On Hiring an Architect….

January 30th, 2009 by Peter Schmelzer

A sugar broker may have ideas about a portrait but he won’t try to paint it himself. He will commission a portrait painter, in whom he has confidence, to make a likeness of his wife or child as the case may be. Even more necessary are the services of an architect when building or remodeling a house. Trying to be your own architect is as foolish as drawing a sketch of little Jerry on canvas and then calling in a house painter to smear on a daub of blue for his coat, a bit of yellow for his hair, white for his collar, and just anything for the background. At worst, though, this futuristic result can be taken to the attic, turned face to the wall and forgotten; but a botched house won’t let you forget. You have to live in it along with your mistakes, day after day and, possibly, year after year. When and if you finally call in an architect and have them remedied or obviated, the cost will be considerably in excess of what his total fee would have been in the beginning.

So, find the best man practicing in the vicinity where your future home is to be located and cast your burdens on his drafting board.

“If You’re Going to Live in the Country”, by
Thomas H. Ormsbee and Richmond Huntley 2006

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Farming impacts Sense of Place

January 29th, 2009 by Peter Schmelzer

Here’s an interesting research summary that bridges my interest in the aesthetics of place and food production.

It seems that in Canterbury, there is disagreement about how farms should appear.

Conventional farmers prefer a neat and tidy geometric look, which, in their eyes, reflects the strong work ethic of the farmer. Organic farmers prefer a more natural, overgrown landscape; this reflects their respect for nature and their use of native plants to manage pests and weeds.

Interesting: conventional farmers generally view organic farming as too labor-intensive.

This is a good chance to think about your position on the aesthetics and sense of place of your hometown. How much does the way we want things to look reflect our values and guide our decision making? Do our ordinances (Northfield Land Use Advisory Group) reflect the overall goals (Comprehensive Plan) of our community?

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Nice to see a familiar Place!

January 28th, 2009 by Peter Schmelzer


I came across a familiar place on Northfield Construction’s website this afternoon. It is the house we design and they built near Way Park in Northfield. We’re pleased with the results and have posted images in our online Portfolio (personally, I recommend the slideshow…)

It’s always nice to be part of a project in which all of the team takes pride.

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One Green Step at a time…not enough

January 28th, 2009 by Peter Schmelzer

Last night I carpooled to the AIA Minnesota Committee on the Environment meeting in Minneapolis. The focus of the meeting was on sustainable integrative design.

It is exciting to be part of the effort to forge a more sustainable future, but it is sobering to hear the scientific facts about our global situation.

Exciting: The AIA is working hard toward reducing carbon emissions from our buildings. Our goal must be about 35% from today’s levels immediately, which will bring us back to the emissions levels of 1990 (or thereabouts.) This is doable! The ongoing challenge is for all new buildings to be carbon neutral.
Sobering: Even carbon neutral buildings aren’t enough in the long term. We need to be renewing our environment to absorb and sequester carbon if we hope to reverse the damage already done.

Exciting: Reducing electricity use can make a big difference in both carbon emissions and in water usage. This can be done by design.
Sobering: One kilowatt of electricity reportedly consumes about 0.4 gallons of ground water. Most of the Twin Cities Metro counties are already using more water than the ground provides. We’re not as water-rich as we thought we were.

Alright, enough sobering. Let’s think about the good stuff!

Exciting: We received a call to arms to reduce carbon emissions by upgrading our existing building stock. Our work is primarily in additions and remodelings, so we are well-stationed to accept the challenge.

Exciting: Sustainable Integrative Design is a process through which environment, social issues, and economic issues can be addressed. VIVUS already incorporates these strategies in our design work.

Exciting: The Obama administration has reportedly done more to address climate change than administrations in the last 16 years!

So, what does all this mean?

We have been working with our clients to take steps in the green direction as budget and interest allow. We will continue to do so, but we will urge you to consider going further. Babysteps are not enough to meet the baseline goals set for carbon emissions reductions. What is needed is a greater commitment to reducing our reliance on fossil fuels for power and heat to near zero. We can help you with design of such a building. Federal and state efforts support these measures, making it easier. And, in the long run, a net zero home will be better for your health, the community, and your pocketbook.

Solar home

This new home is big step in the right direction. We added onto and upgraded the existing home. It now utilizes a 9.8 KW photovoltaic array on the barn to provide more electricity than the house can use. The electricity also powers a ground-source heat pump to provide both heating and cooling for the house. On the roof to the left are two solar domestic hot water panels. Our expectation is that the house will use little or no fossil fuels, with the possible exception of the gas range and the backup boiler (required by code) for those really cold days. The Great Room will require little or no electric light during the day, due to a ceiling and high-performance windows that allow light to wash the space.

While the upfront costs of the technologies employed here are out of reach of most homeowners, the basic design approach remains the same for all buildings.

We welcome your call.

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Custom Homes, Truncated

January 22nd, 2009 by Peter Schmelzer

Our design services usually flow from the initial concept generation through development into drawings used for construction and through construction itself. Sometimes, however, our clients opt to work with a specific contractor for the construction drawings. In these cases, the contractor uses our initial concept and works with the homeowner to finalize the details and finish selections. This project followed that model.

The basic massing is true to our design, but many items have been changed since the project left our office. The big ideas still ring true and the owner is pleased with the progress. This shot shows the southwest corner of the home: solar domestic hot water panels will be installed on the roof. Large overhangs will provide shade from the summer sun, but will let the lower winter rays wash the interior.

Here you see the views through the home and the sunlight filling the space. This strategy makes the home feel larger than it is by allowing the eye to stretch out. The views to the south are truly beautiful, so we really wanted to make the most of them.

The home below was also built from a concept plan we prepared. In this case, a relative of the client completed the project.

Our role was to meet the client’s needs for home and office that blended into the existing farm yard. Visual simplicity was important, which went a long way toward holding the budget line.

I am delighted that our clients were able to achieve their goals with limited help from us. At the same time, my artistic side has trouble letting go of the vision that gave birth to these functional and beautiful forms. It is difficult to see the vision realized in part; that is a hazard of my chosen profession. These projects illustrate our primary goal: to serve the needs of our clients without letting our own desires get in the way.

We look forward to seeing our clients settle into their new homes; our true reward is your satisfaction.

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Climbing to the Top

January 20th, 2009 by Peter Schmelzer

Boy Scout Troop 313 recently took a trip to test their strength on the indoor rocks at Vertical Endeavors. It was a good time for all!

The Troop was joined by Weblos from Pack 300. It was great to see the boys gain confidence in themselves as they conquered more and more difficult climbing routes.

Even I was able to give it a try. The environment was safe and supportive, with routes of varying difficulty with which to test yourself. Here I’m on a low- to mid-level difficulty wall, which was plenty advanced for my experience level. I actually made it to the top of this one!

Boy Scouts exposes boys to a variety of activities and emphasizes physical and mental fitness. If your son is between 11 and 18 and interested in joining the fun, please contact me! We are in the process of expanding the troop and the outings we undertake. Next month is skiing; following are two camping/hiking events on opposite sides of Minnesota.

The boys decide what outings they want to do at the beginning of the year, then work to plan and prepare for the events. That way, scouting caters to them and their interests, allowing them to decide for themselves what they like and want to pursue in life.

As an Eagle Scout, I can personally attest to the fun, the challenge, and the value of getting involved.

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Derby 2009 a great success!

January 14th, 2009 by Peter Schmelzer

The Cub Scout Pack 300 annual Pinewood Derby was held last night, amidst the shouts and cheers of excited racers!

These guys had a ball making and painting cars from a block of pine, nails and wheels. It was great to see the creativity and effort the scouts put into their racers. More impressive was the good, clean fun expressed in the smiles and energy of the boys. I think this event is a favorite of the parents because of the bonding time it fosters with their child and family. The “open class” is raced by siblings of Cub Scouts, making this a true family event.

Cub Scouts is for boys in 1st through 5th grade. I highly recommend it to all families with boys, as it is fun with a purpose: building character. After Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts continues to build character appropriately for their age. Feel free to contact me about either; we’d love to have you involved!

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