Architecture is coming into focus

by Joe Cole

On Saturday, November 19th, Hart’s Mill members gathered for another Architectural Design Workshop with our architects Frank Harmon, Suzy Cash, and Paul Drake.  We met in the Seymour Center in Chapel Hill, and the architects shared their work since our last gathering in October.  To see a copy of the their slide presentation, click here: hm-presentation-workshop-11-19-2016

architecture-group-11-19-16After the October workshop, the community was faced with a host of specific design questions concerning Homes and the Common House.  In addition, some members had expressed concerns, anxieties, and misgivings about the direction of the design work, and especially about the aesthetic look and feel of the proposed homes.  After considering whether to slow down the design process, members of the General Circle and the Planning, Design, and Development Circle (PDD) made a commitment to explore member concerns while simultaneously addressing as many questions as possible, in order to provide direction to the Architects so they could prepare for the November workshop. 

Fortunately, we were able to address almost all of the most pressing questions and concerns, including issues around aesthetics, storage, and Common House layout, in a timely fashion.  Members from PDD met with the Architects ahead of the November 19th workshop to plan the agenda for the day.  We asked the Architects to develop and present three different aesthetic options for the homes, and we requested a variety of visuals and drawings to help members understand and compare the different options.  The Architects also clarified the deliverables (i.e., the products) that we could expect at the end of this Schematic Design Phase, and we left content and eager to see the work to come.

When we met on Saturday, November 19th, the Architects provided an overview of their approach to the design work.  They explained how our initial discussions about Hart’s Mill values and principles led to their work on the Site Plan, and how the Site Plan then became the foundation for the current work on Common House and Home design.  The Architects also addressed a concern expressed at the last workshop: some members had hoped to see a Southern vernacular style take shape in the project, and were disappointed that the proposed home designs did not fit that style.  The Architects explained their understanding of vernacular as “a language spoken by common people” and a “cultural expression of place,” and used the example of tobacco barns in eastern NC to illustrate how roof line, building shape, and materials can reflect the needs and goals of a specific people in a particular locale.  For our Architects, “vernacular” in the context of architecture means buildings that are pragmatic, informal, and meet the group’s values and needs, while also connecting to the cultural and regional context.

The architects then presented three different home design schemes.  The main differences in the home designs were based on roof pitch: the Street Smart scheme featured homes with a 3/12 street-smart-home-designpitch roof (a shed roof style); the Storage for All scheme featured a 12/12 pitch roof (a gable roof style, which was the steepest of the three); and the PV (PhotoVoltaic) Delight scheme featured a 6/12 pitch roof.  They shared street-level drawings and elpv-delightevations to help us get a feel for walking and living amidst a cluster of the homes in each scheme.  The third scheme, PV Delight, provided the most roofs with good south-facing solar access plus the best roof angle for solar gain at 99%, though the other two roofs also did well at 95% solar gain for this region.  Street Smart seemed to provide more variety in the size and connections of the homes, which many members found visually compelling, and was also the most cost-effective design option.  Storage for All provided the most attic storage, but many members were concerned storage-for-allwith the higher cost and lower efficiency of those designs.  Members discussed the balance of multiple elements in the designs, including sustainability, storage, cost, and visual impact, and the group was ultimately drawn to a blend of the Street Smart and PV Delight schemes.


The architects next presented two options for Common House design, both of which can-you-see-yourself-inside-this-common-houseincluded added storage space and bathrooms closer to the kitchen/dining room.  In addition, the Common House designs raised questions about the location and design of the guest rooms, the size and location of the laundry room, and the location of the library/meeting room.  The two designs also offered different options for the overall shape of the building and how much it should extend and enclose the village green.  We left with questions to be addressed before the next workshop, and are working to provide the architects with our preferences for these designs so they can prepare for our next meeting together.

Our next and final workshop with the architects is scheduled for Saturday, December 17th, and will focus on wrapping up issues for both Common House and Home Design, and extending our discussion of siding and roof materials for the buildings. 

As I mentioned in my last architecture Blog covering the October workshop, our group is working with a range of personal preferences, dreams, and visions for what the homes and the village could look like.  Tensions and conflicts have emerged, and that is a natural part of the process.  But I’m impressed and reassured that we have been able to listen to each other, express our feelings and preferences, and find ways to move forward together in the design work.  Amidst our challenges, we are improving our capacity to work with conflict productively and respectfully.  We are not just designing a village—we are getting to know each other and building community one step at a time.  Through this work, our hope is that we can design a village that inspires each of us, along with others to come. 

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1 Response to Architecture is coming into focus

  1. Vanessa Girardi says: this is a light weight precast ceramic material developed out of Raleigh NC that is impervious to rot, insects and has nearly zero thermal conductivity. It can be used for the entire building envelope, walls, floors & roof. Cost per sq ft comes in LOWER than conventional building methods. It may very well be worth entering into communications with them. I have been in communications with them for over a year now if you’d like me to make an introduction.

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