Eli Gould’s Modern “PreCraft”

Eli Gould’s Modern “PreCraft”

In Professor Eleanor D’Aponte’s AP558 Global Issues in Design seminar, students experience global environmental, social, and educational issues via selected readings, films, field trips, guest speakers and service to community. Seeing the work of local entrepreneurs and educators within the context of global concerns, the course inspires students to think broadly in their own design work. Students report and reflect on class events via individual journals, as well a series of class blog entries. Graduate student Caleb Menard considers “PreCraft” and the work of Eli Gould as today’s guest blogger.

Ironwood Brand LLC is a small design/build firm located in Brattleboro, Vermont. The company was founded in 1994 by Eli Gould, and specializes in custom, high performance, prefabricated houses. The firm works with a tradition of, “Timber/Mill/Design/Build,” organized to provide all building services. Ironwood is divided into sections providing services including: sustainable timber harvesting, prefabrication, and building systems development. On November 6 Eli Gould came to speak at Norwich University as part of the school of Architecture + Art 2015-2016 Lecture Series.

The firm is divided into four distinct aspects which reflect their design/build process. PreCraft Management provides preconstruction planning, STIX, L3C, a sister company, provides sources for sustainable and locally sourced timber harvesting, PreCraft Manufacturing provides prefabrication services for building components, and the APTI-Shop provides services for designing and developing integrated building systems. The design/build process allows the firm to integrate all aspects of a design, seeing them through during the process of construction. The firm also acts as a consultant on many projects, and provides custom services for a project’s specific needs.

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Ironwood’s designs work with traditional materials, in what Gould calls modern “PreCraft.” Most often the designs work with heavy timber construction where advanced 3D CAD/CAM software is used to calculate exact timber usages, leading to sustainably harvested timber with zero waste. With CNC machinery the firm is able to fabricate custom timber members for the most complex of projects. The firm also uses BIM 3D modeling software to create and evaluate high performance building envelopes, most notable being their envelope of the .22 ACH/50 Passivehaus. Built to Passivehaus standards, the house received recognition from Efficiency Vermont as “one of the most efficient houses they had ever seen.”

Gould has led renowned jobs for companies such as, Timberpeg, a national timberframe company, Bensenwood, a high performance prefab company, and MaClay Architects, a local Vermont firm specializing in Net Zero building.

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Gould describes the building designs as ‘style neutral’. The designs are “modern with designed complexity.” The designs are modern in the traditional sense of the meaning. The firm often designs traditional forms, with modern systems. Gould describes designing for the flexibility of future technologies. The firm views a building from a standpoint of how it may transform over its life cycle. The designs respond to the introduction of future systems that may be easily integrated and installed within the existing structure, without large renovation costs.

When talking about the future market of architecture, Gould describes that we need “more system” and “less custom.” Through the ideas of pre-fabrication methods and advanced building systems, the building model can begin to become more cost effective and efficient. However he stresses that the goal for Ironwood is “the freedom to innovate.”

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As future members of the architectural community, it will be our task to reinforce many of the ideas present in Ironwood Brand. The importance of efficiency and affordability is becoming a challenge for architecture today. Ideas of sustainably harvesting and prefabricating materials allow for an efficiency of material and time. With a world that revolves around cost, we must be conscientious of this in the way we design. How can we build faster and cheaper without losing the quality of our products? It is through design that this can be made possible.

I personally like the work of Ironwood Brand. The style of the work fits with the vernacular style of Vermont, with traditional gable roofed construction and clapboard facades. The heavy timber construction plays off the vernacular of barn building with a rich history throughout the state. The thing I find so fascinating is how the firm designs in way in which any type of mechanical or electrical need can be accessed and modified through detachable building elements. Most often, I overlook these aspects during the design process. However, we live in a technological world that is in constant flux. These design considerations make technological improvements time and cost effective.

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Currently working on the Master of Architecture thesis, I am working on designing a research laboratory, a building type that changes its layout up to 25% annually. Upon listening to Eli’s lecture, I have realized that it will be really important to take these potential changes into consideration. The rearrangement of programmatic space and the ease of access for the improvement and repair of mechanical systems will prove vital to successful operation of the facility.

I am glad we were able to host Eli Gould during this year’s Norwich University School of Architecture + Art Lecture Series.