sam isn’t another modular house bauble for the well-heeled. sam revives the original spirit of modernism – using the technology of the times to better our lives. A century ago, a group of European architects recognized the possibility of integrating mass production with traditional craft as a means of providing well-designed homes and furnishings to the working class. The architectural movement they pioneered – modernism – became synonymous with hip style, yet the design-for-everybody altruism was largely abandoned.
Which brings us to 2010, where a simple plywood chair retails north of $625 in tony stores with names suggesting their products are within anyone’s grasp.
sam leverages common carpentry skills to build smarter healthy homes quicker. The simplicity of the design and process means sam comes within reach of all sorts of people in all sorts of locations. sam dispenses with unnecessary labor, materials, and space, favoring classic simplicity over fussy clutter. From lake front property to inner city neighborhoods to suburban enclaves, sam’s at home.
Builders admire sam. The ease of the system shortens construction times, which drives framing costs down without sacrificing energy efficiency or quality. Homeowners like sam. Clever details have been integrated so owners won’t be handcuffed to expensive yearly maintenance. DIYers adore sam. A straightforward building to construct, sam allows even the hesitant weekend warrior to convert time and sweat equity into wealth. In rocky times, sam makes a sound investment.
sam doesn’t believe attainable solely means a low initial price. That’s short sided thinking, only considering one aspect of home ownership. sam’s low-maintenance exteriors, durable windows and doors protected by generous overhangs, and copious insulation translate to low operating costs. sam is attainable today, attainable in 2040 – classic always. That’s what modernism intended.
Looking for champagne space on a beer budget? Crack the Dom.
Buildings built today should be sustainable, sure, but what exactly does that mean?. “Green” and “sustainable” are so ubiquitously slathered on ad copy, they’ve lost their punch.
What does sustainability mean to sam?
1. Energy efficiency. sam is loaded with twice the insulation you’ll find in most homes built today. sam is cool when it’s sweaty, cozy when it’s icy. You can’t touch sam’s performance with any house that has 2X6 walls. Period.
Walls, R-50 standard
Windows & doors, R-3.5 standard
Ceiling, R-80 standard
Foundation, R-40 per design
Slab, R-20 per design
2. Durability. sam is built to last, skinned with long-lasting materials you won’t spend your weekends maintaining. Within sam’s thick walls are two cavities – on either side of the insulation layer – for ventilation. “So what?” you ask. No condensation, no mold. Materials intelligently layered to stay dry and maximize their service life. That’s what.
3. Responsibility. sam is compact without sacrificing comfortable spaces for modern living. sam comes in S, M, and L, ranging from 860 to 1,680 square feet in one story, story and a half, and two story configurations. sam won’t compel you to pay for, be taxed upon, insure, or heat and cool an XL, XXL, or XXXL house. Keep your money to travel, invest, vacation, give to charity, or just collect the experiences that make life memorable.
Yeah but where’s the bamboo and solar panels? Hey, don’t get us wrong, sam loves accessories: low-VOC walls and ceilings, energy-conserving appliances, agriboard cabinets, recycled paper counters, certified milk paints, native green roofs, and lawn mowers powered by cellulosic biofuel. Nevertheless, no number of nifty gizmos will get you to the summit of Everest without an intelligently designed jacket. Get the essentials, then add the bling.
Although most clients find Locus through word of mouth or because they’ve seen our past work, now and then we go after new work by answering a request for proposal (RFP) sent out by a developer, neighborhood organization or non-profit. One of the criteria often included in an RFP is to describe our past experience for that building type. For example, here’s a requirement from a request that we recently considered - “provide detailed information on the last three completed multifamily projects that are most similar to this project, including description of project, drawings, cost of construction, and developer/owner contact information.” This is a troubling requirement and raises some interesting questions. Can architects design a building without prior experience with that building type? Are our skills as designers and problem-solvers transferable across building types?
We believe the answer to both is YES, and apparently so do our peers. Last week Locus was awarded an AIA Honor Award for the White Bear Unitarian Universalist Church (WBUUC) in Mahtomedi, MN. This is the second award granted for this church design, the first awarded last year by the Interfaith Forum on Religion, Art and Architecture, a community of church architects. An article about the church, titled “Nature Sanctuary”, is published in the Nov/Dec issue of Architecture MN.
When we interviewed for the job in 2005, we made it clear that this would be our first church design. We didn’t have a long list of past, similar projects we could, or more importantly “would”, draw from as we worked. No, we would design something unique for their community, based on a long and involved process of learning who they were and listening to their hopes and dreams for the space.
We’ve won many awards over the years, nearly all of them for building types that we had never designed before. Fortunately, our clients for those projects didn’t base their decision to hire us on our past experience for projects most similar to theirs. And we’d like to think they’re better off for it. As Victoria Safford, WBUUC minister, described when they first began to use their new space, “we’ve held four services now in the new sanctuary here, and every week it is as if we are entering the spaces here for the first time, so beautiful are the movements of light, the textures of steel, concrete and glass, the seemingly impermeable boundaries between inside and outside. The congregation is in a state of amazement and gratitude – as am I. This work you have done here is beautiful. Thank you.”
I keep hearing about new community parties. They’re open, short, inexpensive, often intimate, and sometimes even kid friendly. I’m thrilled, in large part because they kick me out of social ruts I sometimes inhabit. Meet some new people, learn something, and then start one of your own.
2X2/Give & Take
Locus started 2X2 presentations in 2009, pairing people to discuss relationships, collaborations, and overlapping interests. We convene for an hour to chat over beer and wine before sitting down for an hour of presentation and discussion. We require plenty of visuals from presenters, so even if the talking runs aground, there’s still eye candy. We shoot for 3-per-year, with topics last year ranging from Creative Couples (Maren Kloppmann/Mark Wheat) to Local Food (Tracy Singleton/Greg Reynolds) to Public Art (Anna Tahinci/Wing Young Huie). If you crave a more interactive event, take a look at the monthly Give & Take gatherings at Intermedia Arts.
Friends Azin & Steve organize a monthly Saturday night cinema at the Locus Architecture studio. Films are nominated and selected by the membership via email instant-run-off-voting. The idea of membership may be anathema to you, but it sounds more formal than it is. You provide your email address, you’re a member. Potluck dinner/drinks at 6pm, movie at 7:30, cocktail-infused discussion afterwards. Add your name to the list by emailing [email protected]
Janna & Eric (Eric of Terra Vista Landscape Design) designed and built a pizza oven for their NE Minneapolis back yard, in part to host monthly pizza parties from spring to fall. You bring the toppings and your beverage of choice (say, a six-pack of Bell’s?) they supply the dough. Learn the steering wheel method of stretching dough, how much tomato sauce is too much, how to use the word peel properly, then enjoy your slightly browned creation by the koi pond. Be a good citizen and use the “dough for dough” can on the table.
Thursday Happy Hour/Flamingo
My friend Andra told me about a St. Paul couple who open their doors every other Thursday evening from May through August, “because there are just not enough opportunities nowadays to get together, hang out, and talk with interesting people… Invite other friends – the more the merrier.” No need to RSVP, kids are welcome, bring a favorite drink or appetizer. I’m in! Claire and David run a similar Thursday night series in my neighborhood, Pink Flamingo! The mobile party is hosted by a different family every week. Which house will it be this week, you ask? Let the flamingos in the front yard be your guide.
One of our clients, a physician and rabid concrete evangelist, sent this to us last week.
I stopped at a stone distributor the other day on my way to a conference. They had never heard of Virginia Slate (a MN stone we’re specifying for the exterior of his house). A sales guy did try to sell me granite though for our countertops. When I told him we are doing concrete, he said, “Why do you want a sidewalk in your kitchen?” Insulted, I told him that granite is so 90s. He then said because the price of granite has come down, it is once again “hot.” I said, if I were choosing between laminate and granite, I would also choose granite if they are at a similar price point.
Needless to say, that was the end of our conversation.
Sidewalk in a St. Paul kitchen
The “sidewalk in your kitchen” line is a gem. It’s insulting and misleading at the same time, just enough to plant the seed of doubt.
I have to come up with a comparable retort when someone gives me the merits of vinyl siding. “Why do you want PVC waste water pipe siding on your house?” is a bit of a mouthful. ” Why do you want to wrap your house with a shower curtain?” isn’t as cutting as the sidewalk jab. We’ll have to keep working on it. Suggestions?
Come to Locus Architecture on September 18th, for the next installment of the 2X2 talks.
Last year we started a interactive discussion pairing visionary people to talk about how relationships inspire what they do. In architecture school, students tend to see dozens of architects give their version of the “Recent Work” lecture about their buildings, talks that tend to endorse the myth of the individual genius. For 2X2, we were interested in hearing from people who could talk about how they work with or depend on other people. And maybe have a beer or glass of wine.
We started with Mark Wheat and Maren Kloppmann who spoke about creativity in personal relationships, followed by Tracy Singleton and Greg Reynolds who spoke about the connections between Greg’s organic fields at Riverbend Farm and Tracy’s local-food-loving restaurant, the Birchwood Cafe.
Locus partner Wynne Yelland and his family are selling nowHaus 01. Once the news made the Star Tribune Real Estate section Sunday, not to mention Warners’ Stellian Twitter feed, it seemed silly not to relay the news here.
Green building? Check. Chalkboard wall? Check. Wood interior walls? Check. Low operations cost? Check. Half a block to bike trails and swimming beach? Check. Check. Check.
Snap it up, you’ll love it, and it puts us one step closer to starting nowHaus 02!
We are planning to renovate our website in the next couple months and would like to get some feedback from our trusted friends and colleagues. Yes, that’s you!
Please take a quick look through the Locus website (www.locusarchitecture.com) and let us know your thoughts on any of the following:
Message – Are we telling the proper story?
Content – Can you find all the pertinent information you want?
Ease of Navigation – Can you get to everything easily?
Imagery – Are the images captivating?
Layout – Does the layout present Locus properly?
If you’re a past client, please let us know what brought you to Locus in the beginning. If you’re not, what do you find in the website that does and doesn’t interest you?
We value your opinions and, as your time is valuable, welcome any tidbit of feedback you can offer. If you’re too busy, don’t sweat it!!
When I was in California recently, I caught up with one of our early clients, a couple who have slowly – but methodically – worked on their home since we started designing it in 1999. The abbreviated story goes something like this.
In the mid 80s Roger, a metal sculptor, and Carol, a business consultant, say farewell to their loft in San Francisco and buy some land on Merritt Island, south of Clarksburg, CA. They meet neighbors Carter & Dodi Sparks. Carter, they learn, is an architect. Liking the sensibility of Sparks’ regional mid-centry modernism, the Berrys plan to have Carter design a house for them, but Sparks’ life is cut short by a fatal stroke.
Two years later, over wine, the Berrys and Dodi get to talking about a house that Carter might have designed. Dodi suggests the Berrys talk to me, a native of Clarksburg and a sort of Carter’s-spirit-next-of-kin.
My training as a Sparks groupie started early; I grew up in a Sparks home a few miles from the Berry’s property, where he was a frequent guest at dinner and cocktail parties. I can remember him down on the rug in the entry hall playing Matchbox cars with me, dressed in something bright – an orange linen suit perhaps – with a martini expertly balanced on his knee. I lunched with him and my father sometimes during the summer; afterwards he’d show me the projects underway in his office. On Sparks’ recommendation, I studied at U. C. Berkeley as he had.
Interested by the coincidences, and my familiarity with the landscape, Carol and Roger contacted Locus in 1999. Shortly after, we began our collaboration. Organizing meetings around my visits to California, Locus spent five years working on design. Construction began in 2004, and continued for several years, with completion of the lap pool in 2008, and landscaping ongoing today.
Roger designed and built a number of custom pieces for the home in his studio across the driveway; the stair, 300-lb. cor-ten steel siding panels, chimney, and entry trellis were all built for the house on site.
After a dozen years of watching it come together, it’s one of my favorite project on an absolutely beautiful site for two extremely warm and talented people.
Check out Roger’s work at the link above, very thoughtful and exquisite work.
Aside from the obvious material differences revealed in the June 22nd article, Architecture is Too Expensive, I thought it noteworthy how the spatial proportions and contextual relationships contrasted one another in the Walgreens and Mission Santa Barbara “arcade” examples. A diagrammatic cross section through both conditions reveals differing priorities toward daylight access, views, and threshold.
Let’s look at the Walgreens store first. The bench is located over 15 ft. past the roof overhang – a point at which daylight noticeably decreases. Though the setback enables shoppers to conveniently pass by without tripping over the legs of those seated, sitters are left in the dark without much to admire. When resting at the bench one is confronted by cars – aligned at the same height as a driver seated in their vehicle. There is no spatial sense of separation aside from the curb and occasional appearance of the column / bollard grid, thus the “arcade” is as much a dull attempt at pedestrian-izing a parking lot as it is store front circulation. It straightforwardly states, “get me in and get me out” by funneling patrons from the expansive parking lot along its hard edges toward the barely distinguishable front door. The passage through this sort of threshold (parking – sidewalk – store wall) is as easily forgotten as the search for an open parking stall.
The horizontal proportions of Walgreen’s funnel (~16’ wide by ~10’ tall) are practically flipped at the Mission Santa Barbara. The less deep and more vertical space allows daylight to stream through the arcade to the exterior wall where a variety of benches are shaded, but not left in the dark. The height of the space offers a sense of lightness with expansive skyward views; however, it does so while maintaining a sense of safety and separation from the parking area. Level changes and a variety of architectural and vegetative layers create a stage-like setting that oscillates between foreground and background – containment and permeability. Notions of threshold extend beyond that of a curb and front door to include exterior sidewalk, planter, stairs, balustrade, and archway.
Such a layering offers sensorial choices – varied, but clear – to the action of entering/exiting and does so within defensible space – simultaneously offering both prospect of possibilities (ranging from “stopping to smell the flowers” to racing for the front door) and refuge from undesirable interaction (e.g. facing windshields head-on). The proportion of the arcade works together with the entire system of aforementioned elements to achieve this experiential richness. Had the height been halved, the crescendo effect of climbing the stairs would have been lost, not to mention the expansive view. Conversely, had Walgreens raised the height of the ceiling, the spatial experience might be less claustrophobic, but not necessarily more desirable given its immediate adjacencies. Climatic conditions aside, the Mission succeeds because of the attention put toward threshold and reminds us that enjoyable space doesn’t occur from materiality, proportion, or context alone. Rather, it requires a deep understanding of these interrelationships.
On July 1, the Walker Art Center will be screening Citizen Architect, a film about Auburn University’s Rural Studio and its creator, the late Samuel “Sambo” Mockbee. It’s a glimpse into a program that has brought architecture to a group of people who typically aren’t served by our profession – the poorest of the poor in rural Alabama. For architects, or those about to enter the profession, Sambo’s vision and ambition can be an inspiration to us all. It certainly has been for us at Locus, both in our teaching experiences as well as in our business.
The course we led in Biloxi, MS three years ago closely resembles the work of the Rural Studio. It had all the ingredients of the messy, “get-your-hands-dirty” kind of architecture that combines a highly creative learning environment with meaningful results. Working in the shadows of multi-billion dollar casinos, our students designed and built a pavilion for folks with little means, many of whom had lost nearly everything in Katrina.
Our work at Locus has also been somewhat non-typical for many architects. Recently, when we looked back over our firm’s history, we realized over 80% of our clients spent less than $4,000 in fees with us. While this doesn’t represent the poorest of the poor in our country, it does suggest a wider range of clients than what the public perceives as the norm for those purchasing architectural design services. We take pride in the work we have done for clients of all shapes and sizes and we continue to look for ways to bring the benefits of architectural design – inspiring spaces and outstanding functionality, among others – to as many people as possible.
Paul Neseth, Locus principal and co-founder, will be a panelist at the post-screening discussion, where he will talk about the Rural Studio’s impact on Locus, as well as the newly formed RAW – Real Architecture Workshop.
Waiting for a prescription, I escaped the overstuffed aisles of my neighborhood pharmacy only to end up outside on an overly sturdy and uncomfortable park bench, confronted with asphalt. With unidentifiable stains on the beige plastic slats, I’m guessing most people pass on the implied invitation to sit here. Small metal angles at the ends deter even urban skateboarders from enjoying it. Useful to nobody, this seat is an ill-conceived sculpture, ugly in all deployments.
A vast overhang of EIFS looms over the bench. EIFS, pronounced EE-fiss, stands for Exterior Insulation Finishing System, one of many inexpensive manufactured siding materials textured to look like something else, in this case stucco (see also: vinyl siding, aluminum siding, Hardie siding, cultured stone, manufactured stone, asphalt shingles, etc.). Sitting there, I could imagine this awful space being labeled “ARCADE” on some architect’s set of drawings, which is a little bit like serving Budweiser as an “APERITIF”.
How many times have I heard a variation of one of the following phrases? 1. Architects are too expensive. 2. Architects tend to overdesign and spend money frivolously. 3. I can’t afford an architect. 4. I don’t think I need an architect. While I don’t deny these statements may be true at times, I hesitate to condemn the profession of medicine simply because health care is costly.
We believe there is value to design, yet we admit it is not easily quantified in a market influenced by realtors, appraisers, home inspectors, and bankers who have understandably tried to rationalize the monetary value of property. I can’t imagine how one could analytically measure experience in dollars; yet I think most would agree taking a coffee in Piazza San Marco, Venice is more enjoyable than an outdoor corral adjacent to the parking lot of a neighborhood Starbucks.
Consider the photo above with the one here.
An arcade worthy of the name
I could spend a week sitting in this space, considering the sunlight, the collage of colors, attention to detail and proportion, the curve of the arches, and the visual weight of materials. They all contribute to giving my visual senses a feast that can be consumed slowly or enjoyed while napping on an ancient chunk of timber.
Is it more expensive to build? Yes. Over designed? Frivolous? The arcade at Mission Santa Barbara has been embraced as worth saving for over 150 years, despite its mud-brick construction in an active seismic zone. Noone would lament the loss of my neighborhood Walgreen’s, built cheaply with ample understanding of market forces, yet this structure might stand for centuries.
Did the Greeks protest the expenditure of state funds for the Acropolis of Athens? Romans for the Coliseum? Parisians for the Louvre? No doubt they did, the same way I bristle at the sales tax for the construction of the new (beautiful!) Twins Stadium. Are we better off for them? Ticket sales and summer travel itineraries suggest many people think so. All four sites would not be what they are without talented designers, breathtaking architecture. That’s unquestionable value.
From small scales, say a bench, to that at the scale of a city, design affects our experiences. If our culture expects richness in those experiences, we should expect commensurate investment in thoughtful public and personal spaces. The returns may or may not be financial, but what is the worth of satisfaction?
My seven year old was at a friend’s birthday party this weekend, which always reminds me of the first one we gave at our house for our older son’s eighth birthday. Twenty five banshees pounding, sprinting, diving, and crashing around our house – each with a cup of some sticky fluid in hand. Wait, why did we agree to this? In different circumstances, I’d probably have repressed the memory by now, but I often reflect upon a moment from that party.
Each time a carload of boys would arrive, they’d sprint up the walk before jamming and wiggling through our front door simultaneously – like puppies. Breathless, most of them would take a quick look around and stop.
“WHOA! CARTER, YOUR HOUSE IS SO COOL!!! AWESOME!”
And boom, they were off to explore, drop toys over the catwalk, write on the chalkboard walls, stick magnets to the bathroom door, crank the stereo (of course), throw paper airplanes out the third floor windows, and crawl along the translucent floors while buddies cheered from below. “Let me try, my turn, my turn!” An indoor jungle gym of untapped potential.
The parents would come in a minute later, take a similar look around, and address my wife and me with a more calculated reaction, delivered in adult code. “Hey, this is really different…must be interesting to live here. What do your neighbors think?” TRANSLATION: What kind of weird maniacs would live in a house like this? Can I even trust my children here?
As our children develop into teens and adults, what happens to our acceptance and even thirst for difference? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting the masses should have a house like mine nor do I dismiss Tudors and Colonials as safe repetitions of worn European patterns. On the other hand, if kids – without a single exception in my experience – think our home is awesome, what changes after childhood to make people of their parent’s age suspicious?
I don’t have an answer, but I wonder if it has something to do with advertising. Sameness is somewhat ubiquitous in American culture, while regional culture may well be eroding with globalization. Gross oversimplification coming – in general, we eat similar foods, wear similar clothes, covet similar cars/bikes, and hang around with like-minded people. Our homes, when put on the market for consumption, are “depersonalized” so they appeal to the broadest (most beige) tastes. Why do we settle for this kind of life? Most of the people I know crave unique experiences when traveling, eating, or even just exercising. Why not demand it every day in the spaces we occupy?
I’m not going to take up skateboarding anytime soon, and I refuse to limit myself to my boys’ preferred eating habits, but maybe it’s time we try to see the possibilities our second graders see when viewing the world they move through. In fact, I think I’m going go home tonight and spray them both with a garden hose after a game of whiffle ball. In return, maybe they’ll try some escargot.
Past clients Paul and Martha asked us to create a porch and main floor bathroom for their century-old home in a historic district in Minneapolis, “…something with pizzazz, different, but without thumbing our noses at our neighbors, some of whom are strict traditionalists.”
New porch + bath towards the end of construction
We answered by referencing the roof line and construction of the original cornice and fascia, detailing which was important to the neighborhood group. Windows and trim also recall the original colors of the existing structure, yet all of this is contrasted by a vertical-grain redwood screen that provides privacy to porch-sitters a mere twenty feet from the sidewalk. Tree huggers need not send me hateful notes, all the redwood and douglas fir used in the project is in its second life. The redwood was sourced from Duluth Timber, reclaimed from wine barrels.
Hidden above – in the roofline – is a “dish” flat roof for a future planted surface using Live Roof. The project was carefully and lovingly assembled by Ed Erickson of Ed Erickson Construction.
AN ENERGY-EFFICIENT MODERN HOUSE at Art-A-Whirl? Huh?
At Locus, we’ll be launching PPoD FOR SALE, an inexpensive small kit house perfect for cabin, pool house, DIYers, or urban infill. Buy one today, sit on the couch enjoying the living room view by the end of summer. Seriously.
PPoD 1.5, with red steel siding & roofing
We’ll have information about underutilized services we’ve been offering for years: inexpensive fixed-fee design packages and free design consultations during First Thursdays in the Arts District. Naturally, we’ll be displaying beautiful images of environments created by Locus Architecture.
Bored? Yawning? Heard all about Art-A-Whirl too many times already? Bet you don’t know about Travis Nichols. On Sunday at 2, Travis will be at Locus to read from his first novel Off We Go Into The Wild Blue Yonder. In a recent review in the Star Tribune, Jane Ciabattari writes “Although sometimes unpolished, ‘Off We Go Into The Wild Blue Yonder’ is both original and haunting.” At times, the novel reminded me of Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything is Illuminated, which remains one of the most original, thought-provoking, and entertaining books I’ve read.
Art-A-Whirl opens Friday and closes Sunday, May 14-16. Friday night 5-10, Saturday 12-8, Sunday 12-5. Adam will be in Friday night and Sunday. Wynne will be in Saturday 12-4, and Paul will take the evening shift on Saturday, 4-8. See you there!
Sarah, a friend of a friend, writes a local food blog, Vegetarian Perspective. She mentioned Locus’ 2X2 series in a recent post on her blog, a recipe for Lemon Spice cookies. Seems we inspired her – at least in part – to bake some truly awesome cookies. Her photo doesn’t lie. Sustainable creativity isn’t all architecture.
Take a bike ride, burn some calories, and make room for a dozen cookies – followed by potato leek soup.
Yesterday, while the sun was pushing the temperature above 70 degrees outside, I spent the whole day in the windowless lecture halls of the Minneapolis Convention Center learning all there is to know about forests, wood and best construction practices. I learned that there are three biomes that make up Minnesota’s forests, that butyl based peel and stick flashing works better than asphalt based ones, that aspen trees need clear cutting to regenerate properly and that the Austrian workers who install KLH cross-laminated timber walls are precision maniacs. But the best thing I learned all day was a piece of advice provided by the water management guru as he was describing proper methodology for lapping building paper behind the siding on a house. After showing one failure after another, with mold splotches and rot in every picture he turned to us and said “never tuck your raincoat in your underwear.” Now that’s a piece of advice I can live by.
Locus Architecture announces the second installment of 2X2, a lecture series pairing local pioneers to talk about passions, inspirations, and relationships.
2X2 No. 2 this Saturday, April 17th, at 6:30pm.
Tracy Singleton, Birchwood Cafe, and Greg Reyolds, Riverbend Farm, will present and opine on GMOs and CSAs, steel cut oatmeal and artisan cheese, predator bugs and kids who recognize eggplant. Mark Wheat of 89.3 The Current will moderate.
Event is at the Locus Architecture Studio, 1500 Jackson St. NE, Ste. 333 in Minneapolis. We have limited seating, you must RSVP to get a spot to [email protected] Tickets are $10, cash only, at the door.
Our evening with Tracy & Greg will kick off a week of healthy events.
Sunday, April 18 – Joel Salatin Lectures
Joel Salatin comes to town. Who? Joel Salatin, a farmer profiled at length in author Michael Pollan’s The Ominvore’s Dilemma, and Ana Sofia Joanes’ food documentary FRESH, manages Polyface Farms in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. From Polyface’s website, “the farm arguably represents America’s premier non-industrial food production oasis…(developing) emotionally, economically, environmentally enhancing agricultural enterprises.” He will deliver two lectures – “Can You Feed the World? Answering Elitism, Production, and Choice” & “The Sheer Ecstasy of Being a Lunatic Farmer” – at the Bell Museum at the University of Minnesota, and attend two fundraisers. Busy guy. All events are open to the public, costs, times, and more information.
April 20-April 22, 7pm – FRESH Screenings FRESH documentary at the Riverview Theater. What’s FRESH? A documentary directed by Ana Sofia Joanes. From the film’s website, “FRESH celebrates the farmers, thinkers, and business people across America who are re-inventing our food system…forging healthier, sustainable alternatives, they offer a practical vision for a future of our food and our planet.”
We will have tickets for sale ($9.00) to FRESH screenings the evening Tracy & Greg speak at Locus. Otherwise, click here.
Saturday, April 24, 11am – 3pm – CSA Fair
Ever thought to yourself, “Hey, I should really join a CSA farm (Community Supported Agriculture) and support the local food economy? Do it this year! Recruit your neighbors, family & friends. Your reward? 1. Sustainably-grown organic vegetables every week from June through October. 2. Feeling good about supporting local businesses. Click here to learn how to do it.
Do your research, then check out the CSA Fair at the Seward Co-op on April 24th, from 11am – 3pm. Ask questions, talk to an actual farmer, and buy a farm share. If you crave more than beets, broccoli, and beans, some farms also offer fruit, coffee, eggs, bread, meat, and cheeses.
Better yet, buy a share at Riverbend Farm, Greg Reynold’s own farm outside of Delano.
Never mind the television show Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader?, the question we’re wrestling with at Locus is “Are most homebuyers smarter than a two year old?”
On nearly all of our residential projects, we get to a phase near the end where, for any number of reasons, we put the project in a vise and squeeze the square footage down by 5-10%. Although there is the occasional reaction from clients concerned that they’ll lose something they’ve grown to love, we inevitably find the project gets better as it zeros in on the essence of what the client really wants and needs.
While this refinement process has been our experience at Locus and is no doubt common at other architecture firms, it hasn’t been the norm in the general housing marketplace. And while we thought the current economy had changed the trend for ever larger homes, a couple of recent experiences suggests it hasn’t and has us at Locus wondering if most folks are smarter than a two year old when it comes to buying, or building, a house?
After a bit of prodding from my spouse a few weeks ago, we accepted a dinner invitation with her sister at their new house. I just knew the visit would come with the requisite tour by my brother-in-law. And I was right. After arriving at the house, we moved quickly past the greeting niceties and I was whisked away through the labyrinth of rooms, one after another all decked out like a furniture showroom, yet eerily uninhabited. Just as he was about to put his hand on what I’d hoped to be the last doorknob of the evening, he turned to me and said “now this sealed the deal for us and we had to buy it.” He stepped aside to usher me in and, with satisfaction punctuating every syllable, continued “welcome to my BONUS ROOM.”
Fast forward to a few days ago. My not-so-little girl turned 14 and, at dinner, our conversation turned to discussing her early years. Like most parents, we had struggled to set good eating habits so she would learn how to eat a balanced, nutritious diet. When she was about two, my wife and I used a sneaky tactic to get her to eat the peas, carrots and beans that she pushed aside on her plate. We’d tell her, “just three more bites and you can have a BONUS BITE.” And it worked. She’d gobble up three bites of something she didn’t want, just to be rewarded with more of the same because she thought it was special. Although I’m sad to say that tactic no longer works on her, it seems the same can’t be said for a large selection of American home buyers as they gobble up more and more square footage without regard to need. “Welcome to my bonus room” might best be replaced with “welcome to the space I didn’t know I needed and doesn’t have a use, but boy am I happy to have it.”
Unfortunately, unlike vegetables, getting more house than you need isn’t necessarily a good thing.
Our mailboxes, both postal and email, are flooded daily with trade and design magazines, most with the word “green” prominently featured on the cover. Inside, full page ads beckon: LED lighting, waterless urinals, green roofs, bamboo flooring, recycled content bathroom partitions, FSC certified cabinetry, agri-waste paneling, and so on.
I’m suffering from green product hangover, too many brand new buildings stuffed full of the latest products engineered specifically to maximize LEED points. Where are the beautiful buildings built to last over 100 years that won’t be tired and dated in 20? Who is talking durability in the sustainability manifesto?
I happened by the acclaimed Barker Center for Dance recently, on the University of Minnesota’s West Bank. A sculpturally complex building, the Barker Center was no doubt designed to allude to the thrust and energy of sinewy young dancers in motion. The building was probably lithe on dedication day, but at the ten year mark it’s showing its age, complete with premature beauty marks. Could it be intentional, symbolic of the dysplasia, back troubles, and arthritis that can plague dancers in later life?
To be fair, this building was not lauded as a green building or even a long lasting one. However, its grace is certainly measured in pristine walls and unblemished white surfaces – which have faded. The stains stem mainly from the way roof water is managed (or not), clearly the considerations of the architect.
Before writing off modernism as a conceit of form makers who aren’t interested in careful detailing, consider Kenzo Tange’s 1974 addition to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Like The Barker Center, it has large expanses of smooth white facade. However, the imperfections caused by weathering here are more patina and less scar.
Anticipating the ravages of elapsed time – addressing the problems of use, abuse, or weather – is suggested by the concept of building environmentally sensitive buildings, as much as selecting materials carefully and using them properly.
That’s not to say green construction is immune from performance disasters. The first straw-bale home in Minneapolis, completed in 1998, opened to hype about revolutionary building practices, agri-waste into housing, and affordable single family homes. Four years later, city officials condemned the structure while mold consumed the rotting straw within the walls, saddling the homeowner with debt on the memory of a house. Not so affordable. The structure is so far gone from the collective memory I couldn’t source a picture of it anywhere.
Mohsen Mostafavi, in his book On Weathering, precedes the body of the text with this: “Finishing ends construction, weathering constructs finishes.” One of those clever sentences architects love (i.e., “NewD irections” – Peter Eisenman), but a worthy challenge to building owners and designers. Owners, contractors, and architects have the most technologically advanced materials at their disposal, a very real advantage over our predecessors. What we often lack is the knowledge, ability, or desire to put them into a lifetime worth of service. Consider the differences in the following examples.
Concrete bench at Minneapolis' Public Library
Weathered corten steel
Glazed brick on a downtown building
The upper Midwest is a brutal climate for building longevity. Century-old brick buildings have stood the test of time, weathered elegantly, and provided us a link to a nostalgic heritage, yet they are unashamed energy hogs. When heating and maintaining these remnants becomes overly costly, to the point they start to disappear, will the aging of our modern constructions be as graceful?