Our Home Addition - Part 3

OK.....so let's just take a second to recap where we've been so far.

In Part 1, I talked about the initial design of our house.........the conception of an idea.  That a-ha! moment.  This excitement was short-lived when I realized that my design did not meet the zoning ordinance.  I referred to this as the oh sh*t moment!

In Part 2, I took us on the roller coaster of applying for a zoning variance.  After some ups and downs I was able to get our variance approved and pull our design out of the fire!

And here in Part 3, I am going to put us on another roller coaster.  That roller coaster is the Board of Architectural Review, otherwise known as the B.A.R.  The Red Hot Chili Peppers have a real catchy song called Love Roller Coaster in which the chorus is "Your love is like a roller coaster baby, baby.....I wanna ride.."

The B.A.R. is like a roller coaster baby, baby that I don't wanna ride.  

Actually, it's more like that ride the Gravitron that you will find at your local county fair.  You know the one that looks like a space ship that spins around super fast glueing you against the inside wall with centrifugal force.  And then when the ride is over you feel dizzy, have a headache and want to vomit.  That's the B.A.R.!

Actually the B.A.R. is really nothing like the Gravitron...I've just been looking for an excuse to incorporate the Gravitron in my blog........ Love that ride!

If I could be half as good at architecting as that dude is at gravitroning, then I will die a happy man.


And that folks is what you call going off on a tangent!

Now getting back to Part 3 of Our Home Addition...


Does it seem like I'm stringing you along a little with this story?  Perhaps I am.  My goal with this story and with my blog is to give you a snapshot at the myriad of tasks involved with being an architect.  The work I have performed thus far on our house is not that different from the work I do in my role as a Real Architect for LS3P.  I just work on larger scale projects at LS3P. And I get paid for it!  So far this project has only cost me money, and the longer it goes on, the more it will cost.  But hey man.... it's an investment!  And with investments, you get out what you put in...and then some.

O.K. O.K.....now back to the story.

Now that we had our variance the next step would be to submit for conceptual approval to the B.A.R.  In Charleston, everyone loves to talk about the B.A.R.  Actually architecture in general is just a hot topic here in the Holy City. Every week there is an article about some significant project that has gotten people all riled up.  And the B.A.R. is always somewhere in the mix.  

I have made many presentations to the B.A.R. but this one would be unique in that I am the architect and the client.  So here it goes:

Step 1 - Courtesy Meeting with the City Architect, Dennis Dowd

For 'significant' projects it is actually required that applicants meet with Mr. Dowd prior to the conceptual submittal.  For my work at LS3P, this is every project.  Although it was not technically required for our house, I thought it would be a good idea.  

A couple weeks prior to the submittal, I had a meeting with Mr. Dowd to discuss the house design.  He was very complimentary of the design and we had a good discussion about how to make improvements.

This was a good first step.  At this point I was feeling very confident in our design.  I would estimate our likelihood at getting our project passed at the B.A.R. 90%.  I will call that my confidence meter.

Step 2 - The Submittal

The B.A.R. requires an application, a fee and drawings of the project.  Here are examples of the drawings that I submitted:


Rendered Building Plan

Front and back elevation.  The B.A.R requires you to show existing versus new.  The front is a pretty dramatic improvement.

Side elevation.

Existing view of the entrance.

New view of the entrance.

Existing view at the corner.

New view at the corner.

New front view.

3 - Talk with the neighborhood.

I reached out to the neighborhood one more time to notify them that we were submitting to the B.A.R.  I also asked for any comments related to the design and if they would be willing to write a letter of support.

4 - The Night of the Meeting

B.A.R. meetings are on Wednesday evenings.  We were #9 on the agenda.  

One of the hallmarks of architecture school is the critique or jury review.  You pin up your drawings and present/defend your design to a jury of architects and professors.  These critiques would often be very tough so it helped to have thick skin.  The B.A.R. is the closest thing to an architecture school critique that I have experienced in the professional world of architecture.  The biggest difference is that in addition to a jury (the board) there is a room full of the public also in attendance.  

It can be very stressful just like architecture school, but I have to admit that I enjoy the rush. Being an effective presenter is an important skill for an architect and the B.A.R. is a great test.  I try to get better each time.

After 8 projects had presented, it was my turn.  Here we go.

Confidence meter still hovering around 90%.

5 - The Presentation

A couple years ago we would have printed large drawings to use as exhibits for our presentation.  The city now has a  large TV monitor that you can plug a device into for presentations.  I have a little trick that I use for my presentations.  I plug my Apple TV into the television, which allows me to wirelessly mirror the presentation from my iPad to the TV.  This works well because I can walk around the room with my iPad and seamlessly swipe from slide to slide.  Also the zooming ability on an iPad is much more seamless and dynamic than when using a laptop and mouse.  It's pretty baller!

"My name is Steve Ramos and I am the architect and owner of this house at 48 Bogard Street.  I am here representing my client, Mrs. Danielle Ramos."

That was my introduction and opening joke for the presentation. In public speaking situations I will often try to insert some sort of little joke.  It helps lighten the mood of the room, it gets people's attention and if they laugh it makes me feel much more comfortable.  I generally feel comfortable in public speaking situations; however, that doesn't mean I don't get nervous.

And they did laugh at my joke.  Which really wasn't a joke, but I knew that they'd get a kick out of me calling Danielle my client. 

I went through all of my slides continuously emphasizing just how much improved the house would be after the addition.  

The importance of a good ending.  I always try to end my presentations with an image or images that are memorable and thought provoking.  For this presentation I ended with before and after pictures of 3 of the houses at our corner.  Ours included.

My goal with these last slides was to highlight that this corner has seen an amazing transformation.  It was only a few years ago that many of these houses were in terrible disrepair.  I also explained that we felt very lucky to be able to contribute the final piece to this corner's transformation.


This house is catty-corner to our house.  If you saw the house today you would have never imagined that it was in that state of disrepair.

This is the house right next to ours.  It is now the home to the George Gallery, which was just featured in Southern Living Magazine.  Amazing!  We are lucky to have this gallery as our neighbor.

And then our little house.  It is still an unusual house, but we think it is much better.


I want to mention that I was feeling pretty good after my presentation.  I had to rush a few slides, but overall I felt like I delivered a strong presentation.  I'd say my confidence meter was still at 90%.

6 - Public Comment

After my presentation the City Architect Dennis Dowd gave the public an opportunity to comment on the project.

Winslow Hastie of the Historic Charleston Foundation

Mr. Hastie was less than thrilled with the design of our house.  He said the addition was awkward.  He thought the addition should be 2 stories on the front of the house and should be built right up to the property line like the rest of the houses on the street.  He also recommended painting the brick. 

I wasn't surprised that Historic Charleston was not a fan.  They tend to be critical of most of the projects presented.  And I welcome that.

Andrew Gould of the Cannonborough Elliotborough Neighborhood Design Committee

Mr. Gould was all over the board with his comments; however, to his defense he was representing a large group of neighbors who had mixed feelings.  He mentioned that this house had been a topic of debate way before we ever moved in.  In fact, he said that most had hoped that whoever purchased the house would demolish it and rebuild.  Cover your ears our little brick house!  He also recommended painting the brick.  Mr. Gould's main point was that since our house is on a corner, it is of greater importance and that everyone is hopeful that something good happens there. Most importantly, he explained that at the original design meeting where we met with the neighborhood, all 20+ people in attendance were in support of our design.  So he ended on a high note.  Thank you, Andrew!

After the public comments my confidence had dropped a little.  A majority of their comments were negative.  Confidence meter lowered to 80%.

7 - My Rebuttal to the Public Comment

After the public comment I was allowed to make a rebuttal.  I started by highlighting that although our house would be greatly improved by this design, that it will always be an atypical Charleston house.  And being different doesn't have to a bad thing.  I said that I did not object to painting the brick, but did not think it was necessary.  

I also said that after this design was complete that no one would have wished that the house was demolished.

8 - City Recommendation by the City Architect Dennis Dowd

Before the Board discusses the project, Mr. Dowd makes his recommendation for the project.  Mr. Dowd was very commendable of the project and said he thought that the craftsman nature of the design was appropriate for the house.  In fact, he jokingly referred to the design as 'Prairie Style.'  The reason this is funny is because prairie style is the style of architecture associated with the work of Frank Lloyd Wright.  It is characterized by low sloped roofs with deep overhangs and ribbon windows.  Comparing this house to FLW is just a little bit of a stretch...Just a little.

Although Mr. Dowd recommended approval, he did list a number of recommended revisions:

  1. Expose the rafter tails - Because we had exposed the structure at the front porch, he thought it would be appropriate to expose the rafter tails around the entire perimeter. And consistent with 'craftsman' architecture.
  2. Paint the brick.  Or a lime wash.  Said this would make the house more cohesive.
  3. Remove or revise the design of the shutters.  He thought that they felt foreign to the design.
  4. Thought the fence still felt too pedestrian.  Recommended changing the front vehicle gate to a pedestrian gate.
  5. Wanted more clarification of the site materials, i.e. driveway and sidewalk materials.

I was feeling better after Mr. Dowd's comments.  Confidence meter back up to 90%.

9 - Board Comment

So this is when the real roller coaster begins.  There were 5 board members in attendance that night.

Janette Alexander was the first to comment.  She said that the original house was very awkward and that the new addition was "not helping any."  She said the angle of the site and 1 story addition was odd.  She also said that she realized how difficult it is to design your own house as an architect.  Ms. Alexander is an architect and former colleague of mine.

Confidence meter - dropped to 75%

Jay White was the second to comment.  Also an architect. He was kinda shaking his head and appeared to have a loss for words.  He said something along the lines of "I tend to agree with Ms. Alexander."  And then he said, "I'm surprised that the addition was not more bold." He said it "felt very suburban."

I think he was trying to say that he was surprised that as an architect that I didn't try something a little more modern and outside of the box.

The architects tend to lead the discussion and carry a big influence on the board.  2 architects in a row with negative comments is not a good thing.  Big drop in the confidence meter.  Down to 45%

Sheila Wertimer was the third to comment.  She said to reconsider the design of the fence. And said it is difficult to have a fence and a gate that are so low at 3'.  

Another hit..........confidence meter down to  - 35%

This is when I had my 2nd 

oh sh*t moment!

What was happening?  What had seemed to be a slam dunk was now a sinking ship.  I was just sitting there nodding to all of their comments.  A sweat started to form on my brow.  I began using my sleeve to wipe off my forehead.

In my head I was starting to think that the design was about to get rejected.  After all of that effort gaining a variance it was all going to be for nothing.

I even started to feel a little bit of embarrassment.  How good of an architect could I be if I couldn't even get this little addition passed!

I started to wonder what Danielle's reaction was going to be........She might fire me!

Stay tuned for part 4,

It's your lucky day.  I bring you Part 4.