By David Barrett, FAIA
As architects we are usually in a relationship with our clients from the get go to make their dreams come true. Seldom do we design, build the dream, and then hope that the dream attracts the dreamer.
In the case of Zoomerhouse – a concept home aimed at the active baby boomer – or what is called a Zoomer – we did just that. Putting form to ideas around a home to celebrate life and age gracefully in, we went out on a limb and brought to market our vision as a product.
The experience is a good one for designers, as we were coaxed into the role of developer with all the risks and hard financial decisions that are often the territory of our clients. When one’s own money is on the line, if nothing else, it is an education that makes us walk in someone else’s shoes, on a tightrope between aesthetics and budget. Will people value, or even perceive, quality upgrades, energy efficiencies, and custom details?
As it turned out, we learned some good lessons:
- Though we valued flexibility and wanted to give the buyers choice in how to use different spaces of the home, people viewing the home didn’t really want more choices and decisions, they wanted something defined. Many people don’t visualize things easily, so in the end we enclosed one of the “open concept” bedrooms and fenced the courtyard to give definition to those spaces.
- Location does matter. Even in a fantastic neighborhood, a baby boomer who has already done the kid thing may think twice about living across the street from an elementary school.
Many young families toured the house, but in the end the ecstatic new homeowners are quintessential Zoomers. Pictured above, Fred is in his late 50’s, and Lark is in her 40’s. At the closing, they had both just returned from a 50K race in New England. Now that’s zooming. And to top it off, he is a bona fide rocket scientist! The house will be perfect for them – it maximizes contact with nature and gives ease of access for outdoor gear.
After just a few weeks in their new house, Fred commented: “We both especially love the light, the sense of open space, and the flow within the house. The large windows located high in the walls bring in wonderful natural light throughout the day while maintaining a nice sense of privacy, even on a busy corner across from a school. We also appreciate the care given to environmental efficiency. The high quality of the workmanship is apparent throughout the house, as are the many thoughtful design features. All said, we love it!”
With my wife Betzi as listing agent for the house, and both of us being architects, we think the Zoomerhouse model of architecture will be desperately needed as the U.S. population ages. There is great success to be had in this venture. We joked with Fred and Lark that “it’s not rocket science,” but the truth is, Betzi and I have 65+ years experience between us, and that partnership makes for strong planning, design and marketing. Boy, the years zoom by.
As Betzi and I enjoy the fruits of our labor by taking off the month of July to travel the world, we will be thinking about the next iteration of Zoomerhouse. Maybe even Zoomerville? We already know that in our next design/build venture, we would like to enjoy the ride with some willing partners! Stay tuned.
Bluebell Home: Light and transparency interact in a light filled in-town living space.
By David Barrett, FAIA
On many mornings I sit in a café where daylight surrounds the lives that come and go. Caffeine serves as a temporary agent of our awakening; we are warmed inside by a quiet moment, conversations, a new day. I watch as the light dances beautifully across faces, subtle expressions revealing an inner response that might have been missed sitting in a darker corner.
I am hopelessly smitten with light. As an architect, I am the privileged manipulator of light space. Daylight in particular informs our moods, our sense of connection to the cycles of the day, and touches the “awe button”. Doesn’t it take your breath away?
Aside from daylight being naturally energy conserving, I was struck by some current health care research that crossed my desk.
Are you in favor of these?
- Better sleep quality
- Reduced agitation
- Better pain management
- A shorter hospital stay
Research shows these are all benefits of increased access to daylight in the health care environment.
Architectural space comes to life in natural daylight, and apparently so do we.
Examples of day lighting in Barrett Studio projects
Artists Home and Studios: East Hampton, N.Y. artists create in day lit studios that speak to their individual desires for light, color and going inward. Translucent Polygal clearstory windows invite the light of creativity.
Phoenix Home: Sweeping mountain views are brought into visual balance by way of soft daylight introduced from above.
Abbey of St. Walburga: The light of heaven and earth speaks of transcendence for monastic prayer in the chapel of the Abbey of St. Walburga. Mystical light illuminates the incense to create a sense of mystery and spirit.
Uncompahgre Retreat: Quality of daylight gives visual clarity and sense of time and place.
Home on the Range: The rhythm of daylight directs one’s path while giving context for art as well as passage.
Little Ship House: Layers of structure and light suggest the protection of the archetypal cabin, while lifting our sense of connection to the light and time of day, the seasons, and climate. Natural light provides a sense of well-being.
Wee Ski Chalet: Sitting in the snowy woods in the warmth of direct sunshine, passive solar provides illumination to the ochre interiors in a warming glow.
Healthcare Benefits Research
Sundolier, Inc. gathered this current research on daylight in the health care environment:
“Female patients in a cardiac ICU exhibited shorter length of stay in sunny rooms.”
Source: Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine
“Hospital patients with access to daylight have better sleep quality, reduced agitation and better pain management.”
Source: Architectural Engineering Design Group, Inc.
“Insufficient or inappropriate light exposure can disrupt normal circadian rhythms which may result in adverse consequences for human performance, health and safety.”
Source: LEUKOS – The Journal of the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America, vol 5 (1), pp. 1-26, July 2008.
“Patients residing in a hospital exposed to 46% higher intensity sunlight on average took 22% less analgesic medicine than counter parts with similar medical conditions on the darker side of the hospital – resulting in a 21% cost differential.”
Source: Psychosomatic Medicine
By David Barrett, Architect
Last Spring I told you about Zoomerhouse, the “aging gracefully” home prototype in Boulder, Colorado that my wife Betzi and I were building. We are so proud to say our baby has been born. She’s a beauty.
More than beauty, she has a reason for being: to help some lucky inhabitants age gracefully. Her new owner might be a Zoomer – someone over 45 years old who plans on being culturally and socially engaged for quite a while – a baby boomer with zip as they are described.
Zoomerhouse was designed to anticipate the needs of aging minds and bodies without cutting back on style or sustainability. Here’s what we had in mind:
- Zoomers expect the home to be an activity center, where they can continue to be involved with consulting, hobbies, meditation, yoga, creativity, exercise, and entertaining.
- Zoomers need smaller, more compact homes, with essential living on one level, lots of counter space, convenient storage, easier access to bath and shower, and less lawn to mow. Domestic needs can be tended to effectively as kitchen, laundry, and closets are open for easy access and proximity for multi-tasking.
- The Zoomerhouse flexes. It adapts, and morphs to respond to changing needs and evolving interests. What starts as a personal wellness space in the second story loft can reconfigure to house a Boomerang family member or a foreign exchange student, can transform into a social and financial outlet via Airbnb.com, or later in the aging process can accommodate a live-in health care giver.
- Zoomerhouse has minimized physical obstacles to one’s freedom of movement. From garage, to inside-outside flows, Zoomerhouse provides a seamless surface. The primary living level has generous clearances from doorways to pathways. The open plan is organized around the idea of continuous flows, loops, and freedom of choice: living large without boundaries!
- Zoomers live life around an outdoor courtyard. This outside room is open to the winter sun and shaded by deciduous trees for summer comfort.
- Zoomerhouse supports “next stage years” as a return to right livelihood; where living, working, and playing are supported in one home environment. An in-home studio/office with abundant daylight allows for continued work, consulting, activities and hobbies to bring balance to the active mind and body.
To visit Zoomerhouse, contact Betzi Barrett at Four Star Realty
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 Two 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.
We live in a culture geared to immediate gratification and short-term thinking. Sudden change, and even loss, can bring about opportunity for us to challenge our value systems, our sense of beauty, and our trust in the perfect unfolding of life itself.
These clients live in Wisconsin, and are deeply connected to their community, their work, and their roots. They also have a long-term love affair with the Rocky Mountains. Like many of us boomers, they were looking at their dreams and were determined to act upon them. In this case, that dream is the building of a family retreat in the foothills west of Boulder. This retreat will act as a place of coming together for them and their grown children, who are scattered around the country and are often off on world adventures.
The site they found spoke to them in its relative ease of access, while being a part of the ponderosa forest that weaves its way through lichen covered rock outcroppings. However, what most struck them was the broad view wrapping around them from east to west, taking in the plains, the city lights of both Boulder and Denver, the undulating foothills, and glimpses of the Divide to the west. Our client stood on the place in the site that we all sensed as “home” and asked for an architecture that would “drink in the views.”
This desired sense of reach led to a formal approach that both found fit from an allusion to the rolling landscape’s folded forms, and to the skyscape molded by our spectacular lenticular clouds. Stretching a long, thin house on an east-west axis invited sun penetration and acted as a lens to frame the dynamic views. Following our client’s esoteric cues for an interconnected geometry, we developed a design that was akin to a vessel for connections. Upon completing the Site Plan Review Process with Boulder County and submitting for a building permit, the winds of change drove the Four Mile Fire up the western slope below the building site, consuming the four acre site in an inferno that blackened every tree in the mature ponderosa forest, and with it made opaque the dream they had been actively pursuing for years.
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. Each individual has a unique experience of loss. Each has a story that includes, in one way or another, the states of processing death: shock, anger, moments of fear & despair, glimmers of hope, tough decisions & setbacks, and then in its own time, acceptance and rebirth.
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. Over the next several weeks, 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.
Rod Moraga is a man who knows fire. His professional expertise is in the analysis of fire potential in our urban/wild interface. His work as co-founder of Anchor Point Group establishes and executes fire mitigation strategies. His wife Shari has a long standing love for modernist architecture, and Barrett Studio was hired to design a new home for their family in Boulder proper; one that would be a model of fire resistance, efficiency and climatic delight. The family planned to sell their home in Four Mile Canyon and relocate to the new home in North Boulder. With construction having just begun, Rod, a volunteer firefighter in the Four Mile Fire Department, answered a call to respond to a fire west of Wall Street. From his nearby home in Four Mile Canyon, Rod became the first responder to a fire the soon exploded, being fed by mounting winds. During the battle against this blaze, Rod’s own home was consumed by the inferno. That construction was underway on his family’s new home in Boulder, using a material system & specifically designed for fire resistance was ironic at best.
Now, seven months later, Rod & his family have moved into their new home, built by Renove Construction using Aerated Autoclaved Concrete (AAC). Nicole Delmage, an Associate at Barrett Studio, worked with me, Rod & Shari, to maximize the inherent potentials of this thick wall, high mass, highly insulative building system while expressing a decidedly modernist aesthetic. More about the how the design was informed by the material’s unique properties can be found on the Barrett Studio website.
by David Barrett
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.” Dickens, Tale of Two Cities
Like many others, I’ve been wondering more and more, “What can we do to create in a time that seems to reflect this Dickensian world?” With an undeniable collapse of business as usual comes the associated need for invention. As the systems we have so embraced as standards and practices to keep our economic machine chugging along go haywire, we are fools to sit back and wait for the nex Ponzi scheme or “drill, baby, drill” mantra to fuel our engines. Can we really be so foolish as to hook our wagon – once again – to quick fixes that continue taking us down the inevitable slippery slope of the perfect storm: peak oil, religious fundamentalism (of all faiths), global climate change, and giganticism?
OR (The Call to Action)
Do we take stock of the dire straits we find ourselves in and see need, not greed…can we change our perspective from passive observers and codependents in this highly dysfunctional family and reclaim some power? As good capitalists – natural capitalists maybe – can we see that needs mean opportunities? Is this system not ripe for creative solutions? As designers of our future, are we not in the position to reclaim design as a meaningful act – one that looks at the big picture and as Charles and Ray Eames suggested in a similar season of design revolution, “Look for the big things in the little things, and the little things in the big things?” These words so clearly instruct us to think globally, think systemically & holistically; recognize interconnectivity, put on our telescopic minds!
powers of 10 courtesy the Eames