Thursday, January 28, 2010

Residential Architect vs. Builder


Residential Architect vs. Builder

If we approach the issue from the educational and experience points, we may find some insight. A builder, by default, will typically approach a design from a construction point of view and rely on his past homebuilding to design a home. The main missing component is the ability to approach residential design from the educated planning and overall vision. Architects are trained for years to understand space, function, standards, building methods, budgets, client needs and tend to approach each challenge with these experiences in mind. Even though a contractor may know a quicker and better way to construct a bay window, he or she may ignore issues like proportion, window configuration and trim details that are important to the overall home design because they are not even considered.

I hear from construction professionals all the time that architects should work in construction for 5 years before going to architecture school. This, in theory, sounds great, however it would then take a total of 13-15 years before an architect could be eligible for licensing! Architects learn in their early years from older mentors and from visiting construction sites. It takes time to develop knowledge of construction and it is up to each individual architect, whether they are residential architects, resort architects or commercial architects, to develop these skills. In most of my experience when a contractor sends me a request for information, we “both” bring our experience to bear on the problem. With egos aside, problems are usually solved quickly to both parties satisfaction.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Sustainable Resorts

Ok, so let us talk about sustainable resorts. Most of my research online yields several “off the grid” resorts. Despite the fact that many resorts are off the grid because they have no choice, they choose to market themselves as sustainable. I have seen very few that proactively develop in a manner consistent with real sustainable methods. In addition, the idea of developing vast areas of virgin land is hardly sustainable in a long term sense. Many countries faced with a viable economic model seem to be more and more dependent on tourism as agriculture is becoming more competitive. Countries in South America and China are making it more difficult for small countries to compete in the globalization of agriculture. Fiji with its sugar cane and Belize with citrus are prime examples. It is becoming apparent that the global agriculture model is not sustainable (i.e. the thousand mile salad) and there are movements in farming to return to the local method. In Hawaii, we are seeing several alternative methods to agriculture to counteract the need to develop virgin land for resorts or vacation homes for the wealthy as an alternative to economic stability.

Tourism will always be a draw for exotic destinations and a reality to incorporate, however they can be developed in a method that is in balance if done wisely.

Resort architects can employ many sustainable concepts as we have in an upcoming resort in Belize. On the residential architecture, we minimized impact to the site, utilized catchment and grey water recycling, used local materials throughout, photovoltaics, natural ventilation, daylight, drought resistant planting, non v.o.c. paints and finishes, ect…

The resort itself will have many of the same items listed above and also employed recycling programs, reserved community farming areas and vast acreage reserved for wildlife. It may not have all the potential sustainable design; however it will be a model for the rest of Belize and sets the bar higher…

Monday, January 18, 2010

Sustainable Architecture


I recently toured a home on the Kohala coast under construction and was amazed at the amount of Burmese teak being installed. Moreover how the firm’s website espouses sustainability. I understand that architecture is a service industry and the architect is hired to realize the client’s needs and wishes, however there is also an implicit responsibility in recommending material options. More and more I am seeing architects, especially Hawaiian Architects, market their sustainable approach to design without having a single sustainable project. It is even more egregious when they actively produce work that is as unsustainable as possible.

To be fair, it is difficult to convince clients to incorporate sustainable principles that may sacrifice their level of comfort or increase their budget. I have seen this first hand while working for my previous firm; however the principal in charge of these jobs never really educated the client of the real options and glossed over the benefits. It seemed that he did not want to complicate the process that may have affected his profit margin as it takes a lot more planning, coordination and time to realize sustainability over traditional building methods.

As a LEED AP, I have never had a client opt to register their project for certification, but I make sure to put forth the options for consideration. In most cases, I have been able to incorporate several sustainable elements into the projects without increasing the overall budgets. I feel many principals of sustainable architecture can be introduced as a “best practice” and become part of our standard design approaches.

Sending your junior partner to get his or her LEED certification and adding a page on sustainability to your web site is not a responsible approach to an industry in rapid change. Sustainable architects need to be at the forefront, using their expertise and guidance to do their part in the transition…

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Contemporary Hawaiian Architecture

Happy New Year!

More on the challenge of designing architecture in Hawaii that is a balance of old and new. Most examples here in Hawaii and especially on the Big Island appear to consider the aesthetic only as an afterthought to make it “fit in” and have a Hawaiian feel. Due to the lack of permanent architecture in the Hawaiian Islands prior to the arrival of Captain Cook, there are few reference point for designers to draw from. The amazing stone work of the numerous heiau’s has an irresistible attraction for architects in Hawaii.

More recent, the Dickey “double pitch” roof seems to be the most prevalent Hawaiian detail today. It is a bit ironic introduced in the 1920’s by an architect from Alameda, California. I am not trying to be overly critical of Dickey as he successfully modified Mediterranean buildings to work in the Hawaiian climate. Open plans, large overhangs and operable windows are necessary in this climate and function quite well. The point is that these elements lend themselves to making interesting contemporary architecture. Architect’s in similar climates, have successfully bridged the past and future while maintaining meaningful cultural identity. The Serai at Chadi Dasa in Bali is an example that draws from local materials and Balinese lifestyle. Traditional carvings, lotus ponds and coconut columns blend harmoniously in a minimalist architectural solution.

It takes courage as an architect to push developers and clients to risk building architecture that is out of the ordinary and not a pre-known commodity. It also takes an architect that is responsible and mindful of all the elements that are required to make a project work; budget, design review committees, neighborhood associations, construction methods, schedules, etc.. Modern architecture has freed architects from traditional decorated boxes, allowing massing to be expressed as function of the space. If an architect is conscious of the potentials of the local building materials, they can create extraordinary and unique designs with naturally embedded culture. These designs can incorporate all the elements and principles of the Hawaiian architecture of the past, yet bring it into the future.

It seems to me that, like most new endeavors, we must start out small and be persistent. It takes all members of the team from the developers, clients, architects, consultants to the contractor all understanding the clear vision of the project and each knowing their respective roles to realize the project successfully.

More to come…