9.28.2014

the gpcd of sickness and kittens

I've written before about how well our water conservation activities have been going with our gallons per capita daily (what the cool kids call gpcd) getting down to 33 gallons per capita daily. More recently, we've been consistently just below 30. Most recently, over the past billing month, I've been recovering from surgery (a recovery that required several baths a day) and we adopted kittens that turned out to have ringworms (lots of sterilizing clothes washing). That caused last month to jump up to 42 gallons per capita daily.

The City of Austin provides the chart below so you can see usage over time. The high use in September and October of last year was due to (1) a new landscape and (2) no rainwater tank at that time. We didn't blood oath off using city water outside until April of this year.

Here's to good health (and conserving water). They go hand in hand!


9.27.2014

What is Modern? 5. Eager adoption of new materials and technology

Part 5 in a 10-part series on what is Modern.

Le Corbusier's Dom-ino structural concept for houses (1914-1915)

The development of Modernism was sparked by new materials and techniques. In the early days, reinforced concrete and steel caused some to question the forms and styles of the time that didn’t reflect the freedom offered by new structural systems. Some trace Modernism’s roots to the reinforced concrete of Auguste Perret, a French proto-Modernist and early mentor of Le Corbusier. Others trace roots to the steel superstructures of early skyscrapers in Chicago where Louis Sullivan introduced a new way of thinking about ornamentation. Yet others broadened the influence of new materials and technology by pointing to the re-introduction of engineering to architecture, a re-introduction that allowed for the daring of the cantilever, the freedom of window walls, and the use of other nifty “tricks” that manipulated and opened space in ways not seen before.

The steel skeleton of the Reliance Building in Chicago circa 1894. The exterior of the building was about 85 percent glass.

Corbusier leveraged his knowledge of reinforced concrete into free-standing walls, walls that supported his preference for ribbon windows, long unbroken windows that striped the sides of his early buildings. Frank Lloyd Wright borrowed the steel I-beam from Chicago’s skyscrapers to support the dramatic long lines and cantilevers of the Robie House. R.M. Schindler used his knowledge of engineering to transfer loads via wood and reinforced concrete to create space for clerestory windows and window walls, allowing him to thoroughly embrace the outdoors. Richard Neutra was the first to employ a steel superstructure in home construction to skeleton his marquee house, the Lovell Health House.

Steel I-beams support Frank Lloyd Wright's daring cantilevers on the Robie House (1908-1909).

Schindler employed tilt-wall construction for his own house (circa 1920-21).

The reinforced concrete skeleton of the Lovell Beach House by R.M. Schindler (circa 1925-1926).


The steel superstruction of the Lovell Health House by Richard Neutra (circa 1927-28).

Because they lived in a time of rapid technological change, all of these architects quickly embraced new materials and technology during their careers, whether it was plywood (although considered passé today, plywood was vigorously adopted by Wright, Schindler, Neutra, and others back in the day), electronics (new lighting, sound, or communication systems), or climate control.

The spirit of Modernism is steeped in experimentation, and experimentation in architecture is often fed by new materials and technology.

In these modern days, this experimentation may be fed by new building techniques (such as passivhaus construction, smart lighting systems, three-dimensional house printing) as well as by new materials (such as engineered quartz, translucent concrete, industrial hemp, shipping containers). Modernism stays relevant in today’s world by adapting to the available technology and material opportunities.


House printing? Yes, house printing

9.21.2014

gutter guards

I kinda despise cleaning gutters (who doesn't?). It's messy and it's dangerous (six packs of Lone Star and ladders don't mix...). And given that part of our house has two stories, cleaning gutters is even more of a challenge. At first I tried those cheapie plastic inserts that (1) looked awful and (2) simply didn't work all that well (didn't fit well and dislodged with a good wind). All in all, the cheapies were a fail.

After a quick look at Consumer Reports and an in-person inspection at Zingers, we decided to get the Tesla of gutter guards by going with GutterGlove Pro:


These babies are made of aluminum with a stainless steel mesh on top. They integrate best with metal and composition roofs (that long wing there goes underneath the roofing) but our installers (Austin Gutter King) also get it to work with TPO. And they have a nice, finished look about them that complements Modern construction.

The stuff ain't cheap, but it looks good and, thus far, seems to work good. We'll still need to go up there and brush off the screens once a year (or hire someone to do it), but we feel good that these puppies will do the job and last a long long while.

The gutter for the garage with Gutterglove Pro installed. Since we don't have a proper first-flush for the rainwater harvesting system,  these gutter guards also serve as an excellent filter for roof debris. 

9.20.2014

What is Modern? 4. Embracing the environment

Part 4 in a 10-part series on what is Modern.

Le Corbusier put Mother Nature on a pedestal by putting his houses on pedestals such as Villa Savoye (1929-1931)

A writer for the local newspaper here recently exclaimed with glee that a contemporary home, unlike unfiltered Modernism, embraces the outdoors. This “radical” contemporary house dared to show greenery through its ample windows, inferring that this is something that would be frowned upon by Modernism. Modernism, it seems, requires an Agent Oranging of any landscape viewable from a window. I bet the neighbors would love that...

This could not be further from the truth. In fact, it was Modernism that introduced the very concept of embracing nature herself in architecture.

Different architects had (have) different views of how you embrace nature with architecture. Le Corbusier tended to put Mother Nature on a pedestal by putting his houses on pedestals and framing nature through windows whereas Frank Lloyd Wright was on top of her in the grass trying to snake his tongue down her throat.

Frank Lloyd Wright rolling in the hay with Mother Nature via Falling Water (1936-1939)

Wright preached the need to embrace the site—its topography, its weather, its geology, its views, its faults—when designing a building. He’s famous for saying “of the hill, not on the hill”; in other words, it’s best to integrate your architecture with nature, not have your architecture dominate the landscape. Wright even worked to have his designs evoke the geography. For example, his Prairie style houses from the 1890s through the 1930s are meant, through their long horizontal lines, to evoke the flat, glacial-planed prairies of the Midwest. The sandy, gently peaked, and asymmetric peaked roofs at Taliesen West are meant to evoke the nearby desert mountains. And the sharply peaked roofs in the Rocky Mountains echo the mountains themselves.

Corbusier wasn’t about fitting into nature as he was with nature fitting in with his designs (and to be honest, Wright was in this same place until later in his career). He designed ample patios for outdoor usage and gaps in walls to frame the outdoors as art. His ribbon windows allowed a constant internal visual connection to nature just outside. One house he designed and built even had motorized bushes that could be moved at the press of the button to admire the Paris skyline. 

Inspired by a camping trip to Yosemite and the generally pleasant Southern California climate, Schindler was the first to completely remove the boundary between indoors and outdoors in the duplex he designed for himself, his wife, and his friends, the Chaces. Built in 1922, the Schindler-Chace House remarkably set the stage for the California Modern House (and perhaps is the first Modern house ever realized). On the public sides, his house has private, tilt-wall concrete façades. Behind those façades on the private sides are walls of windows and large sliding doors that allow a seamless transition between indoors and outdoors architecturally, visually and functionally. This intimacy of indoor and outdoor living was later adopted by Frank Lloyd Wright (who at the time preferred a more formal interaction with patios) and many, many others. The picture window, itself a bastardization of Modernisms wall of windows, can be traced to Schindler's house.

R.M. Schindler "going camping" by dissolving indoors and outdoors in the Schindler-Chace House (1921-1922).


A more recent way Modernism has embraced the environment is through green building. Building green can achieve a number of goals, including minimizing the cost of building and living in a home to minimizing a home’s footprint for broader environmental and social goals. 

9.17.2014

Some old shots of our lot from back in the day



That house in the middle of the photo above, the house with the two out-buildings in the back, is the house that used to be on our property. This photo was taken in 1965. It shows, among other things, how small the trees were (they had probably only been planted five to ten years before this when the houses were built). The neighbors' houses look the same now as they did back then.


This is where I got the above photo from. There's an enormous oak at the corner today that many would suggest was well over a hundred years old. It's just a bush in this photo! 


This is the HEB at 2222 and Burnet from about 1950. This photo is looking north into what is now our neighborhood. No trees out there hardly at all!


And this is photo looking west with Lamar in the foreground and, to the left, the intersection of Lamar with Airport. The whitish "gash" on the horizon (right where the Hill Country begins) is the Far West area, which used to be a rock quarry. The road that runs from Lamar all the way to the west is Justin Lane.