Tag Archives: architectural expression

Considerations when Deciding your Home Addition

Room-Addition-Conservatory-SunroomWe all want to add more space to our home, yet it is a luxury and can be a particularly expensive one. Many of us dream of the day when we can expand our homes, add an extension or convert an attic. It takes no effort to imagine how life could be less chaotic and better organized if only we had a bigger living space, room for a home office, an extra bathroom or a guest bedroom. Continue reading

Should You “Can” Your Plans For Recessed Cans?

The 2013 iteration of California’s Title 24 energy standards, which came into effect last July, effectively raises the bar on the energy performance of buildings. One aspect of their thermal performance which now comes under the microscope in terms of obtaining the building’s final permit and Certificate of Occupancy is air infiltration. And can lights, while aesthetically pleasing, present certain real challenges from an energy performance perspective.

Recessed lights add elegant beauty to this minimalist bathroom, a beauty that comes with an energy price tag.

Recessed lights add elegant beauty to this minimalist bathroom, a beauty that comes with an energy price tag.

Recessed Can Lights: The Beauty And The Beast
Also known as “can lights” or “downlights”, recessed lighting lends an uncluttered look that provides light without taking up headroom or ceiling space. Recessed lights are often used to highlight wall features or to provide focused overhead lighting for reading or working. They can be used to increase the amount of light in a room, highlight artwork or other special features, and open up spaces so they look and feel bigger. Continue reading

A Practical Guide to Cedar Siding

Sentinel House Fine HomeBuilding Magazine

Cross-laminated cedar panels were chosen to clad Sentinel House, Vancouver, B.C.

Architects are fortunate to have a wide variety of exterior wall finish (a.k.a. cladding) materials available to them, and our selection of which to use is informed by myriad factors including project budget, the material’s durability, the climate zone we are working in, and the aesthetic effect we wish to achieve. Among the wide variety of materials available to us are cement plaster, fiber cement board, vinyl, and aluminum siding, and last but not least, wood siding.

Wood siding offers the authenticity inherent in a natural product and the opportunity to express that authenticity in the expression of the wood’s grain when revealed in the sun. In our northern California coastal environment, redwood and cedar siding are the two de rigueur choices for exterior wood cladding. This article will discuss the qualities and specifications involved to make informed decisions as to species, grade, style and finish options available when exterior cedar siding is the material of choice.


Board-and-batten application of vertical cedar siding lends a rustic charm to Russian River Studio, Forestville, CA.

Use Only Certified Cedar
Certified wood products come from responsibly managed forests. With third-party certification, an independent organization develops standards of good forest management, and independent auditors issue certificates to forest operations that comply with those standards. Basic requirements or characteristics of forest certification programs include protection of biodiversity, species at risk and wildlife habitat; sustainable harvest levels, and third-party certification audits performed by accredited certification bodies. In the U.S., the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is the generally recognized forest certification program for cedar building materials.

LBI Exterior7

Pre-weathered vertical cedar siding accentuates the clean lines of this residence on Long Beach Island, New Jersey.

Both red and white cedar are used for siding materials, but there are differences between the two species. Red cedar siding is usually more durable and comes in a variety of styles, lending itself to more design options. White cedar siding only comes in one style, so its design possibilities are limited. White cedar weathers to an attractive silver-gray shade, and because of its light color and weathered look, white cedar is quite often specified in coastal areas. White cedar siding can also be bleached, thus immediately taking on the silvery color that normally develops over years of weathering in the sun. When a saturated color is preferred, both red and white cedar siding can be stained in a variety of shades.


Cedar shingle siding is prominent in traditional and modern buildings throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.

Red and white cedar siding are available in different grades, the choice of which has a strong impact on the exterior aesthetic. Clear grades – usually designated as A or B – have a fine, smooth appearance that shows very few imperfections and growth characteristics. These grades tend to hold finishes better and give the exterior a more modern look. Knotty grades demonstrate knots and other growth characteristics that give the siding a rough, textured surface. This type of siding is ideal when a more rustic appearance is preferred.


Contemporary Shingle Style home, Malletts Bay, Vermont.

There is only one style available when working with white cedar siding – shingles. Shingles are small, individual pieces of siding that are hung on the exterior in an overlapping fashion to cover the entire surface. They offer a more tailored look and work well on cottage-style homes. Red cedar siding is not only available as shingles and shakes, but in a variety of clapboard options as well including bevel, tongue-and-groove, and board-and-batten siding. Bevel siding is hung horizontally and is cut so it’s thicker at one end to give it an attractive rustic look. Tongue-and-groove cedar siding is one of the more versatile styles because it can be installed horizontally, vertically and diagonally. Board-and-batten siding is installed vertically, and the boards are available in a wide variety of widths the choice of which sets the “cadence” in the spacing of the battens.

Messmers UV Plus stain

This residence near Lake Oswego, OR features both board and shingle cedar siding finished with a semi-transparent stain product.

Cedar siding typically has two finishing options, semi-transparent or solid finish. A semi-transparent finish is applied in a single coat and protects the siding from the elements. However, because the finish is semi-transparent, it allows the natural color and texture of the cedar to show through. Similarly, a solid finishes also protects the siding from the elements, but stains the cedar to alter its natural color. Even though it alters the cedar’s color, a solid finish does exhibit the wood’s original texture. Because it is a two-coat application, solid-finish siding doesn’t have to be refinished as often as siding with a semi-transparent finish. The finish should ideally be matched to the grade of cedar siding selected, with semi-transparent finish working best with a clear-grade siding, and a solid finish the better choice for knotty-grade cedar.

Greening The Palomar

Designed by prominent California architectWilliam H. Weeks the historic Hotel Palomar building is considered to be quintessential of late 1920's Art Deco style.

Designed by prominent California architect William H. Weeks the historic Hotel Palomar building is considered to be quintessential of late 1920’s Art Deco style.

The Palomar Inn (former Palomar Hotel) in downtown Santa Cruz has been the subject of considerable public discussion in recent months. Debate has centered on whether the landmark building should be encouraged to gentrify, to be restored to its glory days of the 1920’s when as a grand hotel it served as a focal point on the national convention circuit. A separate, more important debate which has not yet emerged is whether the building should be “greened”.

Greening the Palomar would mean rehabilitating the building with the latest in current sustainable building practices. Towards this end measures which could be incorporated might include implementation of plumbing improvements to reduce water usage, provision for on-site renewable energy sources such as photovoltaics, revamping the building’s electrical power and lighting systems to reduce it’s energy use, and other best practices aimed at reduction of Palomar’s carbon footprint.

It could also include green walls.


By greening the Palomar Inn the owners will send the clear, unambiguous message that they are committed to sustainability in general and to sustainable building practices in particular.

Green walls, also known as living walls, biowalls, ecowalls or vertical gardens, take advantage of vertical surfaces to provide buildings with a greater degree of ecological capacity.
 By incorporating living plants into the façade of a building they directly result in much-needed carbon sequestration. Moreover they filter particulates, carbon dioxide, and other pollutants from the urban airstream, and remove effluents including heavy metals from rainwater. By introducing green microclimates they not only reduce the urban heat island effect, but result in natural habitat creation as well. By selecting appropriate plants, green walls can function as vertical edible gardens. Finally, a well-designed green wall can enhance the aesthetic presentation of a building.

Aside from the obvious practical advantages to the owner’s bottom line in terms of improved energy performance and visual appeal, greening the Palomar will symbolically accomplish three things.

Firstly, doing so will send a clear and unambiguous message that the owners of The Palomar are committed to sustainability in general, and to sustainable building practice in particular.

Secondly, given that The Palomar is among the most significant civic edifices on the Santa Cruz skyline, greening the building can and will inspire other local and regional business leaders to do the same.

Finally, as an urban landmark and widely recognized symbol of Santa Cruz, greening the Palomar will enable the City of Santa Cruz as a municipality to demonstrate to other municipalities, to California, and indeed to the green movement in general that, eight years-on after passage of one of the earliest green building programs in the country, Santa Cruz still stands in the vanguard of sustainable building practice.

Lovell Health House: Architectural Masterwork


Lovell House, in context, from the Griffith Observatory.
© 2013 DMSA all rights reserved.

During the Thanksgiving break while in the course of visiting our L.A. relatives my wife and I made a side trip to the Lovell Health House, in the Hollywood Hills above Griffith Park. Constructed 1929 by architect Richard Neutra, the house is widely regarded as amongst the seminal works in the history of the modern movement in American architecture.

Neutra, recently emigrated to the U.S from his native Austria, brought with him the cutting edge theories and practices of the burgeoning International Modernism Movement in Europe.

Entry approach and East Facade of Lovell House, during our visit.

Entry approach and East Facade of Lovell House, during our visit.
© 2013 DMSA all rights reserved.

His client, Philip Lovell, was a physician, naturopath, and hugely popular radio host. Neutra’s approach to his clients was to think of himself as a therapist and the client as his patient, in practice submitting them to detailed questionnaires examining their needs in oft-times surprising detail. One can surmise that from the perspective of professional interpersonal approach the two men discovered a natural affinity almost from the start.

On Lovell’s site perched on a hill commanding unparalleled views Neutra designed the house in answer to Lovell’s needs and the geometry and orientation of the site. To preserve the views, maximize window areas, and create a compelling architectural statement Neutra chose steel frame construction as the primary structural system. Consistent with this he chose a factory-made, industrial style window system, deploying it in 2336411628_ea80310a58broad, unbroken expanses. He contrasted these with linear swaths of white cement plaster.

Philip Lovell was immediately taken to the house and praised his architect publicly. Included in the 1932 famous exhibition on the International Style at the Museum of Art in New York curated by Phillip Johnson it immediately garnered the esteemed, international admiration and renown it enjoys to this very day.

Designing Manzanita Beach House

DSCN0002In 1987 we were commissioned to design our first beach house. Our overjoyed clients had just bought a vacant lot at the top of a 100 foot tall, pinetree-laden dune overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Manzanita Beach on the north coast of Oregon.

Our client, a married couple, were decidedly unclear about their needs for the home except that the husband was quite clear about how much money he felt the household could budget for the construction. Once the three of us discussed this and reached a consensus it became possible to glean an approximation of how many square feet they could afford to build. Thus we crossed our first decision fork.

DSCN0013_5The next decision fork entailed sorting out their program: what rooms they needed and the specific requirements for each room. They knew their beach house needed a master bedroom suite with bath, two guest bedrooms, a guest bath, great room, laundry and kitchen, that each and every one of these room needed a view of the sea, if possible. We also discussed how their new home was to feel and as a result of the interview process came to the paradoxical conclusion that the home needed to be both intimate and spacious, at the same time.

Grappling with this paradox, I realized that the only way to have intimacy and spaciousness both at once was to cluster all the smaller rooms around a central, double-volume space. The rooms needed to have expansive windows facing west with few if any windows facing east. Thus the focus of this core space would be away from the land, and towards the North Pacific.

Our clients were unclear as to the exterior aspect of the home, and sorting this out, we discovered that their tastes were inclined towards a Craftsman Style aesthetic and a New England Saltbox aesthetic.

Our clients were unclear as to the exterior aspect of the home, and sorting this out, we discovered that their tastes were inclined towards a Craftsman Style aesthetic and a New England Saltbox aesthetic.

I placed their Kitchen south of this space, and above it, the Master Bedroom Suite. North of the central space I stacked the two Guest Bedrooms, one above the other, and the Stairway. I connected the two upper floor wings, north and south, with an open bridge flanking the east edge of the central volume. This resulted in a relatively long, narrow two-story home with every room facing west, and each of the intimate rooms situated north and south of the majestic, west-facing Great Room.

Our design was an instant success with our clients, who needed no convincing at all to realize how compelling their new home would be.

Manzanita Beach House, built the following year, has subsequently gone on to become a place of tranquility, where one can take a weekend break from the worries of the city. It has become a place of gathering, where families gather to commune and celebrate. It is a place of reflection, where one experiences the abundances of land and sea intimately, in all their splendor. And it is, in fact, a place of magic.

The Design Process

by Daniel Silvernail

The design process has been called the most misunderstood part of being an architect. It requires passion and a dedication almost approaching love to arrive at an excellent design, yet the creative process must almost always be done within a definitive timeline and for a finite professional fee.

Certainly, as design professionals we have tools and techniques that lend structure to this process – the criteria matrix, typology matrices, and the like. Yet the design process, the creative act, is not so straightforward as that. It is, in point of fact, far from linear: more often than not the architect must venture resolutely into realms of spaghetti-like mazes where divergent thoughts, tasks, and activities thrive.

To do it “right” means taking in all the client’s myriad programmatic needs, physical and emotional, their nascent raw concepts, ideas, goals and desires, and capturing them by some rational means into precise drawings describing, in meticulous detail, the intent and means of constructing a physical object embodying those needs.

For any design problem there are infinite solutions, some better than others, and all having varying degrees of merit: to sift through them all could consume any designer’s lifetime. Given infinite possibilities, the design process is thus by it’s very nature an intangible search for meaning. Yet the client’s design budget and production schedule are both very concrete and very tangible. It’s perhaps for this very reason that the practical constraint known as the “deadline” was invented.

In 1969, Charles Eames was interviewed by Madame L’Amic of the Musée des Arts Decoratifs as part of a design exhibition showing at the Louvre that year. The following excerpt exemplifies Eames’ disciplined approach to the design process:

L’Amic: What is your definition of design?
Eames:  A plan for arranging elements in such a way as to best accomplish a particular purpose.

L’Amic: What are the boundaries of design?
Eames: What are the boundaries of problems?

L’Amic:  Does the creation of design admit constraint?
Eames:  Design depends largely on constraints.

L’Amic:  What constraints?
Eames:  The sum of all constraints. Here is one of the few effective keys to the design problem: the ability of the designer to recognize as many of the constraints as possible (and) his willingness and enthusiasm for working within these constraints—the constraints of price, size, strength, balance, surface, time: each problem has its own peculiar list.

Charles Eames’ conceptual diagram of the design process, displayed at the 1969 exhibition “What Is Design” at the Musée des Arts décoratifs in Paris.

Charles Eames’ conceptual diagram of the design process, displayed at the 1969 exhibition “What Is Design” at the Musée des Arts décoratifs in Paris.

In Eames’ diagram attending the exhibit we can see his mapping of the interests of the design office, the client, and those of the public. The diagram communicates that it is within the overlap where all three interests meet that the designer can work with conviction and enthusiasm (read passion).

His diagram also conveys that the design process is by its very nature an inherently “messy” business. Eames’ diagram is in it’s own unselfconscious way quite deliberately “wiggly”, mapping rational concepts to the wandering lines of an oft-times irrational process.

We architects do not generally like to show off the squiggly lines, fits-and-starts, design cul-de-sacs, whole design schemes tossed out towards the furtherance of the production schedule. Perhaps we should always do so, for same is at the very core of the process, despite (or perhaps better, because of ) the necessary reality of production budgets and deadlines. These are among the constraints Eames capably articulates in his diagram.

Every successful design, each successful work is infused with the design architect’s personal and unique approach to the design process, his recognition of the complexities and contradictions of the process, and his disciplined conviction and sincere passion in support of the realization of the design.

For the successful architect every design is an amalgam infused, by design, with the mystique of alchemy.

Designing Dragon House

Designing Dragon House

by Daniel Silvernail

200212151645027_1Dragon House was designed for a couple owning an extensive ridge top site in the upperfoothills east of Santa Cruz, CA. Over many years of thinking about their prospective home, they had been drawn to the style of the post-war expressionist architect Bruce Goff, whose flamboyant style had influenced a generation of architects of that era. Thus, they were seeking from us, to say the least, a uniquely expressive work of art.

Floor Plan of Dragon House

Floor Plan of Dragon House.

The client’s program statement stipulated four bedroom, 3-1/2 baths, kitchen, living room, dining room, family room, breakfast nook, pantry, laundry room, and 3-car garage. The area of the residence was initially set at approximately 5,000 square feet.

The program brief also featured requirement for an incredible Conservatory. An indoor greenhouse space filled with lush vegetation and an indoor wading pool, during the design process this space eventually was to reach an area of 1,200 square feet. Universal Design for ease of accessibility also featured prominently among the client’s priorities thus as many rooms as possible were to be on the same level. Given the nature of the ridge-top landform, which slopes gently towards the sea along it’s axis, this proved challenging. Ultimately, the arrived-at solution placed all the rooms with the exception of the Living Room at one level, and the Living Room a few feet lower, resulting in a so-called “sunken living room” effect.

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Massing study conceptualizing daylighting opportunities and potential roof form of the “tail” element.

With access facilitated by means of both sweeping stairs and a ramp, the design of this room featured an area to gather centered on their grand piano, extensive built-in seating for leisure and entertaining, a cast-in-place concrete fountain feeding an indoor stream flowing into the wading pool at the Conservatory, and enormous windows specifically framing dramatic views of Monterey Bay and steep, distant ridges in successive valleys to the south.

The exterior expression of Dragon House features a great prow at the Living Room (“head”) end, with the form of the building becoming less exuberant progressing towards the “tail” (garage). Enormous glued-laminated beams coursing from the building’s spine express themselves as the ribs of enormous wings 16 feet overhead, their majesty projected up to 24 feet from the exterior wall line.

Dragon House's Southeast Elevation: expression of wings, movement, and flight

Dragon House, Southeast Elevation: expression of wings, movement, and flight.

Dragon House’ design was based on our client’s needs, desires, memories, and motivations as filtered by our own journey through life – available references might include student sketches of plant cellular structures and anatomical studies of birds and mammals, and youthful ingrained observations of works by remarkable Southern California architects including Rudolf Schindler, Richard Neutra, and John Lautner.

Initiated by our client’s dream, informed by our own passions, instincts, and rational interpretation, Dragon House exists as a unique, powerful, and emotive statement of the art of architectural expression.