Monday, December 28, 2009

Passage from 2004 Shelter & Beyond Exhibit

The 12th Annual Cascieri Lectureship in the Humanities addresses the broad topic of Shelter. The need for shelter can seem devastatingly impossible to meet. Yet the organizations and professionals working on the problem as represented in this exhibit equally understand human ingenuity is limitless. Instead of being overwhelmed these organizations challenge the barrier of conditioned notions of shelter and architectural practice.

Within the study of architecture, R Buckminster Fuller envisioned the possibility of design informed by innovation. Bucky Fuller was a frequent guest of Dean Cascieri, and in 1966, at the BAC's new facility here on Newbury Street, he spoke of "the encouragement of human beings in the world of design give to others." The projects included in this exhibit overflow with enthusiasm. Space is fused to the people who exercise their problem solving skills, competence, sensitivity, and resourcefulness in relevant artifact making. 

The innovations on display separate into developments in Design, Process, and Service. As much as there is a need for increased units of affordable housing there is a need for a variety of solutions for improving or increasing stable housing. The organizations and work presented in this exhibit are an initial guide to an enormous base of imaginative and viable solutions for housing.

Human beings have a long history of sucess doing more with less. The direction Buckminster Fuller gave throughout his lifetime was "to exercise our option to make it." He believed we were overly constrained by tradition, even though human lives were being transformed by the technological age. Feeling that architects were best equipped to address the undeniable global need for shelter, Bucky simply asked "Are you spontaneously enthusiastic about everyone having everything you can have?"

A portion of the exhibit is now hanging at 468 Brock Avenue, New Bedford, MA (see

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Affordable Energy Retrofits

Most of my alternative architecture is about learning. This energy retrofit began as a recycling effort for the econewbedford project. At the Theosophical Society in Boston leaks in the roof developed in the winter due to ice dams, and an effective way to deal with them is to create a "hot roof" (actually stays cold in the winter!) At the TS it was more practical and economical to insulate the attic rafter bays with a hybrid foam/rigid insulation. The house has neither ridge nor roof vents, and at least one half of the rigid insulation was donated.

Here the recycled pieces of rigid insulation were packed into the rafter cavities and sprayed over with handi-foam. On the end wall a similar technique, but joints filled in with Great Stuff (cheaper and worked just as great, but more time consuming)

In part of the attic where the rafter bays are not accessible, the ceiling was treated with reflective mylar bubble wrap. After you get used to the shiny surface, you notice you feel warm. The futuristic effect reminds me of the SOWA loft closet using Panelite (see middle of slideshow).

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Architecture for the New Economy

For almost a year now I have been managing the construction and finances of the Smart Growth Mixed-Use in New Bedford, MA. Originally conceived as a land use and economic development demonstration project, now, thanks to timing, it has become a lesson on Architecture in the New Economy. 

Prior to the economic downturn we learned that our practice of craft relied on finding solutions that could reduce to an install. For instance building cabinets in our own workshop was not a sustainable use of our resources, but we have been successful working with manufacturers across the country. See examples.

Our decision to construct the townhouses in New Bedford with Structural Insulated Panels surely grew out of our experience working with manufacturers. Once we looked at SIPS it was clear how well sustainable construction was blending with our land use, affordable housing, and economic development  values.  Once we choose to construct with SIPs all remaining decisions for systems and materials had to align with the performance of the building envelope.

Once the economy tanked, sustainable construction has filled the resulting void - it now motivates everything we do with everyone we work with. By taking on new technologies and disciplined attention to detail, we can focus on the awakening future instead of the dismal present.  Thankfully the project is relatively small so we could manage to keep going in these tough times. The investment in the building at Brock Avenue has now taken on long term proportions, and is guided by pride in place and in gaining new experience. Patience and humility are essential components, and making architecture compares to working in a vineyard. 

As a demonstration project, the Smart Growth Mixed-Use on Brock Ave is an example of value oriented Architecture for the New Economy. Many people in their heart are romantic builders, and in the past decades those ambitions grew to large proportions. Huge development projects and elaborate homes were commonplace. That scale of building has dropped off, but Architecture for the New Economy offers the romantic builder a financially less intensive development with significant rewards. Whereas the romantic builder may have once built a finely crafted vacation manor or speculated on the conversion of a waterfront mill building, that energy can now be channeled into a radical retrofit on an income producing property of modest proportions. I call these jewel boxes. 

The Smart Growth Mixed-Use project has become a jewel box, which I have been privileged to work on. The project has made important impacts. The improved image has raised the economic prospects for the local retail business. The skill level of everyone, especially a former commercial sheet rocker, have been lifted. Materials are highly respected, pushed be fully used (eliminate waste) and selected to meet budget. Environmentally suitable systems are tested and deliver efficiency savings. These are really fun problems to solve and implement. If you like sports cars or extreme sports, possessing a high performance jewel-box building is equally thrilling, and a statement of common sense achievement for organizations and individuals. See

Friday, June 5, 2009

Connected By What We Do

I recently caught my friend and co-creator Larry Haley on NECN talking about his current work with YouthBuild in Worcester. Larry and I have a long history of working together amidst geographical separation and individual demands. Almost ten years ago Larry put me to work doing construction so I could develop into the design/builder I needed to be, and we have worked on and off many times since then. Take a look at Larry's work and see the connection.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Builder's Impulse

I am intrigued by the prevalence of what I call a "builder's impulse" in so many people. Perhaps this gives us a tangible experience of the style we choose and our abilities to pull it all together. Often there's a history of building we are exposed to and seek to continue. As a designer one of my roles is to facilitate this impulse. If you have "builder's impulse", try to use and engage resources to make your project the best it can be. I've added a  link to Suite 101 where a web-based course in remodeling floor plans is available to test out your ideas and create the space you imagine. See free lessons in remodeling floor plans.
Reaching your final goal will involve a variety of resources and collaborations. Leave your questions as a comment.


As time allows I meditate about artifacts of the future as solutions for the present. A recent google alert to  a posting
Thrilling Wonder Stories: Speculative Futures for an Alternate Present  allowed me to make an alternative statement about the future.
At this time of flux it is essential for some of us to truly imagine the future, but I am not sure how fantastic the form must be. Imagine what's produced when organic and authentic creative forces combine with technology and information. Our communities are not doing so well with designers playing to the top, and in effect relying on the status quo that isn't treating people so well. My hope is the winner take all mentality with an emphasis on star-chitecture has reached an end. There's something else to create drawing from within.

Framework for Populism

Back in 2000-2001 I completed an architectural thesis that stressed ordinary and everyday architectural style combined with the local economy. In my work I continue to work out themes of the modern urban craft that supports an ordinary and everyday urban renaissance. AlterNative Architecture brings value to the process through a creative architectural practice supported by practical ideas.

Boston Architectural College Thesis

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Show Your Work

Using the slideshow capability of the blog is a excellent way to show projects. These are examples of work that did not make to our website

click for latest post

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Virtual Workshop

I am hoping this blog can be a showcase for the architecture projects we generate for ourselves. Small design firms especially know how to value the creativity and craft that can go into an everyday project. A fellow  practitioner who puts himself into his projects is Mark Three Stars. His website is

A virtual workshop includes sharing our construction ideas, experience, and success.  We can catalog a list of:
  • alternative materials or techniques we have used
  • where to have pieces fabricated. 
  • what were your essential tools
  • subcontractors you used
Here we can collaborate, and form teams for proposals or projects. Consider what projects are important right now, and how creative design adds spirit to even the most ordinary moment.

Cascieri Continues to Inspire

Last night's Cascieri Lecture delivered by Steve Badanes of Jersey Devil workshop, provided the perfect impetus for this blog. At the reception and after the lecture, conversations with BAC friends centered around expanding the way to practice architecture that honors our whole being and confronts our perceived limitations. Since 2001 effortlessdesign has practiced an alter-native architecture. Like Steve said it hasn't been easy, and it is definitely slow. 
There are lots of challenges of being fully employed to use our skills and further develop our capabilities. Yet on this road we have completed projects, and had tremendous fun building. Particularly at the community level, using the design-build workshop, effortlessdesign encourages designers to have a vision, be engaged, and practice. Staying connected, and sharing our work on the web will increase our opportunities.