7.23.2014

Frank Lloyd Wright for sale in Houston

Designed in 1954 for William Thaxton, Jr., this house (plus a substantial non-Wrightian addition) can be yours for only $3,195,000! Read and see more here. Thanks to B. Bro for the tip!



















Photos from MLS.

7.20.2014

sunday houses and the Schindler log cabin

Sunday house we rented.

The bride and I, over the past Third of July, rented a Sunday House in Fredericksburg, Texas. Sunday houses are tiny houses that farmers built so they would have a place to stay after traveling into town on Saturday for Sunday service (read here for details). In Texas, this seems to have been prominently done by the Germans in Gillespie County, the county that hosts Fredericksburg. These houses are cute as kittens, yet amazingly efficient in the use (and perception) of space (those Germans...).

Here are some examples we happened across while wandering about town:






Our particular house had three rooms: a large bedroom (which included a sitting area), a kitchen/dining area, and a bathroom. An ample porch adorned the front of the house. The attic was unused in this particular house (we've heard locals describe the attics as "That's where the kids slept"). It's hard to tell, but we suspect the back of our house was added on later or, at the very least, is a finished out cooking porch.






Our Sunday house was comfy, relatively spacious, and had lots of storage. How big was it? 240 square feet!!! At first the bride didn't believe it, but after measuring a couple more times, the house's dimensions--12 feet wide by 20 feet long--became clear. 

Wow!

I think the house was helped in large part by the tall ceilings, light colors, and the simplicity of the layout with just a few rooms. But wow-wow-wow!

The main part of the house was 12-feet by 12-feet, large enough to hold a king-sized bed and a sitting area. The kitchen was 8-feet by 8-feet, large enough to hold a full kitchen and a four-seat table pushed up against a window. The bathroom, 4-feet by 8-feet, was large enough to hold a shower, a toilet, and a good sized sink and counter. As mentioned earlier, the shower could have been bigger, but it all somehow worked.


So what does this have to do with R.M. Schindler's log cabin?

We've been talking for awhile now about getting a cabin up in the hills somewhere in the northern New Mexico/southern Colorado area. This would be a retirement thing where, during the brutal summers in Austin, assuming we stay in Austin, we'd have the ability to pick up and head to the cooler climes for a few months. With our more recent fascination with Schindler, we're now talking about building Schindler's log cabin, a project he designed in 1917-1918 while he was in Chicago. 




One of the concerns we've had is the cabin's size: 540 square feet. But at more than twice the size of the Sunday house we stayed in, it should be ample room! Similar to the Sunday house, Schindler's cabin has three rooms (really it only has two rooms, with one divided by something like a pony-wall).  This is all on the 10- to 15-year planning horizon, but it's kinda fun to start thinking about it now. 


7.15.2014

if we had all the money in the world...

...we would hire Richard Meier to design a house for us. Here is an amazing story of Meier recently designing (and building) a one-bedroom beach house for friends. Meier's schtick is harkening back to the purity of early modernism, channeling the likes of Corbusier, Neutra, and early Schindler. And my oh my does he do it well.

Simply. Stunning.

All the way down to the Eileen Grey tube lamp.

[side note: at a cost of $2.25 million for 2,000 square feet, we're talking $1,125 per square foot. Yikes!!!]




these are three of the nineteen photos in the article

7.14.2014

haiku for the book : "vienna to los angeles: two journeys" by esther mccoy



a vulture circles
opportunity awaits...
but what are friends for?


If there’s a theme to this book, it’s that Richard Neutra was an asshole. 

I’ve had this tome on my I-hope-to-buy-this-sucker-some-day list, in part because it’s so dang expensive. It’s out of print and, ironically, because of poor sales back in the day, a collectible. But after reading an excerpt from the book of an interview with the Lovells (he and she of R.M. Schindler’s Lovell Beach House and Neutra’s Lovell Health House) that dispelled an often written statement that Schindler had to close in the sleeping porches on the beach house because he couldn’t properly design a drain, I decided that now was the time to pick the book up, high cost be damned.

In the book, Esther McCoy focuses on letters between Schindler and Richard Neutra and between Schindler and Louis Sullivan (many of which were due to Neutra’s poor behavior relative to Sullivan’s manuscript, “Kindergarden Chats”, making the rounds in Europe in search of a publisher). She also includes snippets of the aforementioned interview with the Lovells.

Richard Neutra (standing, left) and R.M. Schindler (standing, right) at the Schindler-Chace House.

Schindler, although disheartened by his lack of recognition during his lifetime, was certain that his place in architectural history was guaranteed. Neutra also knew this truth, that Schindler would be recognized on an equal if not greater footing than himself. Sadly, despite Schindler’s critical help in bringing Neutra to the United States and California, starting his career in the states, and unwittingly providing the opportunity for Neutra to steal the Lovells and build his marque building (the Lovell Health House), Neutra set out to destroy Schindler, something he focused on his entire life, especially toward the end of his.

Neutra attempted to do this, and succeeded in the short term, in several ways:

- he fed on the fears of the Lovells and deceived them and Schindler to steal them from Schindler. Shindler was in line to build their house in L.A. (he had plans on the boards), and Neutra flat out stole the clients.
- when the joint design for the League of Nations building came in third place and toured Europe, Neutra removed Schindler’s name from the project (I know, I know: This is arguable. But at the very least, Neutra’s whining to his parents-in-laws caused Schindler’s omission, and Neutra didn’t work too hard to get Schindler’s name back on the display).
- When Neutra heard Schindler was working on a book about construction in America, he encouraged Schindler to wait until he arrived in America so they could publish it together. And then when he arrived, he wrote the book on his own while Schindler supported him and his family.
-  When the Museum of Modern Art was putting together its highly influential modern architecture show held in 1932, Neutra succeeded in turning Philip Johnson and Henry-Russell Hitchcock against him.
- Tried to change time.

Later in his life, desperate to expunge Schindler’s role in his history and the history of architecture, he bizarrely insisted that his Lovell house predated Schindler's Lovell house, a fact easily disputed by press articles, numerous recollections, as well as building permits. In an interview in a different book, McCoy tells the story of how Neutra flew out to New York to appeal to her editor to change the dates. Neutra felt his force-of-personality would be enough to change time despite the litany of easily accessed evidence to the contrary. 

In an attempt remove Schindler completely from Neutra's history, Neutra's wife, Dione claimed in an interview with the Los Angeles Times that Schindler turned them away when they first came to L.A.. Pauline Schindler clarified that they had not been turned away and had lived there three years.

Schindler’s beach house (1922-1926) was problamatic to Neutra. First, it predated Neutra’s health house (1927-1929) by five years in design and by three years in finished construction, arguably giving Schindler the prize for the first modernist structure in the United States and among the first in the world. Second, Neutra’s house is clearly influenced by Schindler’s house, unveiling the illusion of Neutra’s initial raw brilliance. 

Neutra's Lovell House (1929) on the left, Schindler's Lovell House (1926) on the right. Nope, no similarities there...

It’s all quite sad, really. Despite his previous assholiness, Neutra’s place in architectural history was clearly set (and deservedly so). Most folks simply assess the work and not the bitter backstories behind what leads up to the work: The ends, sadly, justify the means. Frank Lloyd Wright was an epic asshole as well, and he is deservedly highly regarded. Instead of atoning for past sins (chalk it up to youthful exhuberance, dude), Neutra insanely doubled down, and his legacy is somewhat stained (and becoming more so) because of it. And the fact he doubled down suggests he knew he had been a giant asshat. Unfortunately his asshattedness hadn’t abated, so he responded with truly mythic asshattedness. Not that Schindler was an angel (he was self-destructive when it came to working with editors but a comparative saint when dealing with people in general), but despite Wright’s brutal treatment of him, Schindler continued to acknowledge Wright’s, and others, influence on his work. 

To a certain degree, Schindler deserves some of the blame for what happened to him. There were early signs that Neutra was a brat, and Schindler let Neutra take advantage of him for a long time before he wised up.

I love Schindler’s work, but I love it more deeply because of the man. He was a brilliant sweetheart that was taken advantage of by lesser men. His brilliance and those intimidated by that brilliance (and yes, this includes FLW), kept Schindler from receiving his due while he was alive. Yet Schindler had the confidence to continue doing what he loved secure in the knowledge that he would be recognized. 

And, ultimately, he was right.

Further factoids:
  • One of the interesting (and radical) bits about the Schindler-Chace House (1921) is the communal kitchen shared between the two pinwheeled units and the guest house. Schindler pitches this in his writings on the design as an outfall of communal cooking about a campfire and a way for the women of the house to share in the household chores. However, McCoy notes that the property Schindler (and Chace?) bought had a covenant that only allowed one kitchen on the property (a roundabout way of disallowing duplexes, apartments, or multiple houses). This commences Schindler’s tendency to embrace covenants and restrictions as design opportunities.
  • Many writings about the Lovell Beach House note that Schindler had to later close in the outside sleeping porches at the front of the house because of defective porch drains (in other words, they didn’t drain [for example, see this article]). There’s some truth to this: The Lovells asked Schindler to close in the sleeping porches because of the drains; however, it wasn't because the drains didn’t drain. The sleeping porches overhung the walkway to the beach. Passerbys, having never seen such a house before and unaware that the owners were resting above them, would offer unbridled critiques of the house. Mr. Lovell, tired of hearing unvarnished (and often unflattering) reviews of his house through the drains, asked Schindler to close the porches in.

Before the sleeping porches were closed (left) and after (right).
  • One of many ways Neutra preyed on the Lovells was amplifying their mild unhappiness with the beach house coming in at 20 percent over budget. Neutra assured them them that he had price control methods to keep projects on budget. How well did those controls work? The Lovell Health House came in 100 percent over budget, nearly bankrupting the Lovells.
  • Neutra led the Lovells to believe that he was working with Schindler in designing and building the house. The Lovells were shocked when they discovered during the build that Schindler was not involved.
  • The Lovells noted a key difference between Schindler and Neutra in design: Schindler was responsive to clients' programmatic needs and was willing to change the design during the build or later to meet needs (for example, closing in the sleeping porches, something that adversely affected the aesthetics of the house). Neutra, on the other hand, was not responsive in his design and went batshit crazy when clients wanted to change the original house).
  • The Lovells sold the Health House in the 1940s. The Beach House still belongs to the Lovell family (perhaps unfair to compare a beach house to a day-to-day living house).      
  • Schindler designed (and built) a hen house (1918) for Taliesen.

7.07.2014

rainwater rising

Falling actually...

Because we're using it!

We've pretty much got the system down on using rainwater. First, we're fortunate that our tank is located at nearly the highest point on our property, not that there's much slope, but every little bit helps (and you can't gravity feed against gravity...). Nevertheless, we'll be able to completely drain the tank and use it anywhere on the yard.


We currently have four dedicated hoses (going from right to left): (1) for the front of the house, (2) for the back driveway and patio, (3) for the back yard and garden, and (4) to fill watering cans at the tank. Since we're simply using gravity to feed the water, friction losses (loss of pressure and flow due to unnecessary bends, twists, and turns and the roughness of the hose interior) are really noticeable such that even greater pressure head drops across the lot don't fully compensate. Therefore, we've tried to keep the lines as straight as possible to maximize flow.


The coolest thing we've done so far with rainwater is wash the car. Austin is currently under drought restrictions such that you can't wash your car in your driveway, but we (ssshhhhh!!!!) pulled the car into the back patio area and washed it anyway (I'm hoping the restriction specifies the use of city water, but I don't know for sure...). The coolest thing about this coolest thing is that the "waste" water from the washing drips down and waters the grass in the driveway. Sweet!!! No pressure: Just used watering cans to pre-soak and then rinse. This is also the first time we drove a real car on the grasscrete. Held up just fine, thank you.

Watering the grass is a bit of a chore without pressure: You can't hook gravity fed water up to a sprinkler (not enough pressure), so thus far we've been watering by hand. Not a lot of fun because it's been getting so dang hot.

The worse thing about using rainwater? Using the rainwater. Seeing the storage in the tank go down is painful. We have to keep telling ourselves: "It's there to be used. It's supposed to go down." Nevertheless, it still hurts. Which is fine: It ensures we use what we have wisely (the bride wants another 3,000 gallons). And as we enter our traditionally hot and dry months, we're going to need to use as much as we can.

7.06.2014

a year in review (what's good and what could have been better...)



Wow. A year already? Time just flies... But it's been a good year!

First off, we have absolutely no regrets on building this house. It's truly been wonderful. It's well designed, gorgeous, and incredibly comfy. I think my favorite part of the house is the windows. I love looking in any direction and seeing outside, especially the clerestory windows that show green trees and blue skies as well as the window wall in the living room. The cat would agree. The bride's favorite bit is the kitchen, with it's openness, ample storage, and mucho workspace. But choosing the favorite part of the house is like choosing your favorite child: There are so many favorites that there ain't just one.

Having said that, we do have some regrets and some things we would have done differently if we had to do it all over again. We list them here so perhaps someone can learn from them (and perhaps us as well at some point; as a friend's builder once said "You have to build at least two houses so you can benefit from what you learned building the first one!").

In the grand scheme of things, our regrets are minor compared to the glory of the good. But they are, indeed, learning moments.


what happened to our foam?

We really wanted a layer of foam around the outside of the house to minimize thermal bridging via the two by sixes. Spray foam is great, but the wood between the foam is the weak link. To scratch this itch, the architects specified EIFS (exterior insulated finish systems), but the builder balked (EIFS has a bad reputation due to its early misuse). At a meeting to find a resolution, the builder noted that ZIP, the maker of the builder's preferred sheathing, had just come out with a version with foam sandwiched between the boards. Perfect! Except the change didm;t make it into the specs and therefore didn't get installed (and we didn't notice until it was WAY too late to do anything about it).

lesson learned: Make sure changes get reflected in the specs (and everyone is reminded of them). The builder should have made this change, but we should have made sure it made it into the specs before we signed the contract.


thermally broken storefront

The bride (and I, to be frank) adore storefront doors, so we spec'd 'em (and got 'em) for the house. However, amidst wading (drowning?) in all the details of the house, the ones we got are not thermally broken. Not fatal, but a minor "sigh...." moment nonetheless. It could have been worse: the giant window in the living room was originally spec'd to be storefront before the "regular" window company made a successful power play to get that job (and installed thermally-broken windows).

lesson learned: Chase those details...


thermally broken slab

This is an after-the-fact regret since we didn't think about this at all. The thermal losses (and gains) through the edges of the slab are quite noticeable in the sense that you can readily feel the temperature difference of the slab as you approach an edge. In retrospect, this is not surprising: after all, concrete is a thermal mass, but it's amazing how noticeable it is. Not sure how this is dealt with in a slab (a cursory glance about the interwebs show foam on top of the slab with more concrete poured on top as well as insulating the side of the slab) or if it would have even been possible, both sub-wise and budget-wise, but I wish we'd looked into it a wee bit more...

lesson learned: Drinking fewer beers would have killed fewer brain cells thus increasing the odds of thinking about thermally broken slabs.

postnote: Here's an article that discusses how to foam up a slab. But would a sub ever do this?


the one-foot eave

I've often wondered why the architects spec'd a one-foot eave on the east-facing side of the living room. Not that an extra foot would have added that much more shade, but it looks a little stunted to my eyes. And then one day I realized why: We asked for our living and dining rooms to be a foot wider because of circulation concerns. That foot had to come from somewhere (given the length of ceiling support), and so it came from the eastern eave.

Now that we're in the house, I see that we didn't need the extra foot in the living and dining rooms. If we had to choose between the extra foot versus the wider eave, we would have opted for the wider eave.

lesson learned: When asking for a change to the plans, always ask the architects what the implications of those changes are. What are you "losing" when a change is made.



the loss of a suite air trunk

As designed, the house had three awesomely linear air handling trunks: A trunk to the living room, a trunk in the attic space to the upstairs bedrooms, and a trunk down the hallway to the master suite. The straighter and smoother the trunk, the more efficient the air flow. The more efficient the airflow, the less energy is used to heat and cool the house. Unfortunately, that ain't what we got in the end.

The glitch here occurred when the engineer spec'd the trusses and support for the house. In the plans, he spec'd a lot of solid beams across the trunkways, especially the trunk to the master suite. There are three solid-wood beams between the air handling unit and comfort in the suite.

In the end, we had to cut two giant holes in the beam and subsequently support them with steel to get air to the living room. For the master suite, we had to run smallish, snake-ish flex tube above, around, and about to get air to the master suite. Not even close to ideal, and a solution that continues to cause issues with climate control in the house (don't worry: we're comfortable! but the system is very touchy. if we select a temperature too cool or too warm too fast for the master suite, things go awry temp-wise upstairs where all the extra air is dumped).

Who's to blame?

Ultimately no one. The builder builds, so that's not his fault. The HVAC installer inherited the beams, so it's not his fault. The engineer was simply doing his job, so it's not his fault (an ultimately we want a structurally safe house). One could point to the architects, but the budget of the house (and the architectural fees) wasn't at the level of the architects helicopter-momming the project. And I wasn't able to understand the engineering plans enough such that I could have recognized the issue up front. And even if we had recognized the issue, there might not have been an economically attainable solution at that time in the process. This is a double bummer because we were attentive on our side on having simple trunks and did "what we were supposed to do" in terms of getting everyone (architect, builder, HVAC installer) on the same page. Someone needs to add "engineer" to that list as well.

We're seeing how it goes, but we're talking about putting in a mini-split in the master bedroom. Keeping the master suite comfortable is causing the rest of the house, particularly upstairs, to be extra cooled or heated (depending on the season) than it ideally should. This is costing us in energy efficiency.

lesson learned: Have the architects draw out a conceptual HVAC trunk plan and make sure the engineer is aware of the importance of that plan. At the very least, there's a discussion of options before the engineer (and the builder) sets the plans in stone.


hot water circulator

One surprising (and frustrating) thing about the house is how long we seem to have to wait for the hot water to get to a faucet. Being a water conservationist, it kills me to stand there and seemingly wait (and wait) for the water to warm up. I suppose it could have been worse: the architects spec'd the water heater for a central location to the faucets (with the exception of the powder room, but no big deal). What if the water heater was at a more distant location?

Not sure what the solution would have been. Are the supply lines too big? Should they have been smaller? Another option would have been to have had a hot water circulator: a system that, once you press the button, circulates the cool water in the lines back into and through the water heater. Not sure if that would work with an on-demand water heater or if we would have had to get a tanked water heater (or somehow hooked up a tank). Nevertheless, we'd a done it differently knowing what we know now.

lesson learned: Probably would have gone with a tanked system and a recirculator. Didn't realize I would be this affected by it!

some design regrets...

Chalk these all up to hindsight is 20-20. All minor, but I wonder about them from time to time...

If we had to do it all over again, we would have asked for the window and door on the rear entry to have been spec'd to go all the way to the ceiling (and then carried the cypress into the house on the ceiling). The cypress here was a change-order on our part, and I suspect the original plan was this way to save money, but it would have been nice to have this entry be a full mini-me version of the front entry. Don't get me wrong: It's still nice! It's just one of those detaily things that would have been nicer...

Love this detail: The wall carrying out smoothly to the edge of the window on the right. Strikes me as de Stijl, an emphasis on the planes. This detail shows up in other parts of the house, but then there are others where it doesn't, and I'm not sure why...


Window in the office: So close!



Windows's in the stairwell: Sooooo cloooose!!! I think the issue here was transitioning from two by sixes for exterior walls to two by fours for interior walls. 

Master shower: Light (centered), vent (not). Also a victim of the ductwork issues (couldn't center the vent due to the unexpected running of ductwork into the master suite).

Wish this was centered... Because there's a stud right in the middle of the closet door, the doorbell is slightly off-center.

Not sure what happened here...


Love, love, love the pocket doors and wish we had put more in. One thing we didn't realize is that regular doors cover up a sizable chunk of the wall when open such that they cover up a lot of prime real estate for art. There's at least three more we would have spec'd if possible (office, pantry, and master suite [although the latter wouldn't have worked since there isn't a receiving wall]).