Arielle Schechter on how Japan Inspires Her Design Philosophy
This architect builds for the North Carolina climate and for clients who crave sustainability.
By Jessica Mordaco
Light is the most important factor in architect Arielle Schechter’s design philosophy. Much of her design inspiration comes from Japanese architects who use screens and overhangs to block the sun while creating a seamless translucence from outdoors to indoors—that, and modernist design that connects inside spaces to nature. Schechter became interested in her craft at a young age, growing up with a famous mid-century architect as a father. “I always thought I’d work for him but, when he died, I had a lot of things I wanted to say in architecture,” she says. “I totally believe there’s no point in designing anything, much less a green building unless you’re going to make it wonderful for the people who live in it, too.”
So she started her firm Arielle Condoret Schechter, AIA, and she now works tirelessly to change public opinion that architects are scary and expensive to work with.
“I really don’t care how much money I make. I just want to get people to stop buying cookie-cutter, badly built developer houses that don’t have an architect involved because they’re inefficient.”
MASON-GRABELL MODERNISM (All renderings by Arielle Condoret Schechter, AIA)
May 1, 2018 (Chapel Hill, NC) — A family of transplants from hurricane-prone Florida can’t wait for construction to begin this summer on their spacious, modern house perched on a hillside in Orange County. Cheryl and Ken Serdar are showing off their new, modern, Net Zero, Micropolis® house in Hillsborough, NC, during the 2018 Green Home Tour. And a husband and wife in Chatham County are anxious to “break free” of the “soul-deadening” confines of a cookie-cutter residential development, so they’re counting the days until they can move into their new, modern, Net Zero house also nearing completion in Chatham County.
Construction is scheduled to begin this summer on the spacious Mason-Grabell house. The family grew tired of fighting hurricanes down in Florida so they relocated to Chapel Hill, NC, where hurricanes are extremely rare.
Rising from a hillside with large expanses of glass on all sides, the Mason-Grabel house features flat, cascading roofs that crown specific interior spaces. Designed to touch the ground lightly and protect the site’s natural hydrology, “Mason-Grabell Modernism” will be one of very few modernist houses in its neighborhood.
Net Zero on Tour
“HAPPY FAMILY” (photo by Iman Woods)
Schechter always stresses that a smaller house allows homeowners to invest their money in elements other than square footage. In the Serdars’ house (above), that other element is a luxurious, spa-like bathroom with a curb-less walk-in shower for two, a custom cast-concrete trough sink, and a vanity area where top-quality tile rises up the high walls to the ceiling.
Otherwise, the Serdars’ relatively small house is deceptive. It appears to be a simple modern house with large, honey-hued wood soffits adding warmth and textural contrast to the precast custom concrete exterior walls. But this is a Net Zero passive house. And the design skills, technological and materials knowledge, and attention to details necessary to create such a high-performance house are anything but “simple.”
*Schechter welcomes the challenge, however, as she continues to add to her growing portfolio of certified Net Zero and Net Positive, Passive residential designs with what she’s dubbed the “Happy Family” house.
“They consider themselves ‘escapees’ from a rigid, traditional development to a lot in the woods,” Schechter said, referring to her clients who are moving out of a traditional development and into this secluded, Net Zero house (above) in the forest in Chatham County. (She noted that “breaking free” and “soul-deadening” are her clients’ words.)
Besides the huge emphasis on privacy, the couple told their architect that they wanted a “modern but simple, unpretentious, age-in-place design.” And they had one specific request. “A sheltered place to sit outside and watch the rain,” Schechter said as she pointed out the house’s deeply cantilevered roof.
Concurrently, Arielle Schechter is working through the schematic design phase for a house for two engineers in Harnett County. She’s also fine-tuning three houses in design development and shepherding two other houses through the construction documentation phase.
For more information on Arielle Condoret Schechter and to see additional examples of her built and on-the-boards work, visit www.acsarchitect.com.
About Arielle Condoret Schechter:
Arielle Condoret Schechter, AIA, is a licensed, registered architect based in Chapel Hill, NC, who specializes in Modernist, energy-efficient buildings with a focus on PASSIVE, NET ZERO/NET POSITIVE houses, as well as her new tiny house plans, the Micropolis® Houses. She is a lifelong environmentalist and began practicing green design long before it became mainstream. She is also a lifelong animal advocate who lives in Chapel Hill with her husband, Arnie, and an assortment of foster animals in the modern, sustainable house she designed for all of them.
Future LEED- Platinum building breaks ground in downtown Raleigh.
December 8, 2010 (RALEIGH, NC) – After two years of planning and waiting for financing, the North Carolina chapter of the American Institute of Architects will finally hold its official, public groundbreaking ceremony for its new headquarters building and design center on Thursday, December 9, at 11:30 a.m. The building will be constructed on an oddly shaped, previously unused lot on Peace and Wilmington streets between Peace College and the NC Government Complex.
Designed by Frank Harmon Architect PA after the firm won a professional competition for the project in 2008, the AIA NC Center for Architecture & Design will be “a modern building with a green heart,” as Frank Harmon, FAIA, likes to call it.
The building has been designed to meet LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards at the highest Platinum level, and AIA Committee On The Environment (COTE) goals, which include regional appropriateness and the use of regionally available materials, land use and site ecology, sustainable materials and methods of construction, reduced water usage, and increased energy efficiency.
“As we come out of the recession, we won’t be building in the same wasteful ways,” Harmon said. “With new emphasis on alternative energy and sustainable design, the AIA NC Center will show us a new way to build.”
Harmon also believes the Center will be a compelling example for responsible revitalization of the cores of towns and cities across the state, including Raleigh.
“It will demonstrate sustainable urban development and put Raleigh ‘on the map’ as a leader in this endeavor,” he noted, “from re-using every shovel of earth removed for the footprint, to the porously paved parking garden and state-of-the-art ‘green’ technology.”
Deferring to the natural topography, the new building will be situated along the edge of the property and porously paved so that the majority of the site will be park-like – a public park in an area of the city that doesn’t have one. This will provide an outdoor gathering space for AIA NC and community events and effectively expand AIA NC’s outreach program.
“One of AIA NC’s goals is to contribute to the vitality of that section of downtown by transforming an awkward, unused piece of property into a ‘people center’ that will, in turn, impact the businesses around it,” Harmon said.
Architecturally, the overriding objective of the building’s concept is “to demonstrate and encourage aesthetic and ecological integrity – to create a flagship for green architecture in North Carolina that is architecturally, environmentally, socially, and aesthetically inspiring,” Harmon said.
February 2, 2010 (RALEIGH, NC) — For three decades, Frank Harmon, FAIA, principal of Frank Harmon Architect PA in Raleigh, has insisted that architecture can and should do more than produce buildings, especially since conservation of energy and natural resources has become imperative. It should also make a didactic contribution, he says, demonstrating the best use of the land by responding to, respecting, and conserving the site; integrating building and landscape; and promoting both passive and technological sustainable design principles.
Harmon, a multi-award winning architect and frequent speaker at seminars and symposia on design, will again make his case for sustainable building and development at the Center for Design Innovation in Winston-Salem, NC, when he participates in the CDI’s Idea Exchange on Tuesday, February 16, from 5:30 to 7 p.m.
CDI is a multi-campus research center for the statewide University of North Carolina. According to its website, the Idea Exchange is “a public forum for considering creative processes, digital techniques, business strategies, and other interests related to developing the knowledge economy of North Carolina’s Piedmont region.”
Frank Harmon is well known nationally for his firm’s modern, innovative, “green” and regionally appropriate architecture. From September to November 2009, he saw the completion of three high-performance, or “green,” projects in North Carolina, including the NC Botanical Gardens Visitor Education Center at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill that is slated to be the state’s first LEED Platinum building – the highest level of certification given by the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design green building rating system.
“It seems natural to me to design green buildings,” he said, “to catch the sun, accept the breeze and grown naturally out of the earth.”
In lectures and seminars, and as a Professor in Practice at NC State University’s College of Design, Harmon frequently asserts the necessity for modern buildings to be regionally appropriate – to address the specific context, materials, textures, colors and forms of a special region, using both traditional and non-traditional methods.
“The most sustainable – and liberating – thing we can do is acknowledge the places we are in,” he told Dwell magazine in January of 2008 when he was featured in the magazine’s “Conversations” section.
The CDI’s Idea Exchange is held in the Winston Tower, Suite 2105 (21st floor) at 301 North Main Street in downtown Winston-Salem.
Frank Harmon Architect PA, a multi-award-winning firm headquartered in downtown Raleigh, has extensive experience with projects that blend architecture with enhancement of the environment, including the recently completed Walnut Creek Urban Wetlands Park Educational Center in Raleigh, Duke University’s Ocean Science Teaching Center in Beaufort, the NC Botanical Garden’s new Visitors Center in Chapel Hill, and Merchants Millpond Outdoor Educational building in Gatesville, N.C. His work has been featured in numerous books, journals and magazines on architecture, including Dwell, Architectural Record, and Residential Architect. For more information, go to www.frankharmon.com.
January 26, 2010 (RALEIGH, NC) – Under the headline “David vs. Goliath in Downtown Raleigh,” the new design-oriented blog Architects+Artisans: Thoughtful Design for a Sustainable World looks at the future AIA NC Center for Architecture & Design in downtown Raleigh and its location near the state Government Complex.
The post includes a video of the building model as it transforms into a real structure in space via computer-generated imaging.
Writer and editor for the blog, J. Michael Welton, spoke with architect Frank Harmon, FAIA, principal of Frank Harmon Architect PA, the firm that won the project through a professional design competition in 2008. Harmon explained how he approached the “pork chop” shaped site (his description) and the context, which includes the monolithic Archdale building overshadowing Peace Street along which the Center will be built.
“Ours is a horizontal statement,” Harmon told Welton. “The real face of the building is to the south, looking toward the State Capitol.” He also notes: “It’s on less than an acre, and we placed it parallel to Peace Street. It’s a long, thin building with a porch on the south side. You’ll find that all over the South – at Mount Vernon, for example – so we knew that was a good pattern to follow.”
The new building, a thoroughly “green” structure that will embrace all the high-tech as well as low-tech principles of sustainable design, will serve as headquarters for the North Carolina chapter of the American Institute of Architects. According to the AIA NC website, it is also intended to serve as “an architectural example for the entire state.”
To read the entire post and to see the video of the future building, go to architectsandartisans.com and click on “David vs. Goliath in Downtown Raleigh.”
For more information on Frank Harmon and to view more images of the AIA NC Center for Architecture and Design, visit www.frankharmon.com and click on “current” projects.
About Frank Harmon Architect PA:
Frank Harmon Architect PA, a multi-award-winning firm headquartered in downtown Raleigh, has extensive experience with projects that blend architecture with enhancement of the environment, including the recently completed Walnut Creek Urban Wetlands Park Educational Center in Raleigh, Duke University’s Ocean Science Teaching Center in Beaufort, the NC Botanical Garden’s new Visitors Center in Chapel Hill, and Merchants Millpond Outdoor Educational building in Gatesville, N.C. His work has been featured in numerous books, journals and magazines on architecture, including Dwell, Architectural Record, and Residential Architect. For more information, go to www.frankharmon.com
Architects + Artisans is a sophisticated, well-informed provider of content, images, and knowledge concerning excellent architecture, artisanship and sustainability for the 21st century. It is not just about designers – but about the people and products that make a well-designed place ring true. It is written and edited by J. Michael Welton, whose work on architecture, design and travel has appeared in The New York Times, Interior Design, Dwell, Green Source and Travel + Leisure. Visit http://architectsandartisans.com.
January 15, 2010 (RALEIGH, NC) – Award-winning architect Frank Harmon, FAIA, principal of Frank Harmon Architect PA in Raleigh, NC, will serve as moderator for a panel discussion entitled “Architecturally Speaking: Discussions on Staying Current in Architecture Curricula” during the Winter Symposium presented by American Institute of Architects’ Atlanta, GA, chapter.
The symposium, including a question-and-answer session following the panel discussion, will be held at the Georgia Institute of Technology’s College of Architecture on Tuesday, January 19th, from 6-8 p.m.
Bringing together three schools of architecture in Georgia, the panelists include George Johnston, director of the Georgia Tech Graduate Program in Architecture; Brian Wishne, dean of the School of Building Arts at Savannah College of Art and Design; and Tony Rizzuto, associate professor of architect at Southern Polytechnic State University.
The following evening, January 20th, Harmon will present a lecture entitled “Grits, Glass and Steel: The Evolution of Modern Architecture in the South.”
Harmon, an award-winning architect recognized nationally as a leader in modern, innovative, sustainable design, has spent decades studying vernacular buildings – what he calls “buildings with a conscience” — and lecturing on the lessons he has learned from them across the nation.
“Buildings with a conscience have existed in Southern farmhouses and barns for as long as farmers have erected them,” Harmon says. “These are simple structures built of wholesome, vernacular materials, perched on stone piers so rainwater flows under them. They nestle lightly into the hillsides without disturbing the land. They are rooted in their region and embody the principles of livability. And they speak of the Southern culture as eloquently as bluegrass music or clay pots.”
His lecture will examine the elements and themes that inform contemporary Southern architecture — landscape; materials and construction (the “sticks and stones” of a place); weather and climate; roof forms that shelter or collect; and clients — and illustrate the importance of ‘place’ in the process of creating innovative, sustainable, and appropriate contemporary design.
Harmon, who also serves as Professor in Practice for North Carolina State University’s College of Design, notes frequently that these vernacular structures were always “green,” or sustainable, because they had to be.
“Farmers had an instinct for understanding their land,” he said during a radio interview on “The Story” with Dick Gordon. “They never built on the best part of their land; they saved that for their crops, because that was their sustenance. They typically built on a low-rise for good drainage. They knew exactly where the breezes came from to cool their houses and their barns… They knew how to plant trees to shade their houses in the summer… All of these things the farmers did quite naturally. But it was also for survival.”
The AIA Winter Symposium will be held in Georgia Tech’s Reinsch-Pierce Family Auditorium. For more information contact Brian Buckner at 404-688-4990, ext. 27.
Frank Harmon Architect PA is an award-winning architectural firm based in Raleigh, NC, that was ranked 26th among the top 50 firms in the nation in Architect Magazine’s “Architect 50” ranking for 2009. Frank Harmon, FAIA, founder and principal, is a frequent design awards jurist and a sought-after speaker on the subject of sustainable and regionally appropriate architecture across the nation. His work has been featured in numerous professional and shelter magazines and in international books on architecture. In 2008, a vacation home he designed in the Bahamas was included in a Wall Street Journal list of “the most influential and inspiring houses built during the past decade.” His firm has received more North Carolina design awards than any other firm in the state and recently won three national accolades: two Custom Homes Magazine’s 2009 Design Awards for residences in Raleigh, NC, and Charleston, SC; and an American Institute of Architect’s 2009 Housing Award for the Charleston home.
The 7,500 square-foot VisitorCenter and 600 square-foot Open Air Classroom, owned by the North Carolina Division of Parks and Recreation, is located in Merchants Millpond State Park. A Registered Natural Heritage Area that covers 1900 acres, the park includes the millpond and part of Lassiter Swamp. Parks & Recreation is charged with preserving the park’s diverse biological, scenic, archaeological, geological and recreational values and providing park experiences that promote pride in and understanding of North Carolina’s natural heritage.
The Visitor Center is situated uphill from the pond and parallel to the bank so that every space along the southeast side of the building has a view of the natural surroundings. A porch is also located along that elevation so visitors can easily step from the building into the outdoors. Clerestory windows on the northwest face of the building allow the exhibit space, auditorium, classroom, reception area and offices to enjoy natural lighting from two sides of the spaces.
The auditorium and classroom were designed to be as flexible as possible to accommodate a variety of functions. From the classroom, a trail leads to the detached, Open Air Classroom Building at the edge of the pond. This is also the point of arrival and departure for canoeing in the Millpond.
According to Erin Sterling, AIA, of Frank Harmon Architect PA, Parks and Recreation wanted the Visitor Center to be as sustainable as possible since it is Parks and Recreation’s first LEED rated building. As a result, the project features a sensitively designed parking lot that maintains trees for shade, geothermal heating and cooling, recycled materials, locally harvested materials, rainwater cisterns for landscape irrigation, low voc paints and adhesives, daylighting and natural ventilation. The project is currently pursuing LEED Gold Certification.
Construction materials and devices include recycled steel structural members, concrete block with high fly ash content, exterior cypress wood siding harvested from felled trees as a result of hurricane Isabel, standing seam metal roof which allows for high solar reflectivity, daylight sensors that contribute to energy savings by only allowing certain lights to come on when needed, low flow plumbing fixtures in restrooms.
“The design of the building was inspired by photographs of the old wooden mill building that once had a magnificent presence on the pond. The new Visitor Center’s most important space is the entry lobby located under a dramatically sloping roof supported by exposed wood beams and columns. A two story window at the end of the lobby captures a view of the millpond beyond. The floor material in this space is 100 year old reclaimed heart pine. Our client’s goal was to give visitors a welcoming feeling by using a similar language to the materials and construction of the old mill.” said Sterling, who served as Project Manager for the project.
The opening of the Merchants Millpond Visitor Center and Open Air Classroom Building comes on the heels of the openings of both the NC Botanical Garden new Visitor Education Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and the Walnut Creek Urban Wetlands Education Center in Southeast Raleigh – both public-serving and thoroughly sustainable projects. The Botanical Garden is slated for LEED Platinum certification, the “greenest” certification a building can receive.
Frank Harmon Architect PA, a multi-award-winning firm headquartered in downtown Raleigh, has extensive experience with projects that blend architecture with enhancement of and education about natural resources, including the recently completed Walnut Creek Urban Wetlands Park Educational Center in Raleigh, Duke University’s Ocean Science Teaching Center in Beaufort, NC, the Walter B. Jones Center for the Sounds, Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge in Columbia, NC, and the NC Museum of Natural Sciences’ Prairie Ridge Eco-Station in Raleigh. The firm is currently anticipating the opening of the NC Botanical Garden’s new Visitors Center in Chapel Hill and Merchants Millpond Outdoor Educational building in Gatesville, N.C. For more information, go to www.frankharmon.com
May 11, 2009 (RALEIGH, NC) – Will Lambeth and Tim Martin, architectural interns at Frank Harmon Architect PA in Raleigh, will be on hand at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Science’s Prairie Ridge Eco-Station in Raleigh on Thursday, May 14, to help the middle- and high-school members of the Citizen Science Investigators Club discover what makes a building “green.”
Prairie Ridge is a hands-on teaching and extension project located on a diverse 38-acre site on the edge of Raleigh. Its mission is to educating North Carolinians of all ages about the natural sciences and the importance of environmental stewardship. and demonstrate how architecture can enhance the natural environment.
Lambeth and Martin will discuss the many sustainable features of Prairie Ridge’s award-winning “Outdoor Classroom,” which was designed by Frank Harmon’s firm not only to provide a learning space at the eco-station but also to demonstrate environmental sustainability through its design and construction.
The interns will help the club’s students understand how architecture can tread lightly on the natural environment and conserve energy in the process.
Among the many “green” features of the classroom, including construction materials, Lambeth and Martin will discuss Harmon’s decision about site orientation and how that impacted the classroom’s eco-friendly design. They will note that the wooden building’s heavy, south-facing overhang maximizes sun exposure in winter and creates shade in summer. Along with the screened walls, this orientation catches year-round southwesterly breezes. Together, these design elements conserve an enormous amount of energy normally used for lighting and HVAC systems.
Prairie Ridge sponsors the Citizen Science Investigators Club with middle and high school students. According to Brian F. Hahn, a natural resource specialist at Prairie Ridge, the students are very interested in green technology so that will be the total focus of the May 14 session. The architectural interns’ presence “will also expose the students to other career opportunities they may be interested in,” he added.
The Outdoor Classroom has received two design awards and has been featured in two national architectural journals. For more information on the project and on Frank Harmon Architect PA, visit http://www.frankharmon.com.
March 13, 2009, 2009 (RALEIGH, NC) – An ultra-modern home that’s won three design awards and has been featured in Architectural Record, Dwell, the News & Observer, Triangle Business Journal and Raleigh Metro Magazine, as well as on numerous design and/or “green” websites, will be open for touring during the Triangle Modernist Homes (TMH) Tour to be held in Raleigh April 4.
The house is perched on nine, broad-shouldered wood trusses that allowed Harmon to save every single major tree on the site and that permit air and water to flow under the building. The butterfly-shaped roof opens the interior to views northwards to the creek and funnels rainwater into a collection system on the south side. The entire creek-side elevation is glass.
Entrance to the house is a progression from the top of the hill, across a bridge, and into a balcony foyer, at which point the drama of the scenery outside fills the interior through north-facing glass walls. From the balcony, a metal staircase descends past the glass (in essence, through the trees) to the main living/dining room, which, in turn, opens onto a partially secluded south-facing terrace below the entrance bridge. The kitchen and second bedroom are located on this level. The master bedroom is located on the upper level, off the balcony entrance.
Under the roof’s deep overhangs, the view of nature fills every room. Laminated wood columns and beams, plainly bracketed together and reminiscent of a tree house, also strengthen the presence of nature indoors. Partition walls between rooms stop short of reaching the exposed-wood ceiling. Pocket doors between spaces feature “frosted” central panels in the spirit of shoji screens.
Owned by Lynda Strickland and Marty Ferris, the house has received design awards from the North Carolina Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (NC/AIA), NC/AIA Triangle section, and from the Triangle Architecture Awards program. The TMH Tour is the first time the house has been open for public touring.
The April 4th tour celebrates the 60th anniversary of North Carolina State University’s College of Design. All of the modernist houses on the tour represent the work of NC School of Design alumni and/or faculty, including Frank Harmon, James Fitzgibbon, Brian Shawcroft, George Matsumoto, Henry Kamphoefner, Robert Burns, Vinny Petrarca, John Reese, Milton Small and Carter Williams.
“Wood contributes to building high performance by reducing energy use, resource use, pollution and overall environmental impact,” according to WoodWorks’ website. “Entries in the green building category should demonstrate how some or all of these principles have been applied in the building’s design and construction.
The 5,600-square-foot OCC is Duke’s only LEED Gold certified building and one of only about 1700 LEED rated projects in the United States. Presented by the U.S. Green Building Council, LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is the national benchmark for high performance “green” buildings.
Harmon used local building materials — yellow Southern pine and Atlantic white cedar — and recycled wood throughout the Ocean Conservation Center. The wood-shingled exterior complements the coastal context.
Other “green” features include photovoltaic cells, geothermal heating and cooling, solar panels for hot water, photovoltaic rooftop panels for converting sunlight into electricity, an abundance of operable windows for natural lighting and ventilation, deep roof overhangs to keep the sun off the windows, permeable sidewalks, a zinc roof designed to last 100 years and to reflect heat, and native landscaping.
The annual WoodWorks-South competition is open to designers, firms and building projects in North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. The award ceremony was held February 24 at the Wood Solutions Fair in Raleigh.
WoodWorks is an initiative of the Wood Products Council, a cooperative venture of all the major wood associations in North America, as well as research organizations and government agencies. For more information visit http://www.woodworks.org
About Frank Harmon: Frank Harmon, FAIA is an award-winning architect and an adjunct professor of architecture at the College of Design, North Carolina State University in Raleigh, NC. A veteran speaker at regional and national design conferences, he has presented versions of his popular “Architects Discuss America’s New Regionalism” seminar at the 2005, 2006 and 2007 National AIA Conventions and Dwell Magazine’s 2007 “Dwell On Design” Conference. He has served on many design awards juries, including the national jury for the American Institute of Architects’ 2005 Institute Honor Awards. He is currently serving on the U.S. General Services Administration’s National Register of Peer Professionals to improve public buildings.
Educated at both the N.C. School of Design and the Architectural Association in London, where he studied under James Stirling, Mr. Harmon worked for Richard Meier in New York before founding his own practice, Frank Harmon Architect, in Raleigh. His work has been featured in numerous national and international journals, magazines and books on architecture, including The Green House: New Directions in Sustainable Architecture (Princeton Architectural Press), and has been exhibited in the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C.
As a practitioner, he is considered a leader in the field of sustainable design. In 2005 Frank Harmon Architect was named “Top Firm of the Year” by Residential Architect magazine. More recently, his received First Place in a professional design competition to select an architect for the AIA/North Carolina component’s new headquarters in downtown Raleigh. He was also featured recently in the “Conversation” section of Dwell Magazine and on American Public Media’s “The Story” with Dick Gordon (NPR).