Saturday, April 28, 2012

on staying dry

The rain has been falling fairly steadily for a few hours in Miami, which made for a good day to check the interior of tin box for leaks. So far, it looks reassuringly dry inside. In fact, there's no sign of water inside the house, which means the roof, walls, windows, doors and vents are all working as intended. The strategies we've taken to ensure weather-tightness should help us avoid the considerable costs of repairs related to leaky roofs. These include:

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

wet construction

The tile work in the bathrooms is nearly complete. Our tiler, Sergio, has been patiently and meticulously setting the various wall and floor tiles in place. In the guest and master baths, he has had to work with a pitched floor that slopes to a drain to allow the rooms to be used as big showers. The work looks pretty excellent so far:

Monday, April 23, 2012

epiphyte club

Still recovering from our post-Earth Day hangovers, dreaming about the landscape at tin box. The house was always intended to be a pavilion at the juncture of several gardens, but our ideas regarding those gardens were always fluid, as we waited to see just what kind of spaces the house would produce. We're eager to start laying out the raised planting beds for the vegetables and fruit, position the new trees, arrange the native species that provide habitat for our local wildlife, and begin filling in the ground with interesting alternatives to the conventional lawn.

We are also just about ready to start building screens of epiphytes, or air plants, to shield the master bath from view. South Florida's bounty of air plants, like the bromeliad pictured here, force the transplanted gardner to redefine the verb to plant, with its assumption of a soil base for vegetation. We've planned to build a light armature to cover with air plants around the back corner of the house, so that we won't need curtains in the bathroom. We'll include bromeliads and orchids for their colorful flowers, and dense mats of Spanish moss for visual privacy.

Saturday, April 21, 2012


Detroit has become a metonym for “urban decay,” a pejorative term that misleadingly implies that cities are primarily responsible for their own decline. As Detroit’s manufacturing economy has relocated (first to other states, then overseas) and its population has shrunk by half, the city fabric has suffered from neglect, abandonment, arson and poor redevelopment decisions. Meadows and parking lots have replaced too many buildings, leaving the city fabric as a patchwork quilt with pockets of vitality isolated by vast swaths of open space. So why is Detroit such a wonderful city?

Friday, April 20, 2012

day job, ultra grateful edition

I just got back from the annual meeting of the Society of Architectural Historians in Detroit, where I had the extraordinarily great fortune to receive the society's Founders' Award. The award recognizes an article published in the Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, which, in this case, was the essay I wrote on Italian colonial urban planning in Ethiopia. It was really humbling to listen to Marta Gutman, the jury chair, read the citation and realize that so many of the people in the room had taken the time to mentor, guide or nudge me in some important way over the last fifteen years. For someone who still sees himself as an architect learning how to write, and to think like a historian, the society's recognition means a lot.

The collegiality of the community of scholars is amazing, and also bears mentioning. Discourse, collaboration, mentorship and service are all essential parts of what drives the production of knowledge. It's a privilege to be a part of this world.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

utilities and services

Earlier this week, our photovoltaic (solar-electric) installer connected the wires for the p/v panels through the holes we'd carefully drilled through the steel trim at the top of the upper roof. These wires will be concealed beneath, and protected by, the final piece of trim that gets installed as a cap over the top edges of the roof's standing seams. Once the cap trim is in place, the roof will be finished.

Saturday, April 14, 2012


We have to admit that when we first started talking about making the house a habitat for wildlife, we were thinking roof gardens and native plants. We did not plan on steel walls making a home for critters. Apparently, the local creatures are pretty resilient, and they've adapted quickly to the house. In fact, we've started re-looking at the house with an eye toward eliminating areas that could become wasps' nests or other unwanted habitats.


On Wednesday, our cabinet maker installed the first run of cabinets in the kitchen. These are the base cabinets under the big window facing the courtyard. After the drywall and other heavy work in the house is done, we'll install the drawers, doors, appliances and countertops. For now, the carcasses of the base cabinets give us a better idea of the scale of the room and the relationship between the kitchen and the courtyard. We also get our first hint of the warm wood tones that will contrast against the prevailing cool grays of the steel, concrete, drywall and glass.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

dry construction

Gypsum drywall must be one of the most under-appreciated inventions of the modern world. First developed in the 1890s at the New York Coal Tar Chemical Company by Augustine Sackett and Fred Kane, drywall replaced the more labor-intensive process of carefully placing several layers of plaster over lath. Lath and plaster construction is not just laborious, it's wet, heavy and time consuming. By comparison, gypsum drywall is lightweight, installs quickly and requires less specialized labor.

The first installation of drywall at tin box today spurred this meditation on its myriad benefits...

Saturday, April 7, 2012

David drilling holes

David has been drilling holes at the top of the roof this weekend so that the wiring for the solar panels can be hidden under a piece of trim.

We also sprayed in more insulation in the mechanical lofts. It's our weekend to be monkeys.

Friday, April 6, 2012


Like any house, tin box has a number of holes in the roof to allow plumbing and mechanical vents to draw noxious, humid or lint-filled air out of the building. Each of these penetrations provides an opportunity for rainwater and critters to come inside, and so we need to use flashing to provide water-tight seals around the vents. All but one of the vents (the plumbing vent shown here) are protected by the overhang of the upper roof, which provides a comforting redundancy. The vent pipes are flashed with Dektite pipe boots, which adjust to fit a wide range of pipes, and which have a flexible base to accommodate different roof types. The pipe boots are held in place by mechanical fasteners and made watertight with a bead of sealant.


Our steel erectors, Mike and John, have finished installing most of the steel trim on the outside of the house. The trim provides a clean finish at places where the building materials have been cut roughly and where we've used expanding foam insulation to fill the gaps between the walls and roof. Trim is generally a decorative element, whereas flashing is used to keep water from infiltrating the house. At tin box, both the trim and the flashing are made from sheet metal which has been finished in the same Kynar coating as the wall panels.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

batt insulation

We've had most of the interior walls filled with batt insulation. We're using the insulation to help reduce sound transmission from room to room. We're expecting a 5 point increase in the STC rating (of sound transmission) due to the additional mass in the walls. The Johns Mansville fiberglas batts are made without formaldehyde, which is important for maintaining our health, and are made with glass that is at least 25% recycled.

The insulation has also produced some nice spatial effects...