Category Archives: Architects

70’s Style Mountain Cabin

581004-2Kelly and I toured this 70’s contemporary home on Saturday with a couple of our modern clients. It has long been one of our favorites sitting just out of reach in the hills north of Grove Park Inn. The efficient home didn’t disappoint given it’s layered, experiential layout connecting private gardens, to living spaces to treetops and the Asheville city view beyond. The IMG_8074architect, William Moore, originally built the home for himself and his wife in 1973. It was then constructed for $42,000. Moore was the designer for the IMG_8073Unitarian Church on Charlotte St near the Grove Park Inn.

Southern Living Magazine originally published the design and plans of the home. Following, publication he sold plans to many others who wanted to create this simple living space for themselves. The home showcases one of his signature design features of a dominate roof. He told me, “Roofs are traditionally cheaper to maintain and replace.” So he dedicates maximum square footage to the roof in containing interior spaces.

Make Your Modern | Mark Allison’s Crescent House

Screen Shot 2014-10-28 at 1.45.12 PMKelly and I are always preaching that Ranch houses being a great resource here in Asheville. Fundamentally, they make a great starting point for making your modern lifestyle. Take a quick peek at architect Mark Allison’s newest project in the Beaverdam area. Mark is expanding this ranch home by 800sqft for a family in need of more space and is thoughtfully using the site to carve out a series of experiences. Click here to see more sketches on his project as shown on houzz.

Rusafova Markulis Architects | the Blue House

1The Blue House in Five Points is up for the George Matsumoto Prize from North Carolina Modernist Houses. With the recent additions of Trader Joes and Harris Teeter the burgeoning and highly walk-able Five Points neighborhood has become home to new infill construction including to this simple and clever home by a couple of my favorite architects Maria Rosafova and Jakub Markulis of Rusafova Markulis Architects.

The Blue House was designed for a young family that wanted a small, energy efficient and affordable house to call home. Their building site presented the architect with numerous challenges and site constraints. An existing sewer easement cut diagonally through the site, leaving a small trapezoid area to build on. In order to maximize the square footage they designed a vertical, tree house structure elevated from the ground in order not to disturb the roots of the two mature trees that they wanted to preseBlue House Comprve. Inspired by Japanese aesthetics the clients opted for clean lines, simple yet visually striking shape and open floor plan that provides visual continuity between inside and outside. The modest construction budget dictated the off-the-shelf choice of materials. The architects kept a simple palette of finishes adding visual interest through the us of bold colors and warm plywood walls.

If you would like to see the other homes in the competition and vote click here.

Architect Brandon Pass on Asheville Modern Architecture

Brandon-Pass-Architect-Office-folkMy good friends, architect Brandon Pass and his wife Libby, are two of my favorite people to sit and discuss regional craft and design with over beer and wine. Not only are they both talented – they are just good people who are both passionate about their individual craft. I wanted to take a moment and share Brandon’s words on modern architecture here in the mountains. Enjoy!

An Asheville Modern Architecture that merges Modern Sensibilities and Design with the Vernacular Influences of Materiality, Geography & Culture specific to the Western North Carolina Mountains

Throughout my career I’ve maintained a focus to reconcile the ideals and simplicity of Modern Architecture with the vernacular influences of place, materiality and culture to now establish a clear and true Asheville modern architecture. I believe it is not the primary mission of architecture to change the course of culture nor to produce stylistic replicas of times past, but rather to synthesize the social realities and cultural expressions with the physical experiences of site, geography, materials and local skill.06-bar-3

It was emphasized early in my education in at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia that architecture is an expressive art with the capacity to move us emotionally, spiritually and must enhance the context in which it is sited establishing an identity independent of fashionable styles. Utilitarian structures took the place of iconic traditional or modern buildings as objects for contemplation and influence. The result became an effort to synthesize vernacular tradition with a modern language to create architecture firmly rooted in place and time. In contrast, the techno-rationally biased and economy-obsessed buildings that have become familiar everywhere impair our sense of locality and identity and hastens the urgency for an elevated level of quality and craftsmanship through design. The standard of building today has accelerated estrangement and alienation through homogenatiy instead of integrating our worldview and sense of self through expressive regional character and craft.

Strapped with boundless idealism and a sense of purpose I headed to Chicago and then to New York City to hone my skills and development as a designer. Over 16 years, as the scope and budget of projects increased to exponentially when compared with my modest existence, I began to question the absolute dogma of a Screen Shot 2014-02-28 at 7.10.51 PMuniversal utopian modernism versus a simplified contextual hand-crafted modern. What were the so-called fruits of my labor? Specifying  rare exotic stone from the depths of China, endangered timbers from South America or synthetic forms devoid of the hand seemed best suited for the glossy pages of popular magazines and less to do with our current collective reality rife with environmental depletion, economic uncertainty, exportation of traditional skill and cultural identity. I asked myself, why must progressive architectural innovation of the highest order remain the privilege of so few? Was I practicing what I had preached? I began to realize that the true challenge of a skilled architect is to do more with less, not excess with more.


One-to-one in architectural terms typically means to work at full-scale; one inch equals one inch. The underlying philosophy for my practice, this relation has also come to mean having empathy for and relating to my clients. Returning to Appalachia, the region that has continuously influenced my work and core philosophy over the years, seems to complete the circle and fulfill a desire to define a new architectural language specific to our shared time and place. While remaining independent of stylistic replication, commercial influence and remaining true to the ideals of modern architecture I am proud to call Asheville my home and hope to create thoughts, works of art and architecture that encourage the community to think about style, function, and the true purpose of our shared creative and architectural identity; an Asheville modern architecture that celebrates as opposed to replicates and stands firmly and independent.

For more on Brandon’s work visit his website.



OPEN HOUSE: SAI Design + Construction

IMG_2819Last evening I stopped by SAI’s new office to visit with Elihu, Michael and Nancy. The new office is on Market St. in a redesigned storefront that was formally the office for a new luxury, green condo building that, like many, did not make if off the ground during the economic downturn.

SAI CompI ran into friends, Grant and Carl, who are building a contemporary home up off town mountain road, and architect Maria Rusafova for whom I’m currently writing an article on. I, also, ran into Chris from REVIVE out enjoying the fall festivities (shown below). Elihu – I’m looking for ward to lunch soon for a discussion on regionalism and architectural products. Congrats! Troy


Architect Brandon Pass

Modern Sensibilities within a Local Context

Local Architect Brandon Pass and I had the chance to sit down over coffee at City Bakery last week and enjoy a mutual, academic exchange on architecture in Asheville and the incredible potential that exists here for a new vocabulary of building that combines modern design thought with the rich natural and social landscape of our region. We both noted instances where that has successfully surfaced, but recognized that most construction stems from what is known or copied without further thought or context involved. However, I easily got sidetracked from my intention here, which is to simply introduce you to Brandon today. You will hear more from him in the future as I have asked him to become a regular contributor to Modern Asheville. Below is content from his website and a link.

Brandon Pass is a graduate of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State Universities College of Architecture and Urban Studies where he received his Bachelor of Architecture in 1997. Since, he has worked in top-level design firms in locations such as South Carolina, Chicago, and New York City and holds licenses to practice architecture in Illinois, New York and North Carolina.

Brandon creates an architecture practice striving to merge modern sensibilities and detailing with the vernacular influences of the region.  His small, multidisciplinary practice pursues an architecture that recognizes the responsibilities of the built form where environmental, social and contextual factors shape each insertion into a given landscape. Architecture should seek to express a given function through a strong clarity of space and form where the details become expressive and exploratory, respecting the hand of the maker while expressing a connection to a greater whole.  The responsibility of the architect, in part, is to be aware of all factors of a given context that may inform the design process. It requires an extensive knowledge of and desire to learn new methodologies creating architecture of the highest quality respectful of both time and place.

You’ll be hearing more about Brandon Pass in the future, but in the meantime feel free to browse his website.

Virant Design: Remodeling their Modern Home

Entry ExteriorI recently met Tom and Yumiko Virant at their home 496 Sunset Drive.  It is a house I have admired for two years on my daily hikes through North Asheville.  It is a 2100 sq/ft modern home with 800 sq/ft of decking.  It was originally built in 1961.  Tom and Yumiko both have degrees in architecture and work together as their own design/build team, Virant Design.  Yumiko is a licensed architect while Tom is a general contractor.  They have many interesting stories to tell about other projects they have worked on, but for the sake of this post I will let Tom tell you about the home they currently live in.

Fall exterior

Tom says, “My wife and I bought the house in the fall of 2003. At the time I was working for a design/build company as a job-site superintendent overseeing high end residential construction, and my wife was working in an architecture firm in Asheville. At first we thought we could do some minor renovation, move in, and continue to work on the renovation over time. As soon as we started digging into the project (literally) it became apparent that the best thing for the house would be a full gut renovation. The original house had some great design features that we liked, and had a great site, so we decided it would be worth it in the long run.”

Interior Remodeling“At that point it was clear that it was going to be more than working on the weekends, so I quit my job and started working on the renovation full time (I am a licensed contractor as well). The design process was the first step, since we had a feeling that we were going to completely gut the interior, we redesigned the layout and detailing of the house to make more sense in the 21st century. Larger master suite with walk-in closet, larger kitchen, etc. The house had been slightly under built originally (by today’s standards) and had not been well maintained for the last few years, so demolition was the next step. 

Roof FramingWe tore off the old roof (and roof framing), completely gutted the entire interior (all walls, mechanical, electrical, and plumbing equipment) and tore off the exterior decks. All that was left of the original house is the foundation, lower level slab, upper floor framing, about 3/4 of the exterior wall framing, and the windows (which the previous owner had just installed before the sale, which was a big reason why we purchased the house. Pella architectural series, all custom sized.)”.Floor Construction

“After the demo, we went about rebuilding everything, upgrading everything as we went. Generally most of the work was done by myself with a couple employees, and a couple main subcontractors (electrical, plumbing, a/c and heating system, drywall, roofing, grading, etc.) All of the carpentry, woodwork, trim, copper work, hardwood floors, retaining walls were all done by me.”

Sunset Comp

Here is a detailed list of the complete renovation:

•    All new interior framing, drywall, paint, trim etc.

•    All new electrical, everything brand new from the pole on the street to the last switch…

•    Complete low voltage wiring and panel.

•    All new mechanical systems – 6 zone radiant floor heating

•    New propane high efficiency boiler, supplies both heat and hot water

•    Efficient “Mini-duct” Air conditioning system

•    All new interior finishes, oak kitchen cabinets, granite countertops, stained wood doors, Emtek brass hardware, custom base cabinet in master bath w/ marble top.

•    All plumbing fixtures are Grohe, Toto toilets, and a Duravit sink in powder bath (double shower in master, plus custom “Japanese” (deep) soaking tub)Tub

•    Full marble tile in master bath, decorative tile in powder bath.

•    13″ tall clerestory glass all the way around the house, lets in great amounts of daylight!

•    Relined fireplace on upper level and rebuilt as “bellfires” unit, similar to a “Rumford” style

•    Relined old boiler flue and installed Rais-Wittus “Mino” wood stove in lower level.

•    Ash hardwood floors throughout entire house (tile in bathrooms, and slate in entry foyer)

•    Built in cabinets in lower level “family room”

•    All closets have built-in closet systems

•    Laundry chute from master closet to laundry room

•    New roof framing, including exposed glulam beams and commercial reinforced PVC roofing membrane (typical product on large commercial buildings, walmart etc…)

•    Icynene spray in foam insulation.

•    All new exterior decks, cypress decking, concealed fasteners, copper and Cambara handrail

•    Added balcony off master bedroom with outside shower

•    Exterior copper coping on roof and exposed beams

•    New cypress siding and cedar trim

•    Two large retaining walls to create flat lawn area and enlarged driveway

•    Extensive perennial landscaping.

Rear Side

Mark Allison AIA

kArchitect 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.

intro-homeMark’s office is in his new home, which is located in one of my favorite neighborhoods off of Town Mountain Rd.  The home was constructed on a steep slope opposite many 1960’s contemporary homes.  While creating a 3300sq.ft modern home for today his design kindly reflects the context of his neighbors all while balancing with the steep slope of his 1.5acre site.

I showcased Allison’s home on a previous post if you want more information.  Today, I will simply point out a few new details.  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 website below.  It does a better job of clarifying the ERV and has nice diagrams which saves me from having to explain:

Previous to visiting Mark’s office and home I looked at his website.  I noticed two projects I wanted to discuss with him.

1street-final-copyOne 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.

 1jh-copy0815-plan-sd-copy1The 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.  Mark also brings something new by including his individual, creative touch as one of those pieces.

(text by Troy Winterrowd, Mark’s house photos by John Fletcher of the Citizen Times)

Werner Haker


Mindful Constructions

The Artist, Werner Haker, has been painting for 8 years.  He has dedicated himself full time to his paintings and considers it his current profession.  He goes to his practice every day.  “It’s my way of chopping wood and carrying water,” he likes to say.  This is how he currently makes his living.

Since the production of his last show at The Haen Gallery in Asheville, Werner has chosen to take a break from doing gallery work, as it tends to change the focus of creating.  During this time his paintings have evolved and emerged further from the wall as assemblages.  “The illusion of space is transitioning to the reality of space”, says the artist. He wants to create work that is more experiential.  An ultimate goal for him is to create installation pieces to activate spaces.


Here I snapped a photo of Werner in front of one of his latest assemblages.  It’s called  Box Car Memorial. He begins with a theme or notion when he starts a piece.  This time it was the Holocaust.  Having grown up in the generation following the Holocaust in Germany he discusses the weight of the collective unconscious that people were living with during that time of reconstruction. Through the use of deconstructed symbolism, composition, weight, texture, and large and small-scale experiences – a story is pushed and pulled into existence to ultimately be completed by the observer.

Werner likes to focus on the process of creating.  He is “mindful” of moving back and forth from thought to intuition and from randomness to precision.  Improvising, constructing, deconstructing, the final sobering decision becomes when to stop.  When is it enough?  That is when we connected on something we both appreciate, the richness in expressing something with so little.  As he puts it, “How to achieve the highest degree of complexity with the least means.”  This is a principle of modern creation and a good point to transition to further spatial reality, architecture.

The Architect, Werner Haker, has been practicing architecture for decades beginning in Europe.  Achieving a degree in architecture he has taught, worked and had influential roles in mega-firms and ETH – The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.  Since moving to the Asheville area 15 years ago he has been a guest professor at NC State along with doing some private practice work.  It is his house he designed, for him and his fashion designer wife, five years ago that became a great point for discussing his practice of design. exterior2

Werner’s house was created to be a low cost, low maintenance, passive solar and sustainable stage for not only enhancing and maintaining daily life, but for quietly stepping out of its way. The nuts and bolts description is a 3000sq/ft box that is divided half into home and half into work studios.  The walls and the roof are created from a typical industrial steel structure and incorporate 8” insulated walls.  They are made from recycled steel components.  All walls are non-load bearing.  The exterior siding, doors and windows utilize low maintenance, standardized components to keep initial and future costs to a minimum.  He likes to describe the style as “Bauhaus Trailer.”  Interior walls are created to combine and frame multiple, back-to-back functions.  fireplace1The wall of the fireplace becomes more spatial to serve as media storage, fireplace and a screen for hiding the office along with structure for supporting the desk beyond.  Combining functions is another modernist principle in design.

To emphasize the last point we can take a more detailed look at the floor.  The concrete slab floor in Werner’s home was designed to serve three functions.  First, it is the key component to the structure of the house, the foundation.  Second, it is the main surface or backdrop to the stage of living in the house, the floor.  Third, the slab is also an integral component of the home’s mechanical systems, heating through a combination of a hydronic radiant system with additional passive solar.

Compare that to a traditional home.  First, there are often footings to support the base of the home.  Then on top we may add wood beams, floor joists and sub-flooring, before getting to the final finished surface of the floor.  We can then add the cost of the finished floor material (carpet, stone, wood) on top of the costs to all the layers of supporting construction. All these components are used to complete the floor and we don’t have the addition of using the floor for heat.  In fact, we have created a floor that allows heat to escape and requires extra cost and material to keep the heat contained.  Again, like discussing his art, we both find ourselves compelled by the richness of creating so much with a seemingly small gesture.  On the surface, the concrete slab appears simple and void of thought, but in reality it contains layers of sophistication. hall

When applying this idea to the rest of the home what is the result?  As both a designer and realtor I know that homes in the Asheville area can be purchased for $150 to $500/sq.ft.  I have met a builder who can build a decent quality traditional home, not sustainable, for $100 sq/ft.  Werner has constructed his home for $70/sq.ft including all infrastructure and labor.  It may be a good time to consider the implications of this, compare it to the houses created today and the quality of life of its inhabitants.


Werner states it is not a matter of being green on its own.  That is only one aspect of a broader way of thinking.  Again, it is a matter of being “mindful” of each choice he makes in designing a home.  Like his art, it is a matter of knowing when to add, when to combine and when to take away.  Does an element enhance or hinder the story and the ability for the observer to create their own story?  final-illustration3Likewise with architecture, does an element enhance or hinder living life in a home and the freedom to create your own life, both today and tomorrow?

(text and photos by Troy Winterrowd)

Pack Memorial Library

img_487967 Haywood St., Downtown

Designed by: J. Bertram King

Dedicated: November 18th, 1978

“Designing a new library is a lot like designing a new supermarket.   You need to display the merchandise attractively, sensibly and easily accessible to the customer.  You also need to get enough light on the subject.”  These were some of the comments by Asheville architect Bertram King when designing the Pack Memorial Library in the 1970’s.  Planning for the new library started in 1966 when the library trustees put together a program for the new library.  The opening took place on Nov. 20, 1978.  The building cost approx. $1,741,000 to build and was paid for by Buncombe county voters approving a special bond. 



Reading some of the architect’s original comments on his design you can start to understand the construction.  Along with ease of function, King, was considerate to use some basic green design elements.  He took advantage of the sloping site to incorporate sunken courtyards that allow for natural light into the lower levels.  The 1970’s decade produced many sealed buildings that focused on using air conditioning and the latest in mechanical systems.  However, as King states, “We have reverted to an older, less expensive system with the new library building.  It’s called opening the window”.  Between the natural ventilation and insulated glass there was an effort made to lower energy use.  a944-8-copy3

 When standing at the corner of the building one can appreciate how the building unfolds.  It is like a stage set for browsing and reading books.  The glass, angles and setbacks of this modern design allow you to see the function throughout and the relationship from inside to outside.  The building has a simple elegance and is comfortable in proportion and scale.  Ignoring some issues in urban context and function similar to many modern buildings of the era, the thoughtfulness behind King’s design as with many of his buildings comes through. img_48811

See Bertram King on the right to find out more about his Asheville designs.  

(text by Troy Winterrowd, photos courtesy of Troy and Pack Library)