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  • How We Operate: What Moss Brings to Every Project

    motivations 3


    When you hire an architect – you’re engaging the services of a professional designer who will help you think about the big picture of your design needs, problem solve your layout and help you navigate the permit process – but that person also has motivations of their own that will affect the outcome of your project.  They have their own agenda.  Whether they are designing a residential remodel or a new sky scraper they want to use your project to make the world a little more interesting.


    Don’t worry.  Your architect’s agenda is going to make your building better.


    The profession of architecture attracts passionate people who want to make the world better through buildings.  But, as we’ve mentioned before, we need YOU to come ask us to design you a building.  What makes each project great is the collaboration between clients needs and designer’s vision that makes a unique design.


    That’s (NOT) Garbage: Reduce, Reuse … DIVERT Waste

    compost recycle trash


    If you’re alarmed by the possibility of burying 42 Giza Pyramids of trash in American landfills every year (per Tuesdays’s post: That’s Garbage: Talking Trash About Waste Generation), what can you do about it?   The “three R’s” we learned about in school still pertain today and before we even talk about recycling its important to put in a little PSA about the importance of keeping waste out of both the trash can AND the recycling bin.


    Stop Waste BEFORE it Hits the Bin

    Odds are you’ve already heard the lecture on keeping disposables out of your life … but if you’d like a clever and information packed refresher, take 20 minutes and watch The Story of Stuff to remind yourself of the benefits of reducing and reusing and the general perniciousness of the consumer economy.



    That’s Garbage: Talking Trash About Waste Generation

    trash pyramid


    Trash.  We all generate it, but do we think about it other than to “take it out” weekly?


    In Chicago we generate 657 pounds of trash per person every year.  According to the EPA, the US generated 251 million tons of trash in 2012 (thats Municipal Solid Waste alone).  For reference, that is 42 times more than the Great Pyramid at Giza.


    Ancient Trash Cities 

    Speaking of the Egyptians, creating garbage is a universal human tendency dating back to our earliest records of civilization.  In fact .. weathered monuments aside,  our earliest records of civilization are just that … garbage.


    How We Operate: Finding Beauty in the (Honesty of) Reclaimed Building Materials

    wood collage


    In the collage above are just a FEW of our favorite uses of reclaimed wood in moss projects (from top left): Bowling Alley BenchBegyle Tasting RoomBrewBar Pastoral2 Sparrows, and Erie Street Loft.


    It is a truth pretty universally acknowledged that designers like REAL materials – we wince at the sight or suggestion of veneered stone walls, laminate surfaces and vinyl siding.  The concept of “Honesty of Materials” – using a particular material both for function and aesthetic at the same time, rather than covering one thing with another – is a favorite concept of modernist architects but by no means unique to them.  John Ruskin made the same point in his Seven Lamps of Architecture in 1849, this way:


    “To cover brick with plaster, and this plaster with fresco, is perfectly legitimate… But to cover brick with cement, and to divide this cement with joints that it may look like stone, is to tell a falsehood; and is just as contemptible a procedure as the other is noble.”


    To that end, few things are more noble than incorporating beautiful, minimally finished elements of solid wood into our designs.  We are particularly partial to sourcing reclaimed wood and we use it in nearly every application: flooring, shelving, counter tops, wall surfaces, furniture, and art pieces.



    Today, Let’s Drink to Clean Water … and Then Do More to Protect Our Water Supply

    drinking water sketch


    Monday’s Chicagoist headline, “It’s Okay to Drink the Water, Chicago,” is accurate but perhaps a little dismissive of the larger issues about drinking water which should be raised in all our minds by the recent drinking water scares topping news across the country.


    This weekend’s public drinking water ban in Todedo, Ohio follows the ongoing “severe, extreme, and exceptional” drought (if the California State website ca.gov/drought/ doesn’t say it all, I don’t know what does).  These come on the heels of continuing commentary on communities with nitrate-laced well water and generally antiquated standards of clean water which don’t regulate 99% of chemicals used within the US today.


    And on top of that … there’s sewage flowing into the Chicago River again today.  Just as there was on 7 days last month and 11 the month before that.





    If They Build it We Will Park – So Why Require More Parking With Every New Construction Project?



    Bring on the predictable outrage, folks, but we’re about to do it … we’re about to say … There is WAY too much free parking available in Chicago.  We should stop building more of it!


    For all the hoopla over the (admittedly) terrible parking meter deal made by Mayor Daley and regardless of the sticker shock of downtown parking lots, we live in a city of neighborhoods lined  by on-street parking and with chunks of largely un-used parking lot which may fill up for certain occasions but stands empty most of the time, heating up the city (paved area contributes to the Heat Island Effect) and looking about as beautiful as missing teeth in the urban fabric.


    Despite possessing a healthy (though improvable) public transit system Chicago continues to stay stuck in car-centric thinking too much of the time.  One clear example of this is the zoning codes mandate for minimum numbers of parking spaces to be provided for all new residential and commercial developments.


    Invisible Sustainability: Starting from the Drawingboard


    For all the noise made about sustainable technology ( PV panels on the roof, energy star everything, etc. ) an equally important part of what makes a building green is invisible.


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    Today’s post explores some of the less tangible qualities that make a green building – nothing you can buy, or add on after the fact – concepts that come at the very beginning of the design process and inform the sustainability of the building through its whole lifespan.


    SMALL FOOTPRINT: Make Room For Less


    “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”

    William Morris


    One of the most sustainable concepts that can be designed into a project is to make it smaller.  Each additional square foot of space requires more materials, more resources, more energy to maintain and heat and will likely be filled with more objects that require the same.  This is not to say that we advocate for everyone living in a packing crate – simply that its important to think carefully about what is really necessary before adding extra space.


    How Green Roofs, Green Space, and Green Design affect the Heat Island Effect in Chicago

    city hall green roof


    Despite a relatively cool summer here in Chicago this year (thanks, I guess, Polar Vortex), we’ve all battled heat waves rolling off parking lots or struggled to arrive un-sweatily at our destinations more often than we’d like.  And every summer – warm, hot or baking - is warmer here in the city (and the surrounding suburbs) than it is in less developed near-by areas with the same climate and weather.  So the next day you’re sweltering through a scorcher like Tuesday think about how much all our lives can be improved by fighting the good fight – design-wise – against the evil forces of the Heat Island Effect.



    Spencer’s Jolly Posh Complete and Open for Brunch, Tea, and Dinner in Quirky, Classy British Style


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    We’re thrilled to share with you the snappy snaps of our latest completed project: the newly relocated Spencer’s Jolly Posh Foods on Southport.  


    Jolly Posh has been a neighbor of ours in Lakeview for several years now as they made a name for themselves as a purveyor of delightful British import items, producer of packaged meats created by British ex-pat owner, Nick Spencer, and host of buzz-worthy afternoon high tea (after beginning as a plucky farmers market stall).  As they started to outgrow their former location on Irving Park, they approached us to help them design a new space in the neighborhood which could handle all their existing needs and provide indoor and outdoor space for not only afternoon tea, but brunch and dinner service as well.  



    The Melee that is Montrose Beach Parking Lots



    montrose beach

    Moss::: jumped into the twitter tumult earlier this week with our opinion about the popular … and now controversial … Montrose Beach.


    For those not up on the news, an illegal concert there last weekend melted down into crowd conflict and antagonism towards the police when it was shut down.  A comment by Alderman James Cappleman that part of the problem was the over abundance of parking which allowed an illegal flash concert to pop up too easily has sparked continued internet infighting over the concept through the rest of the week. Here’s Matt’s take:


    As someone who spent their formative college years in Southern California, I’m awfully attached to sandy beached waterfronts. In the days that everyone seems to be short on sand, lets us enjoy these next few decades of pristine, soft sand under our feet at the shoreline. The biggest impediment to beach enjoyment according to Alderman Cappleman and me are the huge swaths of asphalt parking lots smack dab in the middle of prime parkland. With a bus line, CTA RedLine station, divvy station, bike racks and boat marina there are all sorts of ways to access the beach that won’t result in unpermitted concerts, bottle throwing yocals and cloak stealing night rogues.


    Streetsblog took the opportunity to jump on the Alderman’s comment and in their post, Streetsblog writer, Steven Vance, calc’ed the paved parking lot area (NOT counting street parking) at 9.25 acres (or seven football fields)!


    On Tuesday, Streetsblog followed up on the Alderman’s comment and in their post, asking Does Montrose Beach Really Need so Much Car Parking?



    Combined Sewer Overflows: How a Using Rain Barrel can help Keep Sewage Out of the Chicago River

    north branch


    Did you know that when it rains in Chicago we dump raw sewage into the river?


    Check out the official outfall sign which asks for calls “if discharge is observed during dry weather.”  If its been raining – there’s no need to call the hotline – the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago already knows it’s happening.  No one is happy about it … but it’s no accident.


    cso warning


    The City As Art: Mosaics, Murals, Graphics, and Graffiti

    interamerican tile art


    Be they commissioned by the city, permitted by an owner or illicitly undertaken, wall art can be one the the brightest spots in a city (and this coming from an architecture blog)!  Lets face it, the modern world offers a lot of start blank walls to the pedestrian eye and when the buildings themselves can’t provide enough interest or warmth, bringing art outside can make an amazing difference to the urban landscape.





    At its best, public art is not only FOR the public but incorporates the efforts OF community members (even children) to invest a sense of ownership as well as beauty into the project.  The sketch above is of the Inter-American Magnet school mosaics in our own Lakeview, one of a number school based public art projects around Chicago orchestrated by Green Star.  Check out all their area projects to date here.


    Windows: the Light of Interiors and the Soul of Buildings


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    If eyes are the window to the soul, windows are much more than the eyes of a building.  More than providing a view out or in, they open your space to natural light, and admit cooling breezes, which are a delicate cocktail of sensory experiences serving four of five senses: Hearing, Sight, Smell and Touch.


    Poet Laureate, Kay Ryan, describes the light of interiors as,


    “the admixture of who knows how many doors ajar, windows casually curtained, unblinded or opened,  oculi set into ceilings,wells, ports, shafts, loose fits, leaks, and other breaches of surface.”


    Today we are showcasing how windows provide beautiful interior light to a number of our favorite projects, both residential and commercial.  In blog format we can’t demonstrate the smell of a fresh spring breeze but we can clearly show the play of light across our spaces.  The below image collages (some of windows, some of the space daylit by them), show the lustrous effect that bringing natural light into a space can provide.   (more…)

    How Air Conditioning Works, When You Need It and When You Don’t

    If you’re reading this post in America you’ll be experiencing a lot of air conditioning this summer.  87 percent of U.S. households are equipped with AC and its a rare work place that doesn’t feature central air.  We all enjoy basking in the coolness on a scorching summer day, we may not give Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) much thought most of the time, especially if we live and work in thermostat controlled buildings.




    What’s the deal with Air Conditioning anyway?  How do those noisy metal boxes actually turn hot air into cold?


    air conditioning


    Check out this diagram –  adapted from Mechanical and Electrical Equipment for Buildings‘ invaluable section HVAC for smaller buildings (fig 9.5 in the 10th edition) – to get a sense of the way modern air conditioning works.


    A coolant (formerly freon now a non-hydrochlorofluorocarbon equivalent) is a substance which can convert from liquid to gas forms at relatively low air temperatures.  Just as we discussed Tuesday in our post on Cooling WITHOUT AC  the process of changing state from liquid to gas absorbs heat, thus cooling the surrounding air.  


    Beat the Heat WITHOUT AC: Passive Cooling and YOU

    passive cooling


    After the last few days we are all remembering what summer heat in Chicago can feel like.  The heat may be breaking for the moment but it will be back over the next few months!  Meanwhile a day in the high 70′s or even 80′s is the PERFECT opportunity to leave your AC switched off.   If you’re interesting in keeping cool without overheating the environment, here are a few ideas to consider.