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The Architect
Bob Harper
Wednesday, 30 July 2008
Vermont 2008: Man's Weekend II

Posted by Bennett at 8:20 AM EDT
Updated: Wednesday, 30 July 2008 8:24 AM EDT
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Monday, 30 July 2007

Vermont 2007: Man's Weekend



Heavy Stuff:  Big Rocks, Steel Woodstoves


Graphics, Design, Execution: Mike Mark Chris Paul Barak Eric BSB

placement of stove: Bob Harper

Concrete Footings for the front steps: everybody
prior experience: Eric
More than meets the eye.

p.s. the steps my brother and I built towards the
back perch, sib reunion weekend



BONUS PICTURE (courtesy of Barak):


new extreme sport:

rock surfing

Posted by Bennett at 4:57 PM EDT
Updated: Tuesday, 31 July 2007 11:06 AM EDT
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Saturday, 23 September 2006
Two weeks in Vermont










Dear Fiends and Family,

Louise and I had a wonderful two week sojourn in Vermont. Entertained guests, spent the night with Barak, Jenn, Baeden and Griff in their new house, had campfires, took road trips, and accomplished an honest weeks construction work.

This is my third attempt to launch photos into cyberspace, and I keep losing the text, which gets consequently shorter and shorter........

This is probably it for serious building-in-Vermont projects for the 2006 season.

The failing kitchen floor on Long Island calls...

love to all.....BSB















Posted by Bennett at 4:34 PM EDT
Updated: Friday, 29 September 2006 10:21 AM EDT
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Monday, 19 June 2006
Baeden's Window

Dear Family and Friends,

Since these bulk-mail updates form the basis for Letters to the Architect online, and since all the postings so far this construction season are of indoor projects, I thought It might be of interest to someone in the universe who might stumble this way to see a shot of the exterior of the Big Wooden Tent (aka, compliments of Barak, Green Starfall. But that's another long story involving the vision quest for the property, a green meteor, and a drive the next day up a mountain dirt road with an empty tank of gas.)

Yes one can watch a fraction of the night sky out the balcony windows; we experimented Friday night after arriving about 10:30. Woke to a beautiful first light and sunrise, but by the time we had coffee, the mountain was blessed with one of those Vermont showers, and we decided to start the day with Baeden's Window. Huh? Last year when our grandson was about 16 months, he was upstairs in the guest tower looking out the window across the porch roof toward the house. He went down by the guest bed, which had only the two very short awning windows by the pillows, and patted the wall that faces the main house and said "Dis". He then ran back to the window that faces the house, patted it and said again "Dis". Back to the bed space and again back to the window. Twice more, "Dis." Disrespect???? Since Baeden then was a functional biped on the cusp of articulate speech, we of course heard "this".......Or translated into a grandparents gloating pride and projection, "Hey you guys , you need to put another window down here by the bed so I can see across the roof and talk to Mommy who is upstairs waving from the windows there."

An architect born. How could anyone argue with such articulation? Actually the bed did need more cross light and ventilation, and the fenestration of that elevation of the tower needed something for balance.

Privacy had been an issue of concern for the guest bed, but come on, nobody can see anything going on in a non-electric camp if the battery powered florescent lights are off. And there are always curtains. The connection that has occurred between the two masses of the structure is profound.
A real sense of communication. Of course if Gluckman Maynor Architects had designed it, I would have to move the window four inchs further back, so there would be perfect alignment of this window with the axis of the two side windows in the master bed space. But as I have heard Bob Harper say, "Close enough." He then added with a laugh, "I bet you'd never hear Richard Gluckman say that."

Anyway, thanks Baeden. Oh yes, and there is a box of wooden blocks on casters under the desk below the kids loft. When you are ready to continue your architectural education. Unless of course this window is the swansong of that career, and you are ready for the next challenge elsewhere.

The rain stopped and we got knotty tongue and groove cedar on the underside of the eyebrow roof over the living room windows. We got a good rhythm going measuring, cutting and installing the clapboards that cover the inside flanks of the brackets of the same roof.
A vast improvement in the way the view of the meadow is framed.

We packed up Saturday might and left early Sunday for a visit the Barak, Jenn and the kids, and got a drive-by look at a house in South Hadley Ma, on which they have made an offer. We also stopped on Long Island at Cutting Fields Arboretum for a Fathers Day celebration with Ken and Espe Nadle, Fons and Ellen, David, Jeremy, Denise and the kids.

We need to get serious about the exterior (weather permitting, or tarp magic invoked) and order more clapboard before the next Northtravel.

Love to all, BSB

Posted by Bennett at 5:59 PM EDT
Updated: Monday, 19 June 2006 7:19 PM EDT
Monday, 5 June 2006
Mock-Ups on the Mountain

Once again........your computer screen glows with images and words from Vermont.......

In years past, mention has been made of Bob Harper's wonderful study in natural light, which this big wooden tent is. Also referred to is the lack of the complete cross illumination scheme, since the second floor was completely covered, and the plan called for half of the upstairs to be open . A vertical 18 foot wall of windows!

Problem has been we loved the view out the upper windows, and wanted access to open, close, and clean them.

We have never seen this 18 foot wall of windows. As the design process unfolded in my mind, it became obvious that a bridge to the windows was necessary, and the real epiphany came when a balcony was added relating to the window like a inglenook relates to a fireplace. There were structural challenges with the outside corners of this balcony, and I considered chain to the ceiling joists (which I never mentioned to louise....smart me). I also drew brackets coming off the wall underneath, but this was imagined without actually checking the available vertical space between the first floor windows and the framing of the bridge, and it would have been insufficient. On the drive up an idea which had been passingly considered, returned with insistence. Build a double 2x8 diagonal brace from the front wall to the bridge framing, notch it to receive a double 2x4 on edge, and through the magic of cantilevers, the outside corners become rigid.

Thank God it rained all weekend, and we had no choice but to remove the temporary floor and joists and actually frame the whole thing.....well not the whole thing as the balustrade is imagined to be elegantly joined out of mahogany (The voice of Bob Harper in my head saying, for the love of God at least use mortise and tenon joints.) But the unfolding process required a mock up to look at and the love of life required a temporary railing for getting up at night to pee, and the love of grandchildren required that the railing have unclimbable vertical balusters that were structurally viable. Ripped up a lot of scrap and unused 2x4 and what you see is another Great American Quickie.

We will get around to elegance and hardwood eventually, but this will do for now. Have I mentioned that this whole design event and execution blew us both away. As Louise would say, EEEEEEEHAAAA! She ran to North Adams and found a used walnut rocker, and on the way home we stopped at another favorite antique barn just before the Taconic Parkway and found the second rocker. Mission accomplished.

Love to all.....BSB

Posted by Bennett at 9:30 PM EDT
Report from the Non-Electric Mountain -- May 29 2006

Greetings All:

How often have I mentioned this project as being a non-electric camp? If you pushed me I would of course add parenthetically that we have a generator to run the power tools of construction. Yup. Here in the start of the forth year of construction the universe withdrew the parenthesis. Translation: the generator wouldn't start. Checked what my limited diagnostic skills allowed, which isn't much, and even a run down the mountain in search of an auto parts store open on Memorial Day Weekend for a spark plug didn't bring it to life.

Our last visit we had determined that before resuming outdoor work, we would install the 10-5'x5' sheets of Baltic birch ply we were storing in our living space . I thought the stairwell would be worthy of finish and prefabricated enough mahogany railing to do it up right. But......cutting plywood with a hand saw? The damn stuff may be only 1/2 inch but all nine laminations are birch, which is a hardwood. For better or worse I had with me a brand new Japanese Razorsaw, which cuts on the pull stroke, and being under tension when cutting is very thin and has no set to the teeth. Worked like a charm, actually didn't tear the outer veneer at all, which cant be said of even the finest circular saw blade. At my annual physical, the doctor always asks what I do for exercise. "Work." "That doesn't count" Wanna bet?

The railing had been designed by Bob Harper as a flush cap on the stairwell walls. Louise and I agreed that it would be nicer to have it overhang the wall a bit and have a quarter round profile on all corners. We kept Bob's detail of having the rail return to ground after the incline, and the joinery gets a bit more interesting with the overhang, especially where the incline meets the vertical return at the landings.

Here is a photo....just don't look to hard or you will see the shmoo that forgives all sins of haste that occur when constructing five hours from home.

Sunday we had a visit from Barak, Jenn,


and Griffin.

Baeden is just a hair to young to yet delight in the kids loft, where I was concerned about just a screen being sufficient to stop a twelve foot tumble to the ground outside. The inspiration for an alternative to bars across the windows, was to make the bars a marble roll and drop maze.

Of course.

Maybe by the end of the summer it will seem fun to a two year old. Do grandparents suffer from expectations of the grasp exceeding the reach? Guess so. We liked it.

In our non-electric state we did enjoy a couple of battery powered advances. Saturday night we watched Erin Brockovich on a portable LCD DVD player. Thanks to Barak and Chris for a Christmas of the player and Netflix membership. On Monday I finally got around to assembling and learning the operation of our 12 volt propane instant hot water heater (The heart of which is a Bosch Aquastar unit).

Amazing, a shower with enough water pressure to actually rinse off. Solar showers are neat, ecological, and all that, for camping in a big wooden tent, but come up a bit short on pressure for rinsing. isn't technology wonderful. Is such rejoicing oxymoronic in the context of celebrating a non-electric existence? .........I choose to ignore any inconsistencies in my thought.

Love, BSB

Posted by Bennett at 9:10 PM EDT
Return to the Mountain -- May 10, 2006

Dear friends and family

It does pain me that these Letters to the Architect no longer begin "Dear Bob and Patty"....Bob Harper, FAIA, esteemed friend and architect, gave me three pages of drawings that have generated the exterior and structure of our tiny non-electric camp in Vermont. Before his death, we had many conversations clarifying details as we went along, but except for the kitchen-on-casters, my drawings for which he reviewed and approved, we really never got to detailing the interior of the camp. (an aside: I googled "Lulu's Kitchen" and said kitchen on casters came up the 11th of 161,000 listings..... if you follow the link at google, you have to scroll down a bit through the blog to find the pictures).

So, as we begin the articulation of the interior, the only architect I can refer to is the Bob Harper who lives on in my spirit and imagination. I don't claim to be a worthy channel for what he might have come up with, and while working in my studio on a desk/ grandchild's climber/ sofa side table all combined, to be taken North and installed on our first visit of the season, I fell apart. Loneliness. Insecurity. No architect to confirm ideas with. A few sobs of self pity and then I heard a rustle behind me, the unmistakable crinkle sound of the velum I had done the drawing on. Solace for the spirit, but I will not commit to type any interpretation.

We went North to open the season with a truck load, leaving via New London ferry at 7:00 a.m. Saturday. We had to do a few windows worth of extension jambs and install four sheets of Baltic birch ply, which is our wall finish, and then we got this multi-functional structure installed. Both Lulu and I like the contrast of mahogany with the birch, a bucket load of exposed stainless steel screws thrown in, and we feel like we are on the way to understanding the interior program for the camp.

This was a nice project for a first visit, but the unfinished exterior does remain to be done, so it will probably be awhile before we start the second floor railing system which I sketched yesterday, and which will also be birch and mahogany.

We had frost on Sunday morning. Worked 14 hours on the day of rest, and had Monday off as well. Hiked to the top of the hill looking for the elusive glade of the Mother of All Cherries, but didn't find it. I have stumbled upon this place twice, so I don't think this four foot plus diameter tree is a hallucination, but she does keep herself hidden from those who are known to wield a chainsaw. Left about noon and got to the Riverhead Toyota dealer in time to order a Scion Hatchback, manual five speed, and fog lights. 37 mpg versus 15 mpg for the truck (going downhill). I feel guilty driving to work in that behemoth carrying only my lunch pail. We will keep the truck, but only drive it when truck specific tasks are at hand. The additional $10,000 to buy a hybrid didn't work out in the numbers, even with the tax credit for alternate energy vehicles.

We opened last years construction season putting in windows for the grandchild's loft, and we started this year by completing the two ladder climb to get up there. Nice view. Good place to watch birds and chipmunks. One can also watch the rocks and trees as they journey through time. Photos by LMB.

Love to all.... BSB

Posted by Bennett at 8:40 PM EDT
Updated: Monday, 5 June 2006 8:43 PM EDT
Sunday, 23 October 2005
Seasonal Shutdown

Hi All,

This time of year when contemplating spending a weekend in a partially insulated non-electric camp in Vermont one spends a goodly amount of time at www.weather.com looking at 10 day forecasts. Of course the only forecast nearby is North Adams, Ma. and they are 800 ft above sea level, we are 1200 feet higher. Saturday they predicted it would start raining about four in the afternoon......okay, that would make for a pretty good exterior siding workday . If fact it did start raining at 2:00 p.m., but we got to enjoy showers of sleet starting at 7:00 a.m. We worked in between the bouncing ice balls, and quit when the 34 degree rain soaked us. Not a whole lot of progress to show. However we reached the conclusion that this year we would not be heros.

Next week we will call Wally the mountain farmer and ask if we can get the four wheel drive truck up the mountain, and if so, go pack out for the season. Chickenshits. Smart Chickenshits.

Woke up to a Sunday dawn to find the car covered with snow. Headed down to see Barak, Jenn and Baeden for a transgenerational fix and were amazed to find that Rt 2 (the Mohawk Trail) had one lane washed out from all the recent rain in two places, one on each side of Florida Mountain. The top of said mountain had at least two inchs of snow.

Ah yes, I remember weekends of walnut woodchips: sculpture as the three dimensional sister art of architecture....... love to all BSB

Posted by Bennett at 6:18 PM EDT
Monday, 10 October 2005
Half a Construction Season Later

Dear Friends and Family (and any lost souls who stumble on this blog entry at sykesgallery.com),

It has been a long time since I sent a Report from the Mountain bulk mailing, and half a building season since I updated the website with a Letter to the Architect. So what has been happening with our non-electric camp, 2000 feet up the side of a hill in Vermont? And what has happened to the passion with which this endeavor has been documented after every weekend of construction and the two 5 hour commutes?

I did finish the stairs, with mahogany treads and landings,

and did finally get to the work so desperately needed on the exterior: trim and finish roofing on the porch and guest tower.

There is nothing particularly interesting about roofing, either as photos or narrative, except for solving the scaffolding problems to get our sorry old asses up high enough to bang down the shingles.

That was the point where my blog posting stumbled, fell, and ceased. The sense of loss this camp, this realization in living form, suffered with the death of Bob Harper, the architect, (www.robertlharper.com) also caught up with me, paralyzing my motivation to post a Letter to the Architect. Finally, by way of excuses, I have entered into reading "The Nature of Order: an Essay on the Art of Building and the Nature of the Universe" by Christopher Alexander, which is a lengthy quartet of books that has consumed every available, sedentary minute of my time. Mr Alexander may be slightly mad, but that doesn't mean he isn't right.

With the main roofing completed, we have been able to turn our attention to the finish of the exterior walls. The corner boards were an ongoing discussion with Bob Harper. I have always had concern that on the overhang brackets and the support for the eyebrow roofs and rear cantilevers, water would run down the sloping corner boards and concentrate where they meet the vertical walls. I was able to study an example of this configuration of siding that was at least a hundred years old at the Shelburne Museum, up near Burlington, Vt. and sure enough, there was an area of advanced decay spreading out from the center where the angled board topped the vertical one. The solution I finally arrived at (with astral prompting??????) was threefold: cut the top of any horizontal or angled trim at 30 degrees, cap it with flashing, and most important, insert a horizontal return at the bottom of every sloping board to shunt the water out and down.
I have no idea if any or you, dear readers, can make sense of my description and the photo documentation. I ramble on because it has consumed a great deal of thought.

One of Bob's last communications to me was that he thought that clapboards would be aesthetically fine, rather than cedar shingles. Lord knows they go up faster! The cost of clear cedar for the skirt boards, window trim, and corner boards would have bankrupted the whole project, so I chose to use 5/4x6 inch knotty cedar decking. It still is not cheap. I left the 1/4 inch radius on the boards, and in fact routed it on the rips that had to be made. Design feature. I routed a shiplap joint onto the two boards that constitute the skirt trim, which generates the width necessary to Bob's design, without involving the increased board-foot cost of wider boards. Louise and I liked the white line of the aluminum drip cap flashing and decided to let it be another design feature. We also used a sealer to coat all sides of the exterior cedar, including the end cuts as they were made, before we put it up. God knows I don't want to have to paint or stain this place later!

I guess that brings construction news up to date. A couple of weeks ago we invited our neighbor Wally over to dinner. He farms the mountain and keeps an eye on the camp during the week while we're gone. At the end of the meal, at dusk, Wally looks out those wonderful east windows, and exclaims "Look! There goes a moose!" Sure enough! Right across the meadow which is our primary view. Sort of makes the whole endeavor worth it! Love to all....BSB

Posted by Bennett at 1:39 PM EDT
Updated: Tuesday, 11 October 2005 6:15 PM EDT
Monday, 20 June 2005
Report from the Stairwell in the Cabin on the Mountain

Solo on the mountain.....37 hours of work in three days and 10 hours of driving.....this may just be an incoherent report ....yup, dont have a clue as to how to get from my fried synapses to your hopefully somewhat more rested electro-spark-gaps....huh?

Louise had to work over the weekend so I drove up Thursday night with a cabinet in pieces in the car. Assembled the corner cabinet with 5 more metal drawers on Friday morning, and then set up shop on the porch. I now have a table saw, compound slide saw and jointer. Finish carpentry is unthinkable for me without a jointer. I got a Palmgren bench jointer from Amazon.com. Found their customer reviews very useful in choosing this one (104 lbs of cast iron) over a stamped sheet metal/plastic Delta.

I discovered over the weekend that the 5x5 foot sheets of Baltic birch ply dont just automatically stack to fill a wall. The diagonal measurements dont agree (the test for right angles in a rectangle) and after hand planing the corners more and more as I worked up the wall, I discovered that the factory edges aren't straight.....maybe thats why the Soviet Union lost the cold war, they cant make square plywood. So much for an easy wall fix.

I screwed the extension jambs together and then screwed the resulting box to the Andersen window frame. The flashing pan under the window pushes the bottom out almost 1/8 inch, so the extension jambs were taper cut with the jointer. I then lapped the ply over the jambs, screwed it tight and trimmed it back with a router. This is an evolution of a suggestion from Bob Harper back when we were thinking of using T&G pine....(too much work) Speaking of Bob Harper........by removing the temporary floor to open up the stairwell, it becomes increasingly obvious that his design is an accomplished essay in natural light.There remains one more space to open, but the ceiling on the second floor has to be done first......... the stairs are the priority, so that will wait. Thanks Bob. We keep in the camp the picture that Patty Harper sent us at Christmas of a younger Bob; it is a reminder that the structure has a guardian angel.

I am at risk in my weariness of regressing back to High School when I was accused of typing illegibly, so I'll close....Best to All....BSB

Posted by Bennett at 5:27 PM EDT

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