See VIVUS at the Northfield Home & Garden Show!

March 31st, 2006 by Peter Schmelzer

Northfield Home and Garden Show: April 1, 2006

No fooling!

VIVUS Architecture + Design will be showing our wares tomorrow at the Northfield Home and Garden Show!

The show runs from 9:00am to 3:30pm in the gym of the new Middle School (shown above). We are one of over forty local businesses displaying our work, visiting, and learning from each other.

For your convenience, here’s a link to the Northfield News Home & Garden Show brochure.

More importantly, here’s a link to the door prizes page, for all those freebies (and our ad, incidentally!)

Again this year, we will be drawing for two free hours of design consultation, so stop by our booth and fill out an entry form! Last year’s winner will be starting their home improvements this spring, so don’t miss your chance!

We hope to see you there!

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The Nuances of being Green

March 30th, 2006 by Peter Schmelzer


Kermit the frog once sang “It ain’t easy being green…”

As Lloyd points out in a recent post, sometimes it ain’t easy seeing green, or at least seeing past shades of green.

Here’s the basic scoop. Not all forests are equal, so not all wood is equal.

Some forests are managed sustainably, and others aren’t. In a nutshell, sustainably forestry respects and promotes biodiversity and the long-term health of the forest ecosystem. Other forestry values high wood production above all else.

So, wood from sustainable forests protects the glue that makes the world a habitable place for humans: interrelated and symbiotic biological systems, healthy communities, and culture. Clearly this is different than wood from many, or even most, production-oriented tree farms.

But what if your company is not interested in changing it’s mode of operation? Maybe you come up with your own measuring stick for sustainability.

That seems to be what is happening.

LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is a consensus-based Green Building Rating System that has become a bit of a standard for sustainable design. Many government agencies, cities and corporations have adopted LEED as their yardstick.

Problem is that LEED recognizes use of wood as a sustainable building material only if it receives the Forest Stewardship Council stamp of approval. The FSC is a third-party non-profit organization that measures sustainable forestry. From their website:

In many forests around the world, logging still contributes to habitat destruction, water pollution, displacement of indigenous peoples, and violence against people who work in the forest and the wildlife that dwells there. Many consumers of wood and paper, and many forest products companies believe that the link between logging and these negative impacts can be broken, and that forests can be managed and protected at the same time. Forest Stewardship Council certification is one way to improve the practice of forestry.

Instead of acknowledging the FSC certification, the lumber industry has developed their own certification (yardstick) called the Sustainable Forest Initiative. From their website:

The SFI program provides a means for foresters, landowners, loggers and wood and paper producers to satisfy the growing demand of the American people for environmental responsibility while still being able to produce — at an affordable price — the forest products upon which people have come to rely.

Apparently SFI has not been sufficiently well accepted by LEED to make it into their rating system. So, here comes another yardstick: The Green Building Initiative. GBI is a parallel green building system to LEED that does not require FSC Certification for wood, since it is authored by the lumber industry.

Lloyd does a nice job of laying out the foundations of GBI, including names like Exxon and Louisiana Pacific.

What’s my take on all of this? As an architect interested in sustainable design, I don’t appreciate the “green-washing” that material producers are willing to do to convince me that their stuff is green. They know that our time for research is limited and that we are interested in the performance of their product. So, as many others have been willing to do, they call their product green and let us dig for the truth.

The lumber industry has now laid a double smoke-screen in front of us all with SFI and Green Globe.

How many people have the time and energy to clear the air enough to get to the truth for wood and for each of the hundreds of products that go into a building? Not many.

Thank you, Lloyd, for helping us fan away the smoke!

For more discussion on forestry practices, I recommend you contact Northfield’s own David Bubser at Smart Wood. You’ll find his contact information under “contact us” on their site.

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AIA MN joins the BlogoSphere!

March 28th, 2006 by Peter Schmelzer

Don’t look now (ok, go ahead!), but the Minnesota chapter of the American Institute of Architects has a new blog.

Primarily aimed at engaging members of the AIA in dialogue, the blog none-the-less may be of interest. If nothing else, check out the architect humor!

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Rammed Earth Chapel

March 28th, 2006 by Peter Schmelzer

Rammed Earth

I’m categorizing this post as “Alternative Construction Methods”, but I think it shows that technologies that had once been considered on the fringe are now being embraced by the sustainability movement.

Check out this chapel on Inhabitat’s blog.

Honesty: what you see is what you get. That’s the rammed earth on the curving wall. No plaster, no paint, just truth in advertising.

Interest: the curved form with wood lattice is great to look at. Imagine walking around the building; the doors into the chapel will slowly reveal themselves then be hidden again. The quality of light in the photograph is wonderful.

Sustainability: Earth and wood. Need I say more?

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Vitruvius: The big three

March 24th, 2006 by Peter Schmelzer

Firmness Commodity Delight

“These are properly designed, when due reard is had to the country and climate in which they are erected. For the method of building which is suited to Egypt would be very improper in Spain, and that in use in Pontus would be absurd at Rome: so in other parts of the world a style suitable to one climate, would be very unsuitable to another. For one part of the world is under the sun’s course, another is distant from it, and another, between the two, is temperate.”

This quote came from the “Builder’s Guide to Cold Climates” by Joe Lstiburek, which I am currently reading. Firmness, commodity, and delight are three key words for architects, since they encompass the whole profession.

We have consulted with several clients who had a house that just barely met the energy code in the interest of low upfront costs. In their existing homes, they’ve been tied to high energy bills and faced high remodeling costs to improve their building envelope, since they needed either to reside or re-drywall to add insulation. It gets expensive when you have to deal with all the details, trust me. I feel for these clients, since they bought a home that could have been better.

But I am also aware that new construction will see multiple owners or tenants through its lifetime. So, the low upfront costs of today’s house really only benefit the first occupants and penalize the generations to follow.

I contrast these homes to our recent project in Nerstrand, which gets top scores for each of the big three. It’s well built, beautiful, functional, fits its site, and will have minimal utility bills for the rest of its days. I think this is what Vitruvius was after, and it feels good.

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Derby Tonight!

March 21st, 2006 by Peter Schmelzer

Tonight is the annual Pack 300 Pinewood Derby!

Cub scouts, parents, siblings and friends have spent the last several weeks carving a car from a block of pine, painting, and adding wheels to their racers. Last night was weigh-in, a fun and frantic time of tweaking and adjusting the cars’ weigh to the limit of five ounces. And tonight, the engines will roar.

Metaphorically, of course.

The track is a gravity-powered ramp, outfitted with an electronic timer, and the cars have no engines. But the boys will make up for the lack of horsepower with some internal combustion of their own! The pinewood derby is historically a really exciting event for all involved. There will be no shortage of “vrooms” and other assorted pitstop sounds!

Cub Scouting is a fun character-building program for boys in Grades 1-5 that helps boys grow into good men and good citizens. If done well, the boys don’t notice their learning good things because of all the fun they are having! The derby is a fine example, teaching planning, woodworking, preparedness, and sportsmanship. All of that is veiled with a strong dose of speed, cool cars, and the race itself.

So, come to St. Dominic’s Church in Northfield tonight at 6:00 pm for a night at the races! Bring your son!

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No surprise! Men and women see color differently!

March 17th, 2006 by Mary Schmelzer

The paint chips come home and no one can agree on a color. Now there is a study to prove that men see color differently than women do and that age can affect color vision as well. Color is dependent on so many factors (light, texture, density, environment) it’s no wonder that it is difficult to select the right one. We have lots of “tricks” to help you envision color, one of which is the 3-d computer modeling of color in a space. Helping you make an informed decision is why we are here!

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