All posts by Mark Tetrault

What I love about being an Architect (Part 2)

Front Facade

Being an Architect has many satisfying aspects, but one of my favorites is being able to see your vision for a space become real before your eyes.  On a recent trip to Boston, I had the chance to see the very first house I designed: a custom residence for my Mom.  Completed over 20 years earlier, Mom and her husband  still love living in the spaces we crafted together.

Sudbury-patio copy
Rear Porch

The exterior is in the “Tudor Style” with a stone base course and “half-timber” and plaster walls giving the house a natural and timeless feel.  Its nice to see it with all the landscape looking lush (it can often take years before the landscape looks like what the design team envisioned)

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Architecture and Music

via the FabWeb

The great 19th century poet Goethe once compared Architecture and Music, with the following (translated) quote, “Music is liquid architecture; Architecture is frozen music.” I’ve long been fascinated by the relationship between my two favorite art forms. Since this is an architecture blog, it’s no surprise that I’m passionate about our built environment. You may not know however that I’m also an accomplished amateur piano player, starting lessons when I was only 7 years old. There’s a funny story about how I got my first piano that I’ll share sometime if you want to hear it.

On the surface architecture and music seem so different: one is useful, lasting and solid, the other is fanciful, ephemeral and  Continue reading

Holiday Cooking and Owner’s Manuals

It may seem incongruous at first to imagine why these two concepts would be related, but this is a timely, cautionary tale.


Always in the course of new construction, there comes the time when the end is in sight. Sometimes the close of the project is behind the original schedule and that reality is beginning to crash into the family holiday season. More than once clients have had to rush from unpacking boxes to setting the dinner table for a Thanksgiving feast. Meanwhile, the builders are packing up their tools and pulling off the property.

In one case, delightful clients were finally taking possession of their new kitchen, replete with new high-capacity cooking equipment. A Continue reading

What I Love about being an Architect (Part 1)

One of the nice things about going to a party is meeting new people. Early in the conversation someone usually asks “what do you do?” and I get to answer “I’m an Architect.” Everyone loves to speak with an Architect: many will share their childhood dreams about becoming an Architect, others will share a story about a past remodel and still others will want to share opinions about the new local building. Whatever the conversation, there’s always an interesting point of connection – and who doesn’t like being popular at a party?

An old Polaroid shot of me climbing the temple
An old Polaroid shot of me climbing the temple

There are lots of things I love about being an Architect, from the artistic creativity to the technological challenges – it embraces so many areas of human endeavor. Ever since I was a boy, I had a fascination with archaeology. I could sit for hours pouring through picture books of Egyptian and Mayan ruins, imagining the people who lived there and what the cities might have looked like when they were still new. I’m grateful that life has given me the chance to wander the streets and touch the building of a few of these ancient cities. I’m also grateful that this antiquarian interest can offer valuable insights in my professional life. Continue reading

Advances in Seismic Technology (Part 3)

After many years of careful planning and hard work, the Hillside House has taken its place as one of the most seismically advanced houses in the country. In previous posts, I related the background and process of design. We’ve finally reached the most exciting part of the story – construction!


The first step of the installation happened “below the surface”. To transfer the loads from the steel frames to the foundation, the Structural Engineer devised a specialized steel column/baseplate to be cast into the concrete. Each post was integrated into the steel reinforcing of the basement concrete wall allowing only a ¼” tolerance from perfect placement – and there were 21 of columns to install. Fortunately, the Contractor was up to the job and handled it beautifully!

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Advances in Seismic Technology (Part 2)

In the design of the Hillside House, we were guided by the dreams of the Owner, our own observations, professional experience and intuition. While our desire for every project is to create a well-made, functional and beautiful home, this project’s goal of “Earthquake Safety” took us further than ever before into the realm of the “well-made”. The technological advances required to meet this goal ultimately expanded our team to include: a military grade hardware supplier, a Ph.D. in earthquake Geotechnical Engineering, Finite Element Analysis software and the World Leader in Earthquake Monitoring.

In a previous post, I related how we began this journey, with an awareness of the limits of the Building Code, the benefits of a Performance Based Design and the idea of using a fluid viscous dampened steel structure.

A little too big for our needs
A little too big for our needs

Originally developed as aerospace technology for the MX Missile and Stealth Bomber, dampers aretypically used in construction on very large buildings with significant seismic forces, so our next step was to see if dampers of the size we needed were even available. When our Structural Engineer spoke with a representative at Taylor Devices, the premier maker of these dampers, he was informed that indeed they did have devices “small” enough for our intended use, and that Continue reading

Advances in Seismic Technology (Part 1)

The August 24, 2014  earthquake in Napa provides us with another reminder of the challenges of living in the Bay Area – one of the most beautiful places in the country. The quake was strong, but fortunately wasn’t the “Big One”; so the damage was limited and no one was seriously injured or killed.   Safety in an earthquake, even a very large one though, doesn’t have to depend on fortune. Building science and technology available today can not only prevent death and injury, but  can also prevent destruction and minimize damage to the places where we live, work and play . One of our projects, which we call the Hillside House, is among the first residences in the country to use such technology. Let me share a little background information to help set things in context.

Modern Codes have made our buildings much safer than those of yesteryear, but the standards they set do not require the best possible analysis or technologies be used. The general goal of the Code in an earthquake is to Continue reading