Monday, June 13, 2011

Curb Appeal

According to an article on MSN last week, homebuyers form an opinion about a house in 15 seconds - from the street. Included in the article are pictures of 14 homes that pass this "curb appeal" test. Here's one:

And another:

Anyone who has followed the design and construction of my house for any length of time, or even just read the last post, could guess that curb appeal isn't one of my priorities. Hey, my neighborhood doesn't even have curbs. (Sorry.) So it is not surprising (nor even a little bit disappointing... okay, so I'm a little proud) that my house would fail this 15-second test miserably.

First of all it seems clear that you can't leave a forest in front of the house, concealing most of it from the street, like I did with mine. How about a well-manicured lawn? I don't plan to have any grass (did I mention the forest?) Also it looks like the house has to have at least four prominent gables. Mine has zero.

When you set out to give a house curb appeal, or more curb appeal, the question is begged: "Appealing to whom?" The above houses are not appealing to me (that's an understatement). I think I can safely speak for the vast majority of architects here. And from the art and architecture scholars and historians I've known, they also would not be impressed (another understatement). So if this architecture is not designed to appeal to, uh, experts in architecture and design, who then? The answer of course is the populace, the majority of people - who happen to not be architects. These houses are not designed to be great architecture but rather to sell to the widest possible market.

Now before you shout "Elitist!" and say I'm just advocating for buildings that are ugly to most people but pretty to me and my architect friends, consider: I don't want buildings to be designed to appeal to you OR me. I didn't even design my house to appeal to me. Looking at it now there are some parts of it I think are attractive and some parts I think are not. I didn't try to make it attractive; I tried to make it true - true to nature, true to the human condition, true to God.

The Bible and nature are true to God, the one in words, the other in form. Does all of nature or Scripture appeal to you? In 15 seconds or less? Some indeed will; some is breathtakingly beautiful. But other parts are disgusting; some parts are terrifying.

The design process out of which my house was born - praying, sketching, devouring Scripture - has resulted, I think, in a kind of architectural equivalent to nature and the Bible. This house might not be appealing to you from the street. It might not even be appealing to me from the street. But then it would be like Jesus: "There was nothing attractive about him, nothing to cause us to take a second look." (Isaiah 53:2) And as we move around and into this place some parts will strike us as beautiful, others discordant, some mysterious, others baffling - but all, I hope, in tune with this universe and its Maker.

Fittingness with creation and Creator is something that is lost when the design is about selling to the mass market. A few gables, some window muntins and shutters, and you're done. But then you have a building that seems to know nothing of the splendor passing overhead. Is your house worthy to sit beneath the clouds? To face the sea? To nestle close to oaks and jasmine? Is it aware of this sea of brilliance in which we find ourselves?

This is a good question for all works of art. Renaissance choral music often strikes me as being in tune with nature. It incites visions of nature in my mind as I listen - a sunrise over the ocean, clouds morphing, galaxies spinning. The complexity of harmonies and discords in the music, the vastness and majesty, is like nature, seems profoundly fitting in this creation. The music seems to come from nature and speak back to it.

Buildings also can be mirrors to nature, taking on the characteristics of the earth and heavens, the infinite and the tiny, the long-lasting and the corrosive, the rhythms, the swells, the music of it all.

I didn't design my house to fit in with the popular idea of "curb appeal," but I also didn't design it not to. I designed it to fit in with the universe. It just so happens that, these days, the resulting house doesn't fit in with the neighborhood, or fulfill the recommendations of most real estate agents.

It's fine with me if you form an opinion of my house in 15 seconds from the street - as long as you let that opinion change and grow as you move from the outward appearance to the heart.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Seven Points of Church House Architecture

About a year and a half ago - a year before construction started - I jotted down a list of "points" that seemed to summarize the thinking behind this kind of house. When I looked back at it a few weeks ago I wasn't sure how "divine inspiration" didn't make the cut. But I realized that this is such an over-arching theme for every category that it doesn't make sense to just make it one item on a list. Also, "a space in the center" used to be an 8th item, but I decided that this is just a feature particular to the design of this house rather than something necessary for every such house. If I designed another "church house" it may have a completely different visual theme, based on some other biblical principal. So here's the Seven, interspersed with the latest photos from the site.

Marriage of two distinct functions, church and house - corresponding to the divine and the domestic, sacred and profane, holy and ordinary, worship and life.

As shown in the "video tour," this is the first of two openings in the stone wall that don't go all the way through - because they are in front of the attic space. I imagine someone asking me, What if birds nest in there? I would be so honored.

A Holy Place: the largest space, for:
        - Gathering
        - The Lord's Supper
        - Eating meals
        - Bible reading
        - Poetry reading
        - Prayer
        - Star gazing
        - Preaching
        - Singing
        - Dancing
        - Working
        - Watching movies
        - Listening to music
        - Etc. - experiencing and creating "whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, worthy of praise" (Philippians 4:8)

I finally have water! Only took a couple of months. The contractor I hired to tap my water and sewer lines kept finding the water table too high to bore under the road. So after about two months with no change in the water table, he finally opted for a slightly more expensive option for boring and got it done.

View to the sky.

Reverence for nature.

Natural materials: stone, brick, wood, slate, ceramic, metal. No paint, stain, chemical treatment, sheetrock, vinyl.

Honesty and simplicity in construction, detailing and aesthetics.

The notches left in the top of this wall are not shown on my drawings. While on site one day I asked the mason to put these in so that the joists from the porch roof will have a place to sit. Originally I was just going to attach them to a ledger board bolted to the face of the brick wall. I like the notches better because it shows more clearly that the joists line up with the bricks and are based on the same measurement - 16 inches on center.

Engravings of Scripture: God's words permanently on the building, accumulating over time, small, almost unnoticeable, and everywhere.

The rather intricate brick screening at the top of the walls is going up. Functionally this serves as a guard rail around the roof deck. Expressively it suggests an erosion or dissolution of the brick walls as they get closer to the sky. The same Flemish bond pattern is used here, which started the wall from the footing. But whereas at the base of the wall this bond is a purely horizontal coursing, as is traditional, here at the top I've removed portions of the bond to leave vertical openings.