Subscribe by Email

Your email:

Follow Me

Come See Our Residential Images on HOUZZ

houzz interior design ideas

Blog Suggestion

If you have a suggestion for a Blog Topic or a Question you would like us to answer, please let us know! We will try to answer your questions, and if we think they will be of interest to our audience, we will publish the responses in the blog!

Also See Ben's Blog...
Sacred Space | Holy Place

SacredSpaceHolyplaceEnjoy these reflections on the suddenly sacred sites we see all about us.

Add Me to Your Database, Please!

We periodically send out newsletters and postcards that keep our clients, friends, and supporters informed about what we are doing. In addition we will send blog summaries and other useful information from time to time. We promise not to send you stuff every day or even weekly -- we hate spam too.

Architecture Blog

Current Articles | RSS Feed RSS Feed

Curved Wrought Iron Fence -- Residential Design Tips


We went to my parents house for dinner and a swim. While the kids were in the pool (Grandma and Karen were watching them), I went down looked at the new fence my Dad is having built (he would have made a good architect) and thought I would share it. 

Stone Wall and Fence

As you may know, code requires a fence around a pool to keep random people (especially young kids) from getting to the pool and accidentally falling in the water (The fence is also good for keeping the ravenous deer away from the landscaping). A storm had knocked over a large pecan tree which in turn destroyed the typical vertical bar wrought iron fence that had previously protected the pool. When the fence was gone, we noticed how much more open the yard felt. To maintain this effect and still meet code, the stone base of the fence was built further down the hill thus making for a taller stone wall tat is capable of keeping univiuted people and animals out.  Moving the wall out also allowed the planting beds on top to be expanded and gives more space between the raised pool area and the fence. The stone wall was capped by a gracious cruving wrought iron fence that creates some enclosure without reducing the view. 

Curved Wrought Iron Fence

 I think the new fence is a great addition to the house!

Residential Acoustics & Soundproofing -- Residential Design Tip


You don’t hear (pun intended) much about residential acoustics unless you are talking about houses in airport flight paths or along busy highways.  However, during a recent interview for the Chicago Tribune, I starting thinking about sharing what we know about sound issues in residences.    Even if you don’t have offensive noise generation outside of your house, it is entirely possible you may have some inside—especially if you have teens like I am about to.

Here is a link to the article


ChicagoTribuneLogo resized 600

Indoor noise issues (sounds you don’t want to hear) come either from ‘in the room’ sources (say a TV that is too loud in an echo-rich environment or a husband who snores) or  ‘out of the room’ sources (say my son playing the his favorite Black Eyed Peas at full volume, or the AC unit).


The ‘in the room’ problems generally are due to reverberation (echoes) in the room.  If the room has a lot of hard surfaces (especially if it is big), sounds in the room reflect off the various surfaces and create a lot of extra noise.  This is a big topic for a later blog post, but suffice it to say the most common solution is to add ‘soft’ material such as curtains, furniture, rugs, people, etc. to help absorb the sound so there is less reflection.  The other solution is of course to reduce the level of sound in the room (not so easy if it is a snoring husband -- although CPAPs do help for this source).


‘Out of the room’ problems are more difficult.  Sound is pretty sneaky in that it can move through air and it can move through solids.  Here are four tips for solving noise issues in your home (or church, office, or whatever).


1.  PLAN

The best and cheapest method of dealing with noise transference from one room to another is planning.  We laid out our house so that the media/family room was above the garage and only shared a wall with one other room, so that the master bedroom had no rooms above it (and the AC units that are above it hang from the roof structure), and my office is set in a quiet place between the master closet and entry.  All of this reduces potential noise flow.  Conversely, we purposely had the kids’ bedrooms open to the great room, so that we can hear what they are doing (perhaps a mistake as they turn into teens, but we really didn’t want to be too separated from them).  One other thing to think about is where noisy elements like AC units and pool equipment are in relation to your rooms and windows.

 Here is a Plan Diagram of the Second FloorResidential acoustics

2.  Wall Design

You will never be able to completely design away all possible noise issues.  Next you need to look at how your walls are designed.  Remember that not all walls have to be built the same—save your money and focus on the most critical areas when using more costly techniques.  The first thing with noise transmission is wall mass.  Adding masonry (exterior) or insulation helps reduce noise transference.  We used Quietrock, which is a noise absorbing drywall, and it has worked great on the wall between the kids’ rooms and the wall between my wife’s office and the media room.  Double walls and resilient channels also help reduce the noise transmission.


3.  Air Gaps

Sound is sneaky.  You can have a exceptionally good acoustic wall, but if there is one small hole in it, the sound can get through and your ears will adjust to the sound.  That being said, you need to make sure there are no holes in your walls.  If it is an exterior wall, pay close attention to sealing the windows and any other penetrations tightly (you should be doing this anyway).  Watch for back-to-back plugs and switches as they can create easy sound paths (really you should separate each box by at least one stud). Using acoustical sealant at the tops and bottoms also helps.


4.  Flanking Paths

Before WWII, the French built an impenetrable network of defenses, called the Maginot Line, along the border with Germany.  The problem is that Germany invaded through Belgium and outflanked the defense. 


Don’t let this happen to your acoustic wall.  Ceiling elements, especially recessed cans, can allow sound to get into the attic and get around the walls.  Similarly, AC ducts can allow sound to move from room to room.  If you really want a room to be separated, look at insulating the ceiling and floor.  You can even have a separate AC system for a room like a media room to prevent it from putting sound into the ducts.  Lining the ducts or putting sound baffles in the ducts can also help.


There are lots of things that can be done to reduce noise transfer from one room to another, but if you follow these four tips, you’ll be way ahead of the game.  Designating problem noise sources and which rooms need to be isolated from this noise early in your plan will go a long way toward avoiding ‘noisy building syndrome’.  Be sure to discuss this with your professionals early in the design process, though – an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure! 

Here is a Plan Diagram of the First Floor

Soundproofing resized 600

Simultaneous Use Makes Communities Livable


Fayetteville 1 24 07 resized 600

Simultaneous Use is what makes a town or city great.  As a senior designer, and a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects, Clovis Heimsath has been concerned with these issues for many years.  He believes there is a new appreciation for the human scale in our communities.  The architecture and planning professions have begun to place a higher premium on healthy interactions of people over the convenience of cars and infrastructure.

A previous generation of American architects and planners promoted huge public investments in what became unlivable communities.  Learning from past disasters, there's a growing appreciation for livable communities - both new and old. 

This month's Texas Architect Magazine features a commentary by Clovis Heimsath.  Unless you are a member, you won't be able to access it from their on-line edition.  However, we've obtained permission from the editor to make this available to our readers. 

Clovis' Commentary is in this month's Texas Architect.


The Building Committee - a Great Group or a Big Mess?


"The Camel is a Horse Designed by a Committee"Building Committee - Camel Designers?

 Why do committees get so little respect?  And Buildings Committees, by reputation, are considered by many to be among the worst types of committees.   We've worked with all kinds of building committees on hundreds of churches and spiritual spaces.  Just about everyone of them have been phenomenal.  Is the bad reputation truly deserved?

Building Committee   Surowiecki Book resized 600In his celebrated book, "The Wisdom of Crowds," author James Surowiecki devotes a full chapter to the problems with small groups and committees.  He documents several celebrated committee failures including an analysis of the 2003 Columbia shuttle disaster.  NASA's committee of experts, according to Surowiecki, allowed one member's dismissive attitude to stop a discussion about wing damage that happened at lift-off.  Even with the partial information available, the committee, had it functioned properly, could have prevented the fiery breakup that cost the lives of all seven crew members.

In short, committees suffer when leadership, full participation, and a clear goal or objective are lacking.  Conversely, when these, and other elements are present, small groups can produce miraculous results.  Silicon Valley icon, John Doerr describes these characteristics and others in his Stanford University Entrepreneurial Thought Leader address.  He calls these "Great Groups," and refers to a book by the same name.

 Building Committee - Bennis' Great GroupsThe book, "Great Groups", by Warren Bennis, is subtitled, "the Secrets of Creative Collaboration."  Bennis acknowledges there is no way to guarantee that any group will be great, but there are ways to maximize their effectiveness.  The book is a fun read, with insights on several earth-changing events developed by Great Groups.  Bennis looks at the personalities behind the Manhattan Project and how the interactions within the group made the atomic bomb possible.  Another chapter reveals that it was a small, determined group of engineers at Xerox who actually pioneered the technology that became Apple's revolutionary MacIntosh computer.  That story reveals both the success that happened within the group, but also the failure of the larger organization that bungled the breakthrough results.

Here are some tips specifically for volunteers serving on building committees.  My partner, Eric MacInerney, organized some of the most important lessons we've learned from helping groups solve "impossible" problems.  Except for Bennis' contention that Great Group members are young (therefore, they don't know they can't do it) we believe all building committees should have the characteristics of a Great Group!



A City Chapel in the Historic Cemetery


city chapel oakwood cemetery

In 1914, Austin built a city chapel for all faiths. This small structure, located in the city’s oldest cemetery, has the potential to be a one-of-a-kind landmark. In the United States, very few, if any, non-denominational chapels were built and owned by municipal governments.  

The Oakwood Cemetery Chapel is located in the center of the oldest cemetery in Austin, Texas. Both the Oakwood Cemetery and the Chapel are listed on the National Register of Historic Places and are Historical Austin Landmarks. The small stone chapel was designed by Charles H. Page in the Gothic Revival style and was built in 1914. It was originally used as a mortuary chapel. As the funeral industry developed and rituals changed, the need for the chapel diminished. The chapel was overlooked for many years.

city chapel oakwood door resized 600Neglect of this beautiful jewel has proven to be both a blessing and a curse. On the positive side, no major alterations or changes have compromised the building's interior or exterior.  Minor modifications in the 1940's were sympathetic to the design and had no significant impact. A partition wall added in the 1970's made an office in the front portion of the nave, but will easily be removed.

The building, however, has suffered significant deterioration due to the many years of neglect. The biggest challenge will be fixing the foundation movement that has caused cracking in the masonry walls. The roof, in past years, had leaks that were only recently addressed.  This resulted in a good deal of rot on the wood trim and damage to the interior plaster walls.

Save Austin’s Cemeteries was founded in 2004 in order to preserve the city’s valuable historic cemeteries. The SAC has taken on the Oakwood Chapel Restoration Project as the first in a series of projects to highlight their importance for future generations. Led by Leslie Wolfenden, the current SAC president, the effort started with HABS-level drawings in order to document the existing building. With the City's approval, SAC will begin raising funds from private donors, and other granting agencies. The project has already received a grant from National Trust for Historic Preservation. Here is a short film on the project.

As a partner of the Oakwood Cemetery Restoration Project, Heimsath Architects provided the feasibility study on a pro bono basis. The study includes the condition assessment of the existing structure, exploration of architectural restoration solutions, programming for community use of the chapel, and the potential of creative funding for the project. The study recommends a three-phase restoration project, which, when completed will see the entire structure repaired and restored. A small restroom/storage building will also be added behind the chapel to provide necessary support.

city chapel oakwood interior resized 600The restored chapel will be ideal for small receptions, presentations, performances, or a worship activities. Based on the extensive historical research, measured drawings and photographs, many gathered already by SAC members, we have created exterior and interior renderings, and a 3-D movie to show the Chapel in its restored condition.

city chapel oakwood conference interior resized 600On July 19th, 2011, Ben Heimsath participated in a public meeting at Carver Library hosted by the City's Department of Parks and Recreation. Leslie Wolfenden presented an outline of how Save Austin Cemeteries will take the lead in restoring the Chapel on behalf of the City of Austin. Ben discussed the architectural challenges and also was interviewed by KVUE news. Attached is the link to the interview:

Here's the video we produced for the feasibility study:


All Posts