We wrote the passage below, and printed it on the back of our Locus construction T-shirts in about 1996. It’s a little rebellious, likely offensive to a whole bunch of people, but it is still relevant to how we practice today. The shirts have started many a conversation with total strangers – from San Francisco to St. Louis to the Twin Cities. We’re not as angry as we used to be, but still fight the mundane – and proudly wear the shirts. The text:
My house is custom. I had my choice of floor plans in either Colonial, Tudor, Mediterranean, or French Provincial. I got the bestselling model with the bonus room. I rely on my realtor to tell me what I should like. I bought my home primarily because I thought it would be easy to sell in five years when I upsize. My new house is just like my last one, only bigger. I always buy the biggest house I can afford. I want my house to be just like my neighbor’s, but not necessarily the same color. My house is the second slightly off white tannish beige colored house on my block. I appreciate the craft of Sheetrock. I often wonder what my neighbors think of my things. I need more space. I like vinyl siding. I want a five digit house number. I don’t settle for anything less than three garages. My lawn thrives in the fertile ground of last year’s cornfield. I like driving my SUV everywhere I have to go. I am afraid of being different.
Think for yourself.
For three weeks in May of 2007, Paul and Wynne led 10 University of Minnesota College of Design students on a design/build project in Biloxi, Mississippi. Nearly two years after Katrina covered East Biloxi with 10 feet of salt water, the city is slowly rebuilding John Henry Beck Park with the help of volunteers. What was previously a drug infested hang-out is now a haven for families.
View from North
The media has long since moved on to other more immediate stories, yet Gulf Coast communities continue to struggle to rebuild well after the Katrina disaster. Demolished bridges, overturned houses and empty schoolyards, etched forever in our collective memory, still exist today. It’s the need for hope and the belief that better days are ahead in the lives of people that is most critical. In East Biloxi, with jobs scarce, opportunity lagging, and insurance claims slow in coming, crime and domestic abuse have risen 30% in the aftermath of the storm. The latest economic downturn is no doubt slowing the rebuilding again.
In the spring of 2007, the Mississippi Gulf Coast Community Design Studio worked with U of M students, already spending a semester in Biloxi, to develop sketches that would serve as the basis for a three-week design + build project in May. Hitting the ground in mid May, we had 19 days to complete the drawings, get the design through the Biloxi building department, build extensive concrete forms, pour 20 yards of concrete, and frame and finish the pavilion. This involved working with the design center, students, Kevin Groenke (U of M Design School, head of the fabrication shop), city leaders, local volunteers, relief agencies, a couple of volunteer steel fabricators, and school children.
The final design sought to provide shade, the most coveted physical commodity in coastal Mississippi. Although the functional aspects of the pavilion are beneficial, our greater success came from the hope and relationships built during the process. The students invited kids from the Boys and Girls Club to participate in the construction effort, placing their handprints in concrete pavers. The excitement of working with wet concrete was surpassed only by their delight, when they returned two weeks later, to find their prints in the finished pavilion. After three weeks of designing until 3am, pouring load after load of concrete, and building wood trusses by moonlight, our greatest satisfaction arose when we stepped out of the shade for the last time to make room for a mom and her kids.
Minnesota is an extreme place to live. The state’s climate is well known throughout the U.S. for frigid winter temperatures – most Minnesotans I’ve met have a cold-weather anecdote where a friend of a friend comes surprisingly close to death after committing some minor error in judgment on a 30 below evening. The state’s summer heat and humidity is less notorious, but temperatures can reach 95 and higher with 70+ degree dewpoints. In any given year, outside temperatures can swing 120 degrees and relative humidity in your home can climb to 95% or drop as low as 10%.
Designing a high-performance insulating wall is tough with that kind of temperature and humidity range. Walls are barriers that attempt to block nature from achieving balance; heat will always drive towards cold, humid air will always migrate towards dryer environments. Architects and builders ignore physics at their peril, if not designed properly, a wall will trap moisture and start to degrade. Soon afterwards, the resulting mold will spoil indoor air quality.
There are other competing interests when designing walls. More structure and insulation, which is desirable for obvious reasons, is at odds with adding more windows. Exterior claddings that are more labor intensive (stucco and brick for example) are expensive – and porous! Less expensive materials (vinyl and metal sidings for example) can be toxic to manufacture or may not hold up well over time. In our practice, we design as close as we can to the ideal – walls where we increase insulation, increase light and views, provide adequate structure, reduce maintenance, and create dynamic space.
Here’s how we did it at nowHaus. For the exterior layer, we chose polycarbonate sheet. (more…)
Our building, the Northrup King in NE Minneapolis, is one of several venues hosting First Thursdays in the Arts District every month, from 5-9 p.m. Dozens of artists at the NKB open their doors and give the public a first-hand look at the creative process.
For 2009, Paul and I decided to join resident artists and open the Locus Architecture Studio on First Thursdays. Since we’ve got nothing specifically for sale, we thought we’d pass the time by offering FREE DESIGN consultations. There is no First Thursday Open House in January, so we will start convening in February.
The rules: 1) You must sign up in advance, first come, first served. One architect for consultations, three 1-hour sessions each month, 5 p.m., 6 p.m., and 7 p.m. 2) You must come to the Minneapolis studio for the consult. 3) You must bring in four bottles of an interesting beer or cider (OK, I’ll admit this technically makes the session not absolutely free, but we share). 4) You must tell us your 6 favorite recordings of all time, and 5) You must bring in all the relevant background information so we can be helpful.
Email us to get your time slot. wynne.yelland(at)locusarchitecture(dot)com