Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Last American Cowboy

The cowboy is an American cultural icon. The cowboy population reached its height in the 1860s, due to the arrival of the railroad and the opening of the frontier. Population growth was also aided by a rising demand for beef and the need for cattle drives, where cattle were herded from ranches to the railheads and to distant grazing lands. The American cowboy still exists today, but due to the end of the frontier-oriented lifestyle, the introduction of barbed wire, and the end of the open range and cattle drives, the cowboy population has greatly diminished.

A skill associated with the American cowboy, and one which seems to be diminishing along with the cowboy population, is the ability to make a campfire. The act of making a fire takes much patience, and a small movement of a piece of wood can have a large impact on the success of the fire.

It is these small movements that make a difference. In architecture, as in building a fire, small movements can make a large impact. Take, for example, the size of the PLUShouse.

After the initial schematic design the PLUShouse totaled 2,235sq.ft. Laurie (the client) requested the house become slightly smaller in size. An evaluation of spaces was discussed, and minor revisions were made: the open public space became slightly more narrow; the master bedroom and guest room became slightly smaller; while the master bath became a bit larger. These moves had a very minor impact on the design of the house, as solar orientation, volume, air flow, and the interrelationship of interior and exterior spaces remained constant. 

But one small move - the elimination of the third bath -  had a large impact on the house. As with small moves of rearranging kindling when building a fire, this particular small move strengthened and improved the design of the entire house.

The interior ramp increased 18” in length, reducing the slope and allowing the interior ramp slope to correspond with the exterior ramp slope (1:8). In addition, the guest room entry has more privacy, a wall at the stair has been eliminated, the guestroom bath is reduced in size, and a very small powder room was added (sharing a w.c. with the guestroom bath). The new powder room is landlocked, and receives natural light from a large interior window, which aligns directly with an east-facing exterior window. This exterior east window originally provided light to the stair, and now also channels light into the powder room and the entry.

The minor programmatic moves in the PLUShouse satisfied Laurie’s request to reduce the size of the house to 2,100sq.ft. Equally as important, the seemingly minor modifications associated with reducing the size of the PLUShouse opened the opportunity for a new level of complexity and transparency.

Small moves make a big difference. The isolated and often dangerous life of the cowboy has been romanticized in Western movies, and the gas-lit fire has become customary. But I am still a fan of making my own fire, maintaining a degree of patience as I move bits of kindling to encourage the fire to blaze.

Lindy Small Architecture