Friday, December 9, 2011

Holiday Gathering at the Pierce/Lee House

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Last weekend, our Pierce/Lee clients and patrons threw the annual holiday party for all those associated with the project's design and construction.   We had a big turnout with many friends and children, and with people coming from as far as Memphis.  The fires were kept roaring and there was lots of good cheer.  Always a pleasure to return to people and places so pivotal to my career and life.  Many thanks to our host and all those who attended. 

Winter view of Pierce/Lee House taken last Sunday.

This past summer, the BIA acknowledged our efforts in Cedartown with a National Architectural Award celebrating the Pierce/Lee House's significance to American Architecture.  The category was Best in Class/Single Family Residence, and we were happy to be sponsored by General Shale in the competition.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Markéta Irglová ensemble performs at Paste Magazine Studio

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Attended mini-concert by Markéta Irglová from the film 'Once' earlier this month. The Czech songwriter, musician, actress, and singer performed several songs in multiple languages. 

Friday, November 18, 2011

Stephen Mouzon gives City of Decatur Lectures

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Last Tuesday Stephen Mouzon arrived in Atlanta to give two lectures describing his philosophies, and how they might help Decatur accomplish it's projected community goals more effectively.  I was lucky enough to be invited to a dinner party in honor of Stephen the night before the lectures.  The guest list of six included the City Planner, the Assistant City Manager, the City Commissioner and Decatur's most prominent journalist.  Scott Doyon of 'PlaceMakers' worked with the City to contract Stephen to come to Decatur and speak, and the evening gathering was hosted by Scott and his wife Robin at their Historic home in the City of Decatur.

It was a wonderful opportunity for everyone to engage Stephen personally, and, within a casual, wine induced atmosphere, throw ideas out on the table with great seriousness, sarcasm and laughter.  I was especially taken with the man's passion, and how easily his beliefs flowed, seasoned by that rooted, Southern, sing-song delivery that will always do one of two things when authentic:  endear you, or make you think we're crazy.  In one moment, Stephen would yank his coke bottle glasses off his eyes, and jerk his face in with a hard look past your pupils, . . . and then relax, returning spectacles to their place as if nothing ever happened.  I was so intrigued by this process, and the resonant ideas spilling forth that I could hardly take my eyes off him.

The lack of a pen and paper, and the improper alternative to note taking on my phone was really the only frustrating bit of the evening.  One self deprecating comment I remembered Stephen remarking was, "You don't write books because of what you know — you write books because of what you want to learn."  That seemed to be the true spirit of the man, and as far as nut shelling his philosophy on Architecture and the environment, I won't do it justice and whole heartedly recommend reading the book, 'The Original Green."

The next morning I met with Scott and Stephen for Coffee at Kavarna in Oakhurst where we continued our waxing on about favorite concepts, and I was encouraged by the discourse in a very pertinent and palpable way.  I've yet to make public a new building model we are currently developing.  Sometime in January, we should be breaking ground on a prototype house with a structural masonry shell that will be based on a $100.00 per foot price point. Further details will be given later, but my point in bringing this up now is that Stephen was quite receptive to the idea at a time when a voice like his could have thrown serious doubt on the plan had he felt otherwise.  So we move forward.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Completion of the Dickey Betts Fireplace and Chimney Project

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Completed stone and brick masonry fireplace.  Three sizes of Tennessee Field Stone were used during construction.  We were trying to emulate an authentic, antiquated approach to masonry, and while considering how the material might have been acquired back in those 'horse drawn' days, it became apparent that there would be a variety sizes. Logistics just wouldn't have provided a single stone size without great cost, and a range of stone size allows a personality not afforded by such a contrived uniformity.  As land was cleared and farmed, top soil stones would have been piled along the sides of crop fields and pastures. These would then be utilized in the most efficient way which would have no doubt included a variety of shapes and sizes.  With this same mind set, we used the weathered face of the stone, rather than a broken face, allowing the dressings of time acquired by each individual stone to play a part in the aesthetic of the fireplace.  The result was a stoically beautiful centerpiece for the Betts Hunting Lodge.

Gray Fox on path between camp and the Betts Lodge.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Betts Fireplace and Chimney Project, Day 25

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Classic Southern plantation house under restoration in one of the nearby towns.
Stone work continues with Betts Project — no images to show for this day of production. 

Monday, August 8, 2011

Betts Fireplace and Chimney Project, Day 24

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Pic sent to the Fam from iPhone during morning walk.
Stone work continues — no images to show for this day of production.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Betts Fireplace and Chimney Project, Day 23

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All masonry requires extensive preparation.  Here we've laid the three different sizes of stone within specific rows so that each may be considered at a glance while looking for a particular stone shape. 


Primary mantel completed.

Stone arch spanning fireplace opening completed.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Betts Fireplace and Chimney Project, Day 22

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Fitting the final pieces of a difficult puzzle.  A dry stack arch requires a great deal of patience and focus.  When building one of this size, you're constantly searching for the perfect fit.  A degree of mental stamina is necessary — many considerations take place before each stone is found.

Mason Alejandro taking measurements for in-stepping stone work.

Completed archway of wood vault.

Here I am with fellow Mason Alejandro Hernandez.  Alejandro is an extremely competent Mason and trusted friend. 

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Betts Fireplace and Chimney Project, Day 21

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Stone work progressing.

Interesting brick deterioration phenomena I came across in local town.  The mortars manufactured 100 years or so ago were generally inferior to that of today, and typically these low grade mortars decay quicker than the brick of the same era.  In this case however, the mortar is in tact, and the the bricks are all but gone in places.  There were small holes created by some kind of mite like insect, and I thought this may have played a part in the attrition, but as it turns out these are most likely incidental. The insects, being opportunist, probably burrowed into the faulty brick as they would the ground.  I contacted Bryan Light of the Brick Industry of America's Southeast Region and asked for his take on the matter:


The photos depict the results of freeze thaw action on soft brick. Several things can cause this to take place.

1)      Reuse of brick that were lightly fired and never intended for use on exterior walls.
2)      Tuck-pointing older brickwork with a mortar that is too strong. The new mortar bonds well with the soft units, however mortar (as does concrete) shrinks a bit as it cures. As the mortar shrinks it pulls the faces of the brick ever so slightly, but enough for water to enter the units very easily. The increased amount of water now in the brick freezes/expands and spalls the bricks face off. This continues to occur every successive winter from then on.
3)      Coating the exterior wythe of brickwork, allowing that coating to deteriorate and trap moisture, rather than sheeting the water off the wall. Freezing does it’s work. It is sort of the same thing as allowing paint to scale or peel on wood siding. Soon the wood rots.
4)      Water at times enters the wall at a higher location than where the failure is occurring. Is there a parapet that is in bad shape above these photos?  

Whatever has happened, something has allowed excess water penetration into the wall. This is a water related problem. No way to stop it. A colorless coating might slow it down.

Bryan Light
Technical Services Manager
Brick Industry Association SE Region
P.O. Box 1139
Conyers, GA 30012-1139
O) (770) 760-0728
F) (770)760-7810
C) (770) 846-0728

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Betts Fireplace and Chimney Project, Day 20

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Image of the Betts Hunting Lodge under construction.
Begin fireplace stone work — no images to show for this day of production.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Betts Fireplace and Chimney Project, Day 19

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Hearth floor is laid with solid clay brick — no images to show for this day of production.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Betts Fireplace and Chimney Project, Day 18

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Here I am, with the legendary guitarist of the Allman Brother Band, Dickey Betts.  Dickey pioneered the Southern Rock genre, and paved the way for other corner stones of Rock-n-roll like Lynard Skynard, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Grateful Dead, etc....  He's been a pleasure to work with.

Putting the finishing touches on the chimney cap.  After the cement dries, a chimney top damper will be installed.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Betts Fireplace and Chimney Project, Day 17

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Installation of 7th and 8th flue liners.  This will top the chimney out at about 3' or so above the ridge of the dwelling.  Mason Alejandro is preparing for tomorrow's work.

Builder Trey Perkins and wife Deana showing the scale of the Betts fireplace.

View of masonry from interior of lodge's great room — Tennessee field stone will be applied to this masonry body.

The first fire in a new fireplace is always exciting and affirming no matter how many times you've done it.  Dickey lit the christening fire here, and I really enjoy how the fire light illuminates the basket weave brick pattern of the firebox.  This fire was started without priming the flue, and despite this, and the 5' tall opening, no smoke entered the space of the lodge.  The saying, "It'll jerk the cat off the floor," comes to mind.

Family visit to site.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Betts Fireplace and Chimney Project, Day 16

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Deer during my morning coffee walk.

Roof scaffolding constructed in order to finish chimney.  This is the sort of added effort involved with building a chimney after framing, or within an already existing building.  It's much more practical to build the chimney prior to framing (when possible), and given the structural capacity of our systems, the chimney can double as bearing point within the super structure.

Installation of 5th and 6th flue liners.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Betts Fireplace and Chimney Project, Day 15

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 Installation of 3rd and 4th flue liners.

This is an interesting shot demonstrating the skill of a good laborer.  Without assistance, Passo, who is down on the ground, has hoisted up a 5 gallon bucket of mortar ( 40 pounds or so) to the scaffold.  He has landed the material safely on the scaffold, and while every thing is still in motion, is about to deftly unhook the bucket with a lariat like twitch of the rope.  I've seen him do the work of two men consistently.

Surrounding masonry being developed around flue liners.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Friday, June 24, 2011

Betts Fireplace and Chimney Project, Day 13

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View of smoke chamber closing to throat from inside the firebox.  This is prior to parging which will smooth out and eliminate the rough surfaces within the smoke chamber.

Deflecting edge of clay brick liner that protects the permanent structure of the fireplace openings inside 8" wall face.

 View of general progress from interior of lodge's great room.

 Reverse corbeling of chimney base at exterior of lodge.

Smoke chamber has reached flue size.  18" flue, at right of image, ready to be set in place.  No fire brick will be used beyond this point.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Betts Fireplace and Chimney Project, Day 12

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Raising the outer masonry in conjunction with the smoke chamber.  This void will be filled with concrete and steel.

Filling the cavity between smoke chamber and outer masonry.

Smoke chamber as it is corbeled in to reach flue size.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Betts Fireplace and Chimney Project, Day 11

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Infilling clay brick to transition curvature of firebox to the smoke chamber above.

Parging (plastering with fireclay) the rough edges of the smoke chamber to ensure air flow. 

Monday, June 13, 2011

Betts Fireplace and Chimney Project, Day 10

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Clay firebrick liner completed and firebrick corbeled out to face of clay brick (not visible within this shot).  Chimney base underway opposite side.  Note the 20' x 30' tarp providing shade to the work area — in addition to providing a better working environment, the shade allows the mortar to cure at a normal rate.  The intensity of the South Georgia summer sun would draw the moister out from the mortar too quick, and compromise the integrity of the masonry.

One of several Gopher Tortoises residing in the woods and fields of the Betts property.  This one is still wearing the dust of it's burrowing.  These are quite interesting animals. They play an important part in the ecology of the Southern wilderness, though their numbers have dwindled a great deal due to a plethora of environmental hazards.  They burrow extensively, and the mounds created by the tunneling of the Gopher Tortoise are distinctly visible when a healthy population is present.  These burrows provide shelter for a number of other animals such as foxes, bobcats, rabbits and snakes, and a noticeable decline of these partnering animals occurs when the tortoise is absent.

Gopher Tortoise down in it's burrow to escape the mid day sun.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Betts Fireplace and Chimney Project, Day 9

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Second and third courses over arch — cut brick develop the airfoil shape along the inside surface of the fireplace opening.

Wood vaults are structurally completed.  Firebrick course over arch ties in with the firebrick surround.

 Firebrick course over arch completes the structure of the arch.

View of firebox interior from above after completion of structural arch.

Firebrick surround is leveled over the arch into a complete coursing.