Article from February 2009 | Architect Mark Allison is a native of Asheville. He left Asheville after high school to study at UNC Charlotte. He followed that with studies in Denmark and then finished with his degree from the Pratt Institute. Eventually, he moved to Atlanta where he spent several years working for the Epsten Group. The Epsten Group was one of the first design groups in Atlanta practicing sustainable principles and LEED certifications with their projects. In 1997 he returned to Asheville where he worked for both PBC&L Architects and Samsel Architects. One year ago, after completing a home for him and his family, he opened his own design office.
Mark’s office is in his new home, which is located in one of my favorite mid-century neighborhoods off of Town Mountain Rd. The home was constructed on a steep slope opposite many 1960’s contemporary homes. While creating a 3300 sqft modern home for today his design is sensitive to the context of his neighbors all while balancing with the steep slope of his 1.5 acre site.
Mark’s use of sustainable materials was evident through much of his home along with incorporating some passive solar exposure. The steep slope of the site allowed the incorporation of a deep basement into the foundation. Mark made use of a pre-cast concrete system to allow for larger openings and more a natural light. The basement does not feel like a basement.
One of the mechanical items I knew little about was the Energy Recovery Ventilator (ERV). Mark tried to explain it to me, but it went in one ear and out the other while admiring the house. Doing an online search I found the dictionary explanation in unreadable technical jargon. Still not getting it I found this video that will helped. Take a moment to watch.
Previous to visiting Mark’s office and home I looked at his website. I noticed two projects I wanted to discuss with him.
One of the two projects is a concept for a commercial building along Merrimon Ave. Mark has a great deal of experience developing commercial projects. In Mark’s words, “This building for a retail or office tenant creates a pedestrian oasis against heavy automobile traffic on Merrimon Avenue. A south-facing courtyard shielded from the street by an armature of precast concrete and glass block wall creates a multifunction courtyard. One passes from here to an inner court between an existing building and the new. The design reinforces the emerging pedestrian character of this new urban edge. The challenge was to create an economical, energy efficient shell that is true to its concept, affords flexibility to its future tenants.” I could immediately recognize and appreciate the attempts Mark was making to address both the automobile and the pedestrian. The simplicity, scale and continuous portion of the architectural marquee creates a billboard to help identify it from an automobile. At the same time the way the pedestrian level falls back becomes welcoming to those on foot. For me they are simple, clean gestures that get the job done while addressing issues that many new buildings along Merrimon don’t.
The other project I noticed is a home he is creating for a family in Asheville. He is designing a 1500q/ft., sustainable house that will house 3 generations under one roof. The house utilizes passive solar design principles and is tailored to its gently sloping site. Shared terraces and courtyards join both the public and private wings. I appreciated what he and his clients were working to achieve and believe that they were creating something we will see more of in the future which is a smaller home with the flexibility to house more generations, accommodate a professional office all while working to be energy efficient.
Looking at Mark’s projects you notice that he works closely in blending the program of each project with the context of the specific site. He works back and forth with all the different issues involved in designing a building until there is a natural balance of all the pieces while always including his individual, creative vision as part of the process and result.
(text by Troy Winterrowd, Mark’s house photos by John Fletcher of the Citizen Times)