4.08 aiaVT Newsletter

Another message from the Editor...?

I’m as surprised as you are.  After my introductory article I had not planned to pen another entry unless there was a serious shortfall in articles and it came down to empty space or my own writing...  More...

Are Efficiency Vermont Incentives for New Construction Projects Adequate?

Recently, Efficiency Vermont (EVT) asked for permission to carry over $3.8 million in unspent funds from 2007 to its programs for 2008.  More...

A tour of Huntington Homes

On March 12, 2008, AIA Vermont organized a factory tour of Huntington Homes at their main office and manufacturing facility in East Montpelier, VT.  More...

The Middlebury Town Hall Theatre

A team from Breadloaf Architecture Firm has been planning, designing, and building the future of the new Town Hall Theatre in Middlebury for almost seven years.  More...

Another message from the Editor...?

I’m as surprised as you are.  After my introductory article I had not planned to pen another entry unless there was a serious shortfall in articles and it came down to empty space or my own writing...which in my vanity I presume to be slightly better than empty space.  Far from being kicked to the curb following my first article, my fellow board members have requested that I make it a regular feature.  This lapse in judgment is in part due to their perceived presence of a sense of humor on my part.  I will admit that losing my hair at age 26 did necessitate the cultivation of a sense of humor, as well as a deep respect for the work of one Mr. Yul Brenner.  It also allowed me early entry into the proud and surly ranks of old curmudgeons, which explains my rant of this past week.  

I was talking with some old friends (young people have friends, us old people have old friends) about the state of young architects these days, a topic near and dear to the spike through my heart.  Why, when I got out of design school a person was lucky to even get a job in architecture.  I remember having to measure a burned out building without any safety gear or supervision.  “Just get it done - we don’t care if the building is still smoldering; stop drop and roll if you have to, but that’s on your own time.”  I also remember having to measure an old abandoned school building in below zero weather…and having to go outside to warm up because it was even colder inside!  All of this for the same pay I heard advertised for the night shift at Taco Bell.  

Now some interns feel they are entitled to high salaries, to attend meetings with clients, and recognition of their design skills.  They seem to operate on the premise that 50% of success involves just showing up.  Well Uncle Shawn will let them in on a little secret, 100% of success involves actually doing your job.  An architecture firm isn’t in business solely to provide you with free internet access and a place to eat your breakfast.  Contrary to how the terminology sounds, a firm doesn’t buy “seats” of CAD just to have someone “sit” there.  I’ll tell you what Corb, as soon as you can draw a leader correctly we might talk about some added responsibility.  I don’t want to see some leaders coming off the top line of the text, while others come off the bottom line.  I don’t want huge arrow heads saying “LOOK AT THIS!” right next to missing arrow heads saying “look at…something in this vicinity”.  I don’t want to see curved leaders mixed with orthogonal, and I don’t want the darn things to cross each other or <gasp> cross the text of their own note for crying out loud.  How is a contractor supposed to understand a detail when it looks like a Gehry sketch during a Jagermeister bender?  

Now I know not all young architects are like this, but I’m a curmudgeon so I get to make gross exaggerations.  But I do think design schools need to focus more on the fundamentals of drafting since this is how we convey information and is what the vast majority of graduates will be doing when they attempt to make their way into the workforce.  A dose of reality may be exactly what the doctor ordered.

Ol’ Doc Brennan, licensed curmudgeon

Are Efficiency Vermont Incentives for New Construction Projects Adequate?

By Donna Leban, AIA

Recently, Efficiency Vermont (EVT) asked for permission to carry over $3.8 million in unspent funds from 2007 to its programs for 2008.     While EVT has begun a new Core Performance Program for new construction, and is spending a large percentage of its new resources on commercial building retrofit, less of its resources have in 2007 gone to benefit Commercial New Construction.

The reason for this has mainly to do with the 2005 Vermont Commercial Building Energy Standards (CBES), which became law in January 2007.  Technically, buildings are required to meet these standards, and EVT cannot pay incentives to building owners whose buildings fail to exceed this minimum level of energy efficiency.  For lighting measures in particular, the code minimum efficiency is a tight, though not impossible target.    However, the incentive levels on specific measures that exceed code requirements, including those that may be more costly to achieve for some types of buildings, have not kept pace with their rising costs for both materials and installation.  In fact, since electric utility programs started around 1990, the percentage of program resources, as well as the actual monetary incentive per Mwh of electrical savings, has substantially decreased.

Efficiency Vermont has a great deal of flexibility in determining how it spends the $24 million it receives under contract each year from the Vermont Public Service Board.  This money comes from a line item charge on every electric ratepayers monthly bill.   Since commercial buildings use more electricity than residential buildings, and pay substantially higher fees into the programs, the largest percentage of this money is intended to promote commercial building electrical efficiency.  

Newer buildings have better opportunities to install energy efficiency measures from the start.   These projects are considered “lost opportunities” by utility programs if they fail to achieve a high level of energy efficiency, i.e., exceeding energy code requirements.   However, until a site-based survey currently being conducted as part of EVT’s commercial program evaluation, no one has attempted to accurately survey how well new buildings are stacking up to the new code.   Key to many of our sustainability concerns in the architectural and engineering community, is whether current financial incentives are adequate to move more than a small percentage of the new building construction market.

I use as an example a new 28.000 sf building in the hospitality industry, part of a larger facility.  Interior design is an important element, and many of the lighting fixtures must meet aesthetic requirements as well as energy efficiency targets.  Coming in at $7/sf for the lighting fixtures w/o installation costs- in part due to higher costs for efficient hard-wired decorative fixtures, and undercutting code lighting power density (LPD) requirements by 27%, the project qualified for only $3500 in lighting incentives (1.7% of fixture costs) under current EVT incentive guidelines.   This was disappointing to the project team, which is seeking LEED level energy savings.  Prior to adoption of the energy code, a significantly higher incentive would have been offered for the same design.   By appealing to EVT, we hope to achieve a level of incentive more closely tied to the actual incremental costs of exceeding the code.

If you have experienced disappointment with efficiency incentives on recent projects, and feel that a better incentive package would have resulted in a more energy efficient project, you or your client need to request a special review of your project.   Blair Hamilton, who has directed Efficiency Vermont from the start, has recognized that smaller commercial projects often do not get this attention.   He would like that to change to the degree possible within their contract constraints.  A suggestion that EVT provide a web-based mechanism for design teams to help design/analyze and request quick incentive calculation based on energy savings is being considered, and hopefully will provide architects and engineers with more flexibility (and incentive for additional time required) to design to the highest level of energy efficiency, without compromising good design.    This mechanism would also make it possible to provide design incentives directly to the design team partner submitting the online data- something that has not been effectively addressed to date.

Do your part to help us achieve our goals of a Sustainable Future through better designed, more energy efficient buildings.  Help may be available to those who ask.

A tour of Huntington Homes

On March 12, 2008, AIA Vermont organized a factory tour of Huntington Homes at their main office and manufacturing facility in East Montpelier, VT.  The following is an email interview I conducted with an attendee, Diantha Korzun, to provide our readers who were unable to attend with a summary of what occurred.

SB:  Please tell us your name and current position.  
DK:  Diantha S. Korzun Project Manager/ Project Architect at Truex Cullins.
SB:  Do you currently have any affiliations that you would like to mention (professional, charitable, or hobby)?
DK:  AIA, LEED AP, AIA Board Member
SB:  As an Architect, what about this subject matter interested you enough to travel to the Huntington Homes facility?
DK:  I am interested in modular homes because these are houses built in a controlled climate.  Unsavory weather conditions are common in New England.  With so many homes being built under the pressures of a tight schedule and budget, a controlled atmosphere is appealing as an architect.  
SB:  Were you familiar with the industry prior to the tour?
DK:  My husband and I live in a modular home built in Canada.  We didn’t build it, but the neighbors said it was quite an event when the pieces were put together in such a quick time frame. The finishing touches by the prior owner are not great, but the base of it is solid and it is a super insulated home.
SB:  Was the event well attended?  And was it a friendly atmosphere?
DK:  The event was well attended, over twenty people from around the state came.  The folks that attended were enthused about the topic and asked many questions.
SB:  One of the side benefits of these events is connecting with professionals from different parts of the state.  I know that you recently moved to Vermont, so do you think this type of event has helped you become more involved?
DK:  These tours are a great way to learn about the construction industry around the state.  As architects, we often become focused on a particular building type, so it is a good time to look outside your field of expertise.

SB:  How is the manufacturing process different from what you would consider a more traditional construction process?
DK:  Detailing.  These modular homes arrive on site in several pieces.  This makes the detailing unique.  For example, the roofs at Huntington homes are connected at the rafters with a hinge detail.  The roofs are flat when they ship and simply tilt up when on site.  For those of us interested in detailing and invention, this is a pretty neat aspect to this industry.
Controlled environment.  As noted above, building in a controlled environment has great benefits.  (Less risk of trapping moisture in the building when sealing it up, walls come to site square, most trades are working in a shop instead of on site….)  They vacuum seal the units (similar to when they wrap a boat at the end of the season) to limit exposure until on site.
SB:   What are the perceived drawbacks?  Do you think there is any way to overcome these limitations?
DK:  Shipping these modular units may have drawbacks.  They do reinforce weak areas such as the stair openings, etc, but I would think the finishes may undergo some wear and tear on some of the smaller roads in Vermont.
SB:  Did you take anything away from this event that may influence how you practice architecture?
DK:  Huntington homes (as well as some other modular manufacturers) will take a design and detail it to their system.  If they did this well, I would think there would be opportunity to offer good design to the general public at perhaps a smaller cost than a customized home designed by an architect.  
SB:  Manufactured housing has been looked down on by most in the architecture profession.  Do you see applications for this industry in mainstream architecture?
DK:  Right now, there are all kinds of proposals for modular housing by architects across the country for victims of Katrina in New Orleans.  See http://www.makeitrightnola.org/  I have also noticed others in the area who are good designers doing modular housing in Vermont.  So yes, I think this is an area that is just beginning to be explored.
SB:  How could this industry benefit from more involvement by architects?
DK:  It would be great if the majority of Vermonters could afford architect designed houses.  
SB:  Could architects benefit from becoming involved in this industry?
DK:  If they are inventive, I think they could be.  

aiaVT attempts to put on this type of event whenever possible.  If you find this interesting then please attend one of our events and consider helping to organize one if the topic is of particular interest to you.  We welcome feedback from all attendees so feel free to drop us a line...who knows, you may get published in the newsletter. 

The Middlebury Town Hall Theatre

By Kate Dellas 

A team from Breadloaf Architecture Firm has been planning, designing, and building the future of the new Town Hall Theatre in Middlebury for almost seven years. And that future is almost a completed reality. In the final stages of construction, the project is a rising success, balancing the historical past of the original Theatre with innovative design that reveals a fresh take on the 19th century structure, both inside and out.  

When I visited the site, Project Architect and visiting Middlebury College professor, Ashar Nelson was on his way to dig up doors from Town Hall Theatre's original ticket counter. The doors had been removed in the 1950s. “We were lucky that they had been safely stored away,” said Nelson. He was set on re-using them to maintain the character of the historical theatre with original detailed, painted bead board doors throughout.  

Originally Nelson’s team had planned a modern palette for the new addition, using glass to create a transparency that would allow one to look directly through the new addition and view the original structure. The Preservation Trust of Vermont, however, nixed the plan and agreed to only minimal change. “We tweaked the design,” said Nelson, “And the new addition was moved to the southwest corner, thus hiding it from street views.” The gain was unparalleled views of Otter Creek and Battell Bridge, stretching beyond town and towards the College Campus.  

Tucked behind the original Theatre building, the addition provides an entirely new wing space, with studio and gallery spaces on the lower levels, and a Theatre office and backstage areas on the upper level. The addition will allow for more flexibility within the Theatre because with the expanded backstage area productions will be able to utilize more elaborate sets, and the actors will have more space to prepare. Not to mention the studios and gallery space downstairs offering an entirely different agenda. The architects dabbled with the idea of a sloping floor line of the main theatre, catering to the theatrical performances. Instead, they chose to keep the original flat wood floors, not only to be preservation-friendly, but also to ensure that the space could be used for other venues. Weddings, private conferences, and town meetings may all be in the works for the future of the Town Hall Theatre. Middlebury College is also involved, having provided a generous grant for the renovation. The College hopes to integrate its own programs in the space. “Theatre majors may put on student-run productions, or the downstairs studio space could be rented out for a yoga class,” said Project Architect, Ashar Nelson.  

The project will continue construction through the winter, but the power of the space is already revealing itself, and I was lucky enough to experience it first hand when I visited the site. Instead of dressing up the space, the Breadloaf team approached design in an almost subtractive way. The team removed the existing plaster ceiling of the Theatre that had concealed the beautiful timber trusses of the original structure. Peeling away the ceiling revealed the original frame, not to mention adding fifteen feet of height to the space. The effect is magnificent, a huge open space 45 feet in height, with exposed timber framing and soon to be midnight blue ceiling to enhance the drama of the space. The project team even re-opened some windows of the original structure that had been filled in over the years. They also made it a point to maintain all of the existing stained glass windows. Instead of replacing the historic glass panels with new thermal units to combat the cold, they left the originals and added storm panels on the inner side to resist the loss of heat. Save a historical window, save on burning oil and heating bills. It's win-win. The design goals align the preservation movement with the green movement. Their subtle approach has succeeded, allowing a vestige of the 1800's to come through with a renewed beauty and crispness fitting to the structure today. The Town Hall Theatre will re-open Summer of 2 008, and it appears that despite the extensive renovations, we will not be walking through the doors an entirely transformed space. Remember, the doors are all originals.

Kate Dellas is an Architectural Studies major at Middlebury College, focusing her thesis studies on “Greening” Adaptive Re-use. Kate recently completed a Design for Energy Efficiency program in Sydney, Australia  followed by an internship with Bread Loaf Architects, Planners, Builders. She hopes to continue in this field after her 2009 graduation.

Housing bill encourages affordable housing and protects vermont's unique landscape

By Noelle MacKay
Executive Director, Smart Growth Vermont
Contact: (802) 864-6310, noelle@ smartgrowthvermont.org

As I travel around the state helping communities develop land use plans and strategies, I see the common thread that binds us together: we must decide how we will use and protect one of our state’s most unique assets – our land.  H. 863, the Vermont Neighborhoods bill proposed by the House informs these decisions by balancing the two critical goals of building more affordable housing and protecting our unique landscape.  

When I decided to purchase my first home, I quickly came to the realization that many Vermonters face: there are very few homes on the market in my price range - under $220,000 – the affordability value set by the bill.  In researching my ability to purchase a home, I discovered that in 2006, the median-priced home was $197,000.  To purchase that home, a household would need an income of $66,000.  Sixty-seven percent of all Vermont households’ annual income is below that amount.  If the affordability value was raised to $275,000, as the bill’s opponents recommend, it will put this housing even more out of reach for Vermonters like me.

H. 863 encourages the construction of critically-needed housing for middle-income wage earners in the places it makes the most sense: in and around our downtowns and village centers.  It builds on our communities’ public investments in sewer, water, roads, sidewalks and parking.  If a community wants to encourage new housing in rural areas adjacent to their downtown or village, it can do so by designating that area as a Growth Center.

Some are concerned that few communities would benefit.  I disagree.  Many of our designated downtowns and village centers would currently qualify, some of which would require the addition of subdivision regulations.  Consider just some of the new housing projected to be built in proposed or designated growth centers.  Middlebury projects 1,066 units over twenty-five years.  Waitsfield projects 208 additional units by 2030.

How many new homes do we need?  The Vermont Department of Housing and Community Affairs’ 2005 Vermont Housing Needs Assessment concluded Vermont needed 12,000 new units by 2010.  Since that report was published, the housing market has cooled, with homes remaining on the market for at least four months.  The sub-prime mortgage crisis, though not a significant problem for Vermont lenders, has also dampened home sales.  The net effect is that Vermont does not need as many new homes as previously projected.  

Vermont’s careful approach to growth has protected us from the negative effects of speculative development we see in the rest of the country.  H. 863 is an important first step to address the current housing crisis by building on the investments we’ve made in our communities and protecting the working landscape on which we all depend.

News Item - Architecture Day

Architecture Day '08 will take place on Saturday, April 26th. Throughout the state, firms and studios will once again host open houses in the morning, open to the general public.  Tours of significant buildings around the state will take place in the afternoon.

News Item - Growth of Smart Growth

Smart Growth Vermont recently announced two new staff members will join the organization.  Jason Van Driesche has been selected to serve as the organization’s new Director of Programs.  For the last five years, Jason has been Director of the Clean and Water Program at Upstate Forever, a non-profit conservation and smart growth advocacy organization in South Carolina.

A native of Westhampton, Massachusetts, a rural town in the Berkshire Hills, he understands the issues facing rural towns and small cities of northern New England.  At Upstate Forever, Jason worked with public and private sector partners on low-impact development, ecologically based stormwater management, traditional neighborhood design, greenway and park planning, and pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure development.  Before working at Upstate Forever, he earned an MS in Urban and Regional Planning and an MS in Land Resources, both from the University of Wisconsin.

Michael Miller, AICP CFM will join Smart Growth Vermont as a part-time Senior Planner.  For the last seven years, Mike has served as a Senior Land Use Planner for the Lamoille County Planning Commission.  He has used his extensive land use planning experience at all levels in Vermont, including serving on local commissions, preparing bylaws and zoning, developing regional plans and working on state panels and committees.

With Jason and Mike on staff, Smart Growth Vermont enhances its capacity to work for change at the state level, and respond to the increasing number of communities requesting land use planning assistance.  For more information, and to check out the organization’s new online Community Planning Toolbox, visit their website at www.smartgrowthvermont.org.

News item - aiaVT welcomes...

The Vermont chapter of the American Institute of Architects wishes to welcome our newest members:  Susan Coddaire, AIA, Burlington; Jarod Galvin, Assoc. AIA, Montpelier; Donna Miller, AIA, Burlington.

News Item - YMCA RFP

The Meeting Waters YMCA, acting through its Board of Directors and capital campaign Executive Committee, and supported by its Facility Development Committee, is soliciting proposals from qualified design teams to provide full design services for the design and construction of a new YMCA facility to be located in Brattleboro, VT. The project is to be a Green, environmentally sustainable facility, LEED certified.

The RFP will be available March 17, 2008; proposals are due April 17, 2008.  Contact Steve Fortier, Executive Director, Meeting Waters YMCA, 66 Atkinson Street, Bellows Falls, VT 05101 or Steve@meetingwatersymca.org to receive the RFP by e-mail. 802-463-4769

The aiaVT newsletter is published by AIA Vermont, the Vermont Chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

Executive Director: Hanne Williams, Hon. AIAVT
aiavt@ madriver.com
1662 Mill Brook Road
Fayston, Vermont 05673

p 802.496.3761
f 802.496.3294

aiaVT is edited by Shawn Brennan, AIA.

Published views are the author’s and not necessarily the views of AIA Vermont or any other organization.

AIA Vermont reserves the right to edit articles for available space and determine appropriate content prior to inclusion. Submissions must be received by the 15th of the month prior to publication.

Please send articles, notices, letters, and graphic submissions to:

Shawn Brennan, AIA
Freeman French Freeman, Inc.
81 Maple Street
Burlington, Vermont 05401
sbrennan@ fffinc.com