Benjamin Disraeli Quote

October 31st, 2005 by Peter Schmelzer

“Cleanliness and order are not matters of instinct; they are matters of education, and like most great things, you must cultivate a taste for them.”

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Solar Energy Incentives make it easier.

October 24th, 2005 by Peter Schmelzer

It is getting cheaper to go solar, and now the government is helping!

As of August 1st 2005, all solar heating and solar electric systems installed in MN are 100% exempt from MN state tax.

As of January 1st 2006, most residential solar heating and solar electric systems are eligible for up to a $2,000 federal tax credit.

As of January 1st 2006, most commerical solar heating and solar electric systems are eligible for a federal tax credit equal to 30% of the system’s cost – with no system size limit!

(Thanks to Innovative Power Systems for this information! )

Our challenge as designers is to blend the solar electric systems into the architecture. Traditional forms don’t seem to accept solar panels very well. Contemporary forms can accomodate the panels better, but don’t seem to be well accepted in the marketplace.

Uni-Solar shingles start to blend with asphalt shingles while generating electricity. The trouble from an aesthetic point of view is that the shingles are shiny, can’t be cut in the field, and don’t come with matching accessories (like ridge shingles). This means that the solar shingles don’t blend as well as we would like.

Solar Panels usually look like tack-on additions to buildings, also not the best looking.

If you know of some well-integrated solar panels, let us know! We would love to see them!

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Cobblestone Lake Development

October 19th, 2005 by Peter Schmelzer

Architectural Detail applied to Residential Design

Last week Mary and I toured Cobblestone Lake Development in Apple Valley, and we were pleasantly impressed.

The place used to be a gravel pit, but is being converted into a lake-centered residential development. The lake is complete with gazebo and pier, with views across the water from many of the homes. By clustering the dwellings on small lots, public open space remains around the lake for walking, fishing, biking, and playground activities. Shops are planned to allow walkable shopping for day to day items.

As an architect, I was drawn to the careful detail of the custom homes and their pleasing variety. All of the homes nod toward traditional forms in a variety of styles. The proportion, texture and balance to these homes is quiet nice. The same ideas carry into the higher density housing, which is a mix of twinhomes and townhomes.

Generally, the development seems to follow the precepts of New Urbanism, an community planning idea suggesting a return to more historical, pedestrian-friendly, sustainable, mass-transit-supported neighborhoods.

New Urbanism is the revival of our lost art of place-making, and is essentially a re-ordering of the built environment into the form of complete cities, towns, villages, and neighborhoods – the way communities have been built for centuries around the world. New Urbanism involves fixing and infilling cities, as well as the creation of compact new towns and villages.

This project is a terrific example of taking an underdeveloped eyesore (gravel pit) and converting it into a beautiful place. Kudos to the developer for that. As we pulled out, I was aware how new and clean Cobblestone Lake was. This is a good thing, but it felt a bit packaged: too new: no sense of history (despite the historical architectural gestures). Could it be that there is no substitute for the true historical patina of time? The gravel pit had no trees, so the trees are still young; somehow historical forms seem to call for big, old, gnarly oaks, well-established hedges, and moss on the stone retaining walls. Given time, these things will come to be.

Yet as an architect and a human being in this place in time, I sense an incongruity that is a little unsettling after leaving the place. Clearly, the throwback was attractive to me on many levels. In fact, I have designed homes that would fit well into this development, and hope to design many more. There is a point at which architecture, like people, can become more about projecting an image than being true to its own nature. For example, applying rafter tails under an eave may look like real rafter tails (which are a true expression of structure rather than mere eye candy,) but aren’t. The image is more important than the reality, a superficial way of being.

This is a particular challenge, since modern construction materials, methods and energy-efficiency goals do not lend themselves to many of the old ways and vice versa. Still, good design brings together form, proportion, and detailing in an honest, civilized way. It acknowledges and is shaped by its controlling parameters.

Visit the place. I’d love to hear your comments.

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Vincent van Gogh

October 17th, 2005 by Peter Schmelzer

“Great things are not something accidental, but must certainly be willed.”

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Yesterday’s Code Seminar and Thinking

October 13th, 2005 by Peter Schmelzer

Internantional Building Code seminar sponsored by AIA Minnesota
Yesterday I spent the day at the U’s Earl Brown Continuing Education Center. As part of our commitment to continuing education and improvement, I went to learn more about the 2003 International Building Code (IBC), which Minnesota has adopted, effective next year.

Building codes are another way states, counties, and cities protect the public. Codes set the minimum standard for safe, healthy buildings. The IBC and the MN Amendments form the Minnesota State Building Code, which applies to most buildings. One- and Two-family dwellings are covered by the IRC (International Residential Code) and its Amendments.

As a lisenced architect, one of my responsibilities is applying the building codes to the design of buildings.

Topics that we covered yesterday included occupancy classifications; incidental uses; accessory uses; construction type classifications; occupancy separations; allowable height and areas; building location implications; means of egress; exit types and fire resistance of materials and assemblies.

These topics (and the rest of the building code) are not the glamorous side of architecture, but are the nuts and bolts of solid design. As architects, we are trained to coordinate building codes with the myriad of other parameters that come together in a successful building: aesthetics, HVAC systems, lighting, acoustics, views, cladding, gravity loads, wind loads, finishes, function, flow, accessibility, and beauty (to name a few.)

How do we do that? Architects excel at integrated thinking (the whole is greater than the sum of the parts) versus reductionist thinking (systems studied indepently). Integrated thinking brings things together experts in various specialities, while reductionist thinking best serves the specialities. As technology advances, more and more experts must come together to keep up. That is why architects hire engineers to help with the details of construction systems. May be a little off topic, but this reveals a bit more about architects and their role in the design and construction continuum.

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Vivus as panelists for Business Testimonials

October 11th, 2005 by Mary Schmelzer

This Wednesday, October 12, Peter and Mary will be panelists in a discussion entitled, “Business Testimonials; Tips, Pitfalls & Alternatives.” The seminar is one of a series put on by the Northfield Enterprise Center and is open to everyone. There will be open networking and hors d’oeuvres at 5:45 with the program beginning at 6:15. You can register by phone at 664-0933 or online at Northfield Enterprise Center.

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Addition: Ascension Lutheran Church

October 6th, 2005 by Peter Schmelzer

Northfield Architects design Brookings church

Ascension Lutheran Church is a thriving congregation in Brookings, South Dakota.

Lutheran Church Addition - Vivus ArchitectsAscension Lutheran Church is a thriving congregation in Brookings, South Dakota.

While employed with SMSQ Architects, I worked with the Building Task Force to develop a long term Master Plan for expansion of their facilities. When the time came to develop the first project of the Master Plan, Vivus was selected as the design architect, working with the architect of record, Koch Hazard Architects of Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The project is a worship space addition and remodeling of existing space for a new gathering space, restrooms, administrative offices, conference room and an improved fellowship hall.

Budget: Tight for the scope of work desired.
Aesthetics: As you will see, the existing worship space presented very strong geometry that was to be respected with the new addition.
Hospitality and Flow: The existing floor plan made navigating to the various rooms of the building very challenging for new members.
Tight Site: Landlocked by city streets, the addition had to respond to tight setbacks and to the big picture of the Master Plan.


Simple geometry responds to both the aesthetic and budget concerns. Axial arrangement of the altar platform with the existing church unifies the worship and gathering spaces in a way that suits the aesthetic and liturgical sensibilities of the congregation.
The new gathering space becomes the hub of activity. Visitors clearly know where to find worship and reception, with a strong corridor connection to Fellowship and Education. Restrooms are discreetly out of sight but easy to find (and located for easy verbal directions).
The Fellowship Hall remodeling allows meetings of various sizes, acoustically tuned for each. Also, the corridor is separated from the Fellowship Hall, so private meetings are not disrupted by traffic to the education wing.
Offices are centrally located for better functionality and connection to the hub. A new work room will dramatically improve production of church fliers and bulletins and will graciously accomodate a variety of volunteer help.

Other Features:
Flexible seating (chairs) for re-posturing the assembly
Central Skylight: unifies the assembly with natural light, provides a beacon in the night supporting a new, lighted cross
Coffee Bar: Hard-plumbed facility for this primary Lutheran institution of hospitality
Entry Portal: Custom wood doors with leaded glass transom to celebrate the passage from gathering to worship.
Cross Window: Large northwest window links the assembly to the beautiful site and proclaims the nature of the building to passers-by.

The images that follow describe the interactive design process up to Design Development. There are several images and a video clip, so dial-up viewers may want to plan a break before reading further.

Read the rest of this entry

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