Quote: Frank Lloyd Wright

June 13th, 2007 by Peter Schmelzer

“The thing always happens that you really believe in; and the belief in a thing makes it happen.”

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Quote: George Elliott

April 26th, 2007 by Peter Schmelzer

“What do we live for if not to make life less difficult for others.”

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Quote: Sharon Salzberg

October 2nd, 2006 by Peter Schmelzer

“Each decision we make, each action we take, is born out of an intention.”

If you’ve been through the design and construction process, you know there are many, many decisions to be made, from where the buildng will site to what finish the drawer pulls will have.

One challenge we as designers accept, is to maintain continuity of the design intent from start to finish. From our first conversations about the project to occupancy, we define and develop the core project’s core concepts. Often, we are called upon to protect those concepts. For example, unforseen conditions, sudden unavailability of materials, a construction mistake, or a change of mind can trigger opportunities for the design intent to be sacrificed.

So what’s the big deal? Architecture is an art of relationships. Relationships between needs, wants, spaces, materials, proportions and systems make a building what it is. One choice can destroy the relationship between a myriad of relationships, which in turn can turn harmony into turmoil. Or, that same choice can accomodate the needs of the project and gracefully complete the whole.

What is your intention for your space? VIVUS can help make it a reality.

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Gore Vidal on Style

August 11th, 2006 by Peter Schmelzer

“Style is knowing who you are, what you want to say and not giving a damn.”

Gore Vidal

This quote caught my eye, given my recent interview with Cameron Sinclair of Architecture for Humanity ( who recently published “Design like you Give A Damn“.)

It’s a really thought provoking quote for me because of the many definitions of style in architecture. Initially, I disagreed, since I see historical architectural styles being parodied in modern residential construction. Then, after more thought, it became clear that Vidal is talking about personal style not just any style. That brought me back to the primary lesson (among many) of the Master’s Thesis: to design sustainably, I have to know my values, for they guide my choices both consciously and subconsciously. Or, in Vidal’s words, I’ve got to know who I am. “What I want to say” relates to the expression of the values and the importance of those values relative to that expression. Example from practice: balancing north-facing windows with heat loss. Not giving a damn means being commited to your values and expression. I’m a convert. The definition works for personal style.

I’m not ready to apply it to architecture, but I open to discussion on the matter. Let me hear your thoughts through the comments!

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Quote: Woodrow Wilson

August 3rd, 2006 by Peter Schmelzer

“You are not here merely to make a living. You are here to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, and with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world.”
-Woodrow Wilson

We agree! That is why we have named our firm VIVUS!

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Experience what you are and what you might be…

May 15th, 2006 by Peter Schmelzer

“You must have a room, or a certain hour or so a day, where you don’t know what was in the newspapers that morning… a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be.”

Joseph Campbell

We’d love to design a space to fill your needs.

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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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Rich Living via Aesthetic Experience

February 22nd, 2006 by Peter Schmelzer

Fortunate indeed are those people of acute sensitivity who are able to find continuous aesthetic satisfaction in the everyday experiences of life.
Harold H. Titus

One of the books I am reading these days is called “Living Issues in Philosophy”, written by Harold Titus. He wrote the phrase above in the chapter on Art and Aesthetics, followed by this quote from Hunter Mead:

It is through daily, even hourly use of this perceptual awareness and aesthetic sensitivity that life is genuinely and permanently enriched. And since for most of us, frequent contact with great painting, good music, and beautiful scenery is impossible, the solution clearly lies in securing as much aesthetic experience as possible from ordinary daily living. Admittedly, these everyday experiences will seldom have the breath-catching intensity or thrilling scope of great art and magnificent scenery, but since the press of practical affairs does not often spare us the time for sustained enjoyment of powerful aesthetic emotions, the minor character of these incidental perceptual experiences has its advantages. Their frequency and ubiquitous accessibility will compensate for what they may lack in scope and intensity, and many persons of acute sensitivity find the larger part of their abundant aesthetic satisfaction in the common pattern of everyday living.

We strive to help make everyday life more beautiful through architecture. As this quote suggests, it is not primarily through the greatest or magnificent works of art, but through those we encounter each day that we enrichen our lives.

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Responsible design is about providing for real needs, not perceived wants.

January 19th, 2006 by Peter Schmelzer

Responsible design is about providing for real needs, not perceived wants.

I found this one on Treehugger.com as part of a blurb on an anti-malaria watch.

It’s bluntness is great. And, it hits at the heart of an issue with which I’ve been wrestling.

Many of the homes that are built today are built based on hypothetical needs of a hypothetical home owner; translated: perceived wants, not real needs. A great example is the formal dining room, which rarely gets used but is often built anyway. Hottubs are another “feature” that are often underutilized (I think I heard that the average hottub is used 7 times in its lifetime).

This may be due to housing being handled as a commodity to be purchased and sold, rather than really lived in. Example: how often have you thought of the resale value of your sofa? Comfort and fit are more important in our sofa selections than the list of features it may have (built-in drink holders, stainless steel legs, double stitched seams, …)

So, do we really need 4 full bathrooms, or is the real need bathing and toilet facilities to get a family of five through their morning routine between 7:00am and 7:20 am (insert your schedule here)?

Responsible design is about providing for real needs, not perceived wants.

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John Wilson

January 3rd, 2006 by Peter Schmelzer

“Oh for a book and a shady nook…”

John Wilson obviously likes to read. Perhaps his longing for a special place to read suggests that his home lacks that nook!
As designers, we understand the need for spaces that nurture us through the activies that help us unwind, relax, and recharge. An alcove or nook can be a perfect space for reading a book, knitting, sketching, or writing letters.

Alcoves are so important that Christopher Alexander dedicated a chapter of his Pattern Language to them. Here’s the jist: No rectangular room of uniform height can accomodate a group of people well. Togetherness as a group requires space that allows a chance to be alone or in groups of two. These “alone spaces” let the occupant(s) have a small degree of privacy in a space proportionally suited to the activity and yet allows them to see and to be part of the larger activity. A classic example is the bay window seat: cushioned and wonderfully illuminated by the sun, these small places are both wonderfully personal and accessible. And, their charm is undeniable.

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