Designers have the unique opportunity to shape the physical environment. Part of the intrigue of the built world is its reciprocal ability to shape us as well. When we realize the spaces we create (if done well) can make an indelible positive impact on lives, the importance of good design – especially in educational settings – becomes clear. Architect Robert Ross of “Ross Design Architects” and Interior designer Stephanie Andrews of “Balance Design” are both well aware of this.
In 2012 both Robert and Stephanie’s children attended the Atlanta Neighborhood Charter School. At that time, the campus was a hodgepodge of well-intentioned volunteer and teacher driven attempts to improve the school with no overall conceptual plan. What happens when philanthropically-minded design colleagues whose children go to the same school get together? Well, in the case of Robert and Stephanie, they approached the Executive Director of the ANCS, Matt Underwood, about improving the environmental quality of the 90 year old school. The director approved and the designers embarked on creating a design plan that could be implemented over time. This led to a pro-bono three-year renovation collaboration.
The bulk of the design work was determined during the first year of the renovation. A uniform paint scheme was determined, and the first floor was painted. Recognizing the length of the halls created an unfavorable impression, the team devised a color block system to visually break up and enliven the long space. The original transoms over the classroom doors closed up during a previous renovation were reopened allowing some natural light to reach the previously dark halls. Uniform signage was added throughout. Previous to the renovation, one of the school’s side doors was functioning as the main entrance. The main entry was relocated to create a more ceremonial sense of arrival and departure. Installation of new lobby lights and reception desk also upgraded this experience. Careful placement of Legacy artwork and designated spaces to display current student work were established.
In the second year, the auditorium/gym, and stairwells were painted. This continued the original theme and really unified the school. Also during this year, the school was awarded Grants to Green award allowing them to replace windows and install new energy efficient air conditioning systems and LED lighting throughout the school. The lighting transformed the spaces while greatly reducing energy usage.
The final and completing step was taken this past summer with the installation of a new seamless floor throughout the halls, replacing the worn and outdated vinyl composition tile. The floor will reduce ongoing maintenance costs because it does not require any significant maintenance. It also completed the look as originally envisioned 3 years ago. It also helped that the staff bought into the idea early and fully participated in achieving the overall vision for the campus. Also this year sound absorptive wall covering and a new floor were added to the Gym.
In the end, the school was improved and the children were provided with a more dignified environment for learning – an environment more likely to make a positive, lasting impression. The whole project was generated simply from two engaged parents getting together and talking about what they could do to improve an undesirable situation. Properly pitched, the idea took form and eventually became reality. Although Robert and Stephanie’s specialized knowledge about architecture and design proved crucial to executing the project, the success of the project would not have been possible without the initial buy-in of the Executive Director, Matt Underwood, or the tireless efforts of ANCS staff members Kari Lovell and Jim Kessenich who managed the implementation. There is still more work to be done, but a tremendous shift has occurred. This is a great example of principle of how community engagement by thoughtful professionals can create real, positive and sustainable impact.
Every so often pleasant surprises pop up around Ross Design. Recently one of our renovation projects was selected to be the backdrop setting for a Hansgrohe product showcase photo shoot. Hansgrohe is an internationally respected bathroom and kitchen fixture company. As a company that places special emphasis on style and presentation for their own products, we couldn’t be more flattered that they chose to represent their carefully crafted faucets in our carefully crafted spaces. Especially a renovation specifically designed for a spec developer. In the photo above, Hansgrohe’s “Metris” faucet is on display in the kitchen we designed for the house.
For this total renovation/addition project, we were tasked with elevating the level of design of the decidedly drab house and expanding it by adding a second story. The approach we chose to take celebrated the original craftsman character or the house while adding a second floor with 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms. By carefully working with the roof pitch, it ended up being a “stealth” addition of sorts. Although there were some dramatic improvements in the spatial layout of the house, we were meticulous about replicating the original detailing, reusing some of the original mantles and trim. In this way some of the original identity carried through to the new design, creating a desired thread of continuity.
One of the original features that we were particularly interested in preserving was the brick fireplace initially located in one of the bedrooms per the old design. Although no longer functional, maintaining the fireplace provided a wonderful focal point for the foyer. It serves as an elegant symbol of that which was before, and acts as a powerful link uniting old and new.
Perhaps the most visually dramatic alteration in the design was the restoration of the generous front porch, whose overhang is supported by five bold tapered columns. We are particularly interested in thresholds and spaces of transition. In addition to the functional purpose as a shaded space, the porch serves as a three-dimensional threshold demarcating the transition from that which is external to the house to the philosophical idea of “home.” Critical to this was the relocation of the steps to the porch, aligning them with the new front door location.
We are grateful that Hansgrohe recognized the care and attention behind the project and selected our kitchen as the backdrop for its product showcase photo shoot! We are also grateful to the wonderful client that trusted our vision on this project. We made a great team!
If you’d like to see more pictures of the project, click here: project pictures
Windows: To replace or to repair? That is the question. Whether ’tis more ignoble in the wallet to suffer the slings and arrows of replacement expense, or to take up tools against conditions of dilapidation, and, by working on them, repair them.
The nagging controversy of window replacement vs. window repair is one that most homeowners will almost inevitably confront. There are a few different reasons the issue might arise in the first place. Maybe the windows are old and dilapidated, perhaps they are not energy efficient, the frames might be rotted, they may have deteriorated sashes, or they could be leaking air. Despite the issue, the question remains: replace or repair?
The reality is that there are pros and cons to each option. As a general principle, it’s more sustainable to repair things than to replace them. There are many behind-the-scenes detriments to replacement. For one, the windows being taken out will most likely end up in a landfill somewhere. Additionally, we must consider the sneaky embodied energy associated with replacement. Having new windows installed involves a whole process. To begin with, natural resources must be mined and processed. After the raw materials are gathered, the windows must be manufactured; this requires energy and implies, as a byproduct, the release of CO2 into the atmosphere. Next, the windows must be transported to the site. This, too, requires energy and results in greenhouse gas emission. When we adopt this kind of an overview perspective, the option of repair becomes more enticing (from a sustainability perspective) than replacement.
If your current windows are inefficient, the primary motivation for replacing them is reducing your heating and cooling bill. The reality, though, is that a complete window replacement job for the whole house could cost anywhere between $8,000-$24,000. Although your monthly bills would be lower, it could take decades to recover the upfront cost.
Repairs can be made to increase the efficiency of windows that either have an air gap or a poor R-values and U-factors. For one, new caulking and weather stripping can be applied at minimal cost to fix air leaks. A low-E coating can be applied to existing windows to reduce unwanted heat gain. Rotted frames and deteriorated sashes can also be fixed without resorting to replacement.
If you are the owner of an old house that was built before 1950, there’s a good chance your windows might actually be weighted (meaning literally a weight that is connected to the movable sash is located in the walls). Over time, weighted windows are susceptible to damage. For such a dated home, you would be hard pressed to find a window manufacturer that could match the historic style. Replacing them with contemporary windows could completely destroy the historic charm of the house. Luckily, though, repairing these old weighted windows is actually a pretty realistic DIY job. Whatever the problem is – be it that the weight is getting caught on something, the string has broken, the window doesn’t glide smoothly, etc. – it’s something that can be repaired! Check out this great video on how exactly to execute such a repair: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oiXNw_7gg4k
At the end of the day, replace if you must, but it’s better for the environment, your wallet, and possibly the charm of your house if you opt to repair instead.
The 2030 Challenge has been issued! Climate change is no longer speculation; it’s a fact. A big part of the problem is carbon emissions. Atmospheric C02 is a heat-trapping greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming. Carbon dioxide is a byproduct of energy production. The urban built environment is a huge energy hog. Buildings use about 48% of all the energy produced in the U.S – nearly double the consumption of both the industrial and transportation sectors, respectively. Accordingly, buildings are responsible for almost half of all CO2 emissions. As the greatest culprit, the building sector also represents the area in which the greatest improvements can be made.
As architects our influence on such matters can be significant. In 2006 architect Edward Mazria founded “Architecture 2030,” a non-profit research organization that issued the “2030 Challenge.” The objective of the challenge is to “reduce global fossil fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions by changing the way we plan, design, and construct the built world.” The challenge calls for an immediate energy consumption reduction of 70% below current averages for all new buildings, developments, and renovations. By 2020, the goal is an 80% reduction overall. By 2025, a 90% reduction is the aim. Ultimately, by 2030, the objective is for all new buildings, developments and renovations to be 100% carbon neutral, where no greenhouse gas-emitting fossil fuels will be used in their operation.
To achieve this tall order, as architects, we’ll have to employ a few different solutions. Initial design strategies have the greatest potential to lower energy consumption. The passive strategies for a building’s orientation, envelope, ventilation, heating, cooling, lighting, etc. all conspire to drive down energy requirements. These passive strategies, combined with on-site renewable energy systems, like solar photovoltaic panels, solar hot water tubes, wind turbines, etc. can take care of the majority of a building’s energy needs. For any lingering requirements, Architecture 2030, as part of their “2030 Challenge” permits up to 20% of a building’s total energy requirement to be purchased from an off-site renewable energy source.
To fight global climate change we need to stop burning fossil fuels as quickly as possible. The 2030 Challenge provides us with a guide towards this end. At Ross Design Architects we’ve taken special interest in both the problem and the solution outlined by Mazria. Moving ahead, we’re looking forward to implementing sustainable strategies in our own projects!
We are very pleased to announce the return of Jonathan McConnell. Jonathan completed an internship with us last summer. During that time, he constructed physical models, revamped our Revit library, completed the base work for a pro bono project, and prepared various presentation drawings. At the conclusion of the internship he remarked, “What I like best about Ross Design is the atmosphere of genuine care that comes from working with a small, dedicated, passionate team. It’s inspiring to work with people who are just as obsessed with architecture as I am.” Following the completion of his degree, it’s this very atmosphere that lured him back. We couldn’t be happier to announce that Jonathan is joining Ross Design full time as an intern architect. He holds a B.Arch from Kennesaw State University. In his final year there, he produced an award-winning thesis project. Out of 39 thesis entries, he placed 3rd overall. He focused on codifying the tiny house movement. He proposed a system in which a series of small house designs would be produced in direct response to their respective physical and economic construction environments. Furthermore, he proposed an infrastructure and business plan that would streamline the process of getting potential clients into the houses at hyper-affordable rates. Prior to KSU, he obtained a B.A. Philosophy from Oglethorpe University. There he was a member of the NCAA Stormy Petrel soccer team. Though his architectural interests are widespread, he’s particularly interested in the built environment as an expression of values, designing spaces that enhance users’ daily rituals, the ways in which philosophy intertwines with architecture, and the ways in which abstract ideas can be concretized through the built world. Outside of architecture, Jonathan enjoys immersing himself in all things philosophy, fitness, writing, podcasting, film and more. He is tremendously excited to make the transition from the academic world to the professional realm. We welcome his energy, passion, and excitement. Welcome aboard, Jonathan!