Sky Dome at Nichewaug

How many people does it take to make a public interest design build project get realized…and how much time? Depends on the scale and goals, the Nipmuk project has been on the UMass Department of Architecture radar for over 5 years and has involved more than 100 individuals. This weekend we built a temporary structure on Nichewaug (Petersham) land newly reacquired by the Nipmuk community! The “sky dome” is constructed of Douglas Fir and the oculus points to the southern sky equinox. Wrapping the walls and roof next weekend. This site is off grid, no power or water.


Teaching Concrete Counters in VT

It was great to be back up at Yestermorrow Vermont last weekend teaching a group of 12 students the art of concrete counter-tops.  The best class we have taught in recent years!  My biggest worry all weekend was forgetting to bring socks.  The weather was as beautiful as the group of students!  The projects had several challenges we were able to overcome through collaborative thinking.

The experience is always powerful no matter how many times I do this.  By lunch on the first day we had poured our first set of counters, and by days end had a full kitchen formed up and the math done for a weigh-out of materials Sunday morning.  Students seemed to have a serious focus and motivation to learn and build.  This combination allowed for a brighter side throughout the weekend, humor was crazy, we even came up with a business plan to market concrete balls of all applications…baseball fruit etc send us your money for a start-up ha ha.


roadster bluetooth stereo build

Finished building the Roadster stereo model.  Having built four Aries versions (see other posts)  the goal here was to make a bluetooth stereo with a battery backup and internal power supply to both charge the batteries when plugged in and to run the system while charging.

Running a test on the battery capabilities.  This of course is a general average…volume and input source have a large affect on the rating.  Hoping to get the projected 6 hours realistic about 4.  This system incorporates a 50w variable power source connected to the main amplifier board rated at 50w.   The installed “battery charge bank” of three JETBeam JL260 18650 2600mAh 3.7V Protected Lithium Ion (Li-ion) Button Top Batteries is rated for 500 charge cycles.  The charging is regulated for over and low voltage charging due to the amp range on the power conversion and voltage input sliding scale.  Also changed the indicator lights to be less bright.  A 1/4″ plexi strip is introduced across the top.

Next up is a 20w solar panel to power this off grid!

Add-on 13 Competition Story2

Add-on: A two-phase competition for a freestanding, affordable, ACCESSORY dwelling unit on Cape Cod, 2013


This competition came to my attention two weeks ago by chance.  While reading a book on Craig Ellwood’s life as a Modern Architect, I came across a reference to a house Marcel Breuer designed in the Berkshires of Massachusetts.  It happened to compare the somewhat un-orthidox use of field-stones in in both houses fireplaces, both built in the 1950’s modern style.  This reminded me of the other modernist houses built on the Outer Cape in Massachusetts, I had a admired while driving, biking, and walking the National Seashore Park since youth.

There is a restoration effort currently underway to save many of these dwellings from the McMansion ball.  An online search brought me to the Cape Cod Modern House Trust run by Peter McMahon.  Started in 2006 its mission is to save as many of these houses as possible.  The trust, based in Wellfleet,  is finishing up restoring the third of seven beach lifestyle houses they currently own.  Not having visited these projects in person, I do not have images posted and do not reprint them without owner permission and credit.  To see and read more about these cool Cape Cod Modern Houses visit  which is where I found out about the Add-on 13 Competition  see

With only ten days notice, I entered the competition to design an 800sq ft affordable house on a sandy bayside lot in Wellfleet.  It was a great exercise to start and finish a house design so quickly with so much detail.  Many times forcing myself through decisions at certain points in the process, knowing changes make the project unravel with no time for recovery.  The competition asked for a concept, not detailed house.  It was difficult  if not impossible for me to separate the formal gestures from the functional necessities. Understanding the structural framing connections and how that effects the ceiling heights and sheathing  method is especially important in a small building.  This structure will also dictate inside wall options and limitations, which of course provide privacy and circulation inside and out .  Is a house design which must be modified severely to inhabitable a viable concept?  Is a house design entirely prescribed on the first try the best idea?


Hoping to visit the Cape this Spring to visit as many of these houses as I can with my new wide angle camera lens!

Material exploration: Epoxy


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Test 2:
Rough concrete in casino color was placed but not vibrated. A layer of epoxy resin, dyed green, was poured into the voids to about 3/8″ datum. A layer of clear epoxy at the same thickness was poured across the uneven surface.
I mixed this batch a bit hot…after 5 minutes it started fuming in the shop and I figured bringing it ouside was the best. An hour later it had stopped fuming but was still very warm. I have yet to open the form. It should have a layered side profile. Blue Lagoon.
Test 1:
A HDO box 12″ by 12″ amd 1-1/4″ deep was made. I found a rough hewn pine board in the shop 1×8″ stock and cut a couple 12″ chunks off the end. Ripped them to fit in the hdo box with a 1/8″ gap. I hastily mixed the resin and coated the base of the form. Put the 4 pieces of cut lumber on top of the hardening resin…then mixed another batch to top the form off…FORGETTING that wood floats.
The gas bubbles encased in this piece are a result of pushing the 4 boards into the liquid several times as it hardened homing it would stay put. A plywood strip with 2″ screws finally held them
in place.
Three ways to learn…

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