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Incorporating the Senses into Architecture

 

Did you know it was possible to incorporate your senses into your new home?  I will discuss our five senses and the strategies you might use to integrate these into your new space.

 

Sight:

Sight is an obvious one and definitely the most used sense relating to architecture.  To view a space is to see not only the solid forms but also the openness and space of an area.  Using both light and structure in combination can make its occupants feel comfortable. The merger of these components can also take your home from just ordinary to something special and a place you want to hang out in!

 

Hearing:

Acoustics of a building, though not initially obvious to us, can return a space’s movements and create an atmosphere that we can connect with.  Increasing sound can boost the intensity of a space just like a sound track from a movie.  To adjust the impact of sound, we can use sound absorbers or sound optimizers.  Also, the forms of the building can affect sound.  The ceiling height or shape of the room can affect the acoustics.  With a high ceiling, sound has further to travel than with a shortened height. Also, different shapes of surfaces can bounce sound in specific directions to create an interesting effect.

 

Touch:

The sense of touch within a building can create a feeling of either relating or dislike.  The touch of building materials itself can create this feeling but it‘s also possible to feel a space without touching its components. You can feel if a space is dim or bright just by being in it.  The easiest example is the feeling of sunlight on your skin as you inhabit the space.

 

Smell:

Smell is our sense that is most closely connected to our memories.  The smell of different materials or fragrances we use within a space can be recorded in our memory for a later time.  Connections to these distinct smells can be recalled later and can stimulate various emotions that we might have had while being in the space.

 

Taste:

Taste is probably the toughest sense to link to in architecture.  It has been proven though that architecture can stimulate taste through vision.  It is possible that by mixing certain colors within objects of a building, it elicits some oral sensations.

 

In conclusion, our senses are how we experience the world in which we live. Within a building we can use our senses to create special environments that are both memorable and a joy to be in.

Designing your Home for the Climate you are Building in

Designing for Specific Climates

 

 

Did you know that each specific climate warrants different design details than others?  A home located in the Arizona desert calls for contrasting design characteristics from one located in the Rocky Mountains or one that is sited on the ocean’s coast.  Below is a short list of distinctive design characteristics for each broad climate type that we typically find in North America.

 

Hot arid climates:

 

In hot arid zones, the main objective is to reduce uncomfortable conditions created by the extremes of heat and dryness. Usually in this climate there are great variations between day and night conditions. It is important to provide maximum shading of direct solar radiation during the day.  Usually these conditions can be controlled easier with compact designs that incorporate shade and controllable ventilation.

 

Warm humid zones:

 

This climate is characterized by high rainfall and high humidity.  The temperature differences are minimal and winds are typically light.  The most important design considerations involve providing maximum ventilation by designing large openings. Also, providing maximum shading of direct solar radiation is important. Generous shading devices can assist with this.  Vegetation can also be used to provide shade.

 

Temperate conditions:

 

A temperate climate typically includes a hot and dry season followed by a wet and warm season and then winter conditions.  This makes it a challenging climate to design in.  The goal is to keep a balance between conflicting requirements.  In the winter, you need to seek solar radiation gain and then provide shading in the summer.  Also, you need to provide wind protection in the winter and proper ventilation in the summer.  Some of these requirements can be satisfied by providing semi-compact forms and an orientation to benefit from the winter sun.

 

Alpine zones:

 

The alpine climate is characterized by low humidity and high temperature ranges.  There typically are cold winters, warm summers and highly variable spring and autumn conditions.  Good access to sunlight is important, therefore maximizing southern exposure is key. Stretching a building out in the east/west direction helps with both sun exposure and essential ventilation which is imperative in the summer months.

 

This is just a preview of a few of the design challenges that you may encounter with these specific climate types.  For my next few blogs, I will focus on each climate separately and discuss specifically what we can do to design buildings smarter and more environmentally friendly for the setting we each live in.  Stay tuned….

Common Floor Plan Concepts for a New Home

How do you begin describing to your architect what kind of floor plan you might want in your new home? Is there a certain type of layout that might fit your lifestyle better?  Is there a way to organize the spaces within your home to suit your specific family?

 

Well, let me begin by explaining a couple of common floor plan concepts that many homes incorporate within their overall design.

 

Open Floor Plan:  This is the most common type of floor plan over the last ten years or so.  An open floor plan caters to a more relaxed, but busy lifestyle.  Homeowners tend to entertain less formally and want to spend quality time with their family whenever possible since their life is more hectic.  An open floor plan provides a space that is both welcoming and relaxing and allows everyone to gather in the same larger space together.

 

With an open floor plan, there is typically a “great room.”  In this “great room” is contained a kitchen, a living space and an eating area.  These spaces are typically open to one another but may be delineated slightly with ceiling changes or furniture arrangements.  Sometimes a formal dining room is eliminated entirely and a dining nook serves as the family eating area.  The idea with an open floor plan is that everyone feels a part of the conversation even if one person is cooking in the kitchen, one is doing homework in the dining nook and another is watching TV in the living area.

 

Typically within an open floor plan, there are auxiliary spaces like a pantry or utility room, mud room, home office, etc. that are usually sited to be adjacent to the great room space.  Also, the master bedroom is often located on the main floor level.  Additional bedrooms may be located on the main floor level as well or may be separately upstairs or downstairs, depending on the configuration of the site.

 

Outdoor spaces are also typically located adjacent to this larger great room space and may contain an area for grilling, an outdoor sitting space or dining area as well.

 

 

Closed Floor Plan:   In contrast, a closed floor plan is one that was more common in older homes.  This concept separates spaces from one another with walls and/or doors.  There is usually a separate room for the kitchen as well as a formal dining room. 

 

The advantages to this plan are that it is easier to handle noise and smell.  By keeping areas separate and being able to close doors, unwanted noises and smells can be isolated.  Also, in closed floor plans you can more easily hide messes when guests come over.  The full sink in your kitchen can be shut off from the rest of the house.   In addition, closed floor plans offer more privacy to their occupants. 

 

 

There are definitely advantages to both floor plan concepts.  You just need to ask yourself which layout suits your lifestyle better.  And maybe, it’s even a combination of the two.    There are endless options to a floor plan layout, so the decision is yours!

Ever wonder what the difference is between an eave and a gable end roof of a house?

We have had various discussions about roofs in my latest blogs.  But, I haven’t yet discussed the difference between an eave and a gable end roof of a house.  What is the meaning of each of these and how do they differ?  Well, let’s first talk about the definition of each.

 

 

Definition:  An Eave is defined as the edge of the roof that overhangs the face of a wall.  This is the portion of the roof that protrudes beyond the side of a house or building.  In contrast, a Gable (or Rake) is the overhang of a building that occurs on the side that is topped by a gable roof. (Refer to my Architectural Roof Types blog.)

 

Function:  Now that we understand where both the eave and gable overhangs occur on a building, why do we need them?  Well, they are important features of a building and actually serve a purpose.  The primary function of eaves is to keep rain water (or melting snow) off the side of a house.  It prevents water from entering the house at the point the roof meets the wall.  Gable (or Rake) overhangs pretty much provide the same sort of protection, but at the end wall of a house.

 

Some other purposes for eaves might be to prevent erosion of the foundation footings below the house by carrying the water away from the edge of the building. They also help to reduce splatter from water as it hits the ground below.

 

In some home designs deep roof eaves and gables may serve to protect the home from solar gain.  They may also be designed to allow important sun angles in to heat the house in the winter and then keep the hot sun out in the summer. 

 

History:  In history, eaves haven’t been just about protecting a building.  They have also been a place of decoration and ornamentation to define specific architectural styles.  For example, a craftsman style home can be categorized by its large eaves and gables that contain decorative brackets.  Also, back in the days of Roman and Greek architecture, the buildings contained cornices finished with decorative molding which served the purpose of eaves.  In addition, in Chinese architecture they utilized dougong bracket systems which are unique structural elements of interlocking wooden brackets.

 

Parts:  Eaves may terminate in a fascia which is a board running the length of an eave to protect the ends of the roof rafters.  The underside of the eaves may contain a horizontal soffit fixed at a right angle to the wall to seal the gap between the rafters from weather. 

 

I hope that this discussion involving eaves and gables (or rakes) gives you a better understanding of their differences and why we need them.  Can you imagine how ridiculous your house might look without them?

Understanding Common Architectural Styles

Have you ever driven by a house that you really liked and then tried to explain the exact style and what you like about it to someone else?  Did you know that a house rarely contains one single architectural style?  And by the way, what is an architectural style?  Well, architectural style is a way we classify buildings according to their features, materials and historic period.  Buildings that belong to the same style often share similar characteristics.

 

There are probably hundreds of architectural styles, but I am going to highlight just a few of the more common styles of today.  Also, some styles may be referenced by different names then I am listing below.  For example, a Craftsman style house may be referred to as a Cottage or a Bungalow.  I have placed a link to the categories that are contained on Canadian Timberframe‘s website under its “Style” section within the text of each specific style that I list below.

 

Craftsman: Craftsman style homes (often referred to as Cottages or Bungalows) get their name from the arts and crafts movement back in the early 20th century.  Designers sought a return to the time of uniquely crafted decorative arts during a time of mass production.  A common feature of craftsman style is the utilization of glass, wood and metal creating something that is both simple and elegant.  It also includes low-pitched gable roofs with wide overhanging eaves, exposed rafters, decorative brackets and porches at the front of the house.

 

Ranch: Ranch house style homes originated in the 1930s. This house combined modernist ideas with the concepts of the western ranches to create something very informal for a casual living style. Common features of a ranch house include a single story with a long, low roofline and large overhanging eaves. The exterior materials usually include brick, stucco, wood and glass.

 

Colonial: This style of home comes from the American colonial period. This style often refers to a rectangular, symmetrical home that is 2 or 3 stories with a high pitched roof and multiple dormers. They usually contain multi-paned double-hung windows placed symmetrically. The exterior materials include clapboard siding with shutters.

 

Contemporary: Contemporary homes (also referred to as Modern) got their start back in the 1950s.  They are often characterized by their odd, irregular shapes and often tall windows and lack of ornamentation. The exterior also contains unusual mixtures of wall materials like stone, wood and brick. Inside houses an open floor plan with cathedral ceiling or flat roofs.

 

Mediterranean: The Mediterranean style comes from the heritage of mission churches built by Spanish colonists. Some characteristics include adobe-like stucco exterior with a flat or low-pitched roof  and clay tiles.  There are usually balconies with wrought iron railings.  Another common feature is and deeply shaded porches and possibly interior courtyards.

 

Chalet: A Chalet is native to the alpine region in Europe.  They were introduced to North America in the mid- 1800s. They are usually constructed of wood with a heavy, gently sloping roof and deep eaves.  The front-facing gable roof is usually embellished with rustic ornamentation made of hand-hewn timbers.

 

These are just a few of the many styles of architecture, but hopefully this will be helpful to begin a discussion with your architect about what features you might really like to include in your future home.

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