Northfield to Minneapolis on the Metro Express

November 12th, 2009 by Peter Schmelzer

This week, I’ve taken the Metro Express bus to Minneapolis then home again.

The occasion is the 75th annual Convention of the Minnesota American Institute of Architects, favored by architects near and far for quality opportunities to learn about current practices, philosophy and materials in the industry.

Metro Express appealed to me as a supporter of sustainablility and as a guy who would prefer to avoid driving in rush hour traffic.

It has been a pleasant experience. The driver is polite and conversational, the ride is smooth and continuous, taking just less than an hour to downtown Minneapolis. The walk to the convention center gives me a chance to stroll Nicollet Mall and take in the local architectural vistas.

At $10 to ride (each way), the cost is very competitive with driving myself ($10 parking per day plus about $11 in gas). After a long day of seminars, it has been very nice to have travel time to process information and unwind instead of pumping the clutch through stop-and-go traffic.

The departure times work well for all-day events downtown.

I recommend you give it a try when you get a chance.

Thank you to the Northfield Transit Initiative for your work in making this bus route an option!

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Northfield Cohousing Community is Online!

October 7th, 2009 by Peter Schmelzer

Check out the latest at!

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Cohousing in Madison, Wisconsin

October 7th, 2009 by Peter Schmelzer


Last weekend, we visited two cohousing developments in Madison, Wisconsin. This photo shows Arboretum Cohousing, a newish community who hosted the Northfield Cohousing Community‘s contingent of visitors. (Thank you, Arbco!)

I stayed is a guest suite at Arbco. It is part of the “common house”, of which members own an undivided share. The rooms were spacious and clean, and easily accessible to the common house. Gail and Dan gave us a wonderful tour of the facilities and grounds, followed by an informational conversation about startup challenges and a wonderful potluck lunch. I was impressed by their gracious hospitality and relaxed manner, which permeated the place.

Arbco consists of 40 living units, including six single family homes. Structured parking is provided below the living spaces, which was a nice amenity required by the tight urban site. This combination allows the development to nestle into its neighborhood context nicely.


We also visited the Village Cohousing Community, just five blocks away from Arbco.

The village is a bit smaller, with 18 living units, including both existing homes and new townhomes. It was built in the early 1990’s, so Village has had time for landscaping to mature and it, too, blends nicely into the neighborhood. Karen took us through the buildings and shared ideas about how the community handles shared tasks and the like. (Thank you, Karen!)

The trip to Madison was part of the Northfield Cohousing Community’s effort to research cohousing and to prepare for our development in Northfield. These shared efforts help build relationships and understanding among the members as we prepare to design and build a neighborhood for ourselves.

Cohousing offers opportunties for a more sustainable lifestyle and a stronger connection to neighbors.

For more about cohousing, please attend my presentation at Just Food Coop next month:

5 November 2009: “Cohousing Design”
Just Food Coop meeting room, 7:00pm to 8:30pm

You’ll have a chance to meet others interested in cohousing!

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Green Roof installed in Rice County, Minnesota

September 15th, 2009 by Peter Schmelzer

Green Roof

The plants are in place on our first residential green roof!

green roof

Now in their first season, the seedums are taking root and getting established. A soaker hose is being used to water for now As they fill out, the erosion control mat will become less visible, and the roof will retain more rainwater than it currently does. We estimate that the roof should reduce runoff by 50% a that point; however, other portions of the roof drain onto this roof through downspouts, so we are asking a lot of these plantings!

The homeowners installed the multi-layered system and planted on top of the rubber membrane provided by the contractor. They blogged about it in two parts: Part One and Part Two. Take a look, they’ve done well in explaining the process.

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VIVUS upgrades Project Management capabilities

July 13th, 2009 by Peter Schmelzer

We have been learning a new software system lately at VIVUS Architecture + Design.

One of our primary goals is to provide our clients with creative, responsive design solutions. At the same time, we pledge to do our best to manage each project well. Like much in architecture, an inherent contradiction lies here: managers and artists often wear different hats.

To allow us to focus more on creative design, we have decided to upgrade our in-house management tools. Recently, we installed a new server and an extensive management application that will help us deliver your projects more efficiently and effectively. Already the benefits of software enhancements are evident: reduced time preparing and managing time, documents, communication and contacts. This will allow more time to be spent on the creative side of our work and helping us deliver our primary goal.

Sincere thanks to the City of Northfield, the Economic Development Authority, and the Northfield Enterprise Center for the funding received through the Clemens-Shearer Microgrant, without which this upgrade would have had to wait an indeterminate amount of time. The microgrant program supports emerging businesses in Northfield, Minnesota.

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Northfield Scouts put the outing in Scouting!

June 30th, 2009 by Peter Schmelzer


Summer is the time when we put the outing in Scouting. These guys enjoyed the hiking at Whitewater State Park. Since then, we’ve camped at Blue Mound State Park and canoed the Cannon River. Outings are planned yet to Itasca and Jay Cooke parks, in addition to our week at Tomahawk Scout Reservation.

Troop 313 is chartered by St. John’s Lutheran Church in Northfield, Minnesota.

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Boy Scout Troop 313 provides service on Memorial Day

May 26th, 2009 by Peter Schmelzer


Boy Scout Troop 313 was up early on Memorial Day. At 7:30am, the Troop met to make sure the band had a place to sit. The boys distributed flyers to attendees, then participated in the ceremony itself. Afterward, the chairs were returned to their starting place at the VFW.

Griff Wigley gets the photo credits: and here is a link to his Locally Grown post. Thanks, Griff.

I noted Griff’s observation that the Scouts performed with solemnity during the ceremony. This was the first time many of these Scouts participated, and I was proud of them as their Scoutmaster. Through service, the boys learn what it means to be community and to contribute to the greater good. Mayor Rossing’s call to service was especially appropriate as these young men observed and honored the sacrifices of our veterans.

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Scouts Clean Up Park

May 14th, 2009 by Peter Schmelzer


Part of the goal of Scouting is to help boys grow into strong citizens, knowing about and participating in their community. Service projects are part of that plan. In this case, the boys from Troop 313, picked up sticks and trash around the park and its plantings, preparing it for easy mowing by the city.

The boys came away with the feeling of a job well done and a sense of teamwork. We also missed the worst of the rain that day!

Troop 313 is part of the Rolling Hills District of the Northernstar Council of the Boy Scouts of America. We invite your son between 11 and 18 years old to join us!

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Northfield Zoning Ordinance: Only a Test

May 4th, 2009 by Peter Schmelzer

I’ve been participating in the Northfield Land Use Ordinance Advisory Group lately.

The group consists of citizens, staff, board/commission representatives, and consultants. Some of the other civilians are architects, engineers, developers and builders. Together, we are trying to forge a new zoning ordinance for Northfield.

We have found the task to be challenging and engaging. It is not simple to codify the goals, direction, and aspirations of the Comprehensive Plan. The process has involved reiterative input, revisions and feedback about the ordinance.

One of the key issues is making the code both restrictive enough to protect the Northfield we value and flexible enough to invite and encourage development. In the residential realm, initial comments suggested that the code should be less restrictive of design elements and materials, and the code was loosened in response.

To test how loose the code had become, VIVUS volunteered to conduct and experiment. we selected a lot close to downtown and assumed that we had acquired the lot after a devastating fire. What could we rebuild on this lot without violating the zoning ordinance? I’ll tell you this: many of the Advisory Group members agreed that my test house was quite undesireable! It was actually a triplex (three, 1800 SF units plus full basement) with a look-out basement, tall and wide, occupying a huge portion of the site and only very minimally responding to its surrounding context. See the images below. Disclaimer: this is not representative of our design goals!



Truth be told: In conversation with the Advisory Group, our test house could have been flat-roofed, taller, and wider that what I proposed, all of which would have made it less visually attractive and less in step with the Eastside Neighborhood.

It appears that there is more work to do if the new zoning ordinance is intended to protect our historic neighborhoods from insensitive infill development. We’ll meet again on Friday to continue our efforts.

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Complete Addition

April 22nd, 2009 by Peter Schmelzer


A little exterior painting is all that remains on this addition.

The addition tackled a tough site problem and a challenging blend of historically unique structural additions. The L-shaped lot wrapped around the neighboring parcel. The home’s previous additions were done with poor or absent foundations.

Now the addition affords space for a sorely needed back entry and mud room, a Master Bedroom, larger bedrooms, and two bathrooms. The kitchen will be remodeled in a subsequent phase; It will be a much more functional kitchen due to the space opened up by the expansion.

For more before photos and the design sketch, see previous posts on this home.

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