Q: What does the architect say? A: Massing

Today's word is massing. Building massing refers to the three-dimensional forms which comprise a structure. Massing, for example, can be compact, charaterized by forms tightly arranged around a central form, or winged, in which forms branch off in a wing-like fashion, or perhaps linear, in which forms are aligned, or nearly aligned, end to end.

Generally, architects aim to balance massing. Ideally massing is legible, such that the distinct forms communicate meaning in relation to each other. You may be familiar with the book Big House, Little House, Back House, Barn: The Connected Farm Buildings of New England. It illustrates the connected massing of 19th century farm buildings in which the Big House, which was the main house, could be understood in relation the Little House, which might comprise a kitchen, to the Back House, which might contain additional space for in-home industry like cheese making, to the Barn which was the primary location for agrarian enterprise. The arrangement of the massing of these distinct elements communicated what happened within each component and the relation of each to the other.

In the image above of the West Tisbury House, we arranged the massing of the home such that three overlapping gable forms of different height and width communicate a similar hierarchy of sorts. The distant tallest gable contains the main house (Big House); the one and one-half story gable to the left is the Little House (kitchen and more); the single-story gable to the right is the Back House (ancillary living space); And, in this example, there is no Barn. 

When designing a home, massing is one of the first characteristics an architect considers.

by Katie Hutchison for House Enthusiast

Posted on Monday, November 25, 2013 at 4:24PM by Registered CommenterKatie Hutchison in | Comments Off

Q: What does the architect say? A: Enfilade

You may have seen the curiously captivating "What does the fox say?" viral video created by Ylvis, a pair of Norwegian brothers. It may have gotten you wondering in earnest, "What does the fox say?" Or, "Why don't I know what the fox says?" I'm not trying to get existential on you. The song got me thinking about another creature whose method of communication may seem elusive to others. Yup, the architect.

So with this post, I'm starting a new House Enthusiast category to help demystify and clarify some of the more elusive terms that residential architects bandy about. I don't want to squander time delving into esoteric archispeak. I want to focus, instead, on terms that are actually meaningful and might benefit you to know as you work on your residential or other creative architecture project.

Let's get started. Today's word is enfilade. Rooms are enfilade when openings (generally doorways) in a series of rooms are arranged along a continuous axis such that there is a view through the openings, ideally to a distant vista. This can be both a useful way-finding circulation device and an enticement to draw occupants through connected spaces to a rewarding view or daylight. In the example above at the Yarmouth Port Antique Cape Renovation/Addition, we positioned the new doorway to the new kitchen addition, which is a couple of steps below the main living level, so that folks in the now more distant original dining room would be visually connected to the kitchen path and the backyard view. In general, circulating through openings in rooms, rather than hallways, offers a more rewarding, expansive experience to those making the journey. Interestingly, dictionary.com informs me that in french "enfilade" comes from "enfiler" meaning "to thread on a string, pierce from end to end".

Stay tuned to House Enthusiast in coming weeks for future posts about other meaningful architectural terms, and don't hesitate to email me Katie@katiehutchison.com about a term that you'd like me to address in What does the architect say?.

by Katie Hutchison for House Enthusiast

Posted on Wednesday, November 13, 2013 at 10:27AM by Registered CommenterKatie Hutchison in | Comments Off

Design snapshot: Rockin' red shed

Many antique structures (and some inspired newer ones) are painted a single, deep, bold color. Instead of relying on multiple exterior colors to differentiate the various component elements, such structures rely on texture and depth to communicate order.

Here, wide tongue-and-groove boards establish a field of horizontal relief which clearly reads as siding, and is differentiated from thick trim boards, proud slatted shutters, and doors comprised of vertical tongue-and-groove panels framed within crisp stiles and rails. A clipped rake and a short eave are just deep enough to cast shadow lines. The result is a taut, nuanced, rockin' red shed.

by Katie Hutchison for House Enthusiast

Posted on Wednesday, October 30, 2013 at 6:35PM by Registered CommenterKatie Hutchison in | Comments Off

Design snapshot: Board-and-batten garage and connector

All too often our garages appear to receive only cursory design attention, as if we've only a finite supply of design energy, which our homes have exhausted. Not this spunky garage.

There's a lot to like about it. First, it's modestly sized. Its single stall is clearly subordinate to the main house, as a garage should be. Its casual Scandinavian-like board-and-batten siding and gable roof complement the main house's French Second-Empire-inspired tidy clapboards and sophisticated Mansard roof, rather than mimic or ignore them. Its yellow exterior body color and white trim visually tie it to the main house. And the green garage-door surround kicks up the garage's playful vibe.

My one complaint is with the intermediate space between the main house and the garage. Though I appreciate that a one-story, flat-roofed, recessed structure can be an appropriate connector between the two, I wish it had been better differentiated as a distinct entity. Ideally it would have been more transparent, either screened or glassed in, but perhaps it functions as a utility work or private living space; in which case, I'd have clad it in white-cedar shingles stained a natural color like the garage doors.

In any case, this ensemble is in lively conversation.

by Katie Hutchison for House Enthusiast

Posted on Thursday, October 17, 2013 at 2:36PM by Registered CommenterKatie Hutchison | Comments Off

Design snapshot: Self-assured symmetry

I just watched East of Eden this weekend, the c. 1955 Hollywood interpretation of a portion of Steinbeck's classic, which recalls Cain and Abel -- with James Dean as Cal (Cain) and someone else as Aaron (Abel). They're brothers vying for their father's affection. Well, Cal thinks their vying, when, truly, Aaron has already, long ago, handily won. Aaron has it all: confidence, good looks, a solid reputation, a balanced ease, support of the establishment. Poor Cal is the seeming opposite of Aaron, in all respects save the looks department. You might (if you're a House Enthusiast) even compare their attributes to those of symmetry and asymmetry.

What is it with symmetry, so sure of itself, so solid, so relentless, so balanced, so attractive, so established, so lauded, so trusted, so good, so Aaron? This Georgian could be the poster child for symmetry. It's a self-assured delight. How we enjoy the parade of double-hung windows and the march of stone treads, railing, and balustrade emanating out equally from the center of the door and pediment. What pleasure we take from the repeated shadows cast by the matching sconces, thick sills, and proud window heads. How comfortable we are with a countenance that's symmetrical like our own.

But fear not, asymmetry has its strengths, too. It's the underdog, less established, less trusted. But it, too, can posses its own unique kind of balance. It can be less relentless and more open as a result. It can win your trust. And it can be uniquely attractive; take a look at Cal (James Dean); he's redeemed in the end. He just needs someone to believe in him. I'll keep my eyes peeled for a worthy asymmetrical "Design snapshot" to share, if only for Cal's sake.

by Katie Hutchison for House Enthusiast 

Posted on Monday, October 7, 2013 at 10:36AM by Registered CommenterKatie Hutchison in | Comments Off