EZG Manufacturing
Federated Insurance
Fraco USA, Inc.
Hohmann and Barnard, Inc.
Husqvarna Construction Products N.A.
Hydro Mobile, Inc.
iQ Power Tools
Kennison Forest Products, Inc.
Mortar Net Solutions
Non-Stop Scaffolding
Southwest Scaffolding
Tradesmen's Software, Inc.
February 5, 2001 12:21 PM CST

Phoenix Rises from the Ashes


On January 14, 1998, my family’s worst night-mare became a reality. At 5:30 a.m., my wife, two children, and I awoke to fire. Although the fire department responded immediately, the wood frame home was destroyed within fifteen minutes.

Having known only that home and neighbor-hood, my family was determined to rebuild at the same location. As an architect, I wanted to make my home maintenance free and fireproof. Masonry was an obvious choice. Our challenge was to build a new home to meet our immediate and future needs, while blending in with the other 1950s ranch style homes of our neighborhood. One of the biggest concerns with our previous home was its solar orientation. Large pic-ture windows on the long axis of the struc-ture faced west, so drapes had to be drawn most of the day. The solution was to develop an overall scheme of separate "fingers."

The one-story private wing (bedrooms, study, and baths) sits on the existing foundation facing the street. Constructed of light gauge steel framing with brick veneer faade, flat roof, and punched industrial steel windows, this section blends well with the surrounding homes. But around back, a more minimalist approach evolved. The new story-and-a-half-high public area faces south along a major east-west axis, and joins to the rest of the home by intersecting near the midpoint of the private quarters. The new section is constructed of architectural concrete masonry units (CMUs), portland cement stucco, and glass (or diffused lighting panels) infilling a steel and heavy timber structural frame. Capping off everything is an arched, 1-1/2-in.-thick, 2 x 6 tongue-and-groove wood deck and standing seam roof of galvanized steel. A unifying element, the steel is also used as a fascia at the flat roof in the front.

These new components join exterior and interior. For the CMU walls, the warm gray color is carried over to the mortar to provide a monochromatic appearance. Raked joints - which were given special attention for proper filling, especially at corners - helped express the individual masonry units. The warm color and rough texture of the CMU and sections of exposed concrete floors provide a dramatic contrast with the more refined maple cabinets, granite, hardwood flooring, and drywall. Interior and exterior use of natural mate-rials afforded an elegant yet casual feeling. The house was designed on a strict 4-ft by 4-ft module, which resulted in minimal waste. The loadbearing CMU walls are two 4-in. wythes with 2-in. cavity, 1-in. rigid insulation, and reinforced bond beams installed at roof joist bearings and at the top of the parapet.

Two of the most dramatic elements of the house are the CMU walls and curved roof. From the interior, the roof and laminated beams resemble the ribbed hull of a ship, while the CMU walls look like stand-alone stone sculptures. The free-standing wall sections and flat roofs are separated by steel and glass, forming individual elements and creating a more human scale.

Between the high end of the curved roof and low flat roof is a clerestory of steel windows and fiber-glass shoji style panels. The 4-ft overhang shades in the summer, while the clerestory affords light from the south in the winter, which allowed us to take advantage of passive solar heat gain using the interior CMU walls and exposed concrete floors. High glass and diffused-light panels also provide day lighting (we avoid artificial lights during the day), while resembling a Japanese lantern at night. The design works well to moderate the building's temperature, not just for passive heating, but also for cooling. Low and high operable steel win-dows provide natural ventilation, while the CMU cavity wall insulates well. The inner wythe remains very cool even when temperatures soar outside.

The masonry allows plant materials to be placed close to the house for our ever-in-progress land-scaping. In a courtyard off the dining area, vines are being trained to grow up the wall. Interior and exterior CMUs, in conjunction with the large expanses of glass, make interior living and nature one. In the end, the total aesthetic will impart an eastern tranquility, in keeping with the major design principles of Feng Shui, which was used in the home’s spatial arrangements. Lever hardware, 3-ft-wide doors, a ramped rear entrance, and other amenities will afford us many years of comfort in this home. Though my family will never forget the pain of that January morning, we have risen from the ashes to a far more functional, fire-resistant, and comfortable environment in which to live our lives.

About the Author

Thomas Crowder, AIA, NCARB is the President of ARCHITEKTUR, P.A.


Related Articles

More Masonry Headlines

“The MCAA is perfectly suited to provide webinars and other training resources.”

Todd Witmer
The Witmer Group
MCAA member since 1995

Learn More