Tuesday, October 18, 2005

On the Jury: AIA Southwest Washington Honor Awards Program

Rob Harrison AIA will be one of three jurors for the Southwest Washington Component AIA Honor Awards.


The Honor Awards Program is scheduled for Wednesday, November 9 at the Pioneer Park Pavilion in Puyallup. Hors d’oeuvres, wine and beer will be served during the reception, which begins at 6:00 p.m. The program will commence at 6:30 p.m. The cost to attend is $25 for AIA members and $35 for non-members.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Earth Hero Awards Streaming Video

Streaming video of the Earth Hero Awards is online! Watch for an image of the green roof of the Sproull-Radke Garage/Workshop in the introduction....

Earth Hero Awards

Requires Real Player.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

The Fab 50 Remodelers List

According to Northwest Home & Garden Magazine, we among the "fab 50 remodelers" in the Northwest. By the numbers I'd say about three quarters of our projects are renovations.

Northwest Home & Garden

The list appears in the September/October 2005 issue, on your newstands now. This list is alphabetical by the way!

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Chiwawa Cabin on Treehugger.com!

Lloyd Alter blogged about our Chiwawa River Cabin on treehugger.com today, here:

Lyrical Sustainable Design - a cabin by Rob Harrison

I came across treehugger.com last week. The most clickable site I've come across in ages. Definitely worth a look, for both general inspiration and sourcing of green products and materials. Lloyd was in his last year in architecture school at the University of Toronto when I was in my first, and we hadn't crossed paths 'till the other day. He's designed a series of pre-fab modernist homes for a developer near Toronto:

The Royal Q Series

Nice work Lloyd, and thanks for the post on treehugger!

Friday, July 22, 2005

Updated Website Live

Thanks to the hard work of Work/Study student Sim Wan, our updated web site is up and running!

We've made the big switch away from frames, which will allow visitors to easily bookmark a page and return to it, added a new navigation menu, updated lots of old pages and added several new pages, including one on our design process and another on construction costs. Have a look:

Robert Harrison Architects Incorporated

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Chiwawa Cabin Featured in Northwest Home & Garden

Originally uploaded by Rob Harrison.
The Chiwawa River Cabin, a compact three-bedroom two-bath retreat near Plain, WA is featured in the July 2005 issue of Northwest Home & Garden magazine, in "The Ultimate Guide to Vacation Homes." On your newstand now!

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Earth Hero Award for Sproull-Radke Workshop!

Originally uploaded by Rob Harrison.
Today the Sproull-Radke Green Roof Workshop/Garage was given an Earth Hero Award by King County, for being the first permitted residential vegetated roof in the County.
Here's a link to the press release: Green Building Open House
L to R: Susan Radke-Sproull-owner, Bill Kemble-president Local 54 Roofers & Waterproofers, Rob Harrison AIA-architect, Honorable Ron Sims-King County Executive, Jim Sproull-owner, Jon Alexander-contractor

Friday, June 10, 2005

Noguchi at Seattle Art Museum

My first employer has an exhibit at the Seattle Art Museum, on now. I worked for Isamu Noguchi and Buckminster Fuller shortly after I graduated from architecture school in 1979. The office is now the Noguchi Museum in Long Island City. It was an incredible experience. At 75, Isamu had more energy than most of us 50 years his junior. A true genius.

Noguchi Exhibit at Seattle Art Museum

The Whole Page of Sketches

Originally uploaded by Rob Harrison.
So here's the whole page. As you can see, I'm also thinking about how large the house is, and running some rough calculations on the cost. (And my son Rowan is adding his comments in red pencil!) Here are the rounded off figures so far:
Main Floor: 1,100 SF
Second Floor: 600 SF
Basement: 300 SF
Total Heated: 2,000 SF
Outdoor: 300 SF
Grand Total: 2,300 SF.

2,300 SF x $180/SF = $414,000, plus sitework.

I'll want to keep finding ways to make the house more compact. This is part of the design process, as the process of discovery through sketching continues.

Second Floor First Take

Originally uploaded by Rob Harrison.
Heres a first take on the second floor, showing three bedrooms and a...five/eighths (?) bath with a composting toilet, bidet and sink. (Remember, the main bath is downstairs, so it can open to the garden.) Full-width closets separate the two smaller bedrooms, affording acoustic privacy. On the south, I show a balcony off the upstairs hall. A nice place to sit outside and read.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Main Floor Plan - A Second Sketch

Originally uploaded by Rob Harrison.
In this sketch of the main floor plan I'm trying to resolve some of the things that didn't work for me with the mud room, wc room and bathing room, as well as developing other parts of the plan.

By the way, if you click on the images, you'll go to my photostream at flickr.com where you'll be able to see larger versions, which will be easier to read.

Starting from the upper left and working around clockwise... I'm still showing the double-sided fireplace, seating grouping on the inside, patio on the outside. In the middle of sketching I've moved the study nook (a six foot deep by ten foot long alcove, with a long desk, bookshelves and windows on two sides) over to line up with the kitchen. There's enough wall space for a piano. The entry comes out to line up with the study alcove, creating room for a bench. There's a hall closet beside the stairs that lead up to the second floor. The away room has one door directly off the entry, and another into the back hall, allowing easy access to the bath and wc. I imagine this room lined with bookshelves. I've got a big shower and bathtub in the bathing room...but ooops, no sinks yet! WC room is next to the bathing room. I'd kind of like a door to the outside here. Mud room/laundry to the left of the WC room--the back door. This could provide additional pantry space as well. The kitchen will be designed for accessibility, with some storage being only a foot deep going all the way to the floor. So far it's a simple U-shape. I'm trying to keep the number of cabinets down. The kitchen is open to the dining room. The dining room has French doors, allowing the whole table to be brought outside under the porch in summer time. The wall between the dining room and living room does not go all the way to the ceiling, so there will be room for a low buffet there and you can see through.

I'm seeing the optimum orientation for the house as placing the kitchen on the south side. (That is, the long axis of the house running east west.) Dining could also be on the south, which would place kitchen and bath on the east, living and away on the west. (Long axis of the house running north-south.)

The plan still about four feet too long though, to fit easily in either orientation on a 50 x 100 Seattle city lot. That's going to be important if the house is to be successful as a stock plan. Back to the drawing board!

Monday, May 16, 2005

Main Floor - A First Sketch

Originally uploaded by Rob Harrison.
Now, building on that second pass at the Bubble Diagram, I've drawn a rough plan on grid paper. Each square represents four feet. I'm looking at the connections, and thinking about the quality of the spaces. The living area could have a double-sided fireplace as an option, one facing an inglenook on the inside, and one on a patio outside. I've shown a vague area between the living and away rooms that would be a good place for an entry. I've also shown a possible porch off the dining room. The configuration of the bath and wc rooms is unresolved as yet. The house is also quite long.

My two-year old son Rowan is doing his part here too, marking up my sketch with his suggestions in red. :-)

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Bubble Diagram, Take 2 (or thereabouts)

Originally uploaded by Rob Harrison.
In this next pass at the bubble diagram I've shown (there were others in between!), I've moved the blobs around, with an eye toward fitting it all into a more or less regular shape. I've also started thinking about the way the sun will move around the house.

Friday, May 13, 2005

The Bubble Diagram

Originally uploaded by Rob Harrison.

A "bubble diagram" is a tool many architects use in the first phase of the design process, Schematic Design. It's a quick way of diagramming the basic relationships and connections between the rooms or functions of a building. Heavier lines means stronger or more direct connections. It doesn't necessarily translate directly to a floor plan, but it helps clarify which rooms need to be next to which other rooms.

Above we have a first bubble diagram of the main floor of the (More) Affordable Green Home. It shows strong connections between the dining and kitchen, kitchen and mud room/laundry, living and kitchen and dining (all part of the great room). The study nook is connected to the living room. The away room is connected to the living room as well, but not as directly, since after all we want this to be "away." The WC and bathing rooms, on the other hand, need to be near both the mud room and the away room, since the away room will function as an occasional bedroom.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

The Program of the (More) Affordable Green Home

As we use it in connection with residential architecture, "program" means a list of spaces or activities that you would like to accomodate within your house and on your lot. It may also include specific requirements for each of the spaces, general ideas of the dimensions, and thoughts about the qualities of the space, or materials to be used. It can be quite general, or very detailed and specific. Often it starts out fairly vague, and gets more specific as the design process progresses.

Which is what we'll do here.... Let's see.

Main Floor
Entry - a place to greet guests, a bench to sit down and remove shoes, with a coat closet nearby.
Great Room - including kitchen, dining alcove and sitting area with a gas fireplace, possibly in an inglenook, plus a study alcove.
Away Room - a quiet room when the rest of the main floor in noisy, a noisy room when the rest of the main floor is quiet. Also will function as a guest bedroom.
Main Bath - actually two rooms, each accessible directly from a hallway, possibly with doors to the outside: one, a generous "bathing room" with a vanity and sink, a (non-whirlpool) Japanese soaking tub, and a walk-in shower big enough for two, and the other a "toilet room" with a wall-mounted dual-flush toilet and possibly a small sink. (This is the "Australian model" bath. In Australia there wouldn't be a sink in the toilet room—just a toilet.)
Laundry/Mudroom - near the kitchen. Front-loading washer and dryer. Hooks for coats. A "utility" sink.
Patio or Deck - exterior living space directly accessible from both grade and the interior of the house.

• Two Small Bedrooms (kids' bedrooms, or studies)
• One Larger Bedroom (the "master" bedroom)
• Powder Room Plus with a sink, bidet and a composting toilet.
• Balconies and/or possibly a sleeping porch. Some sort of exterior space accessible directly from the second floor.

• Depends on the site. We'll include one in our hypothetical house in order to investigate the issues of making a basement.

An Outbuilding
• for storage, workshop, car parking, potting shed, etc.

The Garden
• integral with the home, making the lot effectively part of the living space.
• edible landscaping (herb garden, fruit trees, edible flowers...)

Let's start with that.

Monday, April 18, 2005

The Big Plan for a Small House

What we're going to do here is design a compact green home using some of our favorite ideas, detail and spec it out, and get it priced by one of our favorite contractors to prove to ourselves and to our prospective clients that we can get a (more) affordable green home built in the Seattle area.

In our spare time!

We may also offer the design for sale, once we get it finished. Not everyone wants or needs a custom home, and this will allow those who the design suits to have the benefit of our expertise without paying all of the design and development costs.

If we're lucky of course we'll meet someone along the way who'd like to build a house like this. Hint, hint.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Construction Cost: A Definition

Construction Cost has a very specific meaning in the trade. Construction Cost is the cost of everything inside the footprint of the house. Construction Cost doesn't include Sitework, or Soft Costs. When we talk about a cost per square foot, we mean "the construction cost per square foot, not including sitework or soft costs."

Sitework Cost includes the cost of everything outside of the footprint. For example providing utilities—a septic system or connecting to the city sewer as they case may be, providing telephone and electrical service, digging a well or connecting to city water. Sitework also includes landscape work, like a driveway or sidewalk for example, as well as any landscape planting and reseeding. A city lot usually requires a lot less sitework.

Project Cost is Construction Cost plus Sitework Cost.

Soft Costs include the architect's or consultants' fees, boundary and topographical surveys or site analyses like a geotechnical engineer or wetland biologist might provide, as well as building permit fees and reimbursable expenses. Depending on the site and the jurisdiction and how many external expenses you account for (such as the cost of financing the project, living elsewhere while the project is being built, or moving once or twice), Soft Costs run 10% to 22% of the Project Cost.

Of course, you've got to have a place to put the house, don't you! We'll call that the Land Cost. Most people who come to us looking to build a house already have the land, but if you haven't, we may be able to open up some interesting possibilities. If you buy a piece of land without services like water, electricity, and sewer or septic, a lot of great green alternatives are going to make much more sense financially. More on that later.

So the grand total expenditure for a new house is going to include...
Land + Construction + Sitework + Soft Costs.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

What is (More) Affordable?

The first step in this exercise ought to be defining what we mean by "(more) affordable." What's our target?

Although many of the ideas we'll be looking into here can be applied to renovation projects, I'll mostly be talking about new construction.

I'm thinking it will be a bit like Sarah Susanka's approach to the "not so big" house. She says, take the size of the house you think you need, and work toward making it 20% smaller. So one approach would be to take our 2005 standard $225/SF budget figure for new construction, and work toward reducing it by say 20%, which would make our target $180/SF.

Another approach would be to roughly calculate the mortgage a hypothetical client might be comfortable with. According to the US Census, in 1999 median income in Seattle for householders 45 to 54 years old was $58,777. (There were almost 6,800 male and 1,700 female architects, surveyors, cartographers and engineers in Seattle in 2000 by the way. Clearly it's not us architects who were skewing that median income up to $58K!) Younger householders made slightly less, older householders slightly more. Let's round it off to $60,000/year for a household. The classic 33% devoted to mortgage yields $1650/month. At a fixed rate of 5.25% over 30 years, that will get you a loan for about $300,000. Let's assume our hypothetical client has equity from an existing home or enough cash to cover a 20% or so downpayment, so we'll round off the total price to $350,000.


Down the street from us, a house in need of a complete renovation just sold for $425,000. A modest renovated 40's three-bedroom bungalow is for sale for $616,000. It appears our hypothetical client will need more equity, if they want to build in the Seattle metropolitan area. Land costs may be less in unincorporated King County, but other costs (both financial and environmental) would be higher.

A couple of recent prospective clients have had construction budgets in the $350,000 to $500,000 range. Setting aside $50,000 for site development costs, that leaves $300,000 to $450,000 for construction. At $180/SF we'd be looking at a 1,700 to 2,500 SF house including basement (if any) and garage.

I think we're closing in on a general idea. More later.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

The (More) Affordable Green Home

We here at RHA find ourselves in a bit of a pickle these days. Residential custom construction costs have gone up 10% to 15% per year for the last three or four years. Compounded, that's an increase of around 50% over construction costs in 2000! In the late nineties, we could comfortably tell prospective clients they should budget $150/SF for their building projects. Now, we recommend people allow $225/SF for the same (high) level of quality and features. And our projects tend to be toward the modest end of custom construction.

When I explain all this to a prospective client, the reaction is (understandably) often dismay and disbelief. They've spoken with their friends who built a project similar to the one they have in mind a couple years ago, and have often already adjusted their budget expectation upward. And here I am asking them to add another 50%!

At that point I often advise people to consider other options, such as selling their current house and purchasing another house more suitable as it is, without renovation. Or scaling back the size of the house, or eliminating program, or adjusting the level of materials and finishes.

But we want it all, don't we? I know I do. I want a warm, healthy, satisfying, beautiful home for my family that has the least possible impact on our local and global ecosystems. I want it to support all of the wonderful life we live as well as all the interests and hobbies we all have, with adequate room for organized storage of the things we've accumulated and have deemed too precious to part with. And I don't want it to be beyond my financial reach. I don't need it to be ostentatious or glitzy. I want it to fit the context of its site. I want it to embody all the precepts and as many of the techniques as possible of my own manifesto.

That is, I think I want pretty much what my clients want.

So I'd like to explore this idea: The (More) Affordable Green Home.

Stay tuned.

Green Roof Garage

Green Roof Garage

Watch our web site for updated photos and story on our green roofed garage/workshop in Kirkland. Jim Sproull has done a fantastic job finishing off the interior of his workshop, artfully crafting workbenches and storage using many salvaged and reclaimed items.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Welcome to Lyrical Sustainable Design!

After participating in several conversations on the Northwest Environment Watch blog (eg The Little Engine That Could), I thought it would be interesting to create one for my own firm, Robert Harrison Architects Incorporated. This blog will feature news about our projects, notices of employment opportunities, and (mostly?) general ranting and raving on the subject of residential green architecture and sustainable culture in the Pacific Northwest. I hope you enjoy it.

Rob Harrison, AIA