Monday, October 20, 2008

Factory-Made, Site-Assembled

At Bundoran Farm, the Currier Farmhouse from the Simple Farmhouse Portfolio has probably shed its housewrap skin since this photo was taken a month ago and looks less like a house under siege. The cornice return, like the rest of the exterior shell, was factory-crafted in Vermont by Connor Homes and shipped to the site.

Meanwhile, here in Middleburg a stonemason has built a retaining wall in front of the tidewater cottage, now reflected against a backdrop of early autumn colors. While fall in Virginia is not an eye-popper like fall in Vermont, it's subtle and serene with distinct charm.

Make It Wrong?

What have we here?

Why, it's one of the 13 choices of new home designs for residents of the Lower 9th Ward in New Orleans. This project of Brad Pitt's states the following goal: “Because local cultural influences gave rise to the pre-Katrina architecture so emblematic of the area, preserving that identity remains vital in reclaiming the spirit of the neighborhood.” But it's mighty hard to find any attempt to preserve the area's architectural identity in this bizarre design from MVRDV, a firm from The Netherlands.

To view all 13 design offerings, visit the Make It Right website. Like so many other modernist attempts at low-income housing in the U.S., these houses look like sure-fire candidates for the wrecking ball in 20 years.

While the Make It Right project is certainly well-intended, the designs seem so out of touch with the intended recipients, even though community leaders were involved in the project. It's hard to imagine that the people who will be living in these houses would actually choose these designs over the vernacular styles — the shotguns, camelbacks, and creole cottages — that for 100 years have meant home to this culturally-rich, close-knit, vibrant community now in tatters.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Classic Virginia Style, Part 2

More photos of the new estate in Fauquier County...

In this view of the front of the house, one can see the distinct parts that give the impression of a house that grew over time.

Doric columns with triglyphs grace the traditional Greek Revival entryway.
Designed in the style of a traditional tidewater cottage, a new shed on the property shows why it pays to wait a few years before photographing a project. By now ivy-covered and flanked by a cottage garden, the little outbuilding looks as if it was built 200 years ago.

Landscape design by Arentz Landscape Architecture

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Roots of Home's Official Pubdate

Today is the day that Roots of Home is officially available. For nearly a year we have been speaking, writing, quoting, and citing October 14 as the new book's pub date, but now that it's finally here, it's a quiet morning in Lake Wobegon.

People have other things on their minds today, as do we. So long eagerly anticipated, the book's due date has arrived in the midst of the worst economic week in decades. It does tend to suppress one's euphoria.

Still, beauty is beauty, and no bad news can alter the luminous, otherworldly, timeless appeal of the Poche Ezidore House, shown in this image from Roots of Home. This early 1800s Creole cottage in Gramercy, Louisiana, was lightly restored to repair structural problems but otherwise left with period detail and original surfaces unchanged. In Erik Kvalsvik's photo of the light-bathed dining room, one can almost sense the hush, the stories in the walls, the soft footfalls over centuries.

And that's the news from Lake Wobegon.

Classic Virginia Style, Part 1

Although we have been featuring prefab houses on this blog, we have a vigorous custom practice at Russell Versaci Architecture as well. Here are photos of a beautiful equestrian estate completed several years ago, which is just now being photographed for our firm's website and for publication. For a new custom home to become seasoned enough for the photo shoot, trees must grow, plantings fill in, materials weather, and the raw look must soften for the house to ease into its historic style.

Russell designed the buildings on the estate in classic Virginia style. The house, which sits on a 150-acre track of verdant Fauquier County farmland with mountain views, was built in parts in the manner of a real farmhouse expanded over several generations. The first photo shows the "earliest" part of the home, designed in 18th-century Jeffersonian classical style; it serves as the kitchen wing in the new old house.

The second photo shows the Greek Revival portion, which is the main part of the new house. In the fictional story, this part might have been added in the 19th century, along with the fieldstone carriage house, as the farm prospered and the family grew.

The narrative continues into the 20th century with a sunroom addition (not shown). Several smaller buildings complete the arrangement to make a farm compound with deep roots in Virginia tradition.

Working with Russell on this project were Rob Hale, who designed the interior cabinetry and casework, and project architect Kathleen Lofdahl. Horizon Builders was the contractor.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Certifiably Green, Part 1

This is the year for going green. In our local paper, several builders are trumpeting green building practices. It's an easy claim to make, but what does it mean?

There are two measures for determining that new buildings meet environmental targets -- Energy Star and LEED. Energy Star is a government program administered by the EPA and DOE. LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is sponsored by the nonprofit U.S. Green Building Council.

LEED was created in the early 90s to give quantifiable performance measures for sustainability--and also to motivate and stimulate the industry to strive to adopt best practices to earn the LEED distinction. Energy Star hails from the same time, but its focus is on energy rather than performance.

Back then, sustainability was a pretty hard sell. Long-term savings that required a higher initial cost for systems and materials were trumped by short-term cost issues. That was the case until recently, when "pain at the pump" and the shock of the monthly heating bill made it all too personal. Factor in the bad news from global environmental fronts, and sustainability suddenly becomes a major issue when planning new construction.

Today the market wants green buildings, and the industry wants to be able to market its green building creds. Hence LEED and Energy Star are much-sought distinctions these days.

As its name suggests, the Energy Star program focuses on energy, rather than performance. While the program is best known for the nifty labels on products that help consumers make buying choices, Energy Star also certifies new homes. A certified home is about 15% more energy-efficient than those built to the 2004 International Residential Code (IRC) standard, and about 25-30% more than most houses in general.

LEED rates new homes on a host of criteria, including operating costs, reduced waste, energy and water conservation, health and safety for occupants, and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. Certified homes qualify for tax rebates, zoning allowances, and other incentives, as well as demonstrate a commitment to environmental stewardship and social responsibility.

On the farm outside Middleburg, the geothermal heating system shown in the photos was sunk into the pond to provide energy for the prefab tidewater cottage in the background. The finished house will probably meet Energy Star requirements, and we hope it will earn LEED certification as well.

We are fortunate that the owners of the farm, our clients, are committed to the environment -- and also to traditional architecture. As designers, we are happy to be able to offer visual proof that a house built to green specifications can be beautiful and suited to its rural setting, designed in a vernacular style with appropriate detailing, built with traditional materials such as wood, stone, and brick, yet crafted using the efficiencies of factory fabrication.