• Follow us on Twitter

  • Categories

  • Archives

  • Subscribe

  • 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.


    blank 2

    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


    DSC03670 copy


    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


    erie_window header


    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.


    Ancient Hearth to Modern Design: Inspiration from the Cooking and Construction in India, Hawaii & Korea

    Ondol Sketch_2_062514_EDITED 3

    Illustration by Emily Torem


    American disposable food culture notwithstanding, a restaurant is about more than efficiently transferring food from a refrigerator to a stomach. The best restaurants create a sense of place—through the food preparation, the physical surroundings, the textures and the temperatures—that make diners feel at home and nurture our humanity.  


    At the root of the dining experience, whether it’s clinking coffee mugs over Western omelets or brushing crumbs off a silk tablecloth, is the discovery that made humanity, well, human: fire.  In the following, we’ll be exploring how man has enhanced, controlled and directed heat to cook his food and warm his hearth at various points throughout human history. 




    India: The Good Earth: how clay, cob and soil make everything from ovens to homes



    Long before wood-fired pizza became a gourmet casual food craze in the US, people have been using carefully constructed ovens to shape and control how a fire heats their food. Harnessing point-source flames further still, “baking” building materials, like cob and adobe in the sun, for everything from walls to floors to shelves, has been gathering fervor among the sustainable building community. 


    Work Life Balance: Bike to Work Challenge Reprise (spoiler alert: We Still Roll)

    moss team on the way


    Moss rocked the Bike Commuter Challenge last year in 2013 we’re proud to say that, this year, we still know how to roll!


    In case you hadn’t noticed … moss is an office that likes to bike.  We’ve enjoyed demonstrating a commitment to our bicycles this past week during the Bike Commuter Challenge. With six team members we fit into the 5-25 person workplace size category but just because we’re on the small(est) end of that doesn’t mean we didn’t bring the heat.  It might have been easier for us to make our 100 percent participation than a bigger team (although we were one of only three in our category who managed it).  We also racked up the 6th highest mileage for our category and all but one of us made 5 round trips by bike.  Chris tied for 16th in the individual mileage category!


    How We Operate: Why we Love our Furniture Division

    moss furniture


    Its a pretty well known fact that architects like to design furniture as well as buildings. Some pieces are dramatic, site specific one-offs, and others have become by-words in furniture design, instantly recognizable to any lay person, even if not always by designer. Curbed recently set up a slideshow to pose just that challenge to readers.  Some are more difficult than others but they all have a distinctive “architect-y” flavor.


    Let’s see if any of these seem familiar …


    famous furniture


    Recognize a few of those? We thought so!


    So why do architects SO love to produce furniture as well as buildings?  Well there are a lot of reasons.  We can’t speak to the rationale of every other designer throughout history but … here’s why we do it…


    Out of the Woodshop: Bowling Alley Console





    We’d like to introduce the Bowling Alley Console, big sib to our much beloved Bowling Alley Bench.  If you want to adopt it and take it home, click here!


    Like so many of our most beautiful furniture items and interior finishes, this  is wood sourced from a demolished building and RE-purposed.  For us, working with reclaimed materials is such an obvious win / win – we get to take advantage of the incredible beauty of some of these reclaimed materials AND we get to reduce our impact by keeping them out of a landfill and (third win) not requiring a lot of new materials to be used.


    The wood for this console comes from the same pair of lanes (salvaged by Architectural Anarchy) that we used for the Bowling Alley Bench.  These bowling alley pieces are particularly fun to work with because, not only do they show off the beautiful wood they are made from, but, they are recognizable as what they used to be.  The arrows marked for the strike zone are clear in the table surface of the console, as is the contrast between the striped area and the more consistently blonde ball-only area.


    Biking in Chicago: What you need to know to be safe!

    elston bike lane


    With the Bike Commuter Challenge beginning TOMORROW, moss is ready and raring to go.  The moss team ranges in dedication to the cycling gods.  We’ve got  Chris, who bikes a 36 mile round trip to work most nice days, and Matt, who regularly sets out in the rain for client meetings or errand runs on his wheels.  Della, on the other hand, has pretty much mothballed her college beater for the unsophisticated convenience of the Divvy system.


    We all share a commitment to bike safety though.   If you’re just getting back on a bike in honor of this bike-to-work week, or if you haven’t done a lot of city biking … here are a few things you should keep in mind to keep yourself … and others … safe on the road.



    BE CLEAR … Use your hand signals.


    Bikes don’t come equipped with a set of turn indicators but we still have a responsibility to let the other bikes and cars around us know what we’re planning.  Its easy to signal turns using these hand signals.


    Point of interest – you can signal a right turn with either hand.  The more intuitive gesture – point right with your right arm – might be clearer but you can also use left hand signal – make a right angle with your arm (point to the sky).  This alternate is a throwback to the early days of cars (long before mechanical turn lights) when a driver needed to be able to signal all their intentions with the left arm stuck out the open drivers’ side window!


    hand signals


    Work and How to Get There: Alternatives to the Car

    alternate commute

    Commuting … almost everybody does it.  We love to hate this aspect of modern life, but the daily back-and-forth doesn’t necessarily have to be a burden.  At moss, we’ve explored a lot of alternatives to the traditional stuck-in-traffic mode.  In honor of the upcoming Bike Commuter Challenge, lets explore the modern commute and some variations on the theme!


    What you already knew: Americans Mostly Drive to Work

    City (or city adjacent) living can be a major “driver” of the commute.  According to a 2013 study, the Chicagoland average travel time is 31 minutes but 13 percent of those commuters spend more than an hour (one way) in their trek to work.  That’s the highest number in the midwest and desirable to no one.


    Plus those commute times are averaged between workers (some daily commutes are worse than others) and between trips (some DAYS are worse than others).  Chicago is ranked 7th in the nation for unpredictable drive times.  We aren’t quite as badly off as Washington, DC where drivers “should budget almost three hours to complete a high-priority trip that would take only 30 minutes in light traffic.”  Ugh!