In Mexico, like much of the third world, people build what they can, when they can, with what they find. Our reality in the US is quite different. As we wade through one relief package after the next, trying to right our struggling financial industry, the concept of living closer to today’s means provides a window into a more green lifestyle. Evidence of this can be seen in the image below. The neighbor in the foreground is waiting to build a second floor until he’s collected all the necessary materials. As he goes about acquiring what’s needed, he’s continually weighing his building needs in relation to today’s other needs. He feels the impact of his decisions in real time – “if I buy 500 more bricks, I won’t be able to travel to see the relatives for Semana Santa this year” – and avoids the impact of delayed repercussions. Contrast this with our build first, pay later method in the US. Since we often get today what we pay for tomorrow, our decisions are not constrained in real time. Rather, the influence of cost is delayed in our process of decision-making and we are left with unsatisfactory results. We continue to create more and more, with less of what we have today.
In our work, we strive for a decision-making process with each client that considers the impact of their decisions in real time. In addition to many other benefits, we feel this is the root of a greener process, one that produces more sustainable architectural solutions.
Phil Hofstad here. In the past few years, I’ve worked with a number of Locus’ religious clients and have past experience working with congregations while at other firms. Spirituality is an important aspect of my life, and I would consider myself an “actively practicing” Lutheran. My writing certainly reflects my beliefs, but the topics are applicable to our spiritual clients. At our office, our staff has a wide range of spiritual beliefs and we work with congregations across a wide range of spiritual beliefs, including spaces for Jewish Synagogues, Unitarian Universalist Meeting Halls, and Christian Sanctuaries. While the beliefs differ, a rigorous application of space as it relates to faith remains central to how we do our work.
“Why God Cares About the Built Environment” was the title of a lecture I attended at (more…)
As architects, we look to many things in our lives for inspiration. I typically cast aside trade journals for a taste of “non-architectural” or indigenous patterns in the world for my inspiration. Last winter I spent several months in Oaxaca, Mexico with my family. From the day we arrived, we were immersed in the texture of the land, people and culture.
Following last week’s post about exterior materials, we’ve compiled a list of things we often use indoors.
1. Salvaged timber. We use reclaimed douglas fir in many of Locus’ projects, from the traditional to the modern. Our first project, a house for Locus partner Paul Neseth and his wife, had thousands of board feet of reclaimed wood (see the photo following #9 below). It’s not always easy to see the shine behind the grime, as exposing the beauty of salvaged lumber can be labor intensive. One unfortunate fellow, who worked as a carpentry apprentice on Paul’s house, spent a good chunk of a month pushing a belt sander over dirty timbers, bringing them to life. His experience ensured the would wood last another 100 years, and earned him some sizable biceps. The photo below shows a detail of a lodge we designed in northern Minnesota. We sourced reused lumber from Duluth Timber and Manomin Timber, both Minnesota dealers in salvaged wood.
Salvaged timber floors and trusses
2. Salvaged slate chalkboards. Chalkboards make it into many of our projects, they’re inexpensive and expressive. Kids and adults love them in equal measure; everyone has permission to write on the walls. At cocktail or dinner parties at my house, I draw a big “conversation matrix” on the chalkboard in our dining room. It helps people connect with each other, by illustrating what things they may have in common. It’s always a hit. We buy ours at Bauer Brothers Salvage in Minneapolis.
Salvaged slate chalkboard - from an old school to your home
3. Steel. As I pointed out in an earlier post, steel often has recycled content and is fully recyclable. We use unfinished steel often, and we’re not adverse to seeing it inside. We heat it to get different color variations, it’s inexpensive and easy to install, has an organic depth not possible with more monolithic finishes such as paint, and looks beautiful when contrasted with wood (especially walnut). We’ve used it for ceilings (with magnetic light fixtures), railings, structure, and in this case, an entire wall.
Steel clad living room with steel handrails
4. Sliding door hardware. We often use surface-mounted sliding doors to make partitions between rooms where we don’t need acoustic separation. They are more like barn doors than pocket doors, don’t get in the way like swinging doors can, and we like the look of the exposed hardware. When we used to build our own projects, we fabricated our own track, but off-the-shelf hardware can be found at www.crown-industrial.com, or sometimes at local building supply stores.
Sliding door, steel, salvaged wood, and blasted glass
5. Concrete. Because concrete starts in more or less a liquid format, it can be formed into just about any structural shape. We’ve used it to form countertops, sinks, walls, and bookcases. There’s plenty of evidence to show the manufacture of portland cement to be pretty toxic, which is offset to some extent, by the durability of the cured product. From an environmental standpoint, the use of concrete has to be considered carefully. Some concrete mixes utilize fly ash, which is a waste product from firing coal. To some, using fly ash is an environmental benefit, as it uses a waste product (LEED, for example). To others, it is only creating a market for a waste material created by a dirty process – thereby endorsing the general idea of coal firing. That argument has been addressed in more detail out on the net, so I’ll not try to solve it here. While we’ve cast our own surfaces, we now work most often with Nolan King in River Falls, WI. Here’s a photo of a kitchen sink we designed and fabricated to be big enough to double as a winter bathtub for a client’s black lab.
Concrete sink for Phil the dog
6. FSC Wood. There is already plenty of information about Forest Stewardship Council stamped lumber out there. We like it, specify it, and recommend people use it. We’ve found it to be cost competitive with other framing lumber in the market. We get ours from Certified Wood Products.
7. Veneer plywood or fiberboard. Drywall, commonly known by the product name Sheetrock, looks best the day it is brand new – and degrades shortly thereafter. In our projects, we try to install products that look great new, age gracefully, and are cost competitive. We’ve found wood veneer panels to do just that. They’re more resistant to damage and provide a warmth not possible with drywall. We have compared the cost of installation on a few of our projects and determined installation is pretty cost competitive. It takes more care to install the prefinished panels, but it eliminates taping, mudding, painting, and potentially trim work.
Prefinished plywood panels
8. Surface Plaster. Our very first project in Minneapolis was plastered by Paul and me on his house in 1995. As with the plywood (see 7.), it continues to age with elegance. It has borne the brunt of bouncing basketballs, deliberate rams with tricycles, collisions with hockey sticks, our more physical arguments (we used to office out of his house!), and even the occasional slam of a radio-controlled helicopter. Still nothing to repaint and no gouges to fix.
Before we get to interior materials (after my exterior materials post), I’d like to recognize some of the artists with whom we’ve collaborated, or at least attempted to.
Thomas Oliphant used to share a shop with Locus in the Northrup King. He’s since moved out of NE Minneapolis – it’s apparently warmer in St. Paul – to share a working studio with his wife, the wonderfully talented Lynn Barnhouse. His modern furniture designs are sublime. www.thomasoliphant.com
Lisa Elias is still our neighbor up in NE Minneapolis. She sculpts steel into beautiful and delicate shapes. Stop by her studio and you may be lucky enough to watch her just brutalizing an anvil. She made the light fixtures and balustrades in this room.
Lisa Elias Chandeliers & guardrails
Josh Blanc is one of the creative minds behind Clay Squared to Infinity, a showroom of handmade tile in NE Minneapolis. Josh’s tile from the studio runs the gamut of mood; from cute to stunning, whimsical to elegant, modern to historical.
Richard Brown of Lamprey Pass Workshop is an artist and gifted woodworker; we’re lucky he will occasionally make cabinets and furniture for our projects. If you’re down by Moose & Sadie’s, stop in and ask him about his old Raleigh bicycle.
Richard Brown stairwell
Ken Geisen of Woodwright Workshop has also built cabinets for us AND he lives in one of the (if not the) first Straw Bale Houses in Minnesota. There are only a few. He built these reclaimed douglas fir cabinets around a concrete sink we designed and fabricated for a house in South Minneapolis.
Ken Geisen cabinets from salvaged douglas fir
Matt Eastvold and Locus have yet to collaborate, but it’s just a matter of time before we have a project with Eastvold Custom Woodworks. Have a look at the work, and some very sleek interiors, while grabbing a cup of coffee at the Urban Bean at 33rd and Bryant S. in Minneapolis.
Wing Young Huie needs no introduction in the Twin Cities; he’s the photographer behind the lens of Lake Street USA and 9 Months in America. We put together a public art proposal with Wing for the proposed light rail transit stations along University Avenue.
Locus collaboration with Wing Young Huie
Thomas Schrunk’s lustrous materials have graced Steinway pianos and MnDOT underpasses. That should be enough to pique anyone’s interest.
Kerry Dikken of Blasted Art, Inc. will blast just about anything from concrete to wine bottles to glass sheet to tiny brass buttons, but we’re partial to his blasted blue jeans custom designed to match your own back tattoos!
I typed “green materials” into Google this morning and got 13,400,000 results. If I took 30 seconds to look at each entry, separating the relevant from the absurd, dedicating 12 hours of every workday, I’d have a couple dozen years of research ahead of me. In our work, sustainable, economical, and regional choices are critical to our projects’ successes. Some strategies reoccur; the Locus favorites. This post is the first of several outlining materials and strategies we return to time and again in our green buildings. You might save yourself 35 years of research by spending 5 minutes here.
1. Steel siding and roofing. Unfinished, coated, or treated steel can show up at a jobsite just about 100% post-consumer recycled product (more often than not, it will have at least 60%). It is recyclable at the end of it’s useful life span. It’s very durable, most systems are easy to install (I’ve personally installed one or two over the years), and can last 50 years or more. Find an asphalt shingle that can do that! For roofing, it is generally our first choice. On a few recent projects, we’ve used Cor-ten or “weathering” steel as siding. The siding corrodes to form a protective layer with a look not unlike brown leather. This one is in Northfield.
Corrugated Cor-Ten Siding
2. Black Locust. Black locust is widely considered to be a weed tree. However, it is locally available where we are in the upper Midwest, grows quickly, is extremely tough, is suitable for exterior use (ranchers used it for corral fence posts), and weathers to a grey similar to that of cedar and redwood. It can be hard to find, but we’ve had luck sourcing it with small, family-run, lumber mills in Wisconsin. It is sometimes called the “domestic exotic” wood. We used it here as a screen and window shading device.
Black Locust Scrim
3. Solar thermal systems. We feel solar thermal is the best “active” energy generation system for residential and small commercial projects (where we have unshaded solar access). Payback times can be relatively quick with tax breaks and credits, and systems can be integrated with radiant floor heating, domestic hot water, radiators, and sand-bed heat sinks. Locally, we’ve worked with IPS and Energy Concepts for engineering and installation on projects such as this one.
Farmhouse solar thermal array with windmill
4. Solatubes.This is half mini skylight, half light fixture. The kit consists of a small dome atop the roof, a highly reflective tube, and a finishing trim similar to that of a recessed light. During the day, one or two Solatubes deliver ample natural daylight into an interior stairwell, hallway, or windowless bathroom; enough to skip flipping a switch. I’ll admit, we were skeptical of Solatubes until we tried one.
5. Spray insulation. These wall cavity foams, a substitute for conventional fiberglass batt insulation, come in closed and open cell varieties, each with pros and cons. Closed cell systems are considered to involve more toxic manufacturing processes, but have better thermal resistance, saving more energy over time. Open cell varieties are considered more benign and allow walls to breathe, but have only 60% of the resistance of closed cell. We’ve used many of them, including bio-based foams. They virtually eliminate convective movement, silence exterior noise, and can help to curb condensation problems in cold climates. Different projects suggest different products, but foams beat fiberglass hands down.
6. Green roof. For a flat roof, a green roof is our preferred way to go – if budget will allow it. It’s certainly more attractive than a built-up or membrane roof, lasts longer, slows stormwater runoff, improves air quality, may reduce energy use, and provides a little chunk of habitat. More benefits at www.mngreenroofs.org/benefits
7. Recycled Content Shingles. If a flat roof alarms you, and metal isn’t your bag, look at “mudflaps“, our slang for recycled mock-slate and mock-shake shingles, such as those manufactured by EcoStar. These shingles are manufactured with 80% post-industrial waste, and are available with a 50-year warranty. We used them on this house in northern Minnesota.
Mock-Slate recycled plastic shingles
8. Polycarbonate. There is already a detailed post on the blog about polycarbonate as an exterior skin. Link to it here. This is another recent project of ours.
Translucent polycarbonate siding
9. Recycled Plastic Chairs from Loll Designs. When the siding is up, windows in, roofing on, and landscaping is finished, finish off your exterior with a couple of chairs and an ottoman from Loll Designs from Duluth. It’s 100% recycled post consumer HDPE catching your back.
With optimism, Locus Architecture welcomes Barack Obama to the Presidency. We applaud the new administration’s vision on energy generation and conservation, as it dovetails neatly with our belief in a greener economy. Since Locus’ founding in 1995, long before “sustainable design” became a branding opportunity, our projects demonstrated dynamic design integrated with resource efficiency, passive energy generation, and measures to improve indoor air quality. My ears perked up during the following passages from the Inauguration speech on Tuesday…
“Each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.”
“We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories.”
“Our challenges may be new, the instruments with which we meet them may be new, but those values upon which our success depends, honesty and hard work, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism — these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history.”
As an industry, architects are well positioned to lead the country towards conservation and smart planning. Consider the leadership of the American Institute of Architects or the 2030 Challenge. Printed and televised media is awash with the latest sustainable technologies like photovoltaic panels and nanogel. However, harnessing natural forces (i.e., sun, wind), along with insulating effectively, still remain the least expensive and most effective ways to build responsible buildings.
Help us create the architecture of the 21st century – responsible, affordable, widely available, energy efficient, beautiful, and sustainable. Join the committed clientele of Locus Architecture.
Brad Boyd, a friend and local blogger, has spent the past eight months posting one green tip per week on his blog at www.green52.org. He’s currently at Week 37 in his quest to come up with one simple and inexpensive green tip per week for one year. There’s some intriguing ideas and gentle reminders on the site, including the answer to a question I’d never considered: how might you increase the life span of disposable razor blades? (I’m not telling, answer found at post: Green Tip #33) There’s also information about LED lighting, green gift giving, the wonders of baking soda, rechargeable batteries, shower heads, the benefits of raking leaves, and even a section on how to eat your lunch. It’s worth a look if you’re trying to adopt greener habits, and find yourself looking for some new ideas.
Locus Architecture is happy to announce the selection of White Bear Unitarian Universalist Church (WBUUC) as a Faith & Form magazine Merit Award winner for 2008. The awards program celebrates exceptional design within religious projects; WBUUC was one of eight Religious Architecture – New Facilities awards granted to projects in the United States, Mexico and the Philippines. You can see each of the projects here or pick up a copy of Faith & Form Number 4/2008.
In early Spring, 2004, the partners at Locus met to discuss the goals for Red Square, our new office building in NE Minneapolis. Although we expected some eventual push-back on our aesthetic goals (i.e. the fire engine red siding), we didn’t expect to run into a roadblock from city officials on our sustainable approach. This is especially true since the City of Minneapolis has adopted the goal of promoting sustainable development in their comprehensive plan. Midway through our approval process, we ran into a roadblock as zoning officials denied approval for an integral part of our sustainable design, the insulating Thermal Doors on the south facade.
Why Are The Red Square Thermal Doors Sustainable?
The power of the sun is significant and free. In our climate, at our latitude, we need to manage the use of this since there are times, i.e. the winter, when we want to absorb as much of the energy as possible and other times, i.e. the summer, when we need to shield ourselves from it. Our design for the south façade of Red Square takes full advantage of the sun’s power when needed and shades the building from it when it produces adverse conditions.
During the winter, south-facing glass loses more than 150% of the energy it takes in through heat gain. With our insulating doors, however, we reverse this to be a net gain of energy by taking in the energy during the day through the unobstructed glass and covering the windows at night when the thermal doors are down. For our building, this savings is equivalent to 8,400 lbs. of CO2 not being released into the atmosphere and the work of 175 mature trees.
During the summer months, the reverse is also true as the doors shade the windows, keeping the summer heat outside. When the doors are in the open position (24 hours a day from April through October), the windows on the south façade of Red Square are shaded as the sun moves through the sky at a very high angle. This eliminates most of the detrimental heat gain produced by the sun at this time of year.
Although we eventually secured approval for the doors, the extended process consumed precious additional time. We were also required to add windows elsewhere in the project that diminished the impact of the thermal doors. If we as a community are going to be serious about making buildings that are more environmentally benign, we’ll have to understand that they may look and operate differently.
You’ve made the decision to hire an architect or builder to redesign your (pick one) home, kitchen, bathroom, great room, or master bedroom. Excitement builds in your head as you ponder sunlit rooms, a nap on your favorite window seat, and (of course) all the environmental strategies you have found and can afford. Focusing on the updates is fun and creative, but don’t forget about the infrastructure you already own; it may need some help.
At LOCUS, we generally recommend our clients do a full house assessment before they start a project. We usually have a budget we need to respect, but clients often think about that budget just in terms of new space. We consider it our responsibility to look beyond the project goals and make sure we give consideration to the entire home. A house is, after all, the largest investment most people own. What good is a new kitchen if the rest of the house collapses around it?
Before you remodel, consider your…
1. HVAC SYSTEM How old is the furnace, boiler, air conditioning, or hot water heating system in your home? How efficient are they? If any of the systems is likely to fail within five years, or if they are inefficient, it may be a smart financial AND environmental decision to replace one or all of them. You can use this calculator to compare some options for heating and cooling. If any of your heating pipes or ducts are wrapped in asbestos, (more…)
What is the most pressing question we get asked when meeting with a potential client for the first time?
What is this project going to cost?
Of course, the answer depends on all kinds of factors, but here is where we begin. We measure the horizontal square footage of any and all the space our client intends to touch with the project. This includes major construction zones (for example, the gut and remodel of a kitchen or bath), but also includes areas where there will be only minor cosmetic changes (a room where the floors will be resanded and finished or will only be repainted). Any space that is to be built, remodeled, or changed in ANY WAY – from basement to attic – should be included. Many clients make the mistake of skipping the rooms where only minor work will be done, and only include the big-ticket areas. This will result in an estimate which is too low. In our market, the Twin Cities of Minneapolis/St. Paul, we take the overall area calculation and multiply the total square footage by $200 to arrive at a preliminary estimate.
Naturally, this number is only a starting point. (more…)