Monday, April 28, 2008

Building to the weather - Part 2 of 7: Creating a sun pocket

Here is the main facade of the Park-McCullough House Carriage Barn.

As I wrote in the previous post, it faces east, away from prevailing winds and into the morning sun. Notice that the door - a huge door wide enough for carriages and horses - is set back. This is partly so that the hay door above is easily accessible for hay wagons - they can be parked underneath and unloaded. The recessed space also protects against the wind and gathers the sun, making a pocket of warmth. Gardeners know that sheltered sunny nook where the first daffodils will bloom; this recessed entry creates a sheltered sunny place for horses and people.

Many buildings have a double entry that functions like an air lock: one enters through a set of doors into a little vestibule, closes those doors, then opens another set of doors to enter the main space. It's a way to keep cold air out of a warm space (and vice versa when there is air-conditioning.)

A double entry on a barn is not practical. Imagine how big the airlock would need to be for a carriage with horses! This recessed entry is a pretty good substitute - the doors can be opened without the wind rushing in, and on a sunny day in winter, heat may even come in.

Here is the whole series:

Part 1 -

Part 2 - How does the carriage house work with the sun to minimize wind chill?

Part 3 - Why bother with a cupola?

Part 4 - Eaves? they're important?

Part 5 - How a floor plan makes a difference:

Part 6 -  A look at how these concepts were used at the Big House:

Part 7 - Shutters:            

Building to the weather - Part 1 of 7: Maximizing sun exposure

What does it mean to 'build to the weather'?

Look at this 1864 barn, the Park-McCullough House Carriage House, designed by an architect for a very wealthy family. A working stable - people and horses lived in it year round. It had very little heat: a stove in the tack room, another in the living quarters. However, its use of natural forces for winter warmth and summer cooling were quite effective. The techniques can be seen in many other barns built for ordinary farmers.

There was plenty of land - the barn could have been sited and organized in many different ways. Architecturally, it was placed visually to compliment the House, sitting just beyond it and framing the lawn. The main facade looked back to the House (and the flower garden and pond, which are no longer there). add another photograph of the House and barn together

The architect considered the climate. He understood how to work with the sun. He set the long side of the barn to face due south for maximum sunshine - technically called 'solar gain'. The east end, the front, would get morning sun; the south side, sun all day; the west side, afternoon sun; and the north side, a brief bit of sun only in mid-summer. He knew that in this part of western Vermont the wind blows mainly from the west, sometimes from the north. Wind is good for cooling in the summer, but makes things colder in the winter - technically called 'wind chill'.

Here's the whole series:

Part 1 -

Part 2 - How does the carriage house work with the sun to minimize wind chill?

Part 3 - Why bother with a cupola?

Part 4 - Eaves? they're important?

Part 5 - How a floor plan makes a difference:

Part 6 -  A look at how these concepts were used at the Big House:

Part 7 - Shutters:            

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Buildings of interest 1: Norton-Fenton House, Pleasant St, Bennington VT

In 1838, Luman Norton, owner of the Norton Pottery, moved down the hill from the Old Center of Bennington to live on Pleasant Street, to be near his factory on the Wolloomsac River. He now needed a 2 family house. He had recently been appointed a judge, and opened a second factory to manufacture firebrick (the kind used in the backs of fireplaces and in refractories). His son-in-law, Christopher Fenton, ran the pottery factory, so it made sense that the two families live side by side. However, the new house needed to be more than just a 2 family house with its multiple doors and chimneys. Norton required a residence worthy of a successful manufacturer, and a judge.

Here is what he built: a brick house with a grand, 2 story tall, porch framed by columns and a pediment (the triangle that sits above the columns), with a broad frieze board across the top, right up under the roof, bright white against the red brick . The columns he used are ‘ionic’, the style favored in the Old Center of Bennington. Ionic capitals, with those curved horns on the top, were seen as symbols for virtue and wisdom. His front doors and sidelights - now almost invisible under the little porches - repeat the details.

On the ends, the brick walls step up above the roof , include the chimneys, and visually enlarge the house. These walls are structural, 3 bricks thick. They are laid in the pattern called Flemish Bond, which is one of the most difficult to lay neatly. The bricks placed on end - called ‘headers’, because when the wall is finished you see the end, or the 'head' of the brick - tie the rows of brick together. In Flemish Bond, every layer has headers. If the work isn’t done with great care, it isn’t neat. This is very neat and handsome work, because Norton could afford the best.

All the parts, the 3 strong columns right there in the center of the front, the white trim, and the tall brick ends make this 2 family house into an imposing residence. Norton used the normal materials of the time - brick, wood, stone - and details well known in the Old Center -Ionic columns, pediments, friezes. His house, one of the first built below the hill by a successful Benningtonian, combined them in a way that had not been done before. Norton built in a new fashion in the new center of Bennington.

Monday, April 7, 2008

A note on why I'm blogging

Architecture and construction are governed by changes in technology - style comes about after the change in how we can build. I have seen the changes caused by the end of old growth lumber and the introduction of engineered lumber. I remember when the first machine that could cut granite counter tops was set up in town. I saw how the ability to make inexpensive mouldings out of finger-jointed wood or mdf changed window and door casings, and changed our clients' expectations. So I want to think about how the development of technology we now take for granted (wire screens) or see as eye candy ( shutters) has impacted design. And how people were inventive as they came to understand what the technology could do.

When I give the tour at the Historic Park-McCullough House, and I talk about this stuff, people are fascinated - they love knowing how The House works. So I need to be accurate, not just hypothesizing.

I'm also interested because screens and shutters are examples of green technology and design. They can be made from renewable resources. They don't use fossil fuel to operate. They can be adjusted for the weather. They can be repaired without fancy tools. And they will not be obsolete because 'they' don't make the part anymore.

I also love to learn about how people have interacted with their spaces. I share the enthusiasm of the visitors to The House - I think it's fun to imagine being the first person to turn a sieve upside down and recognize that it could keep flies off the food. Or to realize that, of course, mosquitoes don't bite when there's a breeze, so how do we make a breeze?