Monthly Archives: November 2011

Technique: Space Planning

Space Planning:
This post will cover space planning for the micro-studio. Before I begin any designing I will need to know how the space will be used. As the famous Architect Louis Sullivan stated “form ever follows function”, so in spirit of that I will first determine the function of my space.

Below is the footprint of my building. (The total square footage is approximately 56’)

You can see from the image with human scale that there is a very limited amount of space within the 56’ square foot space.

Things that I want included into the program:
1. Work space/Food prep
2. Bed
3. Storage
4. Shower

Below are 2 simple schematics of the areas integrated into the space. The first schematic is demonstrating the 1st floor plan (storage, work space, shower), the second schematic shows the 2nd floor (storage, sleeping area).

The images below are 3-D depictions of what all the spaces might look like assembled:

The next post will be refining these spaces followed by determining what type of foundation this structure will need.


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Getting to know your site Part III: Site Model

One of the key components to understanding the site is to have a scaled site model. This will help me better understand scale, orientation, and access for the micro-studio. I have chosen to build my site at ¼ “scale, which leaves my model big enough to make design iterations of the micro-studio.
The first thing to do when building a model is to have a scaled map of the site, with the existing structures present. There are multiples way to get a map of the site, however I want to make sure that the map that I use is one that will print to scale. This is important because I am going to use this as a template to cut out pieces for the model (think cut and paste).

If you have AutoCAD you can use this method:
1. Find a map of the area.
2. Print a PDF of this map.
3. Place this PDF in Power Point (to crop/resize)
4. Copy and place the PDF in AutoCAD
At this point I need to know an actual dimension. What I did was measure the exact length of my house. Once I know this I can draw a line in CAD, and then resize the map in CAD until the front of the house and the line meet up. Once I have this I should be close enough (within a tolerance of a 1”) to use this as my scaled map.

If you don’t have AutoCAD you can use this method:
1. Open Google Earth
2. Type in the address
3. Use the rule icon (it is the 10th icon over from the right, looks like a ruler) to measure the property, adjacent structures, streets, etc.
Basically you can use this image and ruler to build as you go. This is not an exact science, but it will allow you to “eyeball” the layout and general shapes of the existing structures and site.

Building the model
Items that will be needed:
1. Base (wood, MDF)
2. Chipboard
3. Basswood or Balsa wood
4. Exacto knife
5. Glue
The above items are enough to build yourself a basic scaled site model. For the base I picked up a simple 24”x24” sheet of ply at the hardware store. Chipboard can be purchased at select art stores; in Washington DC I am only able to get it at Utrecht. For this model it should take about 5 sheets. As far as wood I like to use basswood, balsa wood is a cheaper quality and tends to be a lot more delicate. Of course you will need a cutting tool and glue; I also like to use wood glue.
If you’re going to use AutoCAD make sure you print the map at the correct scale, as mentioned I chose a ¼” scale.

Below you can see the how I started the model:

Below is close to the finished product:

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Getting to know your site Part II: Examining the Site

After finding true south in reference to my site last week, the next thing to do is examine my site. I’m going to cover the site by doing the following:

1. Review location
2. Identify the topography
3. Make note of any existing conditions that may affect the design

There are several tools that can be used to look at a site. I like to use Google Earth because it allows me to measure areas in the site. Although this is a helpful tool, it shouldn’t be a replacement for actually measuring the site itself. The other tool that I use Google SketchUp, this is extremely helpful because I can place the SketchUp model in Google Earth to see how it looks on the site. If you are unfamiliar with Google SketchUp I will cover this later.

Below you can see my site, in the yellow square, viewed from Google Earth:

This is a pretty simplistic view of the site, but it gives me an idea of what surrounds the site from a perspective that I might not otherwise be able to capture. I will get closer photographs of the site so that I can look at specific details later.

The next thing to do is look at the topography for my site so that I can use this information for building my site model. The first thing to do is familiarize yourself with how to read a topographic map and what the lines mean. By entering my site’s address into the U.S. Geological Survey’s map locator and downloader webpage, I can get a map that shows the topography for my site. Since my micro-studio’s square footage will be so small, and my site is relatively level, I shouldn’t need the topographic information. However my plan is to build a site model approximately 4800 square feet, at a ¼ “ scale, so I will need the surrounding topography.

Lastly I need to collect information on the existing conditions of my site. Things that I am looking for are obstructions, trees, infrastructure, etc. Below are some pictures demonstrating items that my site currently has, which are highlighted in yellow.

As you can see below I have an existing staircase that consumes approximately 32 square ft. of my allowable space.

This is image shows the area on my site that is most accessible to the south facing axis, but as you can see I have a few obstacles in my way.

Now that I have an idea of what the existing conditions are I can begin making the site model.

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Website of the Week

If you have any interest in Green Building projects, reused building materials, or just staying informed of Green Building events, then Sustainable Sources is the website for you. Recently when searching for information on reuse of wood materials, I came across this website. In the “Construction Waste Recycling” section of the site they described what materials are typically recycled and guidelines for methods and materials. I also found the Events calendar helpful, as well as the Resources section. Be sure to check this website out if looking for a new Green Building resource.

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Getting to know the Site Part I: Orientation

The one thing that is crucial to passive solar design is orientation. This means that before I begin any designing, the first thing that needs to be established is my site’s accessibility to the south. Having the micro-studio face the south is just one of the things that will make it a passive solar design. Before I go any further on why you establish your orientation to the south or how you use capitalize on the orientation, let me suggest that you reference the passipedia website for the basics. It would be an understatement to say that this is a good starting point if you are considering building your own passive solar design, it is the source. I will of course walk you through my learning experience and will do my best to generalize the fundamentals of passive solar design and building, but it’s always best to go to the source.
The first thing for me to determine is where is true south in reference to my site. In order to do this I’m going to do the following:
1. Find my true solar noon, this is when the sun reaches its highest elevation.
2. Create an opportunity at this precise moment for a shadow to be cast, so that shadows direct true south.

This method may seem archaic however it’s actually very accurate. Most people might think to use a compass, but the issue with using a compass is that you are not getting TRUE south. The reason the compass method is not 100% accurate is because you still have to apply a magnetic deviation. I’m not going to go into specifics about magnetic deviation, but if you want to research it you can find more information here (

Step 1:
I go to NOAA’s website to put in my location: Washington, DC. Based on this information I will know exactly when solar noon occurs. On this particular day solar noon occurs at 11:51AM.

Step 2:
I take a weight suspended on a string and hold it in the air towards my site, at precisely solar noon. The line of the shadow is pointing in the direction of true south, which I carefully mark with a ruler.

Now that I know the direction of true south I can plan for maximum southern exposure in the design of the micro-studio.

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