SK3 Some Advice

Thinking about building a new home or a planning a major renovation / addition? With 27 years of professional experience, here’s some (slightly tongue and cheek) advice I can give you.

  1. Establish a preliminary construction budget but think of it as a starting point. Rest assured, whatever number you come up with, the final cost will be higher. Trust me on this one.

  2. Make a list of your ‘wants’ vs. your ‘must-haves’ and prioritize them. (Hint: that soaking tub you saw online should not be on your ‘must-haves’ list.)

  3. Consider how to balance quality vs. quantity. This one is hard, but think of it this way: you can build a smaller house out of higher quality materials, or a larger house out of lower quality materials. Finding the right balance so you have no regrets later is the goal.

  4. Collect a few interior and exterior images to describe the architectural aesthetic you find appealing. The famous architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe paraphrased it best: ‘less is more.’

  5. The design process is going to take longer than you think. Sorry, but every project is unique and of course my clients all have busy lives. Here’s the good news: the more time my clients and I spend working together, the better the final outcome.

  6. Select a general contractor early in the design process. Forget bidding the job; you’re not going to save a lot of money this way. A team approach with a good quality builder on-board is incredibly helpful.

  7. Finally, design and build for your climate. Virginia has a ‘mixed-humid’ climate which means we have moisture constantly moving through our exterior envelope and we get about 48 inches of rain annually. Controlling this moisture through correct specification of materials and detailing of wall assemblies is critical. If you get this wrong, nothing else matters.

So there you have it, all in good fun. I hope you find something here that's useful.

JB Sties, Architect

Basas Early Framing.JPG

SK2 A Checklist to Inspire

Third party rating systems for ‘green’ and ‘sustainably’ designed buildings have been around for several decades. The most widely recognized ones include ‘B.R.E.E.A.M.’ from the UK, ‘PassivHaus’ from Germany, ‘GreenGlobes’ out of Canada, and the ‘L.E.E.D.’ rating system(s) developed by the U.S. Green Building Council. There are dozens of smaller, local programs scattered across the U.S. including the ‘Earthcraft’ program here in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

But the one that has offered me endless inspiration and hope, is the ‘Wilderness-Based Checklist for Design and Construction’ created by architect Malcolm Wells in 1969. It is based on a very simple metric: the natural wilderness. If a building could replicate natural systems, as outlined by Wells, then we could truly say, ‘this building is sustainable.’

Although the other programs are well intended, they fall short of what natural ecosystems achieve every day based on soil, rain, and sunlight. It is humbling to say the least. Where our attempts truly fail, however, is that they place us on a path forward that isn’t achieving our stated goals. Carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels continue to go up, deforestation continues apace, and every other species of life on this planet faces an increasingly dubious future. The effects are driven by the exponential growth of human populations on a finite planet.

And just in case you’re convinced that technology is going to ‘save us,’ here’s an example to ponder: there is fundamentally no difference between an electric vehicle, a hybrid, or a standard combustion engine. Why? Because they all rely on a global supply chain of industrialized resources and manufacturing, debt based finance, and underlying infrastructure. And since none of them produce anything, (except maybe carbon dioxide, which we have enough of, thank you very much) none of them are sustainable. They are energy and resource sinks.

 The ‘Wilderness-Based Checklist for Design and Construction’ needs no explanation. It can be deciphered by any 4th grade biologist. I hope it inspires you.   

‘How To Build an Underground House’ by Malcolm Wells

‘How To Build an Underground House’ by Malcolm Wells

‘How To Build an Underground House’ by Malcolm Wells

‘How To Build an Underground House’ by Malcolm Wells

‘Infrastructures’ by Malcolm Wells

‘Infrastructures’ by Malcolm Wells

SK1 Welcome

Welcome to my Sketchbook.

First of all, you should know that 'SK' is short for 'sketch.' When I'm working on ideas to send to clients, I number them sequentially, SK1, SK2, etc. so our conversations are more effective. Many of my clients live out of town so good communication is important. 





Early perspective sketch of the Lewis Residence                                             Elevation Studies Private Residence, Charlottesville


Drawing by hand is very useful when I'm walking the site with a client, or meeting with them over a cup of coffee. Sitting in front of a computer tends to generate sketches more like this one using SketchUp. The three dimensional renderings allow me to explore the massing of the house, how to control solar gain, etc.

Scheme D for a Private Residence   

Scheme D for a Private Residence


So it only seems appropriate to extend this idea of sketching and sharing to blogging.  Here in the Sketchbook, I'll show you sketches, photos and other items that will offer you a better understanding of architectural design for the energy efficient home. I hope you enjoy it. And if you have questions, you can always reach me at: / 434.249.2932