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Friday, August 26, 2016



Thursday, May 05, 2016

By Gordon McCormick

The unique nature of a design-build firm is the mantle of responsibility that it accepts with every project. Typically, the designer and the contractor are two separate parties working together on any given construction project. One could argue the benefits of that dynamic, but the greatest benefit resides with the designer and the contractor (rather than the client), in that they are protected due to limited liability. When a mistake is made or the client is unhappy with something, there is at least a 50% chance that it is not the designer/contractor's fault. Hence, they don't have to dedicate resources towards fixing the issue if it is in fact not their fault. (I say "resources" rather than "time and money," because inevitably, the contractor will have to dedicate time to fixing an issue; he just may get paid to do it.)

A design-build firm assumes all liability associated with each project. We work hard on the designs long before any ground is broken, and we stick around well after construction is finished to ensure the client is satisfied with the product. Everything that happens in between is solely our responsibility. We have to do whatever it takes to get the job done, and get it done right. Sometimes a project requires special considerations that fall in the gray area between designer and builder. These situations require the designer's innovation and the builder's technical expertise. This happens more naturally when they are one in the same. 

Here, we have a basic example of that idea at work. This project was a follow-up to a previous project-- a "phase 2," if you will. During the previous project, we opened up the rafters in the attic and built a large dormer in anticipation of later finishing it off into a livable space. "Phase 2" was to do just that. The special consideration is, "Do we have to turn the whole house into a construction site in order to access the 3rd floor?" The answer, of course, was "No." Our solution was to build a temporary exterior staircase which led to dormer, providing sufficient access to move men and materials in and out of the work space. The family was able to maintain their privacy and routine with minimal interference. 

We have posted other "special considerations" in design-build. Here we have a more technical building example that involves engineering ingenuity. We also posted a blog post chronicling Brunelleschi's efforts to build the Duomo in Florence. That can be read here.  



Tuesday, April 05, 2016

By Gordon McCormick

When it comes to architecture, there are certain things that have to been included in the design-- sometimes out of necessity, sometimes due to building code-- even if they take away from the beauty of the building. (Fire escapes on old high rise buildings, for example.) In residential design, gutters are an example of one of those things. Gutters are obviously necessary, keeping water from running off of the roof and pooling around the foundation-- which would create real problems for the foundation. 

The issue with modern gutters is that they aren't always very attractive. The typical aluminum gutters we see so often today can usually be incorporated into the design of the cornice-- the border at the top of exterior walls where they meet the roof-- in an attempt to make them "disappear." However, even when they are blended in to the design of the cornice, the fact remains: they just aren't very attractive. 


Sometimes they just look awkward.

So, it begs the question: Is there another way to do gutters?

Here is an example of an old Federal style house in rural Virginia-- several hundred years old. What's amazing is how the gutters are actually built into the structure of the house. Wide pans direct water to the corners of the house, where it is drained through down spouts-- just like modern aluminum gutters. These down spouts, however, are built into the roof structure, and feed straight into the ground. The water is disseminated several feet beneath the ground and away from the house, preventing any damage to the foundation. The added benefit is that mud isn't generated on the ground surface during heavy rain fall. You also probably wouldn't have to clean the gutters very often, given that it isn't likely to trap debris given its wide pan and low pitch.


Crazy to think that the "primitive" American colonists were building houses that in some ways are nicer and function better than houses built in 2016. The question is, why can't we build houses like this anymore? Why can't we design houses like this anymore? The answer is that we can, but it requires a collective effort by designer, builder, and customer.


Author Statement

When Modernist Architects swept into our nation eighty years ago they not only destroyed the American landscape they also decimated our foundational understanding of beauty. Their parents had already established themselves in our intellectual community with philosophies of Materialism and Utilitarianism. They made their (and our) children as ignorant of civilization as Mel Gibson’s road warriors. Like those road warriors they have run roughshod over every city and suburb in the land and left it all desolate. 

Tradition makes us servants before masters. This is repulsive to our egalitarian hearts. We Modernists have escaped the shackles of stewardship but have found that there are no more masters to produce the beauty our souls long for. Recovering our lost heritage is not just a matter of learning the ancient tools but also recovering that deep sympathy for and understanding of beauty. I hope this blog will contribute to this recovery; a crisis of our time.

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