If the homes on the upcoming AIA Triangle 2012 Residential Architecture Tour are any indication, then the era of the McMansion is over.
As in finis. Kaput. Dead as a doornail, its obituary written by the recession.
Were seeing architects helping people find good, tailored solutions on a lowered budget, said Jon Zellweger of Clearscapes, co-chair of this years tour, the third in a row sponsored by AIA Triangle.
Regardless of the budget, all are frugal, said Roberto de Leon, chair of the six-architect jury from Kentucky that selected this years winning homes. Theyre efficient in what they were asked to accomplish, and quite meticulous.
The six award-winners on the Oct. 6 tour were culled from 12 entries submitted by local architectural firms. Four are renovations/additions, one replaced a tear-down and the other was built on five acres. The jury selected homes that were clearly the result of value-based conversations between architects and clients during tough economic times.
This is not about an architect in a cape walking in and saying Voila! de Leon said. Its a dialogue.
Louis Cherry of Ratio Architects in Raleigh pointed to a push to improve existing homes and not build new.
We tried to build smaller and more modestly, Cherry said about the Ferguson-Crowther residence he designed. People are coming to their senses about how much is enough.
The homes represented are a diverse crop. Some are for couples. Others are for families. But all are designed to respond to the clients needs and desires.
Our assignment was to look at the existing home and evaluate how it can best meet the needs of a growing family with young children, Cherry said, of the home in Raleighs Fallon Park neighborhood near Five Points. We wanted to create a stylish, modern home in an older neighborhood.
In nearly all of the tours homes, opening up interior spaces for daylighting and linking them to exterior landscapes was key. In the case of Stone Ridge, a redesigned 1980s kit house in Chapel Hill, that meant lifting the roof of a single-story home, installing a clerestory window and creating a two-story structure.
But theres a natural tension between openness and intimacy one large kitchen/living/dining area can become cavernous, rather than human in scale.
The idea is to create smaller retreat spaces, so that you dont feel like youre in a museum, said Erin Lewis of Raleighs in situ studio, the firm behind the redesign of Stone Ridge. Once you start to think about three dimensions, like the ceiling height in the kitchen and the placement of materials, then its not this big, high, grand and echo-y kind of space.
In the Gimghoul district of Chapel Hill, Durham architect Tom Lotter of Belk Architecture renovated not just a home, but its exterior terraces too. Then he created two single-car garages to frame a gateway into the backyard, with a human scale reminiscent of Colonial Williamsburg.
A lot of thought went into incorporating the kitchen into entertainment and family space, he said. And there was a drive to provide outdoor entertainment.
The sustainability ethic plays into the designs as well, and its articulated across the board on the AIA tour. Todays cost of energy in both currency and human lives demands it.
I hate that term, sustainability, said John Reese of Weinstein Friedlein Architects in Raleigh. But its about being energy-conscious.
His Banbury residence near Wade Avenue in Raleigh embraces the idea. It uses geothermal wells for heating and cooling, a cistern to collect rainwater for landscape and lap pool, and structural insulated panels for roof and walls.
It was somewhat pre-fabbed, he said. It took two days and a crane to pop it up.
That was no small feat. The new residence was erected atop the footprint of a tiny 1960s brick home that had been torn down. Reese wanted to leave the existing pine trees, which had grown to maturity. They were old growth pines, there since the subdivision was created, he said. Its an undulating landscape very Southern and very Raleigh-esque.
And the new home is very modern. It may use the same backyard as the original house, but it employs a Frank Lloyd Wright-like promenade from its auto court out front, one that leads past a courtyard to the entrance at the side of its southern exposure. Opaque from the street, its flooded with natural light on the interior thanks to a wall of windows on its eastern exposure. It frames the pine trees and the sky, so you get a sense of what the North Carolina environment is like, he said.
At 2,500 square feet, its the smallest home on the tour. The largest is Ratios Ferguson-Crowther residence, at 4,500 square feet. The rest fall somewhere in between.
Technically then, some might cover the same square footage as a McMansion. But unlike those oversized and often poorly proportioned homes of the past, these six possess both the music and the words of very fine design.
Its a balancing act, Cherry said. What makes a space exciting is the dramatic use of materials, with scale and texture all the things that make architecture wonderful.
J. Michael Welton writes about architecture, art and design for national and international publications. He also publishes an online design magazine at architectsandartisans.com.