Why concrete sandwich panels for our exterior walls? Part 3 – Step 2 toward concrete sandwich panels – the interior walls

Having bought into the concept and design aesthetic of concrete exterior walls we started brainstorming about interior walls surfaces.  Out initial thoughts were to use wood to warm up the interior of the house and avoid the dreaded sheetrock as a wall material.  We bounced around a lot of ideas on how to execute interior wood walls while keeping with the evolving design aesthetics.  We came to the conclusion that it would be better to use wood as warming / accent material via furniture, cabinets, doors, etc. where it made logical sense to use it.  This then led to the crazy, wild assed idea of using concrete on the interior walls – an idea that grew on us after initially us being skeptical about it.  So why not??

In parallel with our discussions on interior wall materials we had continued our internet search for precast concrete wall manufacturers.  And during this we stumbled across a company that claimed that they made concrete sandwich panels – panels that had both a concrete exterior surface (known in the trade as a “wythe”) and a concrete interior surface or “wythe”.  And it turned out that this company, International Precast, was fairly local to us – offering the ability to meet with them in person, see their facility, etc.  The fact that they were local also helped from a LEED perspective as it minimized the environmental and cost impacts of shipping the finished panels.

So our next steps were an initial telephone call and then a visit to International PrecastIP_SampleThe net out of these discussions and site tour was that it appeared that they could do exactly what they claimed they could do – deliver concrete sandwich panels that could form the outer walls for both buildings for our project.  So our crazy wild assed idea to use concrete on our interior walls was actually possible.  Not only was it possible – it seemed that properly executed concrete sandwich panels would deliver both our interior and exterior finished walls in a single product.

Congratulations to tonic design

Short diversion here.

Triangle Modernist Houses, whom I have referenced here often, helped bring the George Matsumoto Prize to life.  In it’s second year, the Prize is awarded annually to a Modernist house in NC.  Entries are submitted to a jury of accredited architects and also a public vote is one sixth of the total score.  See the 2013 entries and results here.


Congratulations to tonic design, Vinny Petrarca and Katherine Hogan, on winning this prestigious award for their Rank Residence, completed in 2012.  tonic design continues to carry on their tradition of award winning architecture.  Also congratulations to Michael Rank – who had the initial vision.  Check out this link for pics and also a link to an article in the Raleigh News & Observer for more press on this special home and the design influences behind it.

Rank Residence

I had the pleasure of attending the awards and the NC AIA building in Raleigh.  After a lively happy hour (Thirst 4 Architecture), some crazy infused bourbon, and a talented band of architects – yes – a musical band, George Smart announced the People’s Choice Awards, and then Frank Harmon took over to convey the jury’s placings.  Despite some tough critiques on the entries, and some overall general comments on all the submissions, the remarks about the Rank Residence were extremely positive and fitting the Matsumoto Prize.

Congratulations to the team – and the talent at tonic runs deep.  We’ve chosen well.

One last announcement, Triangle Modernist Houses, is now NC Modernist Houses.  A name change that more accurately reflects the growing geographic reach of the nonprofit organization.

What do we want?

questionsSimple question, right?  But the answer isn’t the simple.  We knew we wanted an energy efficient home, but “how” energy efficient?  We knew we wanted a Modernist home, but how Modern?

We knew we wanted one level.  Having lived in our current home that is essentially 3 levels – and really only using one – it’s apparent that the other floors are somewhat wasted.  And – since we have dogs – old dogs and blind dogs – accessibility is important.  Having elderly dogs and vision impaired dogs help you learn about things like “aging in place” and accessible (or universal) design.

I am probably more into the aesthetics and the design process than my husband.  He’s definitely into the performance and the materials.  Not to say that he’s not quite particular about design, because he is – he just sees more beauty in a functional design and I might be swayed by anything ‘shiny’…

In working with tonic design, we knew they had recently done a LEED Silver home.  What’s cool about that is that it is the was the first Modernist LEED home in NC.  With basic tenets of modern architecture being lots of light / windows / volumes, it becomes an additional challenge to make these types of homes energy efficient.  It’s pretty easy to make a box with tiny windows LEED Gold or so, but not so easy when you want to use materials like glass, steel and concrete – historically pretty horrible insulators.

As we worked through the design process, we focused on the house and the shop and how we could build efficiently, and how we could make sure that the buildings related to each other correctly and to the site correctly.  The “shop” portion of the project is important to us, so it needed to be fully integrated into the plans.  It was not going to be an ‘outbuilding’ or anything that spoke a different language than the house.

The result is ShopHouse.  A study in glass, concrete and steel that also ends up being LEED Platinum.  Getting that to happen is going to require the right materials and the right team.

Is there a Match.com for Architects / Clients?

words about projects

words about projects

Who is going to design this new house?  Then, who’s going to build it?  How will they view our project?  How involved can we be?  Can this person take our list of must haves and translate that into something REALLY COOL?

In the last post, I noted that we’d done several TMH tours and had started to get a good “feel” for the local architecture scene.  TMH is an amazing resource for all things Modern.  Between the tours, the website that has amazingly comprehensive listings for homes for sale and the local architects’ resumes (both past and present) – we started here.

Hubby and I sat in the couch and had our notepads and dueling laptops, and we went through the listing of Triangle architects one by one, writing our lists with ‘definites’, and ‘maybes’.  After we completed that exercise – we compared notes.  Anyone that made both our ‘definites’ made the short list.  Where we both had ‘maybes’, we discussed, and same thing when we had an architect that made only one ‘definite’ list.

Because this is a personal matchmaking decision, I won’t name names – but I do think its important to share what we did and why we ended up where we did.  We had 4 architects / firms that we wanted to engage and speak with in greater depth.  We had talked to several of them on site during a tour, but that’s not the time to discuss anything in any detail.

We spoke to 2 single architects that were not a design – build firm.  One fit with our energy efficiency objective, having worked on some very efficient homes with probably the most extreme area builder of ‘green’ (man, I hate that word) homes, and another fit our need for aging in place and truly understood our goal to make the house ‘dog friendly’.  Ultimately, we decided that it was imperative to us to have a design – build firm.  We’ve both refereed finger pointing sessions at work as to which team was at fault for some failure and we didn’t want to do that in our house.

That left us with two good design – build firms.  There was some initial concern that, while there was not a single tonic design home that we didn’t like, were they “too far out there” and too much an artist and not enough scientist (or engineer, or builder) to execute what we knew would be a very technical project.  We appreciated their design process that allowed a feasibility study to be done at a VERY reasonable cost and would likely help us understand if we could make this all work.  But, with the other firm, after viewing a more modern home of theirs, we thought perhaps they were “just right” – so we started there.

We went through an extensive schematic design process with Firm #1.  It was very enjoyable as we went through 4 different designs and spoke to each one of them about what appealed to us, and what did not.   One of the more bizarre items that we threw out there was that we wanted a house with “no sheetrock and no 2×4’s”.  While it sounds odd, it was really meant more to challenge the teams to think differently and not necessarily an edict.  Ultimately, we learned a LOT through the initial design process with the first team.  We learned that I wasn’t going to win the battle and get a flat roof, and that we really did want single floor living, and that we were going to be pushing the envelope on both design and energy efficiency.

Technically, we could have gone forward with the design we had – it worked, it was certainly aesthetically pleasing, and I am sure would have been a great, custom, liveable house.  But – it wasn’t as “boundary pushing” as we were looking for.  It was conventionally constructed and contained many of the dreaded sheets of sheetrock and tons of 2×4’s…  Because tonic design had the Feasibility Study option – we felt we owed it to ourselves to see if there was a better fit out there before making such a major commitment.

After a meeting or 2 with Vinny, Katherine and Maggie, it was apparent that this team not only would rise to the occasion – they would thoroughly enjoy the challenge and loved the idea of no sheetrock and no 2×4’s.  The design process was so tactile and creative (think building blocks, clear lucite chunks, clay, paper, scissors and tape) it allowed a level of engagement and involvement by us, the client, that it truly felt like “our” house already.  There was a sense of adventure when we started on the LEED Platinum route, and when we started asking about concrete sandwich panels, and all sorts of other nontraditional materials – it was met with a true sense of engagement and the collaborative effort we were looking for.  We knew this was the place and that the house would be exceptional.

Next up – performance, cost and form following function.  (or, as it’s sometimes known – the engineer vs the marketing chick….)