Energy, Energy, Energy

If you are not going to be at home, turn the A/C off, or put it at a higher setting. Since we live in a very shaded house that is also probably sitting on rock, we didn’t have to turn the A/C on until two or three weeks ago… So, it’s a little bit of work to open the windows at night (there’s a frequent breeze passing through here, as we are up on a hill) and close them during the day, to keep the heat out. Do it. It’s worth it. We’ve also gotten in the habit of hanging some of our clothes to dry outside. It’s better for the clothes, better for the environment, and it makes them smell good!We’re hell bent into finding energy saving tips. Not just through our architecture, that goes without saying, but in our daily lives as well.

Look at this news article by the City of Austin. We’ve had the highest energy use ever, three months in a row!!! OK, c’mon, let’s get on the horse! It’s up to us. We are the ones using the energy. If we all save a little, just a little, it makes a BIG difference. Be aware, save energy, every day a little bit.

The Solution to the Ordinance

Madness has taken over our City Council, it must be the late hours they keep… they are about to pass, in a hurry, and without any further public hearing, a City of Austin ordinance that will put us under the most restrictive development code in the United States. Why, you ask? The neighborhood associations are fed up with Mc Mansions, bless their hearts, who isn’t! But they’ve come up with a convoluted set of restrictions that is hurting everyone else in the process…

Right, no worries, we’ll work around it, but I personally think they’ve gone too far; I mean .4 FAR (*Floor to Area Ratio), I can live with, in most cases (should be at least .5 for duplexes) but the rest of the restrictions have got to go away!!! They dictate design, after much pledging not to do so, they don’t contemplate site specifics, they don’t contemplate tree placement and other natural and artificial site features, they contribute to sprawl and hurt densification, it can be argued that they create more imprevious cover, it doesn’t allow for enough massing flexibility, the list goes on and it’s painful.

Consider this, a client that has a fantastic but dramatically sloping lot and a fabulous tree on one side that has been incorporated into the design… in this particular case, it’s a real one, following the new code would cost him between $30 and $40,000 of extra foundation work… We know this exactly because we had both case scenarios priced. And he could not, nor he should, afford the extra expense. The house fits in and looks fantastic either way. It doesn’t hurt it’s neighbors, who are even taller… the restrictions don’t make any sense whatsoever in this case! And this is just one example. There will be hundreds. All of us in the profession know this. In this particular case, our client will be ok, because he will get his permit before this craziness goes into effect, but I’m certainly factoring in the extra time we will have to spend in front the board of adjustments from now on, in order to protect our clients from unnecessary hardship.

As it is now, we rarely have to ask for a variance at all.. From now on, this may not be the case anymore. Fun. There will be more on this blog on this arena, we are putting together a joint presentation with other contemporary architects in the city… here’s a hint, it turns out that the majority of award winning and published homes in the city could not be built under the new proposed code, nor could most of the historical mansions downtown. No, really.

We are talking the very structures that represent the best of Austin’s architecture in the eyes of the world, that could simply not exist under the new proposed rules! Hundreds of stunning structures of new and old, wouldn’t meet code anymore! Is there something wrong with this picture? You bet. Something has gone terribly wrong with the minds of our elected officials, like they have way too much pressure from the neighborhood associations, who in turn have too much pressure form the irresponsible building that’s going on in Austin, and I’m afraid that we all end up losing… unless you have a big lot, in which case it doesn’t affect you very much… Come think of it, it’s not very fair, is it… Oh, believe me, I do feel much for the neighbors, I applaude the initiative to do something about it. I was in agreement, I had no problems with the .4 FAR moratorium… But when I read the final draft, I jumped out of my chair. They have no idea of what the building envelope and the massing restrictions really mean, especially for contemporary architecture. It’s so obvious to all of us, in the architecture community, and we have been talking amongst ourselves, oh yes we have… I just hope we get a word in to the right places, and quickly.

In the mean time, maybe we should all just buy one or two of these and call it good!
We can call them McNugets!!! (I stole that from a great speech by a worried property owner speaking against the ordinance a fateful Friday at 3 AM… sorry I don’t recall his name, I was a bit sleepy!)
Seriously, they are pretty incredible… compare to the trailer homes around your area…


*FAR: Take the gross floor area of your lot and multiply by .4 The result is the amount of habitable square footage you can build on your property, minus/plus other restrictions and allowances. This is a convoluted ordinance. Call us for advice if you are considering the purchase of a lot, or are trying to find out what can you do with your land. As a rule of thumb, if your lot is bigger than average, it will affect you less. Remodels are affected as well, although they seem to be less restricted than new constrution.