Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Architectural Tourist in Antigua Guatemala

Antigua Guatemala is one of our favorite places. Once the Spanish colonial capital of Central America, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. With near-perfect year-round weather and a picturesque highland location ringed by volcanos, its natural beauty is unparalleled. However, its beauty comes at a price. Situated close to a fault line, and the city has been plagued by severe earthquakes since its founding in 1532, and it will always be at risk.

After a triple-whammy of earthquakes struck the city in 1773, the Spanish government relocated the capital and ordered the citizens to evacuate, and only the poorest families and a large indigenous population remained. The city's old houses sat undisturbed for the next 100 years, which proved to be a stroke of luck beyond measure, since it no doubt saved many buildings from demolition. Today there are an extraordinary number of old houses intact, and as one gazes up cobbled streets, it's not hard to visualize life in colonial times.

The houses were built in the style of Roman patio houses, and domestic life is hidden behind massive walls over which bursts of bougainvillea spill. Heavy wooden doors are adorned with thick, hand-forged knockers, hinges, and latches, while tall, grilled windows sit on hefty stone sills. Huge cupolas, originally kitchen chimneys, rise from chunky clay-tiled roofs into clear blue skies. The walls are painted in sun-kissed hues that crumble and peel away like a window into the past. Everything is mass, texture, color, and age.

While many of the houses have been converted to hotels and restaurants, private homes still dot the city. Some are restored colonial houses. Others are new houses built with traditional details, though most new fountains are ornamental and cupolas are no longer real chimneys. Builders still use centuries-old materials and craftsmanship, and by and large, the character of the old houses has been preserved. It’s often difficult to tell new houses from authentic old ones.

The city of Antigua Guatemala will always be at risk for earthquakes. But through global awareness of the city’s importance to world culture, the persistent efforts of preservationists, and the use of better building methods, the old houses have the best-ever chance of survival.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Pennywise Prefab Houses

A year and a half ago, we were having a hard time convincing our clients of the advantages of factory fabrication. If you mentioned the word "modular," it was as if you had suggested vinyl siding; both conveyed images of what our clients didn't want in their new homes.

Builders had a different negative reaction. To many, modular was perceived as a threat to profitability, a production method that would shortcut site building and reduce their incomes.

Then the bottom fell out of the homebuilding industry, and the McMansion was declared officially dead. Prefab began to appear in the news and even had its own show at New York's Museum of Modern Art. Little by little, minds began to change.

To unemployed builders looking for new ways of working, modular started to look better and better. Homeowners began reading and hearing about factory fabrication and wondered if it might be a good option for them. Nowadays even our high-end custom clients are asking whether modular building might work for all or part of a new home.

For years Russell has been promoting factory building as a way to make new homes better, and he is very happy that the tide has turned. At Russell Versaci Architecture we have combined our Simple Farmhouse Portfolio and Simple Cottage Sampler into one Pennywise Collection, and all the designs are now available as modular houses from our partner, Haven Homes. The farmhouses range from 1600-3200 sf and the cottages from 650-800 sf. The New Homestead Almanac, a new group of designs ranging from 1000-2200 sf, is currently on the drawing board.

Above, left: The Chandler Farmhouse; below, right: The New Republic Cottage

Friday, February 6, 2009

Simple Cottage Sampler Designs for Modular Houses

Today our project architects Rob Hale and Josh Jones are completing construction drawings for a new collection of small homes designed specifically for modular building. The collection is called the Simple Cottage Sampler, and the ten designs range from 450-900 square feet but can be increased in size by adding modular units.

They were designed for people who want a single-family home and love old-house styles but who don't want or need a larger home, such as singles, retirees, people wanting to downsize, and couples just starting out. The designs all share the same modular construction framework for easy transport and quick assembly.

The designs in the Sampler were inspired by the early house styles that grew out of America's Ten Colonial Cradles of Home:

· Chesapeake Tidewater
· Cape Cod
· Gulf Coast
· Florida Keys
· Hudson Valley
· Louisiana Creole
· Carolina Lowcountry
· Western Reserve
· New Republic
· Southern Piedmont

We will have the Simple Cottage Sampler floorplans posted on the website of our partner, Haven Homes, in the next few weeks. Until then you can see the front elevations on Haven's website by clicking on Partner Architects and then on our blue logo to go to our home page. From there, click on the Simple Cottage Sampler logo to bring up a file with the exteriors for the 10 cottages.