Second-guessing myself

The forms came off the concrete walls last week and every day that I looked at them I was worried that they didn’t fit the house the way we wanted them to. I kept it to myself all week but couldn’t get over it. The original plan for the decks, as designed by the architects, was to have them both cantilever out from the house, as if they were floating.

The building code dictates that a person is only allowed to fall 30 inches (a magic number for injuries, I guess), so if a platform is more than 30 inches a guard rail is required to keep people from falling. We didn’t want guard rails because they’re ugly. Tom Kundig suggested putting concrete planters — boxes containing dirt with plants or trees in them — around the deck because he, who doesn’t like guard rails either, knows this gets around the building code. Apparently, falling 30 inches is okay if you hit something on your way down. So before we hired a landscape architect, the plan was to  have two decks on a single plane surrounded by concrete planters. Simple enough.

Months later, we hired a landscape architect and he made some changes to that design. He lengthened the south deck and, instead of a single plane, made it drop by two steps to a sitting area and then another two steps to the original grade where our dining area would be. We loved the changes, but ran them by Tom Kundig to double-check and he liked it better than his own design. So we had been set to go forward with the design as soon as the house interior was complete and we were moved in.

The concrete forms were built a few weeks ago and the concrete was poured. The forms were eventually removed and the walls looked great. But I had a nagging feeling that they were “too much”. We always talked about how the house should be like some of the sets in 2001: A Space Oddysey — a mix of modern and traditional that work together. And I love how I.M. Pei’s addition to the Louvre in Paris is super modern but complements the old building behind it. I was scared we went too far.

Despite the reassurances from everyone that it will work when it’s all done, I had us all going through ideas to modify the walls and even take them out completely and start over. This put the plans on hold to build the south deck, so I was very conscious of how quickly I had to get this straight in my head.

Our interior designer told me that the problem I see is that the deck wasn’t in yet so the walls looked a lot bigger than they will eventually appear. That was true. Scott, the landscape architect, assured me that it continues the changes we made in the kitchen and family room and to the outside, which is what we asked for. Jim Dow came over and said that he likes it, that it does fit the big blocky buttresses of the house and encouraged me to continue to “be bold”. I thought about it more over the weekend and then we had Todd from Olson Kundig come over to take a look and take photos to show Tom. Todd said the same thing, that it does work and we should continue. He then talked to Tom and Tom agreed. At that point, with people a lot smarter than me telling me I’m wrong, who am I to argue? It wouldn’t be the first or last time I’m wrong, but usually when I feel this uncomfortable about something, I discover that I was right to be uncomfortable. I’m still  not convinced, but we’re going ahead with the plan and I’m continuing to spend a lot of time staring at it trying to see the vision. Boy, I hope I’m wrong.


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