Monday, May 14, 2012

Timber Frame Design and the Haines Brewing Company
The process of designing a house for extreme environments like Alaska begins by understanding the site’s environment, and developing a strategy that protects the structure against nature and physics. All else is secondary. If the house doesn’t stand up, it matters little what the floor plan is. 

As stated in the previous entry, the life of a traveling timber frame architect can sometimes be downright fun and enjoyable. It can also be eye opening. One of those moments occurred in Haines by virtue of having the great pleasure of stopping by the Haines Brewing Company, located in what was built as the set for the movie ” White Fang”. Now, it’s not a fancy joint. No tables, no chairs, no food, just you, the brewmaster, your glass, and whoever is leaning near you with a glass in hand. As long as we were standing there, I felt compelled to try a variety of brews from light to dark, all very good….glad I had a rail to lean on. The company got interesting. While I was chatting with the brewer about his brews and other small operations here and there, a pair of the local guys came in, friends of my client and of course the brewer.  They stood and drank beers with us too and talked about their expeditions up these gnarly peaks, extreme skiing and snow machining….you know, just normal daily stuff to these guys—athletic, adventurous, local types, when I noticed that one of them sported a titanium leg……

In Haines, copious quantities of snow plus coastal storms and frequent rain mean that ice, water, and salt weigh heavily into the initial house formula. Tsunamis have shown that they are not to be forgotten. The best views are where the most brutal weather comes from. Designing a house for this area means buttoning up real tight, and providing a place for the snow to slide harmlessly off the roof away from the house and people. Big overhangs and raised decks protect a house and keep useful space up out of the snow. A house becomes the shape of what it is trying to accomplish.

Also, of primary concern is access to the house. Even though there can be extra work involved, safe driveways, parking, and walking areas are essential, especially where there is ice and a lot of darkness, as in the far north. A mother with young kids in tow and groceries can’t always watch her step carefully, and distractions abound. Good access is also especially convenient in the case of fire or other emergencies.

In the wilderness, and elsewhere, animals can become problematic. Some thought should be given concerning everything from large animals rubbing their antlers on the corners of houses to bears gaining access to the house when you are away. Not to mention insects, birds, and squirrels, who like to make their home in your siding. Here in Colorado, we have mountain lions close. Here kitty kitty.

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