Friday, September 19, 2014


Designing a house is a process, a series of actions and steps taken to achieve an end. There is a finite set of factors involved in designing a house, but as a building progresses from concept to construction, there remains the opportunity for re-evaluation and change.

The PLUShouse is under construction. The earth has been excavated and graded, foundations have been poured, and 6” of drain rock have been spread in the interior of the foundation. Electric and plumbing lines have been installed over the drain rock, and orange plastic tubing for radiant floor heat has been layed down. A 4” concrete slab has been poured over this matrix, and the concrete, which will be the finished floor, will be the exact color of the earth the house is connected to. Control joints, or grooves, have been cut into the concrete floor for the purpose of controlling where cracks will occur (concrete will crack). The control joints are organized not in an expected grid pattern, but are an array of radiating lines.

Laurie (client) driving excavator
Lindy (architect) driving excavator

under slab radiant heat lines
concrete slab control joints
As the foundation and concrete work are complete, we begin the framing stage of construction. The house will be primarily wood framed, although there are quite a few structural steel beams (horizontal members) and posts (vertical members) supporting the house. One 3”x3” steel post will be exposed inside the house, the remainder of the steel members will be installed in the ceiling plane and the walls, and not be visible.

As the PLUShouse is rising out of the earth, all is humming along smoothly under the supervision of Mark and Robert of Drew Maran Construction. The foundation walls are not a fraction off from the dimensions shown on the architecture drawings - we have been measuring the accuracy of the foundation during site visits, as Edgar, of Adorno Concrete, grins with surety that the walls are right on the mark.

Mark measuring while Laurie observes
But the house is not set in stone, and in the course of construction there is a deepening awareness of the project. The architect (myself) and the owner (Laurie) have not stopped thinking. New ideas continue to be presented by both parties, research is done, technical data is evaluated, and things change. And change is good.

Laurie - client

Lindy Small - architect

Currently we are re-evaluating the doors, both interior and exterior. The exterior door system is always a bit tricky, as aesthetics, function, viability, and project-specific requirements are all things to consider. The front entry of the PLUShouse is a 13’ wide x 10’ high glass system, with an off-centered 10’ high door flanked by a window on each side.

north elevation with glass entry system

Sounds straight forward, until you begin thinking a bit: what type of door is possible, what is the glazing and transparency of the system, the material, color, width of the door and window frames, type of locking system? All these are decisions we are currently re-evaluating. We are not changing the overall design of the entry (13’ wide x 10’ high), but are evaluating the elements that make up this system.

 Originally, the entry door was a 3’ x 10’ hinged aluminum door. Not wanting wide frames which are standard on a door this size, we identified a Swiss company who could make very narrow door and window frames. As this company manufactures pivot and sliding doors (not hinged doors) – a pivot front door usurped the originally designed hinged door, igniting new research on the entry system. Our revised set of parameters for the entry became: pivot door, narrow door and window frames, glass which can be etched (Laurie is designing an etched pattern for the entry system), and a locking system which can be electronically controlled by a cell phone, using the Goji system. 

And so research began to find a door manufacturer who could satisfy this new set of criteria. Long story short, the glass used by the Swiss manufacturer we identified is structural, so cannot be etched, we were not impressed with the steel welds of an Arizona company who satisfied all criteria, and a California manufacturer could not install an electronic lock. We were on a mission, and eventually found 2 companies who could satisfy all our requirements - a local company and a New Zealand company. The PLUShouse is a 100% sustainable house, employing as many local services and products as possible. An easy decision followed - IronGrain in Oakland will be manufacturing the entry system to meet all our specifications.

A pivot door is very different from a swing door, most notably in that you can determine where the point of pivot will occur. Pivot doors swing in and out simultaneously, and the point of pivot is a critical location - it can be anywhere from at the door jamb (edge of door) to the center of the door. So, if you want a 36” clear door opening, the door can be anywhere from 36”-72” wide.

As the width of the door was re-evaluated, the relationship of door to adjacent windows was re-considered. This affects the location of the door to the interior space it opens on to. Which in turn affects how the etched glass pattern of an oak tree, fabricated by Lenahan Glass in Oakland, will span the 13’ x 10’ system, which affects where the pivot point will be in relation to the etched design. (It’s beginning to sound like the old lady who swallowed a fly……)

By stretching and compressing the tree design a bit, and manipulating the door size and pivot point location, the design has settled. The pivot point will be centered on the tree trunk, the proportion of door to windows is balanced, and the door will open into the house exactly where it should. It is a process where nothing is in isolation.

Along our journey to find the perfect entry door system, we became hooked on pivot doors, and Laurie decided to use glass pivot doors for the interior doors as well as the entry door. The interior doors will be frameless glass, with a single 3" wide x 8' high wood bar on the leading edge of the door. Our evaluation continues with what type of pivot system and hardware to install, what type of glass to use, and how best to fabricate and apply the wood edge to the tempered glass door.

interior pivot door studies
A house or building can be designed, approved by a client, and then built without further changes. But things change over time, new experiences occur, new products come to market, new thoughts and ideas surface, an image is seen, a phrase is read in a book. 

There is always a new problem to solve, both small and large, and nothing is insignificant. Think clearly, pay attention. This is process.