The Dog Days of Summer
The annual dog days of summer are some of the best on LBI. Black-eyed Susans are in bloom, the office computers are humming and clicking, cedar shingles are baking in the sun, salty breezes are blowing through screen porches and families are enjoying every inch of the island.
I recently visited an oceanfront we completed (in the midst of Hurricane Sandy) a few years ago ; it sparked some food for thought...so I blog away.
Challenges In A Harsh Environment
There are innumerable challenges and considerations when designing within the confines of small lots with large programs in a rugged environment of this much loved and long-lived seashore community. We are always learning and pulling from research and experience from many years of living and quite fortunately, practicing here alongside the talented builders and craftsmen that build our work. And with never ending gratitude, our astute and insightful clients bring their wishes and thoughtful ideas to the table to start the process of of making a house a home.
High efficiency equipment, energy efficient walls, high performance windows, well crafted weatherproofing details, natural weathering cedar, low maintenance trim and high, well planted dunes, are some of the elements that contribute to nestling well in to a beautiful, but harsh environment.
This brings up a specific area of a house that's been on my mind lately: the ground floor enclosure of the elevated structure.
Flood Prone Ground Level
While rarely utilized, two of our favorite ways to finish a flood prone base of an elevated home are (1) cedar slat walls and (2) perforated/lattice screened arches/openings. Both approaches are time-tested, traditional coastal techniques that can accommodate potential water flow from severe coastal storms. While there are disadvantages to this approach, like not having concealed place for storage and weather exposure to the underside of the first floor (although this is easily remedied), the site specific and distinct coastal design element results in a light filled, airy base lets the water flow gracefully through and dry out with ease.
Often asked what we think about the thin-stone veneer walls at the ground level that seem to be a trend on the island, it's worth contemplating. With an abundance of new products/inexpensive materials that are easily applied, the facade can easily be designed from a quick push of a "color/texture fill" on a computer drawing. Thinking of the trend of the dutch gambrel roof along much of the Jersey coast, are our uses of materials and styles innocently inspired by the majestic summer retreats on sprawling grass lawns that rise from the rocky, granite cliffs of Newport or the bucolic get-aways of a long ago era?...maybe. With the unchangeable confinements and density of postage stamp lots here, the architectural proportions and native, contextual material purpose seem to take a toll. So we continue exploring our approach as to how the base of a house meets the sand.
Another thought comes to mind...the idea of genius loci. The Latin translation is "spirit of place" and Oxford's definition, "The prevailing character or atmosphere of a place". Once, for me, a somewhat esoteric term batted around in architecture school that now so many years later has real meaning. What is our genius loci on LBI? Are there better ways we could be contributing to this spirit of place? Do we take a long enough pause before we put pencil to paper (or finger to keyboard) to investigate/explore/share this idea? Are we underestimating our potential to positively contribute and enhance this spirit? Does this vast, fast paced, albeit exciting, digital frontier have anything to do with it?
What will the vantage point of hindsight tell us about this decade of architecture on LBI?
Always Learning and Always Exploring,
(Next blog -considering "Thoughts on Style in the Age of Fast")