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It was a pleasure to be asked to restore this Weston gem, designed by Henry Hoover, one of New England’s modernist pioneers. The interior finishes and systems are being updated while respecting the integrity of the original vision.

 

After graduating from Harvard’s GSD in 1926, Hoover won the Sheldon and Robinson Traveling Fellowship, spending two years in Europe, sketching landscapes and buildings that caught his eye. After returning, he worked for twelve years at Fletcher and Steele, becoming Steele’s draftsman. Known for his fine draftsmanship, he worked on the gardens of Naumkeag. The garden’s iconic stair, shown below, climbs the natural topography.  Hoover focused his residential practice in the Boston suburbs of Lincoln, Wellesley and Weston. His own house was built in 1937, a year before Walter Gropius' own iconic modern house was built.

 

Twenty years passed before Hoover built this home in 1959. His style had grown away from the strict modernism of his early work, and became more integrated with the local climate and landscape. The carport is separated and a full story below the entry to the house. In a nod to Naumkeag, the stairs lead from the carport to the front door exactly following the contours of the land. Only after entering the house and going up more steps does Hoover’s trademark magnificent view emerge, with large windows facing due south. The house appears to rest on the land with little disturbance. Aside from a small terrace to the south, the land has a natural feel with native shrubs and ferns nestled within the stone outcroppings. He also incorporated elements of west coast modernism, like natural wood beams and siding. Strict flat roofs of earlier homes give way to sloped roofs that follow the contour of the land.

 

www.twintravelconcepts.com

 

Written by: Colin Flavin AIA                                                                                                             

Flavin Architects

Ben Wood Studio: Reimaging Shanghai from an American Perspective

 

“What distinguishes our work is the way we try, test and tirelessly network, and our dedication to a value system which is concerned with the tactile sensual qualities of the environment, versus more formal, or academic, or intellectual characteristics.”

Ben Wood

 

 

Historic neighborhoods of Shanghai are falling to the wrecking ball at an alarming rate as vast tracks of real estate are assigned to developers who are putting up mixed-use high rises to accommodate the exodus from rural areas to the city. This has been the fate of the Shikumen, literally “Stone Gate” houses; densely built brick and timber housing arranged along narrow alleys with characteristic arched stone gates, and often with one family to a room, and no heat or running water. The high value of Shanghai real estate and the desperate need for housing makes it uneconomical to maintain them in their current state.

 

Xiantiandi is a two city block area of Shikumen renovated by American Architect Benjamin Wood. He brilliantly understood that maintaining and renovating the relatively low rise Shikumen can add value and charm to a city of steel and glass.  He has brought new uses of restaurants, retail and office to these buildings, creatively carving new pedestrian alleys and reassembling architectural fragments in new and interesting ways.

 

Ben Wood honed his design chops working with Benjamin Thompson, a masterful architect who famously pioneered the revitalization of historic city centers, by bringing retail and dining to downtown neighborhoods that were devoid of street life in the evenings. The iconic renovation of Quincy Market set the stage for the revitalization of downtown Boston in the late 60’s when American cities were being abandoned by residents for the surrounding suburbs.

 

Flavin Architects is proud to have partnered with Ben Wood Studio in the design of a modern home alongside a restored wetland and blueberry farm in Lexington, MA.

 

 

By Colin Flavin AIA, January, 2014

Striking the right balance between an Open Floor Plan and Traditional Rooms

 

 

The Open Floor Plan, where traditional boundaries of kitchen, dining and living rooms are blurred, has been a popular theme in house design since the Second World War. But understanding how open a house should be and how the different uses should relate is more difficult to get right. Part of the answer is individual preference for how we want to live, but since our homes serve us for many years, it’s important to make a house that can adapt to life’s changes. A great design supports our daily routines, ranging from preparing an intimate dinner for two to a party for thirty, and also facilitates the changing seasons of our lives. It’s hard to predict change, but we know change will come and our home designs should adapt and support us through the journey.

 

Relationships Matter: We often think of the importance of getting the kitchen triangle of sink, refrigerator and stove right. A bigger picture triangle exists between the living, dining and kitchen. The three can be lined up in a row, kitchen-dining-living but modern lifestyles are not linear. It’s effective to break up the row and arrange the functions more organically. For example, the kitchen and dining can occupy one end and the living room the other, as in the illustration above.

 

How Open? We all agree on the importance for having privacy for bedrooms, bathrooms and studies, as well as building a buffer between these “quiet” rooms and the “common” areas of the house. Other spaces in the home are more open to debate. The secret is to understand the different activities that take place and what acoustic separation is needed.

 

The Open Kitchen: Traditionally, kitchens were located behind closed doors. Now, even in some restaurants, the best seat in the house is an informal table the chef sets up in the middle of the kitchen. We’ve taken this approach for some of our work, but this is not for everyone. A variation on this theme is to have sliding doors so the kitchen can be closed off during the meal, and a messy kitchen hidden away.

 

Is the Dining Room Extinct? For many, the dining room is rarely used as intended and the primary use winds up being for piling mail on the table. To get more use, dining can be integrated into the flow of the home and designed to be attractive for a range of uses. In George Washington’s Mount Vernon home, not only did he dispense with the dining room, but the dining room table as well. For dinner parties a simple plank of wood was set up on saw horses and then draped with an elegant table cloth. When after dinner dancing commenced, the plank of wood was removed!

 

By Colin Flavin AIA, January, 2014

 

 

Maximizing the versatility of your Phone to Conserve Energy

 

 

The ubiquitous smart phone is finally smart enough to save energy in our homes. Apps coming on the market are disrupting legacy lighting, security, and temperature control systems that have been around for years. Many of us have experienced the frustration of visiting a friend and, faced with several remote controls, not being able to even turn on the TV, let alone record a show. We face the same frustration when attempting to program a thermostat, the result being that all too often, the controls are not being used to their full potential. While smart phone enabled apps for homes are still in their infancy, it’s worth being an early adopter, because you can start improving your home’s performance today. And, one more thing, Flavin Architects’ is an early adopter, with these systems being specified in our client’s homes as well as in our own. Here are some of our favorites on the market right now:

 

Nest Thermostats: Nest Co-founder Tony Fadell was working on his own home in Lake Tahoe, and was frustrated at how unattractive and difficult to use available thermostats were. That led him to design a new thermostat that is connected to a home’s Wi-Fi. Like the iPhone, it is intuitive and easy to use and can be programmed for various schedules. My family uses it to turn down the heat during the night as well as during the day when no one is home. It has an occupancy sensor that automatically adjusts the temperature to accommodate when no one is home. On a monthly basis, Nest sends us a report on our energy performance with suggestions for improvement.

 

Drop Cam: Home security has never been so easy. Rather than hard wiring your home with cameras and sensors, the Drop Cam is wireless. It can be wall or ceiling mounted, or placed on a desk top or counter. The device can act as a home security system, or can become a baby monitor, all accessible from your smart phone.

 

LED Lighting: Lighting is responsible for a large portion of home energy bills and an even larger portion of office energy bills. LED lighting consumes less than 10% of the energy of a typical incandescent bulb. Sounds great, but LED lights are infamous for poor color rendition particularly of skin tones.  Phillips electronics HUE bulb allows the color, brightness to be adjusted from your phone. This allows for a warm flattering light while dining and a bright white light when the guests have gone home and it’s time to clean up.

 

By Colin Flavin AIA, December, 2013

How much should my new home cost?

 

One of the most challenging conversations we have with our client is about budgeting for their new home or renovation. Most of our clients have already purchased a property, or own a home they wish to add to. So in a sense, a portion of the total budget has already been spent. For the cost of construction, friends and family offer advice on how much construction costs. Also resources are readily available on the web. The difficulty is that those giving advice are often quoting cost figures that are measuring different things. For example, is the cost of site work items like a septic system or well included?  What about interior design items like kitchen cabinetry or appliances? Further complicating the decision is that different styles of design (modern vs. traditional) and different building materials (wood shingle vs. asphalt roofing) vary wildly in cost. Geographic location also influences cost. Urban areas like Boston or San Francisco are far more expensive, not only in terms of land costs, but construction costs as well. Budgeting for your home is not rocket science, but it does require a comprehensive approach where the cost factors of site work, complexity of design, and quality of construction are factored in. The three items that follow give a road map of the key determinants of cost for your new home. The complete matrix of costs is available for download on our web site: flavinarchitects.com

 

Site Work: Include all the work needed to prepare the site for a finished home, from excavating the foundation, to bringing in utilities, to landscape work. A relatively flat site with good soils and nearby utility connections is far less expensive to build than a remote site that is steeply pitched and must be regraded, or with underlying rock that must be removed.

 

Complexity of Design: Keep in the geometry of your house simple, with details that are part of your builder’s standard toolbox helps reign in the cost of construction. For example a simple gable roof is economical to frame. Complex and unusual shapes are more expensive, like a design with lots of corners or curving geometry. Remember that time is money, and a complex design, even if built of modest materials, will still be expensive.

 

Understanding the cost versus quality relationship: Higher quality materials translate into more expensive houses. Choose materials that are consistent with your budget. Our chart lists material choices in terms of their cost. In siding for instance, clear finished cedar costs more that painted pine, which in turn costs more than cement plank. Keep in mind that the higher quality material may also be more expensive to maintain. Clear finished wood needs to be refinished on a regular basis, unless a rustic appearance is sought.

 

Getting the most of your site while respecting the land

 

 

No house should ever be on a hill or on anything. It should be of the hill.

Belonging to it. Hill and house should live together each the happier for the other.

Frank Lloyd Wright

 

 

In keeping with their careers in the software industry, our clients created a detailed web site for the house they wished to build. Through images and text it highlighted the desire for a home connected to the outdoors, including a path from the back door to walking trails on the adjacent conservation land. At our first site meeting, we walked the property and the conservation land, observing the steep drop from the house site to Reservoir pond, a remnant of the town’s 19th century for drinking water supply. The challenge was how to be able to see the pond from the house without diminishing the natural beauty of the property, especially as viewed from the pond. An additional challenge: the ground floor of the house was programmed to include an attached two car garage, two bedrooms and living areas totaling 3,000 sf. To top it off there was granite ledge present on the site, making leveling the site prohibitively expensive. Here’s how we did it in a few easy steps

 

Step 1: Break Up the Plan. To fit the house into the land, we needed to see the house as separate volumes that could be separated so they could step down the hill. The garage is placed at the highest level, farthest from the pond and is connected to the house by enclosed stairs that bridge over a small stream that is fed from the runoff from the home’s roof. The bedrooms and kitchen are located in the middle level of the house. The living and media rooms are located at the lowest elevation and nearest the reservoir. This arrangement avoided flattening the site to accommodate the house. The three smaller pieces tuck more gracefully into the contours of the land.

 

Step 2: Varying the Roof Line: The profile of a house against the sky is always important, and especially so for this property. The house can be seen from the walking trails that surround the pond. To keep the house discreet against the skyline, the stepped floor plan allows the roofs to step as well. Further articulation is created by having the second floor cover only about half the first floor, avoiding a massive second floor against the sky.

 

Step 3: Path to the Front Door: From the garden gate located adjacent to the garage, a stone path leads toward the front door, before taking an abrupt turn to pass over a bridge spanning the stream. The path sequence shows off the steeply pitched site and strengthens the experience of the terraced design. The path also highlights some of the design’s sustainable features, including roof runoff being captured in a rain garden to replenish the ground water.

Restoring a Mid-Century Modern House in Lincoln, MA

 

Who ever said that pleasure wasn't functional?
Charles Eames

 

Photo Credit: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, MASS,9-LIN,16-2

 

Mad Men helped bring the 1960s design vibe back into fashion. Sarah and Jon Rapaport asked us to bring Sexy Back to their newly purchased 1967 era house in Lincoln designed by local architecture firm Soep and Berliner. Modern design with its low pitched roofs, open floor plan, and large windows opening to nature became popularized in the late 1930s when Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius burst on the scene with his iconic residence also in Lincoln. This brilliant house combined cutting edge design ideas like ribbon windows, cantilevered entry canopy and flat roofs, with traditional New England building materials like field stone walls and cedar cladding.

 

By the time the Rapaport house was built, modernism had evolved from the Gropius era, to incorporate the rural vibe of Lincoln with spectacular exposed wooden beams and deep overhangs. There were advances in construction techniques as well. In the 30 years between the Gropius house and the Lincoln house being built, architects improved the performance of houses through better insulation, advanced water proofing membranes, and heating systems to make a house comfortable, even with large expanses of glass.

 

Our job was to respect the structure of the original house, but to edit out the rustic tones of flagstone floors, dark stained wood, and bring back the spontaneity of the Pop era. Tall openings were introduced between the kitchen and living room to create the perfect balance between an open kitchen and avoiding the tyranny of seeing dirty dishes from everywhere. Dark grey cabinets contrast with the white stone counters and vintage wall tiles from Heath Ceramics.  Light grey cerusedoak floors create a subdued tone to tie the composition together. Cable mounted accent lighting was added between the beams to freshen the ceiling cavity.

Historic New England Gropius House

Heath Ceramics

 

 

Lincoln House Rendering

Natural Modernism in Residential Site Planning

 

Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature.

It will never fail you.

Frank Lloyd Wright

 

 

Our firm designs homes for a wide range of properties, from dense woodlands to open meadows with distant views. In collaboration with our clients, we use a common site planning approach for all projects that we call natural modernism.  This approach allows us to see the big picture, whether it’s a mountain top in Vermont or the remnants of a 19th century estate in the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts.

 

Here are some of our core principles:

  • Take a Walk: It takes time and patience to learn what makes each site unique; where a building
    can be located so the most sensitive part of the property can be preserved and enhanced. With
    a property survey in hand, walk the property in different seasons and weather to find varying views,
    sun and shade, and patterns of forests and clearings.
  • Map it: Record observations on the survey, whether it’s a grove of trees you love or the stone
    remnants of an old chimney. The map becomes a graphic manifesto of the features you appreciate
    and become focal points for your property.
  • Let Nature Win: Natural systems of water drainage, wildlife habit and forest ecosystems are often
    fairly intact on rural sites. On our Wayland project, we’re removing a dilapidated house but are locating
    the new home overlapping the existing footprint to minimize disturbance. Invasive plantings are being
    removed and a forester consulted on enhancing the forest by thinning the unhealthy and dying trees and
    adding native trees. Driveways are kept to 10 feet in width and are paved with a special pervious
    material that allows water to absorb into the ground.
  • Historical Remnants: Almost every site contains remnants of a previous time. On a current project
    in Vermont, there are old stone walls, fading logging roads and a cellar hole where a building was
    removed years ago. The stone walls are being rebuilt as a nod to the sites prior agricultural use. Where
    the existing road fords a creek, we’re building a small timber bridge to restore and protect the resource.
  • On the Brow of the Hill: Frank Lloyd Wright was passionate about not building on top of the hill, but
    rather on the “brow of the hill”, so the house would complement rather than dominate its setting. The
    same goes for not plopping the building in the middle of a meadow, instead locating it at the boundary
    between forest and meadow. Tread lightly on the land by stepping the house down a slope; instead of
    having a wide floor plan that requires changing the site’s natural contours.
  • Let it Shine: An “ideal site” is when distant views face to the south so that principal windows can bring
    sunshine’s beauty and warmth into the home. We lacked long views on our Lenox project, so we made
    the most of short views within the site by creating a meadow to the south, bordered by woodlands, for
    an intimate view.

254 Second Ave - Lobby

Artist: J.B. Jones, Matchbox; Grip II; 12d, oil on canvas

 

While many of us spend the majority of our waking hours in office interiors, it’s surprising how little thought goes into making those spaces beautiful. DeCordova Sculpture Park and Museum and several other galleries in the Boston area are hoping to change that by offering corporate art loan programs. As a benefit of corporate support, museums loan art work from their collections for display in the company’s facilities. The art work is shown in a variety of locations, from the entry lobby of a multi-tenant building to the work place of an individual company. The artists also vary, from recognized and widely exhibited to emerging and not yet publically shown. This is a great win-win. The client gets works of art on a rotating bases that are curated by the museum staff. The gifting museum is able to reach a broader audience and place on display art work, which due to the display limitations of museums are largely kept in storage.

 

Often, the corporate loan program takes an existing building interior and selects art for the walls as they exist. A more powerful approach is to design the space to be ideal for the display of art. Mark Rubin, the president of Maric Inc. had this idea in mind. Maric is an innovative company that invests in corporate offices in the western suburbs. Working with Maric, Flavin Architects designed a new entry lobby for 254 2nd Ave in Needham. The idea for the lobby was to create a gallery vibe: dark floors, white walls and minimalist detailing. A six foot by twenty foot glowing recess was designed to display rotating artworks from the deCordova Museum in Lincoln MA. The layout of the display and the lighting are designed to accommodate a range of art formats, allowing flexibility for the museum curators. The deCordova is an excellent partner, with their focus on innovative regional artists.

 

deCordova Museum: http://www.decordova.org

Maric: http://www.maricinc.com/

J.B. Jones: http://jbjonespainter.com/

Lynette Shaw: http://lynetteshaw.com/

 

197 First Ave - Lobby

Lynette Shaw, Wall, mixed media and sand on canvas

The New England Holocaust Memorial

Excerpt from Colin Flavin’s tour remarks for the University of California, Santa Cruz

 

Designed by San Francisco Architect Stanley Saitowitz, the New England Holocaust Memorial was opened on Holocaust Remberance Day in 1995. Rather than being tucked away in a serene location, the monument has become an integral part of the city’s fabric by being located along Boston's bustling Freedom Trail. It is experienced as a series of hollow towers we can enter and walk through, engaging us in reflection, but also becoming a part of the daily ritual of the city, catching the attention of passing Bostonians walking to work in the early morning light, or a tourist returning from nearby Quincy Market.

 

Saitowitz uses symbolism and repetition to deepen our experience. The number six is used again and again. There are six towers, with six segments, and the pit at the bottom of each tower is six feet deep and six feet wide. Carved in stone at the base of each tower is the name of one of the six death camps. There are six million numbers etched in the glass, for each of the approximate number of Nazi death camp victims. The darkness of the holocaust is expressed with light. During the day, the etched numbers refract the sunlight; at night the numbers glow with light from within. We are left to wonder if the towers symbolize the crematorium chimneys of the Nazi death camps or the six branched Menorah of ancient times.

 

Etched in stone on the west side of the monument is this quote from holocaust survivor Martin Niemoeller

 

             They came first for the Communists,

                                  and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist.

             Then they came for the Jews,

                                  and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.

             Then they came for the trade unionists,

                                  and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.

             Then they came for the Catholics,

                                  and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant.

             Then they came for me,

                                  and by that time no one was left to speak up.

 

Architect Stanley Saitowitz, Natoma Architects

 

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