All posts by Keith

Renovation – What to consider

It seems like these days, most people are considering renovating rather than starting from scratch.   If you are one of these individuals,  here is a list of things you should consider before getting started on the process.

  1. Depending on the extent of the renovation, you may need to consider moving out for a while during construction.  It’s messy, loud, and downright inconvenient.
  2. It is IMPOSSIBLE for a contractor to prepare an accurate accounting of the costs necessary to complete the project due to the unknowns that are inherent with every renovations.
  3. If you can limit the amount of destruction done to the existing structure, your invested money will have a greater return.
  4. Hire a design professional  who has experience with renovations, especially if the work is going to be extensive.  It’s always good to have an advocate who understands the process and can help you interpret the pricing.
  5. Hire a contractor with experience in renovations.  Don’t hire just anybody with the best price. The cost up front is often not the price at the end!!

As you move forward with your renovation, know up front that there will likely be cost overruns and a few hassles along the way.  Just keep envisioning yourself in the completed space and know that the dust will eventually settle.

Get in the Flow!

When one designs a group of spaces, it is extremely important to understand the movements that will occur within the space.  This is often referred to as “flow”.  Occupants are seldom, if ever motionless.  Key questions to ask when designing or modifying an existing space are:

- How many occupants at a time will occupy this space?  If this is a large number, have multiple ways individuals can come and go.
- Are there any dead end paths?
- Are there pockets for small group interactions?
- Do natural circulation paths cross through the center of interaction zones?  If they do… change the route!

Most of us non-military types walk in the paths of least resistance, not much different then my dogs do as they head out across the well traveled path to greet my neighbor’s dog Jake.  These travel paths should not be cluttered or be places where groups of people would likely gather to interact.

Proper flow is a key element of how successful a space will eventually function.  Keep it in mind…

So where is it that you enter the building anyway?

What comes to mind first as the answer to this question is just the word “door”.  The bigger the door, the grander the entry.  The feelings experienced when entering a structure are often dictated by how the entry is juxtaposed  with other elements of the building.  My preference when creating an entry is to make it a sequence, not an abrupt transition. For a church, the sequence starts when the members and guests enter the property. A clear path to their destination must be evident, especially for the first time visitor. Once parked, the members will follow a path leading to a courtyard, situated in front of the chapel, and surrounded by the ancillary portions of the structure.  The hierarchy of building massing should be evident and scaled according to the priority of usages.  The courtyard becomes the first “room” entered.  It is a place where those attending are embraced by the structure, felt protected, and welcomed gradually into the sanctuary. It is a place to be, not just a path to the front door.  By providing an area of roof over the primary entry doors, the members are protected from the elements, and covered by the structure.  Large glass doors lead into the Narthex where the space’s scale is similar to that of the covered porch area, and reflective of the Sanctuary yet to come.

The entry sequence must be a gradual transition into the structure and mimic what the greeters do each Sunday morning.  It must welcome, embrace, and provide a sense of security to all that attend.

Interpreting the Prime Directive

The crew of the Starship Enterprise used the “Prime Directive” document as their guideline for dealing with any encounter with alien species.  Although my job is not nearly as exciting as space travel, I have utilized many different prime directives to guide me through the complicated process of design.
     Each time I start a custom project, I ask the client to summarize their project in one sentence.  In Star Trek terms, it is the prime directive I must abide by during the design process.  The reason I require this is so that I have a common anchor for which all design aspects can be attached.  Without this, the design could end up going in many directions at once, leaving nothing but attached spaces, drifting in their own direction.
     Recently, the Chapel in the Pines committee came up with the following statement about their new facility.


“Chapel in the Pines reflects God’s majesty by being in harmony with its surroundings, welcoming to its community and aesthetically original.”


     The first key phrase within this sentence is “being in harmony with it’s surroundings“.  So the question is, how does this get applied to architectural design?  There must be a transparency, a blending of interior and exterior spaces. The structure must sit quietly within the pines, and respect the environmental impact of the developed area by minimizing site alterations such as grading, and tree removal.  Design elements should mimic those found in nature.
     Next comes “welcoming to its community“.  In a way, this is similar to the first phrase except that it refers to how the structure will be in harmony with people.   There must be a gradual transition from out to in, and be of human scale in order to make it welcoming to the community.  Spaces must be created to encourage interaction, contemplation, and worship.  First time visitors must not be confused, but naturally drawn to their destination.
     “Aesthetically original” indicates a desire to be unique.  This feature will be guided by the phrases “harmony with surroundings” and “welcoming to its community” So in this case, unique is not odd, but a steady appropriate structure worthy of being called a chapel in the pines.   

Meaning – what exactly is that?

The more I think about adding “Meaning” to the Chapel in the Pines project, the more I have asked the question “what is meaning exactly?”.  When something is meaningful to me, it is often something that reminds me of a pleasant experience in my past.  It is like a key that opens the door to a fading memory. I have a pair of crazy pants (set me back $2) which I purchased in Agua Caliente, the town at the base of Machu Picchu in Peru.  Although they are basically worthless to anyone else, every time I see or wear them, I am reminded of the awesome trip I had with my father, brother, and nephew.  There are also meaningful symbols, especially in the Christian faith.  The cross being the most obvious.  I must find those symbols that are most important to the Chapel’s congregation and incorporate them in a sensitive manner appropriate to their importance.  The other type of meaning is the meaning that is yet to be created. The space created, both inside and out, must be places that encourage meaning to be created.  Friendships, baptisms, weddings, special celebrations are but a few of the events in members lives that all will carry meaning along with them.

Meaning in architecture is not just about finding what is meaningful from the past, or incorporating symbols into the present design but also creating spaces that will become meaningful in the future.

The Meaning of Meaning in Architecture

One of the most rewarding thing for me as an architect to do is design a space with integrated meaning throughout.  I recently have begun working on a local church starting from the ground up.  The opportunity to integrate the beliefs of the congregation into the architecture is everywhere, from site design to individual space considerations. Although congregations lean heavily toward tradition for ceremony, there is a great opportunity to enhance ones individual experience of tradition by having the architecture respond in a sensitive, immersive way.  As this project continues to develop, new posts will address just how meaning is being incorporated into the “Chapel in the Pines” project.

A Bright Idea – Article published in the November issue of Blueprint Magazine

More often than not, deciding on the lighting pattern for a new home becomes the responsibility of an electrician with a giant marker in one hand and an extremely tight budget in the other. Function becomes the rule that governs, leaving design out in the dark. This process tends to be the norm because many have not been in a residence that has a professionally designed lighting system.

Experiencing one of these environments should cause one to think twice before relying on an electrician to design a lighting system. Sure, function is important, but a properly designed lighting scheme will do more to affect the end user’s environment than any other aspect of the home. Lighting prevails as the most critical aspect of making a home comfortable. In his book, “The Art of Lighting: An International Profile of Home Design” Randall Whitehead describes lighting’s importance. “Lighting influences the appearance, tone, and impression of every single object or space in a house through how it is lighted. It can make or break the overall ambiance of a residential interior.”

Thanks to the development of new technologies in lighting and controls, our options are nearly limitless. LED’s (light emitting diodes) , fluorescents, halogens, and incandescent lights give lighting specialists the ability to provide many different lighting schemes in a home. Numerous lighting control packages are also available on the mark
et that can meet the simple or complex needs of any client. As an architect, I am convinced that the spaces created in my office will not reach their fullest design potential without lighting integrated into the design process. If you do not have a lighting designer available in your area, find one from out of town. In the end, the money spent will be well worth it. Although most projects have an overall budget, if a lighting design package is not included, adjust the priorities to include this important aspect of your home design. This does not mean that extra money needs to be spent on the project but rather shifts the available funds from an area of less priority.

To understand some basic principles of lighting design so there is common ground when beginning to work with a lighting designer should be viewed as extremely important. Here are a few concepts that will bring a better understanding of why lighting develops into such a key element in the design of a home. Having
three distinct elements of lighting layers should be considered vital when transforming a space into something special. Each layer has a specific role, and if one is left out, the space’s potential seems lost. Great rooms, family rooms, master bedrooms and kitchens all benefit tremendously when designers utilize this technique.
Task lighting provides enough illumination to accomplish what we have set out to do, whether reading, cooking, or doing a craft. These sources of light tend to be close to the task (such as table lamps or under cabinet lighting in the kitchen). Recessed ceiling down lights can be used for this layer as well, but we often specify the actual bulb, or “lamp” as it is called in the industry, to be a specific beam spread, and wattage. Not meant to provide illumination throughout the space, this lighting only focuses on the task oriented areas.
Ambient lighting can be described as the general illumination that fills a space. This type of lighting can come from many sources, including the natural daylight that enters through windows and skylights. All light sources contribute to this layer. This collective ambience surrounds you and frees you of glare or harsh shadows. By using an indirect source of light, a general ambiance can be created and controlled independently. If using a light tray configuration, the fixture selection should have enough wattage/foot to fill the room with an adequate level of light. Low voltage linear lighting or dimmable fluorescents having electronic ballasts are the best options for trays. Rope lighting will only provide a very low level of ambient light. A few LED products on the market today are being specified by lighting designers. To have more wattage than you need should be considered the best design as well as being able to dim the lights to the desired level. This allows for flexibility in lighting levels, and also dramatically increases the life of the lamps.

In this bedroom photograph, task lighting over each side of the bed provides reading lights, and the tray light provides general room ambience.



















Lighting Design – Crampton Lighting Design.

Accent lighting is considered the icing on the cake. Crystal begins to sparkle, paintings come alive, and the natural beauty of a flower arrangement draws your eye towards it. Drama and subtle elegance become aspects of the space. To be effective, accent lighting only needs to be brighter than its surroundings. As an example, this hall is lit entirely with accent lighting. Rather than using the typical can lights aimed at the floor, directional low voltage cans were used to accent the owner’s artwork.

Lighting Design- Crampton Lighting Design
Once these basic elements of lighting design have been addressed, incorporating a control system provides the ability to create multiple lighting scenes and to have access to them through dedicated switches. Setting up these scenes is accomplished by creatively mixing the layers of light. For example, if you are looking for a soft, intimate scene, the lighting level will be lower, emphasis will be on the accent lights, and the ambient light will be dimmed.

Most lighting control solutions have each layer of light as a grouping, controlled by one switch. Linking lights together (i.e. all of the task lighting or all of the accent lights) allows us to have greater control when setting up the various scenes for a room. To take this even further, accent lights can be linked with other accent lights located within visual range of the room. This creates a visual connection to the surrounding environment and expands the scene being created. Planning these scenes is most effectively done during the design process.

These are just a few of the design concepts involved in the creation of a successful lighting design package. Many technical specifications for fixtures, transformers, color temperatures, and lamp selections are part of the design process as well. By planning with a lighting design professional, you can be assured that your product will be enhanced to its fullest potential.

Habitat for Humanity Outing

The Design Team at Shaw Design Associates spent the day working on the 100th Habitat for Humanity house that was built in Chatham County.  Along side us were homeowners from Governors Club, some of which are past clients of ours.  It was a great experience getting our hands dirty, and picking up a few blisters along the way.  There is nothing like a little practical experience to make us better at drawing on the computers.  In the field, things are not near as crisp and straight as they are in the field.  To see more photos, click on the title to link to the Shaw Design Associates Facebook page.

Stairs – Form and Function – A Balancing Act


Form and Function are the primary elements in all design solutions.  It is a given that we must weigh the cost of every decision we make, balancing the aesthetic values with those pertaining to cost. If we make the choice to locate a staircase in the entryway, we also make the choice to spend an increasing proportion of the overall budget on this staircase.  Form becomes much more important as the stair becomes not only functional, but beautiful as well.  The staircase shown here not only sets the tone for the home, it also provides a niche which embraces the owner’s grand piano.  The reason most staircases found in colonial style homes are straight run is due to fact that function and cost efficiency have guided the design process.  When discussing your needs for a staircase, deal with it early on in the design process.  It is a very important aspect of your home and should meet both your aesthetic and functional needs.

The Stair Series: Treading Up and Down in Comfort

The limits of tread depth and riser height are established in the International Residential Code (IRC). Treads can be no less than 10 inches deep and risers can be no greater than 7 ¾ inches high. However, following these guidelines does not necessarily guarantee a comfortable stair. 

Early civilizations did not have codes to limit their stair configurations. Some early stairways would literally take your breath away! The steps of the Pyramid of the Sun in Mexico have a basic riser height of 11” and a tread depth of less than that. When climbing this stair as a teenager, I experienced discomfort at about the 3rd riser up.
On the other extreme is a stair located in the home of the Winchester Rifle company heiress, Sarah Winchester. Along with the numerous design elements meant to confuse ghosts, Mrs. Winchester had a problem with lifting up her feet very far. (http://www.winchestermysteryhouse.com/index.cfm) To make it easy for her to climb the stairs, she had the contractor build one of her staircases with 2” risers. It took over 50 steps to travel to the next floor! When I climbed this staircase, it was as close to a futile effort that I have ever come on a staircase. It only took one step to feel discomfort and falling down this set of stairs would take forever!!
A comfortable stair has riser height ranges from 6.5 to 7.5” and has a tread depth from 11 to 12”. The trade-off for stair comfort is the floor space lost from adding extra risers and depth to the treads. If, for example, all of the home’s bedrooms are on the upper floor, the need for stair comfort is a key design consideration since traveling up and down occurs numerous times each and every day. 
When contemplating a new staircase, consider comfort as well as where to place it in your home or business.