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.


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!

A photo of my friend Urs in Nepal installing an open source PV system. It’s the first of three projects he has designed and attained funding to build. The location is at a rural school in the hills of Nepal.  Two photovoltaic panels producing 150 watts are mounted to a tracker using a small pv panel to operate a mechanical motor that follows the sun.  The rack was fabricated by a friend of Urs in India and assembled on-site.  It has room for growth by adding panels to the pole.  The Dc power created is converted to AC for use of lighting, charging and powering small electric devices at the school.  Next up is a solar-fire steam generation array, using mirrors to boil water for electricity generation or cooking.

RKM Concrete Vanity Sink

This vanity sink was a challenge to say the least.  In the works for a year now, the concept was drafted and calculated.  At this point it had to be fabricated.  Familiar with standard concrete countertops the 3d aspects of this eluded me.  After many months in the shop pondering the process I started to build the box in the shape of the sink from HDO plywood.  My expectations were simple at first not realizing the need to taper the sink box in all directions.  this taper helps drainage and deforming the box after casting.  Then the introduction of plastics became another necessity, a sheet of plexi-glass was in order.  Having worked with this material in the past I was not familiar with straight seem welds or chamfering the corners by hand, after several tests the material seemed to play nicely.  The form got built with PETG laminated outside walls and base surfaces for the to be tops of the back splash.  As the project continued I learned many factors that go into a sink with an integrated backsplash such as how to caulk the seams you can’t reach by hand.  Improvisation became key as I started the mixer using a formula I was not used to.  Extra forms, rebar modifications and advice were all administered during the 1 hour pour!  Soon after pulling the top-hat off the sink the 2% flow mix reared its ugly head.  A great agent to eliminate gas buildup, it didn’t trowel well for finishing.  Alas here are images of my first attempt of a integrated sink /backsplash/counter in concrete.  Taking the sink from the form is another story…

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