Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Posts Tagged ‘architecture

The Single-Staircase Radicals Have a Good Point

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Henry Grabar makes a good point in Slate:

The Seattle-based architect Michael Eliason has a number of complaints about the way America makes its apartment buildings. The components are inferior, he says: The best sliding doors and windows are made elsewhere. The designs rarely accommodate larger families. And there are too many staircases.

Too many what now? Eliason is the founder of Larch Lab and the lead evangelist of a small group of architects and developers intrigued by the possibilities of making multifamily buildings with only one stairway. And conversely, fed up with the North American standards that require most apartments to be accessible by two of them.

Mandating two stairways, Eliason says, produces smaller, more unpleasant, more expensive apartments in larger buildings full of wasted space. He likes to contrast the boxy North American multifamily building with nimbler designs from South Korea, China, Sweden, Italy, or Germany. In those countries, apartments in midrise buildings may be served by a single stair, often encircling or adjacent to the elevator. Online, Eliason is a founding father of what he’s called Floor Plan Twitter, where he shares these foreign, single-stair blueprints with a gusto usually reserved for imports like wine or sports cars.

Of all of Eliason’s beefs with U.S. building practices, which he has outlined for the environmental news site Treehugger, this one is both the most tangible—you don’t need to be an architect to understand the difference between two staircases and one—and the most opaque. It’s one staircase, Michael. What could it cost?

The answer, Eliason and the single-staircase brigade insist, can be measured in terms of light, air, space, and money.

Most American apartment buildings over four stories are required to include two means of egress from every apartment. In Canada, the height limit of a single-stair building is just two stories. The purported reason for such rules is fire safety, though there’s no evidence that Americans and Canadians are any safer from structure fires than our neighbors around the world, where one-staircase construction is permitted even in buildings eight, 10, or 20 stories high.

That second staircase is a drag. When we spoke last week, Eliason showed me a presentation he gives to drive home the building culture that is shaped by the two-stair system. It featured a still from the movie The Shining, of Danny riding his tricycle down the long, carpeted hallway of the Overlook Hotel. If you’ve been in an American apartment building of the past half-century or so, you probably recognize this airless environment, which architects call a “double-loaded corridor” because it has doors on both sides. Nobody likes these hallways. The double-loaded corridor, the architect Frank Zimmerman writes, is a “case study in anti-human engineering.”

Eliason observes that when you require every apartment to connect to two staircases, you all but ensure those units are built around one long double-loaded corridor, to give all residents access to both stairways. You tilt the scales in favor of larger floor plates in bigger buildings, because developers need to find room for two stairways, and connect them—and then compensate for the unsellable interior space consumed by the corridor.

The designs that result, Eliason argues, are more likely than not to offer smaller, cookie-cutter units constrained by their position along the long hallway. Apartments must look either north or south. Sunlight or shade. Sunrise or sunset. Busy street or quiet back yard. And no one, save perhaps a lucky occupant of a corner unit, gets a cross-breeze.

Cut out one of those staircases, and you can cut out the corridor, too. Narrower sites are suddenly in play. Construction costs go down. The ratio of “rentable” space in a building goes up, which makes development cheaper. That in turn can translate into lower rents or more flexible designs. Two or three units a floor is suddenly more economical, which makes the stairway a more intimate, closely shared space. Family-size units. Units where the living room faces south to the sun and the street and the bedrooms face north to the quiet shade. “In the architecture world it’s hammered in from the beginning that we need two exits from every space,” Eliason said. “But in most other countries, that second means of egress is the fire brigade.”

Another Floor Plan Twitter fan is Conrad Speckert, an architecture student at McGill University who takes that required second staircase personally. “I grew up in a three-storey, single egress apartment building where we knew our neighbours well, the stair landings were generous and naturally lit, and everyone got pretty crazy with their Christmas decorations,” he writes on the website for his master’s degree project, Second Egress. “My . . .

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28 December 2021 at 2:16 pm

Some amazing hotels

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Take a look.

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7 April 2014 at 10:40 am

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Amazing libraries, amazing houses

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10 December 2008 at 1:05 pm

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Very cool: the Sears Modern Home, 100 years ago

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Take a look.

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28 October 2008 at 1:32 pm

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Architectural optical illusions

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Fascinating.

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23 October 2008 at 9:52 am

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Abandoned architectural marvels of modern Asia

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29 September 2008 at 10:48 am

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Strange condos and townhouses

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More in the weird housing series. Take a look.

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1 August 2008 at 4:21 pm

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Zaha Hadid, the first great female architect

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Very interesting profile by Jonathan Meades, which begins:

Zaha Hadid’s practice occupies a former school in Clerkenwell, an area of London that still bears the scent of Dickens. It’s an 1870s building designed by the London School Board architect E.R. Robson, who, typically of his profession, was unquestionably formulaic. Still, his was a sound enough formula. Today the high, plain, light rooms are crammed to bursting with Hadid’s 200 or so employees. Though they are of every conceivable race, they are linked by their youth, their sombre clothes, their intense concentration. They gaze at their screens, astonishingly silently. There is little sound other than the click of keyboards and a low murmur from earphones. They don’t talk to each other. It is as though they are engaged in a particularly exigent exam. It feels more like a school than a former school. And it feels more like a factory than a school. If there is such a thing as a physical manifestation of the dubious concept called the knowledge economy, this is it. This is a site of digital industry.

“What is exciting,” says Zaha, “is the link between computing and fabrication. The computer doesn’t do the work. There is a similar thing to doing it by hand…”

“The computer is a tool,” I agree.

“No. No, it’s not…”

What then?

The workers on the factory floor—my way of putting it, not hers—are, she says “connected by digital knowledge… They have very different interests from 20 years ago.”

Sure. But this does not make immediate sense. It is a matter to return to, that will become clear(ish) in time.

Ten minutes’ walk from the practice is Hadid’s apartment—austerely elegant, a sort of gallery of her painting and spectacularly lissom furniture. It’s a monument to Zaha the public architect rather than Zaha the private woman. It occupies a chunk of an otherwise forgettable block. Her route from home to work might almost have been confected as an illustration of the abruptness of urban mutation. Here is ur-London: stock bricks and red terracotta, pompous warehouses, run-down factories, Victorian philanthropists’ prison-like tenements, grim toytown cottages, high mute walls, a labyrinth of alleys, off-the-peg late-Georgian terraces, neglected pockets of mid-20th-century Utopianism, apologetic infills, ambiguous plots of wasteground. It is neither rough nor pretty, but it has sinewy character. It may be ordinary, but it is undeniably diverse. The daily stroll through this canyon of variety is surely attractive to an artist whose aesthetic is doggedly catholic, each of whose buildings seems unsatisfied with being just one building.

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24 July 2008 at 8:33 am

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Moving buildings

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Take a look.

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22 July 2008 at 8:45 am

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Beach and lake houses

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Note that the post is the first of 8 parts. Some terrific houses. Take a look.

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17 July 2008 at 11:39 am

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Cool architectural reuse

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Take a look. I particularly like the boat home.

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13 July 2008 at 12:45 pm

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Most popular architecture blogs

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9 July 2008 at 4:04 pm

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Drawbacks to the rotating wind towers

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Loud creaking noises, for one. EcoGeek discusses a number of problems with the idea.

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8 July 2008 at 11:58 am

Extremely cool kinetic sculpture skyscraper

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And it’s build with pre-fab modules. Take a look. Note that it generates its own power.

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3 July 2008 at 1:04 pm

Posted in Art, Business, Daily life, Technology

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Cool house

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Take a look. Photos at the link, with description that begins:

Moto Designshop recently finished schematics for this beautiful modern residence situated on Pine street in Philadelphia. The Grid House packs a highly efficient floorplan into tight quarters, maximizing daylighting and ventilation via an abundance of open green spaces. The entire front and back façades open to infuse interior spaces with fresh air while the home’s flowing floor plan ensures a seamless transition between rooms. An elevated front garden preserves the residence’s interaction with the street while concealing an underground garage.

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28 June 2008 at 10:58 am

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Extremely clever architectural innovation

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Using fired-in-place structures. (More great photos at the link.)

Architecture

Imagine a sustainable building system that requires only the skills of a potter to complete. A basic earthen structure is formed and finished by traditional clay-firing processes. This remarkable building process culminates in baking every room from the inside, for up to an entire day at up to 1,000 degrees Celsius. The end product is vernacular yet avante garde, traditional but sustainable.

Essentially, the various bricks that compose a building created by using this Geltaftan system are fused into a solid whole after being assembled. The firing process is essentially the same as that which is used in a kiln to finish pottery. Interior furniture (tables, benches and so on) can be fired with the building. The Iranian architect who developed this process first created buildings in Iran but now teaches others who wish to learn his methods in the United States.

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9 February 2008 at 3:00 pm

Small domicile

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Small domiciles are fascinating—how to fit comfortably the essentials of home living in a small space—and is extremely interesting. More here.

Small domicile

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4 January 2008 at 12:44 pm

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Cool architecture

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Take a look at this guy’s work. More on the Bunny Lane house (my fave).

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11 December 2007 at 10:37 am

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