Sander Architects is the international award-winning firm whose approach to contemporary residential design has been making waves in the architecture world. Their Hybrid House uses components of prefab technology to create homes that are custom designed for each client. Homes that are not only green but also very high design. This is a time of extraordinary change for practitioners in the design fields and Sander Architects is a firm determined to be at the forefront of green architecture.
We have recently
completed the Idyllwild Arts Concert Hall in the mountains of Idyllwild,
California. It has been a wonderful process because the acoustics are
world-class and the building came in on budget, $4.3MM hard cost. This is
so far under the cost of comparable projects that we are excited to share
the good news. The acoustical engineers at ARUP collaborated with Sander
Architects to create a hall that will showcase the
music of the students on campus as well as professional musicians.
Fire-life-safety engineer Nate Wittaseck, who worked on the project, pointed out that this concert hall reverses the trend of institutional projects that have ever-expanding budgets: "we have seen museums that cost more than the art they house and this is a refreshing change to that trend."
The hall has its
official opening in the Fall of 2016
Sander Architects has a project in the office that brings music to our ears—and our eyes: a concert hall. Work on the William M Lowman Concert Hall, for Idyllwild Arts, www.idyllwildarts.org a boarding arts high school up in the mountains of Idyllwild, California, began over 7 years ago. Watching our design take shape has been rewarding. Watching the reaction of the kids, the first performers to test the hall, has been a joy. Acoustical testing began two weeks ago with an official opening concert to be scheduled soon.
Sander Architects concept was to create a “heart of campus” for the school, with an open space alongside the concert hall that directs the view towards Lily Rock, as Tahquitz Peak is commonly known, a local rocky outcrop that hovers above the town of Idyllwild.
The concert hall itself is wrapped in rusted steel panels that have been folded according to the rhythms of a piece of music, and which create a building that feels like a rocky outcrop in the landscape. The interior uses slightly offset 4 x 8 wood elements that call to mind tree trunks leaning in a forest. We call it the Hall of Trees. A collaboration with internationally acclaimed acousticians from ARUP engineering will make sure that the sound of the hall interior will literally be music for the ears for professional and student alike.
It will be a genuine pleasure to watch how this building impacts the lives of the students, and the community at large, over the years to come. One kid walked in to sneak a peek at the nearly-completed hall. I played him the iPhone video I recorded of Lily playing violin and he exclaimed "I know where I am going to record all my audition tapes from now on!"
At Sander Architects we love the opportunity to think about what the exterior surface of a building will look like: the “skin” of the building. The skin is not just a decoration—in Southern California it might be a shade screen that reduces heat build-up and helps lower energy costs. A translucent skin might increase natural light in the interior, also reducing energy usage. The right material could even eliminate maintenance costs over decades.
On one project, Green Houses we knew we wanted a shade screen and we spent months experimenting with different materials and approaches until we settled on aluminum angles. The architect produced a sketch of a twelve-percent diagonal and the contractor mocked up several ways to attach the angled metal to the building. It became one of the defining characteristics for the residences.
On another project, Desert Canopy House, Whitney Sander was inspired by diamond patterns he noticed in the sand on Venice Beach. 4,000 square feet of custom tiles later and the house felt like it was rising out of a wind-blown sand dune—an effect that is beautiful but also practical due to the extra insulation the tiles provide against the brutal desert temperature swings.
The senior couple that commissioned Residence for a Sculptor requested that the exterior of the house be made from something that would never need maintenance. Sander suggested a metal standing seam material designed for roofing. With its 20-year warranty as a roof, he estimated that the material should last double or even triple that time on the exterior walls. The edgy, industrial look of the residence came directly out of a pragmatic request.
A wall of translucent material, punctured with windows, floods the interior of a Residence at the Butte with light on even the greyest and rainiest of days in this Pacific Northwest home. On the days when the weather is glorious, the views over the water to the distant butte for which the house was named, inspire the owner to paint large-scale canvases of wildly colorful horses and landscapes.
One of our projects under construction is a concert hall for the
talented students at Idyllwild Arts Academy. The rusted steel panels are
folded according to the rhythm of a musical phrase. This gives the
skin a “geography” that feels appropriate against the surrounding
mountain landscape of rocky granite outcrops. It does not hurt that
maintenance for the school will be minimal.
The bottom line is
that no two contexts are the same and, in our practice, it is rare that
we repeat ourselves when thinking about and designing the skin of a
As a student, with a brand-new architectural degree, it is an exciting moment when you begin your journey through the work world. However, as some of you may know, not everything in an architecture school of design prepares you for what is to come in the real world.
Here are some examples of tasks I didn't know I would have to learn to do at an architectural firm:
1. As-built drawings
For any remodel it is important to know what the site is actually like. Construction drawings, even if they are available, are not always accurate as many additions may have happened. This means that it is necessary to measure and draw out every door, wall and detail of the space or the building. In my first weeks on the job, I quickly had to learn how to accurately measure out a site with a tape measuring tool, and then create a drawing from the measurements, definitely something I didn’t learn in grad school. This is a drawing I created and it shows how crazy an old building can be:
2. Architecture is not just design
When making drawings of an existing building, even before any design for the renovations begin, I didn't know I had to consider a demolition plan, an as-built plan and making sure the building is up to code.
3. Knowing the code is everything.
Figuring out how codes impact the project is important to know before any decisions get made. This might involve searching in three or more different places to figure out a code. Whether it's a zoning code or a clearance requirement. For example, how many parking spaces does a school need with certain occupancy? Another one might be what clearances does an ADA accessible bathroom require?
There is much more, but I've come to realize that I have already learned so much right from the beginning of my first professional job that I was never taught in school.
One of the best moments for both client and architect is right after signing the contract and meeting for the first time to look at the initial designs for a project.
Hopes and dreams are starting their journey to reality. It’s incandescent. And phase one, design development, has begun.
At our studio, design development is the process of getting client feedback on a design presentation, incorporating that into the drawings and models, adding ideas or details and then presenting the result in the next meeting. It’s an iterative process. Over time (weeks or months, depending on the scale of the project, the detail and the decisiveness of the client) the project becomes clearer and clearer. Eventually, there is something that is concrete enough it can move into the construction drawing phase and go out to bid.
My next favorite moment is the beginning of the third phase when actual construction begins. Now those first hopes and dreams are turning into something you can touch. Another moment when a champagne toast would be in keeping with the festive air.
What very few clients realize—and even fewer architects articulate—is that construction also brings with it some hard truths and difficult decisions. It’s very easy to get impatient over the amount of time a project is taking because, after all, contractors are the ultimate optimists and perhaps not the best judge of realistic construction timelines. It is also easy to become discouraged as mistakes are made or problems arise and that initial perfect dream of a project vanishes under the burden of shipping hold-ups, sub-contractor drama and other dilemmas and delays.
Welcome to the imperfect project.
It’s real now.
Just like life, or marriage or parenthood. Nothing is perfect—but that can be a difficult dream to relinquish at the best of times.
We do try to raise this idea of the inevitability of the imperfect project before construction begins so that, as tempers rise and patience wears thin, we can remind our clients that this, too, is part of the process.
Perhaps it is luck, or perhaps it is inevitable, but we do find that once the project is finished, after a few months or a year has passed, what is left is the joy and satisfaction of having persevered and stuck it out to see the dream come to reality. Client or architect, that accomplishment is no small feat.
So let’s raise a glass to the (im)perfect project and the (im)patience that will get us there.
I came into Sander Architects the summer of 2009 after my fourth year of Architecture school in San Luis Obispo. I built models in the office all summer and up at school for a few months as well. I was called back in to do some part-time modeling around March, 2011, and I’ve stayed on as a draftsperson and project manager ever since. Here are my tips for turning my internship into a full time gig.
1. Be Good
When you come into an office for an internship, you will probably not be doing the most glamorous work, but whatever task comes your way, make sure you knock it out of the park. In my case, I was building models. It’s certainly not everyone’s favorite, but I think it’s kind of fun to see how drawings come to life three dimensionally. I worked my butt off building a myriad of models, and I did a great job. (I built hundreds of tiny seats for the concert hall, just to give you an idea.) My work early on got me called back into the office later. If you show your ability to excel at one thing, it gives people a reason to believe you’ll be great in other areas, as well.
2. Stay In Touch
Even though my internship ended around November, I was always sure to keep in touch. I would come back into the office every time I came home from school. After graduation, I hoped I would have a job waiting for me, but there wasn’t a spot for me in the office. I still maintained contact with Whitney and Cath, checking in every few months, enough to stay on their radar without bugging the hell out of them. When they needed some models built, I was the guy. Then, a spot in the office opened up and I transitioned into full time. It was about 18 months between the end of my first internship and the beginning of my full time job, and if I hadn’t kept myself in the loop at that time, I might not be where I am today.
3. Be Ready
Before I came back into the office I was working part time coaching volleyball and doing odd jobs. I kept my design skills sharp, working on T-shirts and keeping up to date with architecture blogs and competitions. I also learned the office’s drafting software, so I was able to assimilate easily when a job was available.
I have a challenge to make. It's time for prefabricated architecture to live up to its potential. The prefabricated building should be measured by three completely reasonable yardsticks: - Economical cost to build and use - Sustainably created - Superior design/aesthetic quality
Prefab designers and companies should be able to achieve results that satisfy these three requirements at once. Especially given that the designers have, in theory, forever to improve their models. Yet it's arguable that no prefabricated product now available has yet been able to satisfy all three criteria in the same structure. Sadly, most achieve excellence in only one criterion.
- Prefab residences are at or (well) above standard construction costs in every section of the country.
- Factories are not centrally located, for the most part, and require long distances of travel to most construction sites. And the steel required by shipping stresses is often far greater than the house alone would require.
- Aesthetically many prefab residential models are sufficient but hardly superior designs. Into this unsettled landscape over the last ten years, Sander Architects has introduced our Hybrid Construction process. This process, we believe, achieves excellence in all three criteria above. To wit:
- Our houses regularly cost under $200/SF. One, in rural Oregon, came in at $130/Sf.
- The shells of these houses are created by light-gauge metal building fabricators using recycled steel. SInce this technology is over a hundred years old, fabricators can be found near any likely building site across the country and in most of the developed world.
- Our buildings have won the Dedalo MInosse International Prize for Architecture three times, various AIA awards, and the Chicago Athenaeum American Architecture Prize. They have also been extensively published in over thirty design-based books. In essence, we have solved the new technology riddle by leveraging the efficiencies of one of the oldest and most mature industries in the world. This circumvents the achilles heel of most prefabricated endeavors: startup and tooling costs. These companies are ready to provide buildings of any size or orientation, provided one knows and understands the nature of these elegant, simple structures. We may draw beautiful structures with our iMACs, but we fully embrace the century-old technology of the prefabricated, light-gauge metal building. Why mess with a good thing?