How to Borrow Light

In this video I discuss natural daylighting strategies anyone can take advantage of. I begin with a short history lesson which describes how daylighting actually shaped the largest of cities in the US. In 1915 the 38-story Equitable Building in New York City was the largest office building in the world. Containing 1.2 million square feet of office space, it consumed nearly every available square foot of its diminutive lot and cast an equally large shadow on its neighborhood in lower Manhattan. Its construction inspired the enactment of the city’s 1916 Zoning Resolution, which was designed to preserve access to light and air at the street level. The resolution prescribed specific limitations for a building’s envelope — its outer walls — and would go on to shape the stepped forms that you see today on many of the iconic towers in the city.

This underscores the importance that access to daylight had in shaping even the largest of cities, the individual buildings that make up those cities and, more broadly, sensible building design. With an increasing focus on sustainable design practices, the smart use of natural daylight in our homes is no longer a luxury — it has become a necessity. At the heart of any good daylighting strategy is a concept of “borrowed” light: the capture of light falling on the exterior of a home and transporting it to the spaces where it’s needed.

Designing a Small Studio - Plan Diagrams (Part 3)

Part 3 in a multi-part video series where I dissect the design process for a small studio space. In this video I sketch out the four basic plan ideas I generated for the studio and describe the benefits and liabilities of each. Designing a floor plan begins with an understanding of the site, where the sun is, the winds, the approach, public and private areas and a precise listing of the spaces to be incorporated.

A well-designed floor plan synthesizes all of this information into a simple, logical connection of rooms. The process I describe works for buildings that are extremely simple - such as my studio - as well as very complex structures.

Designing a Small Studio - Inspiration (Part 1)

In this video I discuss the inspiration for the design of my small studio and workshop here on Mount Desert Island. This is part 1 in a multi-part series I've been recording as I continue to refine the design and prepare for the construction of this project. Part 1 discusses the site inspiration and how living on the coast of Maine has informed my design process. My work is site specific, narrative based and craft-driven; these concepts appear continually in my work and I hope this video offers some insight into how these abstract ideas develop into architecture. In part 2, I sketch out the plan concepts and parse the options to show you how I typically begin a project and move through the various options.

Ethanol Fireplaces - An Architect's Review

Two common alternatives to the traditional fireplace that have been gaining favor with consumers ready for a simpler installation, lower maintenance and ease of use are the ethanol and gel-fueled fireplaces. If you’re considering purchasing one, this video describes everything you need to know. In it, I discuss costs, configurations, types, layout, and fuels along with a few caveats.

Concealing the Garage

Cars are among the largest physical objects we own, which helps us rationalize the generous square footage we allocate to them on our property and in our homes. Because of their size, they’re not an easy aesthetic problem to solve. Architects and designers have always struggled with how best to orient the mass and large footprint of the garage. Detached, connected, trellised, to the side, to the rear, beneath — every possible location requires compromise. In this video I discuss various strategies to conceal the garage. In hopes that we can move beyond arriving to the garage door rather than the porch or the front door.

Plywood as Finish

Architects in search of novel uses for humble materials are now using plywood for a higher aesthetic purpose as a finished surface in living spaces. It’s become a handy means of modernizing and warming an interior for a relatively inexpensive cost. In this video I discuss ways to find out if it’s right for your project. I review: veneer types, grades, thickness, joinery, finishing, as well as where and how to use it.

Kinetic Architecture

Kinetic architecture, which moves or changes to adapt to seasonal, functional or daylight requirements has roots dating back to medieval times. A castle’s drawbridge served as a multifunctional kinetic wall, door and footbridge. The futurists and constructivists of the Russian art movement of the early 20th century explored kinetics by infusing their proposals with notions of highly mechanized, sleek, modern, industrial construction. In this video I discuss moving walls, roof planes, colossal doors, sliding screens, pivoting openings, and gizmos. These are all devices that can dramatically transform space and adapt a structure to its local environment.

Modern Shutters : A Passive Design Strategy

Passive design strategies are becoming widely accepted as a way to drastically reduce the amount of energy a home consumes and low-tech solutions are gaining favor with designers and homeowners alike. Shutters are one such low-tech means of passively controlling the environment around a building. Operable shutters control light, temper heat, shield or welcome wind, buffer noise and provide privacy. Like a versatile three-season jacket they can help make life more comfortable. This video explores a few modern examples of the multipurpose shutter.

Channel Glass: An Architect's Material Review

This video is a primer on channel glass and an architect's take on the material. It's a 10-minute short course describing:

- Cost

- Uses

- Physical and thermal properties

- Finish and color options

- Attachment specifics

- Special design considerations

- Benefits and liabilities

Unlike standard float glass, channel glass has a high recycled content and the opportunity for improved thermal performance over insulated glass units. It's translucent so it provides natural daylight to spaces with privacy requirements or in tight urban sites where undesirable views are a design constraint.

Modern Handrail Details

In this video I review the process of designing modern handrail details. I advocate an informed minimalism whereby safety and function is the priority but I quickly move beyond merely what the building codes dictate (width, tread run, riser height, guardrail and handrail conventions) into meaningful design gestures and appropriate materials. Within the necessary safety and functional constraints, the modern examples I use to illustrate the concept in the video still manage to delight the senses. Be sure to read this related post on minimal deck guards and edges which describes in detail the guardrail for the Pond House project.

Polygal - An Architect's Review

In this video I review everything you need to know about multiwall (sometimes called twinwall) structured sheet plastic. I review the cost, manufacturers (Polygal, Verolite, Thermoclear, Palram, Sunlite), light transmission, thermal properties, installation details, size, color, shapes and possible uses. As with all of my videos I review the material from the standpoint of an architect evaluating the product for potential use in home design and construction projects.

The Shed Roof - An Architect's Review

In this video I discuss the reasons for choosing a shed roof shape as well as the design implications of the choice. Sheds are structurally simple, site responsive forms that are finely tuned to passive solar collection. With opportunities for daylighting via clerestories, rainwater harvesting and other aesthetic benefits they're a great choice to meld traditional and contemporary design languages.

I like the shed form for its humble roots and its directional nature. I've designed a few projects that utilize the shed roof:

Naskeag House

House on the Neck


Modern Baseboard Design - 4 Ways

In this video I discuss four modern design attitudes toward the baseboard design and detailing in residential architecture. They are: no base, reveal base, flush base, and the applied base. Baseboard protects a highly trafficked (and abused) part of the home and covers the messy joint between the finished wall and floor. This collection of modern base details highlights the aesthetic language of modernism: functional, spare, humble, minimalist and expressive.

For modern baseboard details I've designed see:

Pond House

House on the Neck


The Dogtrot House Plan Origin Story

In this video I discuss the origins of the dogtrot as a plan archetype, its history and how it came to be. Although commonly thought of as a Southern building type early settlers of Pennsylvania and New Jersey, the Swedes and Finns brought with them the "pair cottage" from Northern Europe. This shaped the early dogtrots in the United States. It was widely adopted in the South because is offered an ingenious method of passively cooling the home. This is the first of a three-part video series. In part 2 I discuss the design process for the modern dogtrot floor plans I've developed which were inspired by these early prototypes.

Industrial Style - Metal Mesh for the Home

In this video I discuss how to put metal mesh to work in your home. I'm always searching for new materials to use in my residential work. I’m particularly drawn to adapting simple, utilitarian, industrial materials for use in the home. Industrial metal mesh is an excellent example of this and one that deserves consideration for both interior and exterior use. In the video I review the different types of mesh available from bar grating and metal fabrics to screening and wire meshes. I discuss the substrates and specific applications. Each is illustrated with images depicting their use.

Phased Construction for Residential Construction

In this video I discuss the advantages and disadvantages of phasing your home construction project. Phasing intentionally and selectively plans for and delays certain aspects of a home's construction. While it saves money up front, it usually costs more in the long-term. The advantages of phased construction are:

  1. Lower Initial Investment - it takes less overall to get started and can spread the costs of a larger project out over time.
  2. Shorter Construction Time - the smaller scope of work nets a reduced (initial) construction timeline.
  3. Experience - living in a partially completed home while its under construction not only offsets living costs but allows you to truly experience the size and scale of the home before undertaking future phases.
  4. Design Changes - phasing opens the door to pivoting design ideas over time. You may decide you don't want the detached guest house planned in phase two, rather you want it incorporated into the home as an addition.

The disadvantages are:

  1. Complexity - overall phased construction is more complex.
  2. Longer Total Construction Time - even though the initial construction sequence is shorter it will take longer to realize the entire project.
  3. Higher Total Cost - because of the longer time frames involved, financing costs, higher design fees and the extra mobilization costs, phased projects are inherently more costly to undertake.

I discuss the details of financing concerns, planning issues, sequencing, phasing plans, staging, scheduling, and living with the mess of construction.

Phasing is an overall more complex process, but it makes sense in certain cases, the video explains those cases supported with lots of visuals.