Seattle Shotgun: House

11.29.10: Seattle shotgun is already Future Shack. Perhaps the new small is only one idea of living in a city with an historic urban residential fabric. Little jewel boxes may not be the best way to living more densely, or being resource-efficient. I may take this thead up and look more at my passions: adpative-reuse and mixed-use urban infill.


No. 1: 26th Ave NE

In this City, notable for its neighborhoods of single family homes, a hundred years worth, the new small have been the most interesting to me.

It’s a case of which came first, the artist or the patron: there is certainly a lot of ‘Design’ per capita here, and the patronage to consume it/demand it. Or some might say that my perception of Seattle is such, for having just come from a design-starved-low-demand region of the country?

That Seattle is a place where design is mainstreamed has its pros and cons. Can everyone be the artist? Is design within reach of everyone really pushing the envelope? Because can you really reinvent the wheel? Big ideas have come from this place: Boeing, Microsoft, Amazon, Starbucks, and so on. So maybe there’s a case to be made for the creative class here. And why even small houses come bundled with such big aspirations.

Somebody said to me recently, “So you’re an Architect, huh? Attorneys and Architects, this town’s full of ’em.”

No. 2: Ravenna Ave NE

I am reminded of a colleague (he was in charge of IT, did 3D modeling and digital renderings) who left architecture for the video gaming industry (which has its own moral trappings). He said two things that will stick with me for the rest of my career: he was tired of drawing pretty pictures (renderings) for his bosses and he was tired of how the building industry (especially shoddy new construction) was simply just adding to the landfills.

There is also the saying: less is more. It is obvious that small is less too, but there is a chance there may be more in these little gems also (ref. the not so big house movement) ie. meaningful intimacy vs. meaningless status space like the 2 story entry foyer or the 20 ft. living room ceilings – love or hate him, David Brooks wrote an article recently in the NYTIMES that comes to mind), quality vs. quantity, consumption and energy/resource sustainability.

The economy is a factor again, as if all of a sudden. Maybe less has cache because we’re going to have to get used to the new paradigm. Brooks and everyone else, Red, Blue and Green, talk about a Society losing its way in so many ways. The new small shows us, by Design, how we could influence change by our choices and priorities, about our domesticity, transportation (for choosing an infill site, knock down or reno. in an established urban infrastructure over greenfield), the myriad of other patterns and habits of consumption (local food movements, COOPs, CSAs, proximity to goods and services), and so on.

No. 3: Mercer Island

Mercer Island is not quite in the NE ‘hood but I share the 900sf lake house by Hutchison + Maul that exemplifies both the design and patronage thread while setting off another about the City of haves and have mores.

And by contrast, c/o a friend in Baltimore after sharing with me pictures of small Maine, a certain Miss Rumphius came to mind, and her: what will I see when I travel the world, how will I leave this world a better place, and where by the sea can I imagine spending the rest of my life? The Maine Coast is neither in the ‘hood nor necessarily any more ‘accessible’ than lakerfront Mercer Island property so is ‘idyllic’ regional? What is a student of Architecture raised on Le Corbusier, Scarpa and Kahn, Brian MacKay-Lyons, Shim-Sutcliffe and Mockbee-Coker to do? Or is ‘quaint’ redefined by every generation? Are there lasting qualities to place irrespective of period architecture? Is architecture always about itself up to the point of design-saturation, permanent deflection?

Can a house-by-design embody the qualities of the family’s summer house with all its mis-matched silverware and mashed up memories tied up in real property? I do not either mean family picnics on a rock and calling it Fallingwater. Nor do I intend to romanticize the Vernacular. But can also a new, small yet poignant, urban vernacular emerge from the wreakage of the economy and accessible by more than just the spoils and follies of a few? Is there a fabric of our built environment and our lifetime of memories that can be repaired by design, contained and expressed by our brick and mortar, with or without a gorgeous view?

No. 4: Miss Rumphius

November, 2010: New construction? In this economy? In this neighborhood? Seattle keeps on ticking. Pb Elemental Design delivers another: the Z-House, in the neighborhood bound by Ravenna Park to the west and 25th Ave NE to the east.

No. 5: NE 24th St

The neighbors are all abuzz about this one: that the City said it must face the street not the alley, that it’s the first of 3 more, that it’s a spec. house. Pb said that the house was not spec. it’s custom, one of a kind and no others to be built on what looks like space for 2 more. 3 bedrooms/2,500sf is surprisingly small for new construction, a little big on the Rumphius-scale. A departure from the modest older houses on the block but seen in the bigger context of the new and the small, anything less would be, well, less.

Again not NE, but one from Queen Anne, from a UW studiomate with his own shop in town, Eggleston Farkas Architects, the Cavehill Residence, featuring some sweat equity and featured in Affordable Architecture: Great Houses on a Budget.

That’s what I’m talkin’ about. Good job Allan!

No. 6: Queen Anne

More from the neighborhood to come.

Stay tuned.