by David Barrett
Boomers with a Zest for Living | A Place for Improvisation | The Zoomerhouse
David Barrett and his wife, Betzi Barrett of Four Star Realty, are designing and developing a prototype for-sale “aging gracefully” home in Boulder, Colorado. This is the first in a series of posts documenting the principles, ideas, and practicalities of this exciting endeavor!
More and more I think of design, and life itself, as a series of ongoing improvisations. As the anthropologist Mary Catherine Bateson describes, “swimming in the vulnerability of the moment” kept her thinking alive, kept her awake. Our options seem to be denial or spending too much time prepping to ease the stress of an unknown future. So what does this have to do with the design of a “Zoomerhouse?”
Well, what if we have a tool for aging that makes change more comfortable? What if accessibility is seen not through institutional eyes, but as a way of freeing us up by empowering us to access life’s necessities, minimizing restrictions and barriers? What if home is akin to a Swiss Army knife, serving as a tool, rather than an obstruction? The Zoomerhouse is intended to support creative aging by allowing us to improvise as we confront the inevitable changes that come with age. By celebrating a generosity of flow, we can move comfortably through spaces, reconfiguring to better meet our changing needs.
If we see life, and ourselves, as more verbs than nouns, active life might be seen as an ongoing series of performances. So as a demographic that questioned authority, why not throw away those tarnished scripts of our parents and take on aging from a creative place of improv?
Zoomerhouse has recently come out of the ground, and stands as an open empty frame. We will continue to construct this flexible home with the intent to provide a beautiful space in which one can age gracefully. We’ll keep you up to date on the progress as we seek out fresh approaches to our living architecture improvisations.
by Maggie Flickinger
As spring is upon us, we can’t help but stretch toward the warmth and relax into the longer days and their promise of summer. However, in Colorado we also overhear tense conversations about how great the massive highcountry snows are, but will they help mitigate fire danger or will the snowmelt just raise already swollen watertables? People are still impacted from last fall’s flooding, and even from the previous summers’ wildfires. Colorado has long been thought of as a relatively “disaster proof” state – free from hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes. The recent years’ activity has shifted Coloradan’s thinking. Increasingly volatile weather patterns point to persistent and growing natural disasters as time passes – even the United Nations agrees, with their unequivocal March report on climate change and weather patterns.
Colorado and the Front Range has many communities that straddle urbanity and the wilds - approximately 40% of Coloradans live in this wildlands urban interface (WUI) – which increases the potential for disaster impact, especially from fire. However, we’re also resilient and proactive, learning from the past to affect the future. Back in 2010, Sam Nishek, the Principal of Building Technology at Barrett Studio architects, wrote an article called “Wildfire Resistant by Design.” The information in that post regarding designing for wildfire resistance is still useful, and we have some new tools for you as you prepare for summer and what it may bring.
Wildfire Preparedness Resources:
- Prepare an emergency kit & emergency communications plan for yourself and family members who live in the area.
- Insure your home and its belongings against disaster. Check existing insurance policies against the home’s current value and against specifics – does the policy cover outbuildings and the “toys” that may have accumulated in them over the years? The Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA) has a helpful pamphlet on Wildfire & Insurance
- Defend your home in advance by Creating Wildfire Defensible Zones, use Firewise’s 11 step checklist to simplify the process.
- If you’re building a new home, seek an architect experienced in WUI issues, and follow Firewise Construction guides. See our post on Wildfire Resistant by Design for more ideas.
- “Pin” your home and learn about location specific risks and mitigation tactics with this interactive Wildfire Risk Assessment Mapping tool
- The federal government has been beefing up their disaster preparedness resources, with information specific to wildfires at their ready.gov site.
- Join communities and individuals nationwide on May 3 for National Wilfdire Preparedness Day! Join an event in progress, create your own community / neighborhood event, or take the day to protect your home with defensive measures.
And, for inspiration from some resilient homeowners who have come face-to-face with fire and emerged out the other side, check out our series on Loss & Opportunity: Part I: First Responder & AAC | Part II: The Phoenix Rising | Part III: Resilience in Sharing
by Maggie Flickinger
In honor of our recent Spring Forward, the first day of Spring, and a string of 70-80 degree days, we’re featuring some bright lighting options to spread the Spring Fever! We’re also “Spring Cleaning” the Our Favorite Things series a bit – sprucing things up with larger images and general pricing information for featured products. Enjoy the light and the growth that spring brings!
The craftspeople at Hubbardton Forge are devoting themselves to increasingly modern fixtures brought to life using traditional techniques and materials: hand forged wrought iron. These modern American blacksmiths play with bold geometry and often integrate biomorphic forms – albeit sometimes tritely as in their leafy table lamps. Our newest favorite is the modular Quill Pendant, all angles yet somehow softly organic. Outfitted with long-lasting, energy sipping LED bulbs, the sloped ceiling friendly fixture can be installed horizontally, vertically, and in connected multiples for varying spaces & volumes. Reminiscent of a fractured feather quill, this piece would make a dramatic statement horizontally (as pictured) above a dining table, anchoring a living arrangement, or vertically above a double height stairwell. Retail starting at $2,200.
Absurdly minimal, the LED Angled Plane Sconce from Sonneman Lighting is a study in simplicity. Something about a light fixture that looks like a precisely tacked up stray piece of paper makes us architects swoon. The sconce is part of the new in 2014 A Way of Light collection, which also features other pared down stunners such as the Bracket Sconce and the Panel Wedge Sconce. In our brave new world where form often trumps function, fear not: the Angled Plane Sconce is a workhorse too; with 900 lumens of output, it’s equivalent to a 60 watt bulb. Featuring a slimline 2.25″ extension from the wall, this aluminum fixture is the perfect choice for that white-on-white connoisseur seeking a barely-there energy saving light fixture that blends right into the wall. Retail starting at $300
Every once in a long while a product is unveiled that seems like an April Fool’s joke, a magic trick, or a plain and simple hoax (popcorn tulips, anyone?) However, as far as we can tell, the innovative Starpath from the UK’s Pro-Teq Surfacing is the real deal. The spray-on application absorbs and stores UV energy during the day then releases the energy at night, resulting in a glowing starscape that clearly delineates pathways. Like a responsive organism, the light emitted naturally adjusts itself to the ambient light levels. Users would have to weigh the social / environmental benefits of increased path usage & safety, reduced electrical lighting needs, and retaining embodied energy by resurfacing existing worn paths instead of replacing them, against the chemical makeup of the system: an elastomeric system with a polyurethane base and polyaspartic top coat. Need to see it to believe it? Check out the video here.
If the price of the Quill leaves your heart racing like the first jog of springtime, a simpler freshen up can be achieved by swapping out the lamps on your nightstands! Urban Outfitters, long reputed as a purveyor of “of the moment” fashions for of the moment hipsters, has dipped their toes into the home decor realm over the past few years. While often high on kitsch value but low on quality, some of their pieces stand out. We enjoy the whimsical yet modern Constellation Lamp. By day, the cool steel shade is subtly accented by the bright yellow pop of the interior. By night, the punched constellations glow, harkening back to sweet dreams under the summer stars. Currently priced at $39.
by Maggie Flickinger
Barrett Studio architects is proud to have been named “Best of Houzz 2014″ again after our surprise rookie win last year. Since our first award, our images have been added to over 15,000 new Ideabooks in the past year!
Houzz is an unparalleled visual resource, with almost three million photos of quality architectural & interior design spaces from all over the world. Now that we’ve used Houzz to share our work with the world and to help our clients as we design their homes, we’d like to share our simple guide to maximize Houzz as a valuable piece of the “information in” phase of your project.
How to Houzz: Seven Steps to Success
- Become a Collector Collect images into Ideabooks based on colors, materials, and how spaces make you feel – we’ll worry about architectural details that tie the whole together.
- Focus & Organize Don’t get sucked in by the aesthetic “wow” factor! Try to think of how it would be for you to inhabit the spaces. Just because I love what an open air tropical grand family kitchen looks like (especially since it’s February in Colorado!) doesn’t mean that’s what would work – or what I would really want – for my cozy couples home in the West. Organize your Ideabooks by room or space in the house: Kitchen, Bathroom, etc.
- Thumbs Down! Include images that you don’t like…add notes. These “thumbs down” images are just as informative as images you do like and can avert the potential trap of going too far down a design path that won’t satisfy your needs.
- Sharing is Caring Give your architect access to your Ideabooks, and if they are involved in Houzz ask them to create their own Ideabook for your project. This sharing is the beginning of co-creation!
- Nuts & Bolts Make sure this image sharing is paired with a programming questionnaire from your architect. This defines the “program” or what goes on in the house – number of bedrooms, bathrooms, connections and adjacencies, special use spaces, how you want those spaces to make you feel, etc. Even though a picture is worth a thousand words, there are still pragmatic and emotive details that you just can’t convey with images alone.
- Talk Money Talk with your architect about the level of finishes and materials you’ve placed in your Ideabooks and how they stack up to your overall budget. If things align, great, full steam ahead! If not, your architect can give you an idea of areas where splurging makes sense to enrich experience, and areas where alternative materials or design solutions can save money and still evoke the same feelings as your Ideabook images.
- Letting Go Trust your architect to take these often disparate images and morph them into something that is not a copy, but uniquely yours! We’re trained to spot patterns, listen carefully both aurally & visually, and interpret the likes and dislikes of our clients into a special place that is theirs – that’s why it’s called a custom home! We’ll use these images + the program questionnaire + our discussions with you, add in what we know about our specific climate and spirit of place, and ultimately synergize a design that tells a visually consistent story – but not just the digital Houzz story, your story.
by Maggie Flickinger
This time of year, everything can start taking on a wash of, well, dreariness…boredom…familiarity. It’s the February doldrums in full effect! Not that familiarity is bad, but things can be a lot more fun with a dash of the unexpected. Some of Our Favorite Things surprise us with Materials Mashups. Familiar forms reinvented with unexpected materials, materials applications that inspire a rethinking of function, new production techniques for ancient building systems – here are a few of our Materials Mashup must-haves…
Back in the day – by which we mean the 1920′s – the popular petticoat shade was demurely crafted of delicate milk glass. Then along came feminism and a dash of steampunk…the creative minds at NativeCast reimagined the petticoat form with a stronger, more rough and tumble concrete shade. Their Milkglass Pendant doesn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, keeping the throwback filament bulb and solid brass fittings typical of this vintage style. The juxtaposition of the coy ruffled form crafted of unexpectedly heavy concrete is quintessential material mashup.
How about replacing the materials of gasoline, glass, metal, and combustion with the clean energy of our own two feet? That’s the idea of the Walking School Bus. The “bus driver” still takes part – but as a “bus walker,” acting as an adult chaperone to keep kids safe and on track…often there is a front bus walker and a rear bus walker. While not a new concept, it’s gaining traction in the US partially thanks to a nod from Michelle Obama in a July 2013 speech: outside of the environmental benefits, she touts the added bonus of pushing back the alarming childhood obesity trend.
Since Neolithic times, earth has been employed as a functional, spirit-of-place building system. In recent years, the comparative cost of rammed earth has skyrocketed when pitched against commercially available, mass produced building systems like the stick frame and the ubiquitous CMU. On-site block building machines can help, but structural integrity and specialized construction techniques can be problematic. Now, Watershed Block has commercialized the production of rammed earth blocks, clocking in at just 15-20% pricier than a colored ground face CMU. While we have concerns about insulating exterior applications in our mountain climate, this seems like a great contender for internal mass walls in passive solar homes. Only in CA for now, they’re currently on the lookout for suitable mico-manufacturing sites nationwide.
Ecovative has been pioneering sustainable packaging and insulation grown from Mycelium – the vegetative part of fungus – for a few years, and is now expanding into architectural & structural possibilities. David Benjamin’s seasonal Hy-Fi folly for MOMA/P.S.1 will grow building blocks out of mycelium and corn husks within a reflective framework designed to maximize the growth by increasing solar delivery. Mycelium is also the basis of mycoprotein – found in the popular Quorn brand vegetarian food – so I wonder how far off we are from an organic, renewable, edible structure…the mushroom revolution is here!
by Maggie Flickinger
What does Google Earth make of homes designed by BARRETT STUDIO architects? While creating a custom Google map for a springtime Barrett Studio Homes biking tour, we got excited about seeing our finished homes from this previously inaccessible (unless you have a pilot friend or a fancy UAV) vantage point. In this first edition of the Barrett Studio from Above series, Google’s satellites & airplanes spy daring biomorphic forms that mirror shifting geology and geometric arrangements with sacred roots. In several instances, there’s an uncanny resemblance between the finished home as shot from above the earth and the study model as shot from above the drafting table.
A fuzzy shot caught a mysterious radial UFO touching down in a fan on the rolling Wyoming hills, while in neighboring Montana, a vesica pisces vessel evocative of a fall leaf settles lightly.
Google also spies simple elegance in the deliberate repetition of square pavilions, and more complex clusters inspired by clues from agricultural & mining vernacular.
While architecture is experienced in 3D, studying the procession of spaces, organization of forms, unifying elements, and contextual clues in plan view early in the design process helps architects to inform that 3D experience in a way that palpably resonates. Seeing the results of this study in Google Maps often reveals the inspiration or “big idea” behind a home’s design: tying elements together to elicit a “can’t quite put my finger on it” feeling of unity and belonging as you live in the home. Next time you’re up high, peek out the airplane window or down valley to the town below and see what all those roofs tell you about the order within – what goes on there.
And, keep an eye out: next up in the Barrett Studio from Above series: Neighborly Neighbors!
by Maggie Flickinger
Barrett Studio architects is proud to have been named “Best of Houzz 2013.” This honor goes to professionals with project images most often added to Houzzer’s Ideabooks. Since we first uploaded a few images six months ago, we’ve added more and more, and now our images have been added to over 10,000 Ideabooks!
Houzz is an amazing visual resource, with over a million photos of quality architectural & interior design spaces from all over the world. Feel free to browse our images below, and you can get even more involved by clicking through and asking us – or other designers – questions about their photos! Even though it sometimes means playing detective and digging through our archives, we really enjoy being connected with design enthusiasts this way…feel free to use us as an information resource, and we’ll do our best to find answers / solutions for you!
by Maggie Flickinger
Lush and radiant, Pantone’s Color of the Year, Emerald Green, is energizing but sophisticated. Deeply connected to nature, Emerald is a powerfully saturated accent color that manages to be vibrant, yet deep. It looks smashing with greys & blacks for drama, or with stark whites for sleek elegance - it’s a natural for any architect’s palette! If bright on bright on bright is your theme, pair Emerald Green with Dandelion and Turquoise for an exuberant jolt of summer. Here are a few emerald green faves making the rounds at our studio…
Dramatic Emerald Green Soapstone could easily take center stage in a modern kitchen, with understated blonde cabinetry, a crisp white backsplash, and neutral grey or white flooring. The movement in the stone’s surface could seem dated, but when balanced by clean detailing and larger field tiles, this colorpop countertop exudes contemporary luxury. Functionality doesn’t take a backseat: soapstone features excellent heat, and acid-resistance. Quarried in Brazil & offered in Colorado through Arizona Tile, sustainability points are higher than European or Asian quarried natural stones.
Classic form paired with innovative materials is a foolproof formula, and one taken advantage of in the Produzione Privata Acquamiki Lamp. Designed by renowned Italian architect Michele de Lucchi, the lamp juxtaposes a sumptuously curvaceous silhouette with delicate mouth-blown Murano glass, tinted with a hint of emerald. Illuminate the Acquamiki with a vintage-style filament bulb for a retro look, or with a high-tech LED bulb for energy savings and modern flair.
Hand thrown ceramic sinks lend an artisanal touch to the bathroom – reinforcing the art and ritual of bathing and ablution. Michael & Nancy Linsley helm Linsley Studios, bringing their unique aesthetic and years of experience to architectural ceramics. This particular matte finish sink features a double cascade and a fluid intermingling of vibrant greens and blues, reminiscent of tropical waterfalls. Inset in a glossy black granite countertop, the colors become even more striking. Click here for more on the Linsley’s home & studio.
Are you a color virgin who longs to bring in color but hesitates when it comes to permanent pops? The Bow Bin wastebasket brings in a modest amount of emerald green, making it the perfect accent for the color adverse. Its generous proportions means it could do double duty as a laundry collector or toy bin – this beauty shouldn’t be hidden in the mudroom! Storage with a social conscience, the Bow Bin is made by the indigenous Aeta people, preserving traditional rattan weaving techniques, and benefiting the people through the NGO Preda.
by Maggie Flickinger
If you’re tapped into the Conscious Living community, you’ve heard of cottage living, microhousing, and the tiny house movement – driving square footages down and eco cred up. But how low can you go? Of course, you wouldn’t want to make any horrifyingly planet-killing mistakes like using unreclaimed nails, but otherwise, this intrepid new homeowner from Portland has our nano-living stamp of approval.
Well, now that we’ve seen this shining example, we’re embarrassed that the smallest homes we’ve designed clock in at just around 1,000 square feet. Always up for a challenge, Barrett Studio is now exploring space and energy saving solutions for our clients such as:
- A living moss wall Murphy bed does double duty purifying your air and softening your sleep!
- Install Kinetic Power Harnessing Treadmills for your pets: They run all day so your electric meter doesn’t!
- The “Vertebrae:” a swiss army knife bathroom!
- Invest in a pair of binoculars and scrap your space & energy hogging flat screen TV – we bet your neighbors have cable!
- Why waste all that counter space while you’re sleeping? Grab an Ostrich pillow to turn your kitchen into a bedroom!
- Aggressive scheduling of your kids’ sleepovers eliminates the need for bedrooms at your house!
And the ultimate idea from David Barrett himself: Net Zero energy = Net Zero Square Footage: Socially acceptable couch surfing means you stay with friends and family eschewing a home all together.
Funnily Yours in Commitment to Our Planet,
The Barrett Studio Gang
David’s 35-year practice, rooted in deep listening to both people and our ecology, has been recognized with his being named as a 2013 inductee into the American Institute of Architects College of Fellows. Less than 4% of AIA members hold this distinguished honor, one of the highest of the profession.
Fellowship honors architects who have not only achieved a standard of excellence in the profession individually, but who also have made a significant contribution to architecture and society on a national level. While assembling the submission package, David had the opportunity to reflect on the past 35 years of his career, and what he’s passionate about moving forward. Two patterns arose: design for people – a keen interest in humanism that is sometimes professionally devalued in favor of “capital-A” architecture – and a deeply flowing biophilia paired with ecological patterning as a design tool.
David’s practice has revolved around embodying the architect as approachable collaborator and provocateur, bringing playfulness to the process and meaning to the results. Through projects as diverse as the Holiday Urban Neighborhood and the Twin Buttes Ecovillage, the Dushanbe Friendship Center, the Eagle Rock School, and myriad green homes, David has spread his strong belief that we can sustain a healthy planet by listening to her cues.
Energizing alignments with like-minded builders, landscape architects, engineers, and visionary clients deserve recognition also – it takes a village!
Following the honor of being named a Fellow, David looks forward to continuing this bright path of bringing people into experiences of natural wonder through the built environment.
The design publication Western Art & Architecture has profiled David Barrett as “One to Watch” in their Illuminations section. Featuring Barrett Studio’s Home on the Range – which graces the magazine’s cover as well – David’s work is described as “at once striking, beautiful, and humble.”
David speaks to his philosophy of “architecture as relationship: between structure & earth, client & architect, materials & space, and even time. For David, architecture is not about the way something looks, but rather how it came to be and how it continues to unfold.“
For the complete article, head to Western Art & Architecture’s website, or pick up a copy on newsstands through November.
by Maggie Flickinger
Amidst a set of sizzling summer days, the Colorado Green Building Guild Green Playhouse auction was a welcome relief with cooler temps and even a brief afternoon shower. All the better for spending the afternoon outside, admiring the green playhouses and chatting with the architect + builder teams.
It was amazing to see our team’s contribution – the WonkyPlay – in action! BW Construction did a phenomenal job bringing David’s concept sketch to life. Kids stooped low under the top half of the dutch door, clambered up and down through the windows, and whooshed out the back via the slide. The also admired the hand painted gecko on the door, and were curious about the rain chains and covered garden. A few of them even found the secret “Hidey Hole” and fun stuff inside. Parents asked lots of questions about the bright green upcycled carpet tubes that made up the upper half of WonkyPlay’s walls.
Our team was thrilled when WonkyPlay secured the highest bid in the live auction! In the “People’s Choice” round, whoever bid the highest got to pick whichever playhouse they wanted: after a feverish bidding war, the victor, Grandma Linda chose WonkyPlay! She wanted WonkyPlay to bring hours of fun to her grandchildren, and her daughter & son-in-law had just bought a home with a great yard in Niwot. It was truly a special moment to see all of our work and love being rewarded by the huge smiles on the winning family’s faces!
But WonkyPlay certainly wasn’t alone in this adventure. Many other playhouses from local architect + builder teams kept everyone entertained throughout the afternoon. From charred trees to reusable shopping bags woven together with thrift store belts, the creative material use was inspiring. Each playhouse was auctioned off to a loving family, raising over $12,000 total for the Growing Gardens.
We so appreciated being a part of this incredible community effort along with so many other talented folks from the Boulder area. And…our cogs are definitely spinning, devising more child-geared fun for next year!
by Maggie Flickinger
What happens when 19 architect + builder teams are charged with creating green playhouses to benefit a local non-profit? That’s just what the Colorado Green Building Guild’s Green Playhouse Design Competition – and our team, Barrett Studio architects & BW Construction – aims to find out.
David’s design for the WonkyPlay House is simple and fun – designed with kids in mind – while bringing in a host of reclaimed and upcycled materials. Discarded carpet tubes stand in for logs in this updated “cabin.” Kids can go through the front door, peek up at the sky through the periscope, jump out the window (via a rope ladder!) or whiz down the slide, encouraging active play. A starter garden patch hugs the side of the playhouse to allow these little green thumbs to grow!
Our friends Donna & Randy, of BW Construction, diligently scalvaged – scavenged + salvaged, Randy’s term – across the city of Boulder to bring David’s design sketch to life! Generous donations of time and materials from local businesses and neighbors helped to make it all possible. In the long run, 99.5%* of the playhouse is recycled, reused, or upcycled! *Okay, we did end up buying 2 gallons of paint. This photo is the playhouse coming down the home stretch of construction.
Join us at the Hawthorn Community Garden’s outpost of Growing Gardens on Saturday, June 14th from 3-6 pm as our finished WonkyPlay House, and the other 18 playhouses are auctioned off! You can bid of course, or just stop by to get some ideas for your own special Green Playhouse. Even better, like Colorado Green Building Guild’s Green Playhouse Facebook Page for a chance to win one of the playhouses on Saturday!
by Maggie Flickinger
Factory Made celebrated their official opening just down the street from our studio last Friday. Purveyors of locally produced modern / artsy furniture, home goods, and jewelry, the shop also boasts “factory” space for woodworking, pottery throwing, digital media, and clothes making. For now, their website is actually a Tumblr feed, so online shopping isn’t an option. However, if you’re in the neighborhood, head into the shop for a healthy dose of inspiration – and maybe something new and handmade for your home! Welcome to the neighborhood!
In less temperate climes, building sustainably often revolves around the heating / cooling conundrum. In Japan, where many homes lack central heating, the priority shifts from heating the space to heating the person inhabiting the space. Enter the Kotatsu, an ingenious low table with integrated efficient electric heater. The thick overhanging blanket traps the heat, keeping those sitting on cushions or legless chairs around the kotatsu nice and cozy. Working, eating, and socializing can all occur at the kotatsu, making it somewhat akin to the ancient concept of “hearth as heart.”
Terra Cotta floor tile is warm underfoot and effective as a passive solar thermal sink, 100% organic & natural in makeup, highly water resistant, and its handcrafted living finish patinas over time. However, the traditionally florid ochre and orange colorways are often at odds with modern homes. Not so with Allicante black terra cotta floor tiles, available in a variety of sizes and naturally colored with dark earth. If they weren’t manufactured in Spain – greatly expanding their carbon footprint – these modern interpretations of a traditional tile would be even higher on our wish list.
David Trubridge, an English designer who has made New Zealand his home for the past 20 years, creates kinetically evocative lighting and furniture with cultural underpinnings and DIY appeal. The “Free Design” section on his website offers designs for lighting and a birdfeeder that you can make yourself out of scrap paper or other easy to find materials. Test your origami skills with the birdfeeder and create a warm welcome back to our feathered friends as spring approaches!
by David Barrett, AIA
The idea that design can be a part of the healing process has been termed “restorative” or “regenerative” design. The cycle of life, death, and rebirth is one that nature models for us in homeostasis, and cultures celebrate in seasonal rituals that remind us of the spiritual message found in impermanence and even of death itself. When the Four Mile Fire raged through the foothills west of Boulder last Labor Day, 6,000 acres of mountain landscape were suddenly and drastically transformed. In its wake, 169 homes were destroyed and those who had lived in them were left with the challenge of reconstructing their lives, their dreams, their homes, and the precious landscapes they had inhabited.
Over this past year, as Architects, we have been invited into four projects that are engaged in this process. With each, we have the opportunity to touch the essence of restorative design in both human and ecological terms. This is Part Three of a four-part series, wherein we’ll be sharing the story of each of these homes, families, and individuals: their experience, the co-creative process, and the unfolding of the built form as a tool for creating positive energy, opportunity, and with it, a quality of healing.
Andi O’Conor knows the loss that fire can bring. Her family home burned to the ground when Andi was just a girl. Then, decades later, she lost her home again as the Four Mile Fire swept through the foothills outside of Boulder.
For Andi, the rebuilding process contains the seeds for re-creation. As a gifted writer, speech coach, and professor, she has turned this experience of loss into an opportunity to explore the internal world of such devastation.
In her blog, “Burning Down the House: Essays on the Poetry of Loss” she has made accessible her feelings and lessons, and she has also created a forum for others to share how loss, in its many parallel forms, can be confronted, deeply felt, and eventually utilized for creation. The blog has become so noteworthy that it has been featured in the New York Times and was recognized as the Westword Best Personal Blog of 2010. Fostering community is just one aspect of Andi’s ability to bring together a concert of connection, as her gatherings to ritualize and celebrate new beginnings on the site of her former home can attest. The groundbreaking of her new home both blessed the land that will soon be home again, and also served to bring new friends together in a spirit of thanks and excitement.
Pushing Today’s Solar Technology & Architecture
Built in 1976, the house Andi lost in the Four Mile Fire was an early interpretation of passive solar design. Sited to take in the abundant sun and views, it was at times hard to control temperature fluctuations representative of these first generation solar homes. With a commitment to raising the bar on energy responsive, sustainable design, Andi asked us at Barrett Studio to help her once again bring forth the connection to the natural setting that she has so loved, but to also take advantage of lessons we’ve learned over the past 30 years of approaching net-zero-energy home design.
With ongoing council from mutual friends and long-term solar advocate Maureen McIntyre, we have conceived of a long, thin house that stretches east-west to capture both views and the sun. To balance dramatic diurnal temperature swings that are part of high country living, the home will have significant thermal mass, high insulation, and deep overhangs for sun control.
The central living space is a gabled volume that unites living, dining, kitchen, and music: a social center for Andi and friends. This space, reminiscent of a country cabin, spills out to a large, elevated deck that radiates out to the distant views from the plains and Bear Mountain to the east to Sugarloaf to the west. This social space is flanked with bedrooms at opposite ends.
One of the most effective decisions that Andi made in her conservation ethic was, simply, “Build less space, of quality!” This response is often the missing piece as we try to change the home building paradigm. With a new energy efficient home that “lives large,” Andi can feel comfortable sitting by a fire, at home with her trusty dog, Nellie, or in an exuberant celebration with her extended family of friends.
Aging in Place
Another driving force that informed Andi’s home is the concept of “aging in place.” More than ever, the concept of having our homes designed in a way that allows an ease of access and flow – as our bodies perhaps become less nimble – becomes a forethought, rather than an afterthought. In the case of Andi’s home, the house is a single story with wide openings and easy access halls. Bathrooms are generous and curbless. A bedroom anchors each end of the home, allowing for live-in care if eventually needed while preserving a sense of privacy and easy access to the commons. With low maintenance materials and extreme energy efficiency, she can sail her little mountain boat into whatever her future holds!
In her blog, Andi writes, ” When I move in, I will have a gorgeous, energy-efficient house to live in, for the rest of my life….A house I can live in, gracefully, as I age. A house that is run by the power of the sun, and that is filled with the love of friends, who will sit on the big, curved deck and dream their own dreams – of houses, and oceans, and pirate treasure, buried deep. A house to die in – a house to live in..”
In the end, it is how we react and learn from our experiences. Andi O’Conor is a model of resiliency and optimism. These are lessons we can all take to heart as we create the future.
Join us soon for the conclusion of the series in Part Four.