House Update

You may be wondering the status of the house as of late. We had to sort of take a short break and take the time to proceed through the variance process…which we were finally APPROVED for on Tuesday…after being continued for an extra month from September to October (due to requests from neighbors). This is quite exciting and really was a major hurdle we had to leap to take one step closer to construction!

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For those of you who may not be familiar with the variance process, a variance is essentially asking the city to make an exception to the zoning code. In the case of 955 Hosbrook, a number of variances were essentially required in order to develop the property.

The current zoning code for the city was last updated in the 1960s, a time when society was in the midst of suburbanization and the automobile dominated culture. As a result, much of the zoning ordinances reflect this ideology. This means that the code is written with much more of a suburban mindset, often making it difficult to develop on small, urban infill lots…which is a really unfortunate side-effect of the zoning code.

The city, however, is very aware of this situation and is the process of re-writing much of the zoning code, in an effort know as Indy Rezone. This is definitely reassuring and I hope to see many of these issues addressed when the results of this effort are revealed.

As mentioned, the size of 955 Hosbrook essentially necessitated variances in order to be developed. Here is a quick breakdown of the variances that were required:

    • Square Footage:  The code specifies a specific first floor square footage minimum and this house does not meet that requirement. The house is 625 sf on the first floor and the requirement is 660 sf (not far off though).
    • Parking:  The code requires 2 parking spaces per single-family residence. This becomes extremely difficult on a 20′ lot, and the proposed design calls for a single car garage.
    • Open Space:  A minimum of 55% open space is required. The proposed design has a net area of 43% open space.
    •  Setbacks: The code has specific requirements for setbacks from the property lines, with the sides being a minimum of 4′ (10′ aggregate), rear being 15′ for the primary structure, and the front setback being 25′ or dictated by average setback along the surrounding block. This proved to be the most contentious variance request with the surrounding neighbors. However, the house design simply took cues from the surrounding neighborhood, with many homes exhibiting the proposed setbacks the house design was seeking. In fact, the scale of the house will fit in better with the neighborhood with the variances than it would have without these, making it an argument of context. As a result, the staff gave full support to all of the requested variances.

So, now that we’ve cleared this hurdle, we can focus on the completion of documents, pricing, and starting construction. We hope to begin construction before winter really sets in. Stay tuned…we are getting closer and closer!

Casework Elevation

Here is the current proposed elevation of the continuous line of casework along the west interior wall of the house. As you can see, this wall serves many of the functions of the house, including: coat closet, pantry, kitchen, tv/entertainment, computer and desk workspace, mudroom storage off garage entry, wardrobe closet, laundry, bookcases and shelving, and built-in window seat.

Interior Elevation

House Elevations

Here are the promised exterior elevations/views of the house (for the most part). Check them out and let me know your thoughts.

The overall design of the house is very much driven by simplicity, taking a simple geometric form and manipulating it through a set of moves. As a result, the exterior design strategy reflects this same language and responds to this same strategy.

As mentioned in the previous post, the design of the house inherently becomes very linear in nature, due to the narrowness of the lot. As a result, the exterior material strategy responds to this condition, reacting to the linear nature while also reinforcing it in certain ways.

The material palette is limited, reflecting the minimal nature of the house. The materials currently being explored include: metal, fiber cement, wood, and perforated metal.

Northwest View

The primary exterior cladding is a vertical metal panel. The vertical nature of the panel responds to the linear condition of the house, not necessarily in opposition to it, but does serve to soften the length of the home and also provides a sense of verticality and scale to the house.

The secondary material is fiber cement lap siding and panel siding, a material very common in residential architecture. The horizontal nature of the lap siding serves as a strong contrast to the verticality of the metal, while still being subtle in nature, due to its dark color. The introduction of this material also serves as an opportunity to break down the exterior, providing moments of relieve from the primary cladding material and creating a sense of patterning on the facade. The panels give the sensation of the windows pushing down from above, up from below, or wrapping around the corner. This provides a sense of movement, activating the exterior.

The third material is wood. The introduction of wood at the recessed/carved out portions of the house serves to provide a sense of texture at the human scale. The wood is introduced at the recessed front entry and at the courtyard carved out between the garage and main house. These spaces are moments where the human scale is important, as they are moments of constant interaction and the wood provides that sense of warmth at these key moments where the user continuously interacts with the house.

The final material is a perforated metal. This metal serves as a sort of screen wall at the front entry. This entry is defined by the carving out of space, revealing the wood material, and the metal screen wall occupies the western edge of this entry porch. The perforations in the metal allow for a transparency through the space and a lightness to the space but still serve to define the front entry visually. Further, the perforations allow for the opportunity to use the material as a climbing surface, allowing vegetation to interact with the wall surface and also to soften this front entry.

North Elevation

East Elevation WestElevation

House Plan

I’ve been hard at work on the right plan for 955 Hosbrook. When you are dealing with any lot, you immediately look to the context and site constraints for influence. This lot is no different. The first thing you will notice is the size and scale of the plan. When dealing with a lot with a total width of 21′-6″, this absolutely becomes a driver for the design of the house.

Instead of approaching this width as a hindrance, the design for 955 embraces the concept of the narrow house, borrowing ideas from the shotgun house typology, a typology already in existence in Fountain Square. For those of you unfamiliar with the shotgun house, these are houses built primarily in the South following the Civil War and are characterized by their narrow width and minimal street frontage. They were designed for the working class, and are very small and modest in nature. Much of the reason for their narrow width is a result of taxation rules of the time, which were determined by amount of street frontage. Therefore, the narrower the house, the cheaper the taxes.

First Floor Plan

Second Floor Plan

The name “shotgun house” is often thought to be derived from the notion that one could open all of the interior doors in the house and a shotgun could be fired from the front door through these doors and straight out the back door of the house. This concept is the initial driver for the design of 955, the concept of continuity from front to back. As a result, the dominate design feature in the house is focused around the creation of a continuous line of casework along the western interior wall of the house, on both the first and second floors. The continuity of this feature reinforces the idea of continuity from the front door through the house to the back door, creating a pathway cutting through the house, a visual continuity along this line.

Further, this casework acts as a sort of buffer between the house and the close proximity of the freeway to the west. The casework acts as an almost thickened wall, in a sense creating a sort of buffer zone, while still being punctured in moments to allow for daylight and views of the downtown skyline. This line of casework contains much of the functional components of the house. Key functions include:

First Floor:

Coat Closet: Adjacent to the front entry is a full height coat closet, addressing the entry sequence and need for storage.

Kitchen: Just beyond the coat closet and entry is the kitchen. In a small house where space is at a premium, it makes most sense in this scheme to combine the circulation pathways needed within a kitchen space with the circulation pathway needed to move through the house. The kitchen component contains all of the necessary cooking components, including a full height pantry cabinet. The refrigerator is located on the opposite wall under the stair to allow for this casework component to be streamlined, with minimal interruptions to its continuity.

TV/Entertainment: As you move toward the living space, the casework transitions into the casework serving the adjacent living space. This casework serves as the location for the entertainment components of the living space, including television, music, and associated storage.

Work Space: Beyond the living space at the emergence of the outdoor courtyard, the casework transitions into a work space, containing desktop space providing adequate work space for computers and associated necessary storage.

Mud: At the point where the casework terminates into the garage, drop off “mud” space exists to allow for coat and shoe storage as one enters from the garage.

Second Floor:

Wardrobe Closet: The main bedroom on the second level contains a continuous run of wardrobe closet, providing adequate storage space for clothing, while still allowing for additional storage space or the option to incorporate a space for a television.

Laundry: A stackable washer/dryer element exists directly at the top of the stairs, providing direct access from the upstairs bedroom.

Books and Window Seat(s): In the corridor connection to the roof deck, the caswork becomes a sort of library space, with space for book storage and additional shelving space while also providing related window seats to sit up, read a book, and enjoy great views of downtown.

As this continuous line of casework is the conceptual framework for the house, the remainder of spaces connect from this circulation pathway, keeping interior spatial organizations simple and connected. You will notice the house occupies the majority of the site, from front to back and outdoor space is at a premium. As a result, the desire to still connect to the outdoors is one of much importance. The main living space directly flanks the outdoor courtyard, providing for an intimate green space and lots of natural light into the space. Additionally, the use of the single story garage allows to make up for the minimal ground floor outdoor space, providing a large second floor roof deck.

So, what do you guys think? As I’ve often stressed, the scale of house here is very important to me. This house is small, but serves the concept of living quite well. Let me know your thoughts. Elevations (exterior and interior) to come very soon…

New Lot Location

As you may or may not remember, I had previously mentioned I was in the process of purchasing a vacant lot on Lexington Street in Fountain Square. After unforeseen circumstances involving existing unpaid demo fees on that lot, the brokerage firm was unable to sell the lot. As a result of this, I was forced to move on and continue the search for a suitable lot for my own house in Fountain Square.

This search for a vacant piece of property in Fountain Square has not necessarily been an easy one. Vacant lots on the open market are few and far between, so I’ve found it takes a little more digging and determination to find a piece of property. Alas, I have discovered my lot (a fantastic one…I might add), and the quest to build my own home continues.

The new lot location is on the west end of Hosbrook (955 Hosbrook) and is quite unique to Indianapolis (not 100% unique to Fountain Square though). Why is it unique? Simply put, it’s 1600 square feet. Yes, 1600 square feet for the entire lot (it seems many of the homes built today have a footprint of 1600 square feet, let alone the entire lot being this size).

955 Hosbrook

955 Hosbrook - Close

Now, you may be wondering why I would be so interested and committed to building on such a small piece of property, but really, there are plenty of reasons to justify the lot.

The location is great.

The property shares an alley with the north side of Virginia Ave, meaning I am adjacent to the main commercial drag in the neighborhood. This means quick access to restaurants, bars, art galleries, the cultural trail, etc. I think you get it. All of the reasons Fountain Square is so great. It’s a completely walkable neighborhood, and this lot takes full advantage of this fact.

The view is great.

Because of the wonderful introduction of the interstate system through downtown Indianapolis (this is obviously sarcasm here), This property ends up with an uninterrupted view of downtown Indy (not dissimilar from the Shelby Street house). Further, you get nice views up Virginia Ave into Fletcher Place and Holy Rosary as well.

(Google Street View will have to do for the moment)

(Google Street View will have to do for the moment)

The neighborhood is great.

Fountain Square is definitely on the upswing, the residential areas are no different. This lot on Hosbrook actually sits within the small hood known as North Square. It’s a really great location as North Square has a small but active neighborhood association and has a great mix of people in the neighborhood. Also, it’s great to see the mix of architectural styles in the neighborhood and openness to new and contemporary ideas about home design.

The lot essentially forces the belief in house size and scale.

To me, this is by far the number one reason I love this lot. It’s a 20 foot wide lot (give or take a couple feet…waiting on the official survey), something not often seen in the flat and sprawling city of Indianapolis. Fountain Square, however, has a much higher concentration of these 20′ lots than most other parts of the city. Much of Fountain Square developed as a more working class neighborhood, resulting in much more modest homes, and often modest meant smaller in scale. As a result, the shotgun house typology was one often turned to for new homes in the neighborhood, and these were most often built on 20′ lots.

Further, not only is the lot narrow, it’s shallow (less than 80′ deep). Because of the way the street grid works, with Virginia being one of the four spokes out from Monument Circle, you end up this narrowing condition as one moves west along Hosbrook Street, each lot becoming shallower and shallower. This lot being at the west end of the street, is one of the shallowest lots on the street, and probably within the entire neighborhood.

I actually love these constraints. I often find the constraints open up new ways of thinking about design. They force us into a set of parameters, and these parameters are foreign to our typical day to day design processes. As a result, the design will necessarily be specific to its location and given condition, and will take advantage of these constraints (these constraints become opportunities to re-imagine the house and re-envision it).

It is my hope that with this house we can continue the discussion on how we live and how size factors into this. We have become so much a society built on material goods, constantly bombarded with advertising, products, electronics, etc. While I am not much different from the average person and often fascinated by many of these products, I want this house to be a testament to a smaller, more simple way of living, stripping the house of much of its unnecessary square footage and better understanding how to efficiently use space.

As you probably already guessed, I have been hard at work scheming away, and am definitely liking the direction the design is going. There are a number of factors at play with the design, beyond its site, including cost, materiality, form, scale, size, etc. As I continue to work through these schematics I will most definitely share these with you. Look for some plans in a few days (as I am almost set on their direction).

Continue Planting the Seeds

Landscape work continues. As you will note in the plan, the landscaping on this project is quite extensive…and…extensive means labor. It has been quite a process planting the various grass, shrubs, and trees, but the vision is slowly becoming more apparent and will most certainly be worth it in the end.

Shoveling Mulch

701 Shelby...sunset

You can start to the number of plugs that have already gone into the ground. We have planted much of the prairie dropseed, purple love grass, serviceberries, and redbuds, just to name a few. As previously mentioned, the intention was to maintain a native plant palette, as this is quite important in connecting with our local environment and utilizing plants already adapted to this region. It’s honestly a really great way to feel a stronger connection to your locale and to the environment in which we live. It actually serves as a reminder to the beauty that exists within our own landscape.

Planting Plugs

Much of the Shelby Street side is now planted. Next will come the Fletcher side and the backyard. This will include construction the raised beds for vegetables and hopefully we will see the construction of the deck and fence extension in the near future. Look for more updated pictures in the next few days.

Plantings along Shelby