Vibrant civic centers are a defining characteristic of a great many cities, towns and counties across the United States, and often linked to the historic roots of the community. There’s been a refreshing push in recent years to transform historic and aging buildings into modern facilities that continue to serve as civic gathering spaces rather than construct new municipal buildings on a greenfield site far from the traditional town center. With technology-dominated lives and an all too familiar sense of disconnection from others, ensuring physical gathering places and a sense of in-person connection, such as a courthouse green or town square, is more important than ever.
What began with fixing a leaking pipe turned into a forensic exploration of the bones of the Branch Museum of Architecture and Design, designed as a mansion by John Russell Pope for the Branch family. Even though the plumbing system is nearing the end of its life, the structure of the house was built to survive the fires that occurred throughout Richmond’s history. University Circle, historically the domain of UVA professors, was roofed with ordinary asphalt shingles, but the hips and overhangs were softly curved, lending the house a very distinctive appearance in this otherwise safely Jeffersonian Charlottesville neighborhood.
Glavé & Holmes’ work at the Branch House included replacement strategies for the 102-year-old plumbing lines. It was more challenging than expected because the building’s construction consists of concrete floor slabs and Pyrobar (gypsum block) walls. This meant that it was very difficult to trace and replace pipes, but was informative as to fireproof construction strategies in the early twentieth century.
Part of the drawing set from John Russell Pope’s office, dated 1916, included structural drawings by the Fireproof Contractors Corporation in New York City. This showed that the house’s fireproof design was deliberate in the early design phase of the project. It appears construction followed the design specifications to protect the building from fire, which consists of concrete slabs supported by the brick exterior and central internal bearing walls with some steel beams and columns where needed for longer spans. Walter Dotts of the Old House Authority, and a direct descendent of John Kerr and Beulah Gould Branch, suspects a massive fire at Richmond’s Jefferson Hotel in 1901 factored significantly in the decision to make the house fireproof, as well as Richmond’s rather strict fire protection building practices at the time.
While building with concrete dates back at least to the ancient Romans, it did not become a common commercial building material until the latter part of the 19th century when engineers experimented with reinforced concrete – in which iron and, later, steel rods embedded in the concrete helped with tensile forces in spans. The building industry was not only interested in the novelty of reinforced concrete at the start of the 20th century but in finding ways to make it affordable by reducing the cost of on-site building of formwork. The Branch’s slab design included one of these products, a metal tile [i.e. pan] system that is a forerunner to today’s steel decking for concrete slabs. After researching several textbooks printed between 1900 and 1915 on common construction techniques and concrete design for buildings, G&HA architectural historian Fred Esenwein was able to decipher the structural drawings and trace the manufacturer of the metal tiles to the General Fireproofing Company based in Youngstown, Ohio.
To maintain a highly protected building, the non-structural partition walls are made of a fire-resistant material called Pyrobar, first identified by the project’s contractor Daniel & Company. It was a product made by the U.S. Gypsum Company starting in 1903 as an alternative to terra cotta tile and in production until the 1960s when drywall became a dominate material with tested fire-resistance. The name is likely a hybrid of pyro meaning “fire” and bar shorten from “barrier.” It is a hollowed-out molded block and looks similar to concrete block except it is about twice the size as standard concrete block and the primary material is gypsum instead of cement. The block faces have a wavy surface so that plaster can be applied directly to the blocks. It is usually found in buildings requiring stringent fire protection, such as civic buildings such as schools and courthouses, and less commonly found in residential construction.
As fascinating as this construction is as a history of building technology, it has posed challenges in efforts to determine the locations of pipes, because pipes have been discovered embedded in the Pyobar walls and are possibly embedded in parts of the concrete floor slabs. Selective demolition in this construction system also poses higher risk to damaging historic finish materials such as ornamental plaster ceilings and ceramic tile walls. The approach has been to incrementally introduce new plumbing lines concealed where cavities exist between the slab and finished ceiling or to route the pipes exposed in service areas out of public view, which has been done dating back to the 1919 construction of the house. Having to work around the 1919 fireproof construction gives new meaning to the phrase “they don’t build ‘em like they used to.”
An odd feature caught our eye while rehabilitating the historic Brody Jewish Student Center in Charlottesville. This very artistic house on University Circle, historically the domain of UVA professors, was roofed with ordinary asphalt shingles, but the hips and overhangs were softly curved, lending the house a very distinctive appearance in this otherwise safely Jeffersonian Charlottesville neighborhood.
Last time, we looked at the carved helical newel post at the Brody Jewish Student Center in Charlottesville, which was restored in collaboration with Charlottesville-based contractor Martin Horn, Inc. The 1914 house, designed by accomplished local architect Eugene Bradbury, featured another unique design element: a roof type otherwise unknown to the Charlottesville area. Interior inspection showed that the framing at the valleys and ridge was curved, as were the eaves. In fact, the house was originally covered by a shallow hipped roof that made use of a roofing system popularized by American wood shingle manufacturers in the 1910s and 20s to resemble thatch.
The Brody Center’s roof had been replaced with asphalt shingles at mid-century, when the cedar shingles wore out. The roof retained some character but with a much less robust effect. While the budget didn’t permit the recreation of the wood shingle roof, G&HA made sure the radius at the hips, ridge and eaves was maintained, and that a medium grade of shingles was used which would provide a similar thickness to the cedar shingles while permitting a similar tight curve of the junctures and eaves.
The final product, with its distinctive silhouette, preserves a historic character-defining detail and is an enhancement to the neighborhood.
You may know it as the bathroom, restroom, water closet, WC, lu, or privy… but no matter what you call it, we all need one from time to time! While the bathroom/restroom may be one of the most functional and potentially utilitarian rooms in your residential or commercial space, that doesn’t mean it can’t be beautiful too.
Since moving indoors, there have been many advances in plumbing, and there are a variety of design opportunities to create character defining details and spaces of repose.
Let’s take a look at flooring. Use of large tiles can be problematic when it comes to sloping-to-drain. Consider installing a trench drain at one end with a decorative grate. This is especially useful for commercial projects that are subject to frequent and heavy cleaning.
Walls present a variety of options including painted gypsum board, stained or painted wood wainscot, or decorative tile and accents. When niches are provided in shower walls, additional storage can be added.
Toilet partitions are another opportunity to provide character. If the budget allows, consider wood or stone partitions rather than phenolic. A row of toilet stalls can be enhanced with a bit of decorative trim work as well.
Consider a statement piece such as a large mirror with decorative trim or a beautiful stand-alone mirror.
The vanity area is yet another focal point where there is an opportunity to create beauty with function. Consider a metal sink rather than the traditional porcelain and add a matching faucet…
…Or a large scale stained wood console with stone countertop.
The same idea can be applied in a commercial setting as well, where a built-in vanity can appear to be a piece of furniture.
Attention to detail can turn a utilitarian space into a memorable one, and maybe even one in which you choose to linger, spend some quiet time, or simply take in the view. There is opportunity for design in every living space.
Hotel & Home Studio Director
AIA, LEED AP BD+C
As the winter season passes and the thought of warm spring breezes begin to tease the senses, our desire to come out of hibernation urges us to transition our indoor living habits to a more active and renewed outdoor lifestyle. No matter the region, architectural style of the house, or size of the yard, outdoor living spaces are becoming the center of the home and family for many of the same activities that take place inside of the home. More than ever, people retreat to outdoor living spaces for relaxation, entertainment, work, and exercise. This modern revolution of living space integrated within the breast of Mother Nature has become as much the heart of the home as their conventional indoor counterparts, traditionally known as kitchens and great/gathering rooms.
The growing popularity is in part due to the “green” movement where people have become more aware of and in touch with their natural environment. Our affection for outdoor spaces is also due to the ever evolving modern ingenuity that allows us to enjoy all of the same comforts of the indoors such as television, music, efficient cooking and appliances, cooling and heating devices, as well as comfortable and durable, worry free finishes, furnishings and textiles. These modern advancements have allowed home owners to create outdoor living environments that nearly equal the posh comforts of indoor living. Convenient amenities, integrated with the natural landscape, and in many spaces, properly designed exterior architecture that forms the outdoor living space, create an experience that even the most reclusive, indoor loving couch potato could enjoy.
This new lifestyle trend has inspired a tremendous growth in the interior design as well as the architectural and landscape design industries. A beautiful and functional outdoor living space cannot exist without those three elements. In many well designed outdoor living spaces, the landscape design, which creates the natural canvas and forms the architecture, the architecture which provides form and shelter, and the interior or exterior design which provides the luxuries of furniture and fixtures, all become one cohesive element. A well planned design can transcend the seasons allowing accommodations for comfort and entertainment throughout the year and changing seasons and weather conditions.
Our lifestyles are ever evolving. It is an innate need of most to relax and to enjoy their home or living environment. For many, outdoor living spaces are the epitome of the perfect environment to satisfy those needs or desires. Thanks to ingenuity and good design, so many outdoor living spaces can now allow people the enjoyment of their their normal indoor lifestyles in the beauty of a natural outdoor retreat simply by “bringing the indoors out”.
We are told not to “judge a book by its cover” and encouraged not to make snap decisions based on our first impressions, but it is often still our natural default. A well-designed book cover, beautiful packaging, or an enticing menu will call us to investigate further and stimulate our interest in what lies beneath.
Our first impression of a space is just as important. An entryway can either deter prospective visitors or compel them to enter.
When designing an entry, the Hotel & Home Studio Team at Glavé & Holmes Architecture strives to include many appropriate aspects. Materials such as wood, iron, or stone can help create a feeling of a warm welcome and/or present an atmosphere of cool peacefulness.
The size of a door and its surrounding is also important. A larger opening can generate a sense of importance or create an impression of reverence, while a smaller opening can make one feel cozy or as if they are about to enter a welcoming abode.
Many times a less opaque opening can give a sneak peek of what is beyond, thus producing a feeling of enticing wonderment.
The final detail is the hardware. As we mentioned in an earlier blog, the hardware used on an entry acts as the jewelry and is the finishing touch, or “icing on the cake.” This aspect of the entry stimulates the tactile senses and tempts us to reach out and engage, drawing us into the space and beyond the entryway.
What are some of your favorite entryways?
Hardware allows us to perform everyday actions without thought… such as opening doors and drawers, traveling on stairs and turning on faucets. We tend to take it for granted, as function is its primary purpose. When carefully considered as part of an overall design, however, it can offer the opportunity to elevate the ordinary into something spectacular. Shape, material, and finish decisions contribute to the beauty and longevity of the overall result.
Thank you for allowing us to share just a glimpse of our “jewelry” collection. Please subscribe to our blog and watch for more new releases from the Glavé & Holmes Architecture Hotel & Home Studio.
Veronica Ledford, LEED AP
Veronica has spent fifteen years in the graphic and interior design fields, working in Richmond and New York City. She is a fan of DIY projects, Mid- Century Modern and bonsai trees.
Axminister wool carpet was first developed in Axminster, England in 1755 as a way to emulate richly hued Turkish carpets. Two hundred and fifty-eight years later, it is still the preferred carpet weave for hotels, conference centers, and historic buildings.
This Axminster carpet is for Grand Prefunction and Ballroom spaces in a four star resort in North Carolina.
The carpet was a custom design and is the result of a collaboration between Hotel & Home designers at Glavé & Holmes Architecture, and Stark Carpet.
The scale of the patterns, the space in which it will be installed, and the client’s desire to minimize seams all led to production on a unique 5 meter wide loom.
The various elements incorporated into the design include references from architectural elements on the nearby Duke Campus as well as medallions, some of which are over 25 feet in diameter for the largest of the ballrooms.
Stay tuned for more updates as we follow the progress of the design, creation, and installation of this custom broadloom.
Bespoke is a lovely English word, associated with fine Savile Row tailoring. In recent years, furniture makers have adopted the term to describe hand crafted furniture designed and built for a singular client.
Glavé & Holmes Architecture has a long history of these unique commissions to create one of a kind furniture, lighting, wallpapers, rugs, and fabric. Each is a reflection of the individual character and desires of the client and adds distinctive heirloom character to their hotel or home.
The Hotel & Home team partnered with Kevin Lipnicki to create an Asian style sideboard in ribbon mahogany. The marble top makes it a perfect surface for culinary presentations while the case houses media equipment. Created for the Robert H. Smith Center at Repose, the 11,000-square-foot house atop Montalto, the Thomas Jefferson Foundation.