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The drawing disconnect

This morning marked the first day of construction for a new restaurant I've been working on in my weekday job, and it is exciting! It's a charmer of a project, and you all will be happy to eat dinner there, but mostly this part of the architectural process - the transition to construction - has always felt exceedingly gratifying. There is a reason we architects face the computer and type the line and offset and trim command all day every day, pan and zoom, zoom and pan. I remember distinctly visiting my first job site after college - the renovation of a set of schools in Babylon, Long Island. Walking into the high school where the contractors were laying out the walls blew my fatigue-patterned jeans off (and yes, I was made fun of by those very high school students for those very pants. I still love those pants). I drew the location of the walls a year prior, forgot about it, and then poof - there they were, materialized!  A whole new form of communication opened to me in that moment - it was the language of the drawing. Dang, this work just got interesting!

I often wonder why that has always been such a disconnect to me - that the builder actually builds what the drawings show. Perhaps it's because it seems to be one-sided communication for the majority of the process - me and the computer, developing a relationship that doesn't tend to imply any sort of final product. And then, suddenly, the drawings land in the hands of the builder, and the beauty materializes. It will never stop putting a smile on my face.

Now, though, with this tiny house build, the storyline is changing. In many ways I've given up the traditional role of the architect in favor of learning how to be the builder, yet I'm keenly aware of the impact construction decisions have on the design. No typical set of drawings exists. I, my dad, and whoever is helping out at the time, work off 8.5x11 not-to-scale prints of pertinent aspects, and I'll run up to the computer whenever I have a dimensional question or need additional clarity on a detail. If I produced a set of drawings ahead of time, so much information would be lacking to make it hardly worth it. Even a semi-seasoned builder would know where to put a king stud, and to start the 16" on center spacing from the center of the first stud rather than from it's end, but I didn't know that until about a week ago, and I'm only beginning to see how much these decisions matter.   If the building process is a communication, I've mostly only heard one side of the conversation.

This is new territory, and now I'm listening.

And dang, it just got a whole lot more interesting...

 It has framed walls! Three of them! And you can begin to see the shape - an idea materializing! Still blows me away.

It has framed walls! Three of them! And you can begin to see the shape - an idea materializing! Still blows me away.

 This really doesn't look safe, but he made it unscathed. Way to leave the hard work to the dad and the uncle.  You can almost read the learning process from right to left of this wall. I thought the top sill plates that meet the lintel were a good idea to place there because the loft framing could rest on them. It didn't occur to me that it mattered how those top plates met the adjoining wall.  The right side of this wall took three weekends to build. The left side? A few hours.

This really doesn't look safe, but he made it unscathed. Way to leave the hard work to the dad and the uncle.  You can almost read the learning process from right to left of this wall. I thought the top sill plates that meet the lintel were a good idea to place there because the loft framing could rest on them. It didn't occur to me that it mattered how those top plates met the adjoining wall.  The right side of this wall took three weekends to build. The left side? A few hours.

 You'll notice a bunch of studs are missing. Evidence of my lack of faith in the architectural drawing, which after putting those studs in place, proved to be completely right. Faith restored. I'm willing to continue paying back student loans.

You'll notice a bunch of studs are missing. Evidence of my lack of faith in the architectural drawing, which after putting those studs in place, proved to be completely right. Faith restored. I'm willing to continue paying back student loans.




"You're building a house on wheels?" "Why?"

This was the first question my almost-6 year old niece, Zoe, asked while visiting this past week. She concisely vocalized what many people are too polite to ask, but an immediate answer wasn't apparent - I haven't worked out the elevator pitch yet. I wanted to design something and learn how to really build it. I want to understand the translation process from design to physical form, which is amazingly both more and less complicated than anticipated. I don't want to pay rent anymore. I want to live in a space that is intimately familiar, and not worry if I won't get my security deposit back when I move out. (I won't.) I also don't want to commit to a location yet - the nomadic life continues to beckon. I like flexibility. I'm slowly weening myself off urban life and moving toward the trees. And the freedom of being able to change my mind about that is appealing. 

Zoe eventually got on board, and even began building her own tiny house, and one for lucky ducky too!

 Zoe in her tiny house. She was laying the carpet of leaves down as a finishing touch. Lucky Duck's tiny house is in Zoe's backyard, in her words

Zoe in her tiny house. She was laying the carpet of leaves down as a finishing touch. Lucky Duck's tiny house is in Zoe's backyard, in her words

The wall framing has begun! That was exciting, to see the first wall go up, and so much thanks to Breanne LaTondre for her fantastic help getting it to this point - I've lost her to college but am hopeful she'll be back (and that the tiny will be much progressed when that happens!) We raised one wall in great anticipation, only afterward realizing that perhaps anticipation is not the best motivator, rather due diligence should be heeded. The trailer had not yet been leveled, and squaring off the walls has proven a bit of a challenge. But we're getting there...The long side wall is next, and has taken two weekends and several rebuilds to perfect. It's still in the act of perfection, but I *anticipate* this weekend will offer tremendous satisfaction. To have walls! What is a house but walls and a roof, anyway? Means I'm halfway there!  (ahem).

 yes we know the top plate and lintel is missing...

yes we know the top plate and lintel is missing...




Lillu has a new tenant

 lucky the ducky

lucky the ducky

his (her?) name is lucky duck. Lucky duck ran into the open paws of the pitbull until he realized the pitbull may not be his mom and then sought me out instead as the next best option. Lucky duck is a lame duck and for that was abandoned by mom duck. Lucky duck didn't stand a chance at life without human intervention, and I was the human that intervened.  So now I care for a mallard that in four months time I'll know if it's a he or a she, but for now he's he, and quickly becoming domesticated.

Little known facts about mallards (or at least this one):

1. they have tongues. I never would have thought it! (or thought about it, for that matter)

2. they LOVE human contact. Lucky duck cries when he's put down until he's picked up again. Oh boy.

3. They make great office pets. At least while they are smaller than your palm, anyway..

The tiny house is progressing, although the dog and the duck aren't helping the focus. (they do help moral, however!) The subfloor (and sub-subfloor) are on. There was a week of twisting pex tubing (for radiant floor heat) around four different human bodies in an attempt to run it underneath the subfloor, until that idea was dropped in favor of adding an extra layer of 5/8" plywood that will hold the pex, and allow us to route out the wood later so the pipe doesn't get damaged sitting in place during construction. Pex tubing turns out to be exceptionally difficult to work with, but a warm floor on a cold day is so very appealing...

next week starts wall framing!

 ok boys, let me show you how it's done

ok boys, let me show you how it's done

 help, it's got me

help, it's got me

 finally, a surface you can walk on! and throw random stuff all over!

finally, a surface you can walk on! and throw random stuff all over!




Joist Do It

It's been raining for the past month on Saturdays. That's put a damper...haa...on steady progress. But today I am getting into it, and I didn't want to quit even as the rain and thunder clouds started rolling in.

This is the process this weekend:

1. Cut wood "joist" that sits on metal "joist" to size, and temporarily clamp it into place.

2. Use yellow screwdriver with 1/4" bit to make hole in joist and to mark metal joist.

3. Take off clamps and move wood joist.

4. Use black screwdriver with 17/64" bit to make hole in metal joist.

5. Use Great Grandpa Hopp's tapper (?) to create threads in metal joist.

6. Adhere wood joist to metal joist and use Blue screwdriver to drive non-self-tapping screws in.

Yup, slow. But in my determination to finish, as the thunder grew louder and the rain went from a drizzle to something more steady, so also did my frustration at not being able to get the last hole drilled into the metal joist. 5 minutes of drilling turned into 10 minutes of drilling. One hole! One lousy hole!  As that frustration grew, so also did my voice, until finally I got the attention of my dad, who had his own work to do. "This drill bit sucks! It's only making the hole wider, not deeper!  I'm so ANNOYED!"

(Obviously I had a motive here. To get someone else to help. I learned that trick when I was 8, I think.)

And, things being what they are in life, when my dad picked up the black screwdriver, he looked at me and said Did you know it is set in reverse?

pause. take a deep breathe, and laugh. Yup, slow. I got almost halfway through the steel running the drill in reverse. Now that's what I call progress.

(photos below to show I'm not doing it all alone -I've had some amazing help from friends and family!)

 

 Everything is easier with a smiling Michelle around to lighten the load...and a backwards baseball cap wearing dad, of course..

Everything is easier with a smiling Michelle around to lighten the load...and a backwards baseball cap wearing dad, of course..

 Norah, my sweet little niece, giving some best practice advice on how to use the table saw.

Norah, my sweet little niece, giving some best practice advice on how to use the table saw.

 When you really need help, be thankful that the Naval Academy is nearby. Rhett, a fellow Iowan (I count myself in there) is my building buddy!

When you really need help, be thankful that the Naval Academy is nearby. Rhett, a fellow Iowan (I count myself in there) is my building buddy!



"The First Line on Paper is Less"

From Louis Kahn:

    A young architect came to ask a question. "I dream of spaces full of wonder. Spaces that rise and envelop flowingly without beginning, without end, of a jointless material white and gold. When I place the first line on paper to capture the dream, the dream becomes less."

    This is a good question. I once learned that a good question is greater than the most brilliant answer.

    This is a question of the unmeasurable and the measurable. Nature, physical nature, is measurable.  Feeling and dream has no measure, has no language, and everyone's dream is singular.

    Everything that is made however obeys the laws of nature. The man is always greater than his works because he can never fully express his aspirations. For to express oneself in music or architecture is by the measurable means of composition or design. The first line on paper is already a measure of what cannot be expressed fully. The first line on paper is less.

excerpt from "Voice of America - Louis I. Kahn. Recorded November 19, 1960" folder, Box LIK 53, Louis I. Kahn Collection, University of Pennsylvania and Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. 

And no matter how many times I draw that line, or no matter where it lives on paper - once translated to built form, that line really is less. It's less because it doesn't measure REALITY. It doesn't measure the size of the screw vs the size of the bit available and the capacity of the driver. It doesn't measure the imperceptible shift from one side of the trailer to the other of 1/16", and the gap that creates. It doesn't measure the fact that plywood is sold at 23/32" rather than 3/4", and 1x2's are sold at not 3/4" by 1 1/2" but .656" x 1.468". . And it doesn't measure my expectation that I will save 23/32" in height by putting in 10x the labor. Must recalibrate from thinking as Architect (tolerances to the 1/64") to thinking as Builder (tolerances...to the, yeah, ok, to the inch.)

It's progressing, but slowly. I haven't yet hit a stride.  Time off for planting flowers and vegetables and digging up jerusalem artichokes which are impressive space suckers! Time off for moving from DC to Annapolis to live next door to the tiny, and time off for preparing a place to move into. Time off for imitating Andy Warhol at a Stone Source party, where my friend and colleague Brooke introduced me to the Countertop Of Lillu's Dreams. These things complete (except for garden love, of course), time back to tiny.

 "Dad, do you think it's important if we put down a subfloor, or can we just skip that part?" jk.

"Dad, do you think it's important if we put down a subfloor, or can we just skip that part?" jk.

 

 

 

 

Indecision Is A Decision: Part Two

I've been asked to supplement the previous detail to make it more clear, so here goes.

See below:

 Tiny House Trailer Plan and Section

Tiny House Trailer Plan and Section

 Section Through Existing Trailer, as provided

Section Through Existing Trailer, as provided

 Section Through Trailer with Proposed Waterproofing (this is the part I'm not sure about), Insulation and Flooring

Section Through Trailer with Proposed Waterproofing (this is the part I'm not sure about), Insulation and Flooring

 

 

Indecision Is A Decision

I've only just begun, if I can even say that, it's so...minute. That's a better word, actually. I've only minutely begun, and already I'm visited by doubt with each decision. Doubt and I have gotten to know each other quite well over time, so I'm pretty familiar with its face. Only certain events invite its presence, and something like starting to build a house on wheels seems like one of those situations it would naturally gravitate toward. So here we are, together, minutely starting to build a house.

And this is the first element of minutiae: screw removal. Almost 300 of them, to be precise, and the question that lingers is: why? The thought "don't work harder than you have to" is keeping doubt company through this introductory exercise, but easier options aren't necessarily better choices. The purchased trailer came with the treated 1x lumber in this photo, which is great, but not necessarily directly underneath where I will be brewing coffee every morning (would you like milk with that? sugar? maybe a little arsenic?). But more to the immediate point, it would be difficult to insulate from underneath, and I want to add radiant tubing to the mix. Height is a limiting factor, so the floor sandwich has to remain as compressed as possible.

unscrewing.jpg

So my solution is to remove the 1x's, and build it like this detail here:

 The Floor as a Sammich

The Floor as a Sammich


But with each screw tossed into its temporary holding bin, that solution seemed less and less obvious. Doubt has officially received, and accepted, its dinner invitation. Am I making unnecessary work? Won't this wood off-gas enough before I occupy the space above it? (sorry earth) And would it really be that hard to install insulation from below? And, to top it off, what's the best way to waterproof this thing?? Hey architects, builders, and general know-howers: how would you do it?


The Calm Before the Storm

There are a hundred things to attempt to convey, none of which are directly relative, but all of which are (in one brain, anyway) important. The trailer will be delivered in less than a week, and at that point there's no choice but to begin. So, to begin, let's start with a simple prelude... This post is an introduction to ideas to be explored through the building process. More will show up, and some will prove to be less interesting than they seem now. While the build will be clearly documented on this site (and that's the main focus!) the merits of which toilet is a better choice or which trailer to buy will not be a primary avenue of exploration, and that is mainly because there are so many excellent resources out there for that information (many many of which have been applied to this house, and it is indebted to!)

Otherwise, there are any number of ideas that come to the surface in such an endeavor- ripe for exploration. This tiny house build marks TRANSITION. Of course it does; it's a house on wheels. Can you think of a more difficult dichotomy for an architect? But this transition is going to be explored through built form, and that seems something worth recording - to see what comes of it. The design explores PROPORTION. It explores the possibility of COMBINE-ABILITY, a non-word that should clearly be a word, and how a house can grow as a person or family does - physically, mentally, psychologically (not the house. the people). It explores the ROLE OF TINY HOUSES in the housing market. In fact, HOUSING in general, in Western culture. And to be more specific, it will look at things like the role WINDOWS play - meaning fenestration, not as in Windows vs. Apple's Yosemite, which is my preference but not of any consequence here. This is something not often discussed in many contexts. We think of windows as giving us access to our surroundings, but sometimes I see them as agents in separation - safely keeping us from actually inhabiting our surroundings. And this build will explore SPACE - how it's used, how it's ignored, and what difference does it make anyway?

This tiny house build is, if not clear yet, an exploration, and if something worthwhile comes of it, then...it's an opportunity.

Here's to opportunity!