A look at three trends in Nashville architecture

Sunday, May 23, 2010 at 11:45pm

Each year, Architectural Record magazine devotes an issue to “Record Houses,” to illustrate how architects are shaping domestic life around the globe. For the 2010 version, the editors selected seven winners based on criteria stated in the intro: “simplicity, modesty and sustainability, in keeping with today’s culture of restraint.”

Record editors apparently have an uncommon take on “simplicity” and “modesty.” The septet includes a polygonal pavilion overlooking Los Angeles, a one-room structure in the Tokyo suburbs in the form of a tree, and a stone vacation residence buried in an Alpine hillside whose entrance is through a former livestock barn connected to the house by a 72-foot concrete tunnel. Such homes reveal little of the current map of residential architecture.

Looking closer to home, however, The City Paper found three designs that offer some clues. One is on the ground, another still in the making and the third an un-built prototype. Together they showcase evolving trends toward wide-open space planning, special kids quarters and going greener.

On the ground

The owners of Creekview, a weekender in Nunnelly, Tenn., got a closer view of Old Mill Creek than they’d planned when the rains came. The house, sited on a bluff-top, escaped the deluge, but flooding took out a century-old barn on the property.

Tom Bauer of Bauer/Askew Architecture, a 25-year practitioner of domestic design, used the rural vernacular for Creekview’s inspiration: simple gable forms with shed dormers, seamed metal roofing, board-and-batten siding and dry-stack bluestone for foundations and chimneys. Bauer reduced the spatial impact of the 2,500-square-foot dwelling by dividing the massing. He utilized a previous cottage’s foundation for the central living section, connected by glazed bridges to two wings housing master and guest suites.

The main pavilion is all about free flow. The soaring two-story living/dining space is overlooked by the kitchen and a kid-loft with three bunks. An open stair links loft and living space with a media room below. Broad planes of glass maximize visual connections to the great outdoors. Triple garage doors allow easy passage to the creek-side deck.

Bauer noted that today’s clients “don’t have to be sold on sustainability, but they want it to be financially practical.” Eco-friendly features include floors recycled from a U.S. Tobacco warehouse, high-efficiency mechanicals and plumbing, renewable materials such as ipe (a durable wood decking), reflective roofing, natural ventilation through strategically placed windows, and solar orientation for maximum daylighting. Creekview received the Award of Honor from Middle Tennessee’s chapter of the American Institute of Architects in 2009.

In the making

An obvious way to incorporate recycling into architecture is to reuse an existing building. Manuel Zeitlin, another Nashville design veteran, is doing just that with a rehab and addition for a 1940s brick cottage in the 12South neighborhood.

Zeitlin said his clients, Bob Bernstein of Bongo Java and Irma Paz of Las Paletas gourmet popsicles, “really want the family to interact even when they’re cooking, say, and the kids are playing games.” To enable connectivity, the design removes all but one interior wall in the 1940s house to create a multipurpose “Big Room,” and establishes strong sightlines into the new kid quarters. The addition also contains a more private master suite at the rear, forming an L with the existing house to define an outdoor courtyard.

Because of his clients’ drive for green design, heating and cooling is geothermal. The addition’s straw bale construction, in which timber framing is infilled with bales and covered with plaster-like stucco, provides first-class insulation.

“Our clients brought a lot of ideas to the table,” Zeitlin said. Prime among them was space “as flexible as possible, and adaptable as the family evolves.”

The protoype

Eric Malo is a newcomer to Nashville’s architecture scene who explores the territory of online design with his prototype “The Awakened Home.” For www.freegreen.com, a sustainable home website offering free and for-sale house plans, he devised a design for a hypothetical couple starting a family in a 1,800-square-foot dwelling with a work-from-home dad.

The entrance is into the hearth room, with a high-efficiency corner fireplace to heat the surrounding space, as well as water for household use and the radiant floor heating and cooling system. Lots of glass on the south-facing front enables passive solar heating and daylighting during winter months. Deep overhangs shade glazing from the summer heat and function as an upstairs terrace. Clerestory windows provide cross ventilation and convective currents for natural coolness.

Shifting floor levels rather than walls define living, kitchen and office space. Kids play and sleeping space lies over the hearth room and looks over the kitchen. Malo said his design “blurs the distinction of specific functions for spaces. I think all rooms should act as ‘living rooms’ and be a pleasure to occupy.”

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