Friday, March 27, 2015

Walls in Balance: A Sketch

We are making it a habit to share recent sketches of places or spaces we seek to conceive in our practice. This is one such place, an outdoor meeting area of two leaning cast in place concrete walls with the imprint of the wooden boards, mosaic tile inset, rugged wooden seats cantilevered from the concrete topped by a recessed planter.
Perhaps it could be for a garden or a park? We can only begin to imagine the house or museum these walls belong to. Right now that's mysterious to us.
Note the drainage gullies at the foot of the concrete carrying rainwater or melt off away. One of our favorite architects is Carlo Scarpa, an Italian 20th century architect who designed and conceived fine homes, commercial and institutional buildings in Italy. With his work you can really feel the "making" of the architecture. And so we try to do so here. It is a beginning.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

VBSR Spring Conference: Join us for Building Active Work Cultures Workshop

     Won't you join us in May at Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility (VBSR) 25th anniversary Spring conference May 13th? Join ourselves and hundreds of other like minded socially responsible businesses from ‪#‎Vermont‬ and the region gathering together to hear about best practices and trends in starting, running and growing your businesses. 
      There's keynotes, breakout workshops, panel discussions and a cash bar reception at the end.
      And we'll be facilitating a workshop there in the morning. It's called "Building Active Work Cultures: Best Practices in Wellness Oriented Workplace Design and Programs". We'll be joined by Tim Shea and Janis Blais from National Life Group and Jessica Hill from the Vermont League of Cities and Towns, two of our clients we have been putting into practices some of these ideas. We'll be highlighting how and why wellness oriented workplace design and programming are foundational to building high performing work cultures, attracting and retaining great talent and more. 
      We will also connect this growing trend to broader corporate social responsibility and sustainability initiatives, the ‪#‎ActiveDesign‬ phenomena and why it's something to pay close attention to going forward.

For more about this exciting day or the workshop contact us for more information or call us at 802-448-0056
.‪#‎vbsrspring‬ #leadership #CEO

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Video: The Seven Faces of Wellness in Office Design

Tips on How to Find Talent on LinkedIn: An Infographic to share

      As architects and designers of experiences, we are fans of visual story-telling. Recently we found this infographic and thought it worth sharing.  And since we often find ourselves on LinkedIn for any variety of reasons over the course of the week, why not use your time more effectively, with a plan and a process.  Without it you'll be wasting time.
      Are you using LinkedIn to stay in touch with trends in your business, connect colleagues and partners? Are you actively recruiting for new talent? The graphic provides some good tips about how to energize your recruiting efforts using the site as well as sound general advice on using LinkedIn professionally.
      Let us know what you think about this infographic and the tips you find here.  Were they helpful for you? Provide any new insight?  Do let us know.

Click To Enlarge

Infographic: How to Find Talent on LinkedIn
Via AkkenCloud

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Tips for Using Zip Sheathing and a Video: Good Things Found Along the Way

      Have you seen buildings under construction around you with green and or orange cladding with black colored taping? Ever wondered what the product was and why it was being used? Turns out this product and others like help create more energy efficient and higher performing, more comfortable homes and commercial buildings. For more on how and why, see this somewhat goofy video introducing the reasons for the green and orange wrapping you often see on those projects and a little about them from the manufacturer.
      We came across the helpful blog post article, Zip Sheathing Tips from Green Building Advisor about the ins and outs of Zip Sheathing and thought it would be great to share here.  We recommend using products like this where possible to ensure more predictable air-sealing on residential and commercial projects and productivity on the jobsite. While more expensive with upfront material costs it can save time and potentially ensure more predictable enclosure performance for years to come.
      If you're interested in high performance and energy efficiency, managing future energy costs, using products like this on your exterior building enclosure can really help as part of the detailing strategy in conjunction with insulation, framing and other aspects of the detailing of the enclosure.

      We like to present interesting articles and research we find useful for our practice. Perhaps it will be useful to your next design project.

      Have you used this product on your project or one's like it? Let's us know how it worked for you.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

A Residential Project in Design: A Small Farmhouse in Vermont

A Red Door

      Recently a couple hired us to work with them to design some contemporary spirited energy efficient additions and renovations to their central vermont home where they also have an all vegan farm and other home based businesses.   The owners sought us out to help them achieve their goal of self-sufficient energy independent living and long term planning and design strategies to get there.
As part of this effort, we also assisted them in initial help with assessing their property for locations to locate an off the grid net zero capable cabin and office space.
      We determined together due to a variety of site and other issues it made more sense to study and then design a small renovation  and addition to their existing home, a 1850's farmhouse with a 1990's addition. With them, we developed together their list of wants and needs with an initial back and forth on the details and choices.
      From that process we identified four key issues to focus our design efforts together on in the ensuing months:

  • A terribly uncomfortable energy hog of an old Vermont farmhouse and recent addition.
  • A need for a larger, more comfortable mudroom entry to their home which doubles as their primary entry.
  • A two story addition to provide space for their home based artisanal food and animal accessory businesses. (This also freed up space upstairs for a proper office for a separate consultancy business)
  • A kitchen which needed subtle re-arranging to increase functionality, more cabinet storage and other requirements.  
Here's a before picture of the farmhouse exterior. 
Existing East Elevation

Existing Northwest Elevation
First things first: Get an Energy Audit    
       One one of the first design meetings in early winter, I realized why my clients wore such heavy sweaters, hats and warm clothing layers inside. They lived in a extremely cold and expensive to heat 1850's farmhouse which was poorly insulated and air-sealed. Given we could see our breath inside with a pellet stove running indicated before anything else, how crucial it was to hire a company to conduct an energy audit to better understand the existing thermal conditions their home was..  
      We could propose and design our hearts out together but if the basic heat loss and comfort issues weren't identified and a plan developed to improve them, any other dollars spent would be foolish. So upon our suggestion, my client sought out some companies, eventually hiring Building Energy to audit their home, examine their energy usage data, do a blower door test and infrared scans of their exterior and interior to see air leakage points.  At the conclusion of the testing and assessment we crawled around with the auditor examining crawl spaces and foundations, attic areas and such learing how daunting yet solvable the problems were. Large cracks of daylight were visible between the rubble foundation and the underside of the floor framing and a cellar door had all kinds of holes in it.       All of these cracks and openings created a chimney effect pulling cold air through the flooring when the pellet stoves were in use, causing the extreme cold temperatures and discomfort inside. We learned the recently installed double glazed windows were reasonable in their performance and could stay.  Apparently the previous client had retrofitted all of the homes windows and doors in a previous renovation.
      Infrared scanning camera in hand, the auditor walked around the inside and outside of the house pointing out weak links in exterior to roof transitions, corner details and how insulation had settled around the exterior wall in wall cavities.  We could look over his shoulder at the screen and he would point out the issues. With data in hand and pictures on his camera, the auditor left to return to his office and make his report. In the meanwhile, we proceeded on the design in other areas of the home.

A New Entry and Mudroom
      Taking our design cues from the existing small mudroom, evidently a hastily and poorly built addition a generation ago, we sought to remove the existing smaller entry, replacing it with a larger, angled entry which displayed the clients aspirations to contrast the old with a modern spirited entry.
First Floor Plan

        The owners sought to create a more generous south facing front stoop to encourage socializing during their frequent entertaining and generally increasing their enjoyment of the sun's warmth.  A large planter and trellis for growing close at hand herbs and spices graces the south wall of the new entry along with site harvested flagstone skirting the walls near the entry door. Doing so echoes the rocky ridges all around the house as it's sited on a ridge with visible stone popping through the ground in places. (Note, to show the new work clearly the existing home is greyed out.)
Southeast view of New Entry and Mudroom   

      Among the design elements the rear two story addition provides additional space next to the Kitchen for a multi-purpose room warmed up by a Rocket Stove, an enlarged master bathroom and laundry room improving interior functionality.  Here's a view of the rear addition.
Northwest View of Addition
Upstairs an open work area stacks up over the one below along with an exterior balcony with views to the surrounding hills and mountains. A low slope roof with ample skylights bring daylight deep into the flexible work area and into other areas of the upper level of the home. 
View of Flex Room Upstairs
Building Construction Details and Energy Efficiency Measures
      The owner seeks Vermont Energy Star certification with the first step along the way being going ahead soon with weatherization upgrades for their existing home to help reduce energy bills and tremendously all year round comfort. New construction is slated to have double stud 12" dense pack cellulose walls, 4" subslab insulation with a frost protected slab, 2" slab edges and upto 18" dense packed roof framing with an epdm roof for low slope areas, metal roof for others. New operable windows and skylights to be R7 assemblies aligning with the super-insulated walls.  
      Much of the interior work will be done as do it your self by the owner over time as well as portions of the additions and exterior work. The owners seriously enjoy a hands on approach to caring and upgrading their home, farm and outbuildings. 
      The owners harvest on site solar electricity from a nearby large shed outbuilding and  further helping them achieve their goal of cultivating an inspiring revitalized home and farm for generations to come. The owner's are focusing on the first part of this journey to self-sufficiency by focusing first on their much needed weatherization improvements and then taking further renovation and addition work from there.

Questions and Comments
      Let us know if you have any questions or comments about 

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Getting Real About Climate Change: Vermont Climate Economy Summit

Paul Costello introducing the Summitt
 Today the Vermont Council on Rural Development hosts a summit on "Creating Prosperity and Opportunity Confronting Climate Change" at Vermont Technical College. It's an issue we face around the world with impacts from our changing climate confronting us daily where we live, work, go to school, play and recreate. While Vermont is a small state we have a big impact in the national discussion about leading ideas, programs and infrastructure to combat climate change and increase long term community resiliency.
      Today over 450 Vermont entrepreneurs, business people, local and state government officials gather together to discuss how to continue making real progress in creating a more resilient, prosperous and sustainable state. Governor Peter Shumlin opened with remarks saying how "Important it is to weatherize, install solar, get off oil and become energy independent." He highlighted how there's a reason for optimism with Vermont leading the nation in the following ways moving towards a sustainable energy independent economy.
  • 15,000 jobs in a renewably focused green economy
  • Highest per capita solar jobs in the nation
  • Real movement towards a microgrid dominated utility grid with support
  • Substantive efforts in weatherization and energy efficiency improvements in commercial and residential buildings around the state.
      Shumlin said "While we have a lot to be proud of yet we have a lot of work to do in getting more younger people to come back home to Vermont, start and grow businesses and families. Our transportation infrastructure is out of date, we need to increase use of electric cars and other alternatives to using fossil fuel."
      Something I think which Shumlin touched on but worth elaborating on why Vermont offers so many positive examples confronting climate change and moving towards a more sustainable future. We have a strong three legged stool supported by our sustainable agriculture, green and renewable energy businesses and innovative emerging high technology sectors. "We have one foot in the pasture and one foot in the future." says Matt Dodd, Chief Brandthropologist of Burlington based Brandthropology. I wholeheartedly agree with Matt and Peter.
      Our extremely strong sustainable agriculture economy system is with a resurgence of small farms and businesses focused on organic farming, craft food products and beverages such as world famous cheese, craft beer, maple syrup industries. Forbes recently voted Burlington, Vermont one of the Top Ten Innovative Tech Hubs" in the U.S. joining cities such as San Jose, Boulder, Austin, Corvallis, Ft. Collins and nearby Boston. In our growing green economy, companies like AllEarth Renewables, Renewable NRG Systems, Sun Common join together with innovative non-profits such as Efficiency Vermont and regional community based weatherization efforts along with the State of Vermont to increase adoption and use of renewable energy, energy efficiency and green economy efforts.
      To continue this work, the Vermont Council on Rural Development brings us all together today participating in breakout sessions because the solutions are very complex and require an integrated, holistic approach. No pun intended, it's important to get us out of our silos of expertise and come together pooling our creativity to move this work forward. We'll meet in our sessions, brainstorming key issues impacting the following areas and opportunities for improvement and cross-fertilization.
Those Climate Economy Breakout Sessions include:
  • Marketing Vermont as the Innovative Climate Economy Destination
  • Advanced Community Based Climate Action
  • Promoting a Vision for Transportation Renewal
  • Developing Ubiquitous Distributed Energy
  • Improving Education, Workforce Development, and Youth Entrepreneurship
  • Strengthening Farm and Forest Carbon Sequestration and Profitability
  • Seeding a Vermont Climate Investment Strategy
  • Spurring Research and Development in New Technologies in Vermont
  • Supporting Smart Growth, Reuse, Preservation, and Downtown Redevelopment
  • Coordinating State Government Policies and Regulations
  • Advancing Next Stage in Efficiency and Conservation
  • Adapting Outdoor Recreation and Tourism
      With all of these topics you see it's a complex and interwoven list of sessions with many critical questions and lots of opportunities for creative cross-pollination. After the Summit which you can see trending on Twitter at #VTClimateEconomy with posts by attendees, outcomes from the sessions and recommendations for each of them will be posted online by the Vermont Council on Rural Development. It should be a fascinating and wide ranging set of solutions hopefully impacting public policy, entrepreneurship and innovation efforts here in the years to come.
      Combating climate change is in all of our best interests. Learn from what we're doing here in Vermont. Bill Truex, retired architect, one of the galvanizing forces behind the Church Street Marketplace in Burlington, VT said it well. "Doing this kind of work requires patience and perseverance and working together."
       Let us know your thoughts, comments, ideas. Do you have any examples from your community actively working to combat climate change and global warming? I know these are wide ranging topics but look around you, you'll probably find positive examples to share. Please do. I'm counting on it!
#Design #Innovation #Energy