Archive for June 2012

Fitting a house for special needs   Leave a comment

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Fitting a house for special needs

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The raised house entrance requires climbing a hill of steps (outside and inside) before reaching  the main level of this house.  A new internal elevator (operated by a small electric traction motor) gets the residents from just inside the garage to the upper level kitchen and living area in just a few seconds.  No rooms were lost during the insertion of the elevator.

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“You saved our lives!” were literally the words spoken by a thankful couple who asked Dennis Kowal Architects to install an elevator in their modest split level home.  “We could no longer make the long trips up and down the stairs and would have to move out if something wasn’t done”.  But the couple loved their home and didn’t want to move, so a teamwork approach found just the space to add a two story elevator within the existing house with no loss of living space.  Interior designer, Susan Kowal, reorganized the house and furnishings to actually find more room and a safer pathway from car to kitchen using the newly installed elevator.   While the firm has helped other homeowners add elevators as an addition to the outside of the house, the artful insertion of an interior elevator was necessary because of the tight site and because the homeowners wanted to retain the beauty of their yard.   Without a team looking at everything from pipes to drapes, the inside elevator would not have been possible.

Dennis Kowal noted that home elevators still require a State Elevator Inspection upon completion just like the commercial ones; but they don’t need the deep elevator pits or special machine rooms. The elevator door is a normal swing type door and blends in with the other doors of the house and the elevator cab is perfect for carting groceries and other items between floors.

The owners explained “When your knees don’t cooperate on stairs anymore, the elevator saves the day. Our quality of life just increased and our home actually looks better because of their design.”


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The wood interior of the elevator cab matches the finishes in the house.   A variety of sizes from as small as 3’x3’ exist, but consideration must be given to whether a wheel chair or small moving cart needs to fit inside the cab as well.

A normal looking swing door conceals the second accordion glass elevator door. Both must be closed to operate the elevator which can safely carry 900 pounds.

Once a messy basement laundry room off the garage, now an elevator lobby and a neat laundry room.

 

To thank the project team (Steven Malyszka project designer, William Soltez project manager, Clarence Burshnic project builder and  Susan Kowal interior designer) the owners hosted an outdoor luncheon on one of those 100 degree days!  And yes, the elevator was used to bring the food and drinks down from the kitchen!

 
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DENNIS KOWAL ARCHITECTS loves to help people with their creativity.

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Posted June 27, 2012 by Dennis Kowal Architects in Special Needs Design

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Designing for Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)   2 comments

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Designing for Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

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The master plan for housing adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder includes 24 individual units, a recreation building, administrative offices and clinic. 
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Special needs providers sometimes differ on the approach to designing for those who are visually impaired, autistic, deaf, disabled, or otherwise atypical.   On the one hand, if you create an environment that is so special and customized, you risk making the individual dependent on the building and send the wrong message to society that this person can’t function without “crutches”.    On the other hand, if you say the best policy is to ask the individual to adapt to any building situation without changing the current building norms, you do no service to those with limited adaptation skills and you don’t advance the design practice as a whole.  Unfortunately, I have been in the middle of this argument many times by the various representative constituent groups I bring together for design retreats at the outset of a new special needs building design.   It has been our firm’s skill at walking this fine line that has led to our acceptance in the special needs community as an advocate and friend.

If a building is a training center or rehabilitation center, then a variety of building experiences with various levels of customization are in order.    In this way, the training center can prepare an individual for any level of outside world experience.  If the building is a permanent residence, then more customization can contribute to an improved daily experience.  For example, in our design for a residence of Adults with Autism, the users told us that the two most important considerations for them were light and sound.  While Autism is complex and can’t be narrowed down to two senses, it is sometimes helpful to at least address the most significant requests of the users.   The Autistic often can’t separate stimuli such as the background noise of an exhaust fan from music on the radio.  The overload would be comparable to trying to hear your cell phone while standing on the yellow line in the middle of a six lane highway.  Your only thought might be “Just get me out of here!”  So a place to retreat from too much light, too many sounds, or any overload, is not a crutch as much as a necessity.

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 A gazebo serves as a focal point for the therapy flower gardens and a place for informal peer interaction.  The arrival experience is much like any of the estates in the area. 

.                                  . Understanding the mind of the those who are developmentally disabled or have Autistic Spectrum Disorder requires letting go of preconceptions, re-thinking common design practices, and being guided by the needs of the user. 

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Unfortunately, much has been written about designing for special needs, but very little fact-based, post-occupancy research has been done on buildings designed for the Autistic.  That is why, we begin every design by visiting the best completed projects and interviewing the users to learn what works and what doesn’t.    I can remember a mistake I made twenty five years ago when my proposed townhouses design had two entry doors that were designed for Adults with Autism face each other under a cute little arched portico.  My Autistic friend (and an informal plan reviewer) balked at having to face someone else should they both leave their apartments at the same time on a bad day.  What was a delightful combined breezeway for me, was a potential threat for someone else.

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Many of the features of the design for ASD and DD are concealed in the construction.  For example, multiple lighting levels, operable drapes, sound partitions, remote exhaust fan motors,  and  safely designed built-in furniture are developed as the design progresses.
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DENNIS KOWAL ARCHITECTS  designs for those with special needs.

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Restoring the Homes of the ”One-percenters”…in Turkey 1AD!   Leave a comment

Restoring the Homes of the ”One-percenters”…in  Turkey 1AD!

The Terrace houses (on-going excavation and restoration under the protective cover) can be seen just opposite The Hadrian Temple in the ancient city of Ephesus.  The arches in the distance are the façade of the Celsus Library which contained 12,000 scrolls.
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One of the most remarkable finds since Pompeii is under restoration in Ephesus.  Once a major Roman port city in Western Asia, the city ruins are a wonderful map of life from 1 c. BC to 4 c. AD when this bustling port city enjoyed financial success and virtually invented the concept of banking, coins and credit cards.

Of particular note are the Terrace Houses which have recently been uncovered.  They were private homes of the wealthy (1 percenters) which were tiered as three levels of attached homes buried into the side of Bulbul Mountain.  The homes have no windows but instead are built around a center, open, courtyard (called a peristyle).    While the average home in the United States is around 2,500 sf, the largest of these private dwellings is 10,000 square feet.

The walls contain frescos decorated in subject matter selected by the head of the household (as opposed to the choice of the artist) which reveals the values and aesthetics of these families.  Some of the walls contain seven layers of frescos since a new “style” would evolve every couple of generations and the house would be redecorated.

Restoration involves stabilizing the frescos so they don’t fall from the walls, matching in mortar where pieces are missing, cleaning the paint that is exposed and in some cases recreating the missing painting.  In addition, thousands of broken pieces of wall marble and hundreds of thousands small floor mosaic tiles are being sorted and reassembled.

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Dennis Kowal observing the restoration techniques used to preserve this spectacular find during a private visit. More damage was done by the elements after the houses were uncovered than by being buried for a dozen centuries under the earth.  Therefore, a 4000 s.m. weather-protective enclosure has been installed over the entire site and glass floored catwalks navigate around the six homes.
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A great view of the peristyle and the vaulted “Reception Room” that the family would use to greet their guests.  The floors were covered in mosaics and marble and the task of matching the broken fragments is underway.
The multiple layers of painted frecos can be observed in the lower
right corner of this photo.  The restoration approach is to leave this legacy of ownership and decoration.  The Romans were no different from today’s homeowners who redecorated by covering the former occupants tastes.  At the back wall are the heads of two philosophers with many holes in the surface.
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Detail of the philosopher fresco with his name still written above.  The fact that philosophers and gods adorned the homes reveals what was important to the family just as a poster of a famous rock star in a bedroom or a wall of family photos would today.
The first floor contained the family rooms for relaxing, eating and entertaining.  None of the rooms had windows except for the borrowed light coming in from the courtyard.  Entry was from a wide staircase that climbed the mountain alongside the attached homes.
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Mosaics of Dionysius and Ariadne show the incredible skill of the artists and wealth of the owners.  Money flowed to Ephesus because it acted as a central banking system for the greater Mediterranean region.
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Family rooms surround the peristyle of this home with bedrooms located on the second level. Clay pipes carried heat under the floors and to the bathrooms just like the Roman baths. While we are used to seeing the palaces of the ruling class, this is a rare glimpse into the lifestyle of wealthy citizens in early times.
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Posted June 13, 2012 by Dennis Kowal Architects in Historic Preservation

HISTORIC PRESERVATION Parthenon Restoration   1 comment

HISTORIC PRESERVATION Parthenon Restoration

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It took less than ten years to build the Parthenon but restoration is taking 37 years and counting.

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The Parthenon was built of marble in 447 BC and acted as a treasury building for the Aegean League of City States.  The word Parthenon means “virgin”  but originally it was just called “The Temple” or the “100 foot house”.   A statue of the goddess Athena  occupied  the center of the Temple and was carved by the same famous sculptor who designed the Parthenon itself,   Pheidias.

Every architect studies the Parthenon as an example of the perfection of proportion.  But it is the nuances of every inch of the design that creates this proportion.  All of the columns lean slightly to an imaginary point in the sky, end columns are spaced closer to each other,  column shafts bulge slightly at the middle almost to emphasize the load, and the faces of the Parthenon fit into “the golden rectangle”.

Thus, despite rows of seemingly identical columns, no two parts are interchangeable anywhere in the structure.  Restoration crews  must keep track of the  70,000 separate original pieces that have fractured a hundred times over because each piece only fits correctly in one place.  A bad restoration in 1898 by Greek architect, Nikolas Balanos used untreated iron clamps to secure the failing structure which then expanded as they rusted;  fragmenting the marble.  Even the original architects of the Parthenon, Iktinos and Kallikrates, knew to coat the original iron pins and clamps with lead.  Today restoration architects are using titanium pins.

The temple was attacked by the Venetians when under Ottaman rule and they triggered the ammunitions hidden inside causing major destruction.  Bits and pieces of the Parthenon have recently been discovered in the fortress walls of the acropolis that were erected in the 1800’s.  These bits are being identified, removed and mapped into the existing structure by a computer identification program (like a technological jig-saw puzzle program).

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Permanently missing pieces are painstakingly reproduced in marble and reinserted as can be seen from the whiter Marble above.
 
 
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Restoration crews chipping off poor repairs.
 
 
 
 
 
Earlier restorations put pieces in the wrong location.  These pieces are removed, stored and placed correctly when the time comes.
 
 
 

The triangular pediment frieze contained sculptures that fit neatly within. Behind is the massive counterweight for the crane which folds in half and tucks away when not in use.

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Restoration of the Parthenon has been difficult because the earlier restoration mistakenly placed some of the fragments into the wrong locations.  Removal and relocation was not that simple since the remaining structure has weakened and not able to survive the surgery without the invention and approval of some new bonding agents.  New methods for carving the flutes into the replacement column pieces and other carvings has helped to quicken the current pace.  The computer has been a great aid in matching pieces but still the human eye is often the final judge.   The Acropolis has a series of tents for carving the marble and a full time crew of restoration technicians who raise and lower the pieces.

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 The 18th c. fortress borrowed broken fragments from the Parthenon to build the massive 65’ tall walls. Restoration architects floated tethered weather balloons and cameras to record the surface of the wall to find the Parthenon fragments.
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Earthquakes are a reoccurring problem for
the Parthenon.  The original architects knew
to place lead sheets between the drums that
compose the columns to absorb some of the shock.
 
 
 

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I sketched my first in-person view of the Parthenon.  The top of the famous temple was peeking above the walls of the acropolis  (as viewed across the stone 5000 seat theatre of Atticus).

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