Rainscreens: Let It Rain!

Sustainability, or "green" building, is something that is becoming more and more common these days, and in some respects expected by new home buyers.

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Interstitial Spaces Part 2 [Design]

NOTE: THIS IS PART 2 OF THE INTERSTITIAL SPACE SERIES. PART 1 CAN BE SEEN HERE. In Part 1 of this short series I gave a brief overview of what interstitial spaces are and the benefits we found to using them in our projects. In this second part, I'd like to describe the interstitial space in more detail.

Featured Image

Just to recap, in traditional floor assemblies in residential construction, all utilities and services usually run "within" or "inside" the floor. This adds a level of difficulty and challenge, that although common and expected, is truly unnecessary.

Interstitial Construction

As you can see in Fig 1, the first thing that is different about interstitial construction is the void space where are all of the utilities and services are located. This space is created by installing a hung ceiling below the floor joists; we usually make this space 10" - 12" deep. The hung ceiling is comprised of 2x4 joists and 1/2" drywall.

Interstitial Construction

Interstitial Construction

Fig 1 - Interstitial Construction

The benefits of this construction method are immediately apparent.

  1. All utilities can now simply be installed without any additional cutting or boring of structural members. Remember, this takes time and has a financial impact on the project
  2. All structural members are intact. No weak members or over drilled joists to worry about here. The building inspectors love that!
  3. Subcontractors are not in each others way. Without tight and confining spaces, the subs can actually make their runs smaller and more direct from point to point, saving material and time.
  4. Sound between floors is minimized. If you were to add insulation between the floor joists, the sound transmission from space to space, is even smaller.
Interstitial Construction - Close Up

Interstitial Construction - Close Up

Fig 2 - Interstitial Construction - Close up

As you can see in Fig 2, fire sprinklers, recessed lighting, data cabling, plumbing, etc. all fit and work very nicely in the interstitial space. One added benefit of this methodology is an easier repair or expansion process if you ever wanted to add more lighting or increase your data connections, for example.

Here is a picture of the interstitial space we created at our Beethoven Four project:


I must admit, its not the best picture in the world, but here you can see the 2x4 dropped ceiling (pre-drywall). You can see some recessed can lights going in and electrical cabling as well.

Overall, we love interstitial spaces. Everyone from subcontractor to home buyer wins. What can be better than that?

Interstitial Spaces Part 1 [Design]

Featured Image

NOTE: THIS WILL BE A TWO PART POSTING DUE TO ITS LENGTHIER TOPIC. One of the things that is a challenge with all design and architecture, is how to produce something that achieves what you want, perhaps better than you expected, for the same or even less cost. One of the strategies that we like to use here at The 4Corners is something called an interstitial spaceFirst developed in the 1960's, the architect Louis Kahn brilliantly used them in his Salk Institute in La Jolla, CA. Interstitial spaces provide:

  1. Smoother framing inspections for city inspectors
  2. Quicker and simpler install of all utilities / services
  3. Labor cost savings due to quicker install times.
  4. Better sound separation between occupied floors
  5. Easier repair access

What is an interstitial space?

Basically an interstitial space is a space between spaces. In architecture it used as a space for mechanical and electrical services. By locating these services within this horizontal cavity, its easier to adapt the rooms above and below to evolving needs. For this reason, the most common buildings that use interstitial spaces are hospitals and laboratories.

In residential construction you rarely if ever see it. We however, love it. Consider the fact that one of the biggest costs to a any project is labor; usually amounting to 50% of total hard costs. Changing out fancy tile for example won't go anywhere near as far as reducing 1 day of labor cost to your project, give or take. So let's explain why we like it and why we use it.

Traditional Construction Method

Image - Traditional Construction

Image - Traditional Construction

Fig 1. Traditional residential construction showing all services embedded within floor joist and floor assembly.

In the typical construction method, shown above, all utilities are run through the floor joists. This is always a challenge for all the subcontractors. As you can see in Fig 2 below, you get a lot of conflicts; pipes running into each other. More importantly, every service needs a hole bored through the joist in order to fit; this takes much time and effort. After all of these utilities are in, you usually end up with a swiss cheese effect and the building inspectors hate that. So guess what. You have fix that, and that takes much time and effort. Other issues include, drywall screws and or nails puncturing critical piping, soffits becoming necessary when two services just can't pass each other (such as the drain pipe and HVAC duct below, and wood blocking (which prevents joist twisting) being insanely hard to deal with.

Image - Traditional Construction - Close Up

Image - Traditional Construction - Close Up

Fig 2. Close up of floor assembly in traditional construction method.

All of these issues are easily handled with an interstitial space. I would be remiss if I didn't note than one other solution to this has been the use of open-web joists, or engineered joists with pre-punched cut out areas. We have not used these to date, but the additional material cost may be overshadowed by what we consider the advantages of using an interstitial space.

In the next post, we will explain how we create our interstitial spaces and how we used them in our most recent project, Beethoven Four. Check back soon!

Update: Check out the 2nd part of this post here.


A visit to Origen [Design]


After a meeting in San Diego, Paul, Danny and I came across Origen at Civita, a project by Shea Homes. We decided to check it out and we were very impressed. It was interesting to see Shea Homes, the largest privately owned home builder in the US, thinking outside the box. The overall feel of the project was very modern with efficient layouts. With their unique and bold designs, Origen has created an attractive product for young professionals and starting families. Origen has two different types of town-homes: the skyLoft and the socialGarden. I personally liked the look and feel of the skyLoft models over the socialGarden mostly because of the large two-story windows and loft style living spaces which created very open and bright rooms. Every unit was staged a little differently to show the versatility of the spaces. They also incorporated aluminum framed glass sliding barn doors in various rooms which created a clean look and were an efficient use of space.

In ,

Architects as Developers win again! [Design]

In 2008, I graduated from Woodbury University's Master's of Real Estate Development for Architects program (MRed). This is no ordinary MRed program: it is taught solely by architects to architects. Its mantra is that architects are the best-suited people to take advantage of design and creative space-making in ways that typical developers can not or will not. Most developers are naturally risk averse and tend to develop spaces that are not innovative, big and boring, and full of the same gimmicks you see at every project up and down Southern California. Architects know that there is much more to it than that: quality of space often can make projects much more valuable than a spreadsheet will lead you to believe.

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[pullquote foo="bar" author="Ted Smith, Director of MRed"] "Architect builders envision and make the projects normal developers will not touch."[/pullquote]

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Enter Lloyd Russell, one of my professors while at Woodbury San Diego. His latest project, Centre Street, an apartment and studio complex for rent in San Diego, has solidly proven the mantra correct once again. Although the units are smaller than the typical apartments, and even considering that third floor tenants have to climb three flights of stairs, given the absence of an elevator, Lloyd was able to get rents 20% higher than what the comps (and I'm sure typical developers) said he should he get. Now why is that? Because Lloyd is a great salesman? Maybe he is, but the more probable answer is: Architecture and Design. That's why. People want to live in amazing spaces, full of light and character, and yet flexible enough for their use. Not surprisingly to us, they're willing to pay a premium for it. So, while most developers design by spreadsheets, formulas, focus groups, and trends, Lloyd, and others like him, innovate and pursue great quality of space.

We at 4Corners are continuing to pursue this mantra with our own projects. We are in the business of space making, not real estate development. As I've told the Fab Four, (a name I affectionately use to refer to my Woodbury Professors: Ted Smith, Jonathan Segal, Sebastian Mariscal, and Lloyd Russel) I want to be just like them when I grow up!

Please check out their successful work to see more proof that as developers, Architects always win!

(Full disclosure: As an architect-at-heart, I'm obviously a teensy bit biased...oh well.)