francisco's SOMA district and spotlighted 13 local designers. (My colleague Diana Budds offers a good overview of the event here.) After a festive, Kim Crawford Wine-fueled Friday night reception, I spent Saturday afternoon wandering through the show, chatting with the designers about their work and their display spaces. Here are a few of the highlights I spotted... 
October 31, 2011
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Hôtel Americano, New York City

Carlos Couturier and Moises Micha have ten hotels in Mexico under their brand Grupo Habita, but now they’ve stepped out of their comfort zone to build a hotel in New York City. What makes Hôtel Americano unique from prior projects? There is not much color and no art, a far cry from their previous hotels, known for their contemporary art pieces. For the hoteliers, neutrality meant no distractions and no competition with the bounty of art already in the area. Hotel Americano pushes boundaries, working with small spaces and making special features like the rooftop pool and restaurant functioning in the cold of winter as it does in summer days. "It's not about trendiness," Couturier explains. "Everything is about the architecture, the interior design..."  
October 31, 2011
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A Zero-Energy Community: Part 4

Project Manager Brad Liljequist chronicles the building of the zHome, a ten-unit townhome in Issaquah, Washington—the first multifamily zero-energy community in the United States. Part 4: A new approach to stormwater management. Water and salmon are iconic in the maritime Northwest. The Puget Sound basin has for decades been a hub of innovation in stormwater management, with a goal of protecting these icons. Recently, a movement has been afoot to change how stormwater is managed. In past years, stormwater for new development was typically collected in large vaults or ponds and then released at a set rate into local streams and lakes. While this strategy has had success in reducing impact to local water bodies, it requires large infrastructure, and also is not always effective in limiting runoff impacts. zHome embodies a new stormwater management strategy called "low impact development," which takes a more site-driven approach, where water is detained and returned to the ground right on site. Our stormwater benchmark requires that the same amount of rainfall be reintroduced to the ground as fell there in the site’s original forested state. We employed a number of strategies to achieve this.  zHome also has been "Salmon-Safe certified," the first residential project in Washington State to achieve this standard. Salmon-Safe’s mission is to "transform land management practices so Pacific salmon can thrive in West Coast watersheds." This independent certification ensures that zHome’s stormwater and landscape management systems are ecologically sound and safe to aquatic resources. Click through the slideshow to learn more about zHome's strategy, and click here to watch a video about the cachement system.
October 26, 2011
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Mr. CHIP Goes to Washington

A highlight of this year's Solar Decathlon was the CHIP house, designed, built, and transported to Washington DC by a team of over 100 SCI-Arc and Caltech students. The uniquely puffy "outsulated"  CHIP house—the Compact, Hyper-Insulated Prototype—is an effort to "address the contemporary issues or sustainability, energy efficiency, and affordable housing through a built work." If you missed it during the Decathlon, you have a few additional opportunities to check it out, most notably an exhibition opening this Friday at SCI-Arc's Library Gallery. "Mr. CHIP Goes to Washington," running through December 16, displays through photographs, video, and time-lapse footage the "frantic month in Washington D.C. that is the culmination of the team's two-year effort to conceptualize and develop its proposition for a new sustainability."
October 25, 2011
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Schoenenberger's Favorite Buildings

Continuing our series where we ask our favorite architects and designers about the three buildings that most inspire and impress them, we turn to Erich Schoenenberger of su11 architecture + design. Schoenenberger most recently impressed us with his and his partner Ferda Kolatan's design for a 620-square-foot apartment in New York City for a family of four, which appeared in our March 2011 issue and featured a serpentine floor-to-ceiling wall of laminate cabinets.   Asked to pick his three favorite structures, he globe-hopped from Mexico to Spain to Italy—where he raved about a most popular structure, the Casa Malaparte, also selected by Page Goolrick for her "Three Buildings" list. Reflecting on what these three buildings have in common, he said: "Sagrada Familia and the Lautner house share a dynamic space experience; the Lautner house and Casa Malaparte both have a great interrelationship of building and landscape/views." See below for more about each...                                        Casa Marbrisa                                      Acapulco, Mexico, John Lautner, 1973
October 19, 2011
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A Zero-Energy Community: Part 3

Project Manager Brad Liljequist chronicles the building of the zHome, a ten-unit townhome in Issaquah, Washington—the first multifamily zero-energy community in the United States. Part 3: A Q&A With David Vandervort Architects.   For our blog today I am going to interview David Vandervort and Mark Weirenga with David Vandervort Architects, the Seattle-based architectural firm that designed zHome. They have a long history of sustainably designed single-family homes and remodel projects along with extensive low-rise multifamily experience. Their projects include the sustainable demonstration project NEXTHouse and an award winning LEED Gold custom residence. I have really enjoyed working with David and Mark over the last several years and deeply appreciate the “homey modern” aesthetic they brought to zHome—modern design that you’d actually want to live in.
October 13, 2011
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