The driveway has been poured (though it’s under blankets due to the cool weather), the siding is up, and the gabions are installed: almost there!

Entry view: the door is unveiled at last!

Feels good as an architect to see the building appearing as drawn and imagined. This goes to show how important a good drawing is. And while that’s important for the visible design, thorough documentation is even more critical when it comes to airtightness and thermal-bridge-free detailing. 

That plug for our profession out of the way, I’d like to say a few things about the exterior design and finishes.  Having served on Oak Park’s Historic Preservation Commission for 5 years, I became more sensitive to the massing, roof overhangs, and window-to-wall ratios typical of late 19thc./early 20thc. architecture: before the time of clean and powerful air conditioning and heating.  Studying Passive Houses, it became apparent that a similar principle was at work: the shape, orientation, and number/placement of windows powerfully affect the energy balance of a building.  This doesn’t mean that Passive Houses need to look “traditional”, but they do share a continuity of design thought with traditional buildings.  I like that. 

The mass of this house was intended to have a traditional compact rectangular form and gabled roof; siding detailing of the thick walls offered design opportunities. First, we provided overhangs for the old-fashioned reason: they really do protect walls and windows.  On the walls we also provided intermediate trims with drip flashings to get water away from the wall and windows.  We chose LP SmartSide as the siding finish.  Like other siding products (fiber cement), it has a really long finish warranty (LP offers a 50 year transferable warranty!). But unlike fiber cement, it is much stronger, lighter, and impact resistant, and it is made entirely of wood (SFI certified fast-growing lumber specifically for OSB and siding).  Since they pulp the lumber, they use the entire tree, and do not add formaldehyde in the manufacturing process.  SmartSide comes in smooth and rough finishes, so we took the opportunity to break down the mass and create interest by contrasting alternating bands.  The exposures are 11″ (rough) and 5″ (smooth), which repeat the 16″ coursing of the ICF blocks inside the walls. 

The basement windows needed areaways with retaining walls.  Traditionally these are of concrete, but realizing we had a lot of brick left over from the previous house, we decided to use the brick to fill wire baskets (gabions) which could operate as retaining walls merely by virtue of their mass: a simple recycling move that saved money and embodied energy. 

South basement window

Another thing about the gabions: they’re a lot nicer to look at from the inside that concrete:

Front basement bedroom window

Dig Right In, eco-landscape firm out of Brookfield, is contracted to provide the landscape design and installation, which is scheduled in the next week or two.