Saturday, March 17, 2012

Wood Skin

The cypress siding is almost done, and I'm very happy with it. It looks better than I imagined.

But here's what the first phase of the work looked like:

Those vertical "stripes" are 1/4-inch thick wood spacers, or furring strips. This was not part of my original plan. What got me thinking about adding some kind of spacer between the wall and the siding was seeing all the "button caps" that are part of the nails used to attach the building felt (the black material in the photo above). These caps protrude a bit, and the siding I planned to use has to lay flat against the wall (it's not typical lap siding that has space behind it). So I was worried that the siding would bulge out wherever it ran across one of the caps.

After doing some research and talking it over with a builder and another architect, it was clear that adding these spacers would be a simple and inexpensive way to solve the problem. And, because of the air space created, the siding would be able to dry quicker after humid or rainy days, helping it to last longer. In fact this spacer system is most often used precisely to help wood siding stay dry. Done deal.

With that settled, we could move on to the fun part. The boards started at the bottom.

Of course I had to come up with all my own details, such as this staggered joint where the boards end. I even designed the board. I always planned to use "channel rustic" shiplap siding for this house, as opposed to the more popular wedge-shaped lap siding, because I wanted it to create a flat surface against the wall instead of a bunch of slopes. But the typical channel rustic cross-section looks like this:

I wanted much narrower lines. So I reduced the recessed groove, or reveal, to 1/4 inch, and also added a slope so water would drain off easier:

The mill didn't even charge extra for this custom cut. That felt like a birthday present.

Also not seen too often is how I did the corners. Corner trim, shmorner trim:

It's a typical miter joint - the boards are cut at 45 degrees at the corner so they come together at a point. This helps give the effect of "wrapping" that I wanted for this part of the house; the siding seems like a skin stretched tight around four sides of the building. This wrapping would be interrupted if I followed the usual practice of adding a couple of vertical boards at each corner.

The staggered joints between boards are especially visible because of the differing shades and textures of the wood itself. I didn't expect that, but I like it.

The usual way to deal with the ends of siding boards is to just place them randomly, and as far apart from each other as possible. This is done for wood flooring too. But I decided to use the little joints where boards end to create the appearance of vertical channels or steps, so that within the continuous field of horizontal lines there would be subtle hints of vertical movement.

This is the "domestic" part of the house (bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchen), which I connect symbolically with the physical or earthly aspects of life, so a dress of dominant horizontal expression is fitting. But God is in our mundane activities as well. The sacred is in the ordinary, but less obvious, just as the staggered joints are subtle verticals (suggesting the spiritual, heavenly) within the fabric of horizontal boards.

One of my neighbors actually called me to say the workers were installing my siding wrong. "They aren't spacing the board ends; they're grouping them all together." So I had to explain that, yes, I actually designed it that way.

The nails provide an even subtler vertical expression. I could have used nails with heads so small they would be nearly invisible, but I chose ones with larger heads, to create dotted lines running from bottom to top. And as gravity pulls rain across the nails year after year, I expect little comet trails of sediment to form below each one, eventually connecting the heads and resulting in continuous lines. Time will unveil the vertical, heavenly nature that was embedded in this part of the house from the beginning. Architecture is one of the few four-dimensional arts.

(Oh yeah, and every primary nail line goes directly into a stud, and centers on a brick in the edging below. But you knew that.)

I considered buying #1 grade siding, which has almost zero knots. But two things pushed me to #2 grade: the high price of #1; and my realization that I like knots. When all these random slices of trees are pieced together on the wall, knots form constellations that never existed before. The "random" sizes and spacings of knots punching out of the uniform wooden field makes them reminiscent of stars and galaxies. Which means also that they have a visual family resemblance to the nine openings in the stone wall. And since those openings mimic a group of trees, we are brought full circle to another work of God in wood.

The dance of shadows and sun on this uniform field is another welcome layer of visual complexity God's world adds to the work.

I wonder if I should never design a wild, free-form building. Just make it regular and uniform. God will paint it with jazz.

The last images below show the siding as it is currently, which includes wood supports for the two scuppers.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Golden Rectangles, Golden Light

The five little openings in the stone wall of the Great Room now have aluminum window frames in them. They face due west, so I had to get some shots of them when the sun was setting.

As with the storefront window, the aluminum frames were installed first and the glass will be ordered and installed later.

The final touch in sealing up these windows will be mortar to fill in the gaps between the metal frame and the stone, which the mason will do.

There are nine total openings in the stone wall, but only the lower five pass into the Great Room and have glass in them.

In an earlier post I explained that the organization of this group of openings mimics a group of trees on the site. The size of each opening also mimics the relative trunk-size of the tree it represents. (Some of these trees still stand in the courtyard.) This was a way to get God's designs through nature directly into the building. I like to say, tongue-in-cheek (sort of), that however sin-tainted the rest of the design is, at least this part is pure.

I think I also mentioned before that the proportions of the openings are all either a perfect square or a "golden rectangle" (vertical or horizontal). "Golden" refers to the fact that the ratio between the sides of this particular rectangle is the same as that found in many living organisms (nautilus seashells, sunflowers, even the human body). Hence the other term for this ratio - "divine proportion." This ratio is intimately related geometrically to the square, so it made sense to sit them next to each other in this wall. (Not to mention that the square is also the generative shape for the entire house.)

While at sunset these windows breath light into the Great Room, at other times they will exhale and glow from outside. Such as around noon when the sun bathes the inside through the skylight:

I look forward to seeing these windows from outside after dark when the electric lights are on in this space - or better yet, a bunch of candles burning. From the street they may appear like a group of lanterns floating up through the trees. Warm golden light streaming through cold grey stone. They may be the most visible part of the whole house at that time. And I'll be especially glad they were not organized by my hand.

Glass Wall - Part One

The aluminum frame for the floor-to-ceiling glass wall facing the courtyard is mostly done.

The industry term for this window system is "storefront." You see this in commercial buildings all the time, but hardly ever in a house. But how better to bring in the most light and let out the most views to the courtyard?

The glass will be installed later. The frame has to be put in and measured, then the glass is fabricated to exactly the measured sizes.

This window extends from the brick edge at the floor level up past the ceiling beams and roof joists. Since the actual ceiling surface will be towards the tops of the joists, this glass will let light in above the beam and between the joists to wash across the ceiling.

There's a 4-inch sliver of space between the steel columns and this window frame. Here's an example of expressing truth or honesty in construction. Elements that have different functions are pulled apart and given their own character. The columns hold up the house; the window frame just holds glass in place. Letting the frames slip past columns and beams highlights the fundamentally different identities of these two systems.

Also I chose to leave out the vertical piece of window frame at the two corners, to let the two panes of glass meet each other at a 90-degree angle. This is another way to highlight the non-structural nature of the window system. This gesture also increases the visual connection between indoors and out.

Several operable windows, and one door, "float" within this glass wall. Below is the frame for a casement window in the front bedroom.

Of course it won't look much different from this when the glass is in. That's exciting.