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The Architect
Bob Harper
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

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