Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Drawings en route

After a visit to the building department I came to find that the 520 University property line extends up past the next two lots - about double the land I had been planning for. This adds a little more work and lot more opportunity for developing outdoor spaces.

The existing lot - a field of broken up asphalt - will be torn up as soon as the city permits it. Unfortunately the potential for hazardous leaching makes use as a building material limited, but it can be sent to a recycling center where it will be ground up for road material.

If I'm able to find a brick house which is coming down and hasn't been claimed yet (glazed brick has a relatively high resale value, and is often claimed quickly), the lower part of that lot will be a permeable paving system. Arranging the brick into a particular pattern will create cavities to be filled with soil and grass. Water can then flow naturally into the ground instead of installing an expensive runoff and drainage system. It also means a nicer semi-green space when not acting as a parking lot.

There are grand plans for the upper part of the lot still in the sketching phase, including a community garden, sculpture garden, open-air amphitheater and stage, secret chicken coop, and honeybee security system.

The other major removal-to-be is the unoriginal addition to the North side of the house. A collapsing roof, caving foundation, and generally cheap construction make this portion of the house not worth preserving. To repair the foundation at its original terminating point will be much more feasible, and the materials from the deconstruction can go toward other weak points in the house. The basement void left by the removal will be used for a 2000+ gallon cistern for rain water collection before being back-filled.

Originally planned as a live-work building, strict (and expensive) sprinkler requirements have demanded otherwise. I'm shifting the building toward a "congregate housing" situation - consisting of private sleeping quarters that share all common spaces, which for the most part follow the same codes as a single-family residence. While this means there won't be any "formal" public space, it also means no sprinkler system, less demanding bathroom and parking requirements, and more relaxed accessibility and egress routes.

The second floor will host four bedrooms for artist residencies, a full bath, a reading room, roof access, and a guestroom disguised as a storage room so a larger window doesn't have to be added.

The exterior aesthetics of the building are strictly governed by the Historic District Commission. Windows, siding, roofing, fences, chimneys, planters, and any change to the building (additive or subtractive) must be be approved before building can begin. For that reason, experiments will mostly have to be inside of the house, while the exterior remains relatively plain.

The next, and most challenging drawing set is the section, which will reveal all of the building details - down to the spacing of nails - for anything which is a change of the original structure. A series of highlighted points within the section below will continue to be scaled up and detailed, including the footing, foundation wall, floor connection, wall construction, eave detail, truss design, roof deck, inner load bearing wall, and the railing for the space which overlooks the double-height space.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

50 Shades of Art House

Voice your favorites at the SAH facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SpencersArtHouse

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Test

The truss made from scrap 2x4's and plywood - robust as they may appear - still need to be proven. Accounting for the weight of the roof, snow, and deck (people), each truss should be capable of a load of 2048 pounds.

After spending two days trying to recall the slightest of concepts from Structures I, we've made it nowhere. So we decide to go a different route.

If the truss can be loaded with enough weight and not deflect (or explode), we'll have good reason to continue production. Driving the truck to the nearest scrap yard to borrow their scale, the truck sits at a healthy 5340 pounds. Balancing the front wheels atop one truss will load it about 3000 pounds - more than enough weight.

The whole thing became quite the event. Fortunately so, as our street-friend was there to keep the two-and-a-half ton truck from falling. After several more attempts to secure the truss in place - and keep the locals at bay - we retired without a successful test. I'll revisit this in the future using car jacks and lowering the wheels onto the truss instead.

In the meantime, I've been lucky enough to have been in touch with a structural engineer who is looking over the current design detailed below, pro bono. Within an hour of sending Jon the drawing, he had worked through all the calculations. This must be why engineers get impatient with architects.

All of the members work out fine, but the connections require something like 26 nails each to hold - which is far too much. This doesn't include include the strength of the construction adhesive, so after figuring that in, we may be okay.

Dwelling on...sprinklers?

Jumping through the proverbial hoops:

Tackling the many legal layers of this project makes me yearn for the spontaneity of my Buffalo days. Soon, I will submit exterior drawings to the Historic District Commission. Once they approve the historic "appropriateness" of the proposal, I can submit to the Zoning department, which may take up to two months to process - and a steep fee to boot. Then I'll be free to apply for building, electrical, plumbing, and mechanical permits, also taking 1-2 months to process.

The property is currently zoned as R2 - Neighborhood Business. This is a great fit for the types of spaces we'd like in the house - a mix of public and private spaces. But it carries a lot of catches: accessibility and egress requirements, and fire suppression. After a long search for ways around it with our official architect - Freeman Greer of GAV Associates - we've realized this is unavoidable for a building with a public component. A sprinkler system for this building will cost $30,000-40,000. This is required by law. Never mind that unoccupied as it is, it's a tinderbox.

The answer may be to re-zone it as residential. While this carries an even steeper fee with the zoning department, it may save tens of thousands down the road, and allow greater flexibility of space inside. With this, there cannot be an official public component to this building, but like any house, can be opened to public for parties, meetings, and other gatherings as the occupants see fit. Since there won't be a regular exchange of goods as in a typical business, and by suggesting donations at events, a residential zoning should do well.

Time to rearrange all the plans I just finished.