How to build window with perforated board design

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rroach@hypoxia.net
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How to build window with perforated board design

Post by rroach@hypoxia.net »

Hi All, Appreciate all the great information here. We're building a retirement home and hope to include a long exterior wall with perforated windows along the top of the wall. This is a labor of love (and relative frugality where possible) so we expect if we do plan to have a long row of such windows we'll have to build them ourselves. I've scoured the net and this forum to find someone who has in recent times been down the same path--surely there is someone out there who has built such windows? Here's to hoping. Rob

SDR
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Post by SDR »

Welcome !

Interestingly, I cannot recall hearing of a Wright owner taking on the recreation (or the construction, where an original design was never realized) of a "perf" (as we have taken to calling them). I suppose it will
have happened; perhaps another poster will refresh our memory.

But we do have original drawings of some of them, including in some cases a section drawing to accompany the elevation of the perf. There is more than one method of perf construction out there, so let's look
at some examples.

It might be assumed, to start, I think, that Mr Wright would consider plywood for the construction of these elements; it would be a logical choice, given the nature of most of the designs, to cut them from a single
piece of plywood (or, in fact, two identical pieces for each window, as the glass is usually shown sandwiched between two matching pieces of material), than to build them up from individual sticks and panels of
solid wood.

In fact, some of the earliest perfs were made from a single panel or board of solid wood. The problem arises where thin sections of the perf design run diagonally or vertically; these, when cut into a board with
horizontal grain---the most logical orientation of a long and narrow piece of wood, placed horizontally in the construction---are subject to breakage, when subjected to weathering and to the natural expansion
and contraction of the material with changes in temperature and relative humidity.

So, in an early Usonian detail sheet, we find this well-labeled section drawing through a typical perf panel. The material is specified as "waterproof" 5/8" plywood.


Image


The middle portion of the section through the perf is a horizontal section, to show the vertical post that separates the row of perfs on the building. The rest of the drawing is a vertical section, looking horizontally
at a vertical cut through the materials. The perf is noted to be four feet long, and the posts (or "struts") are four feet on center; thus we know that the plan module for this house is four feet on a side---most likely
a 2' x 4' unit in plan, scored as such in the concrete "mat" or floor slab.

S

SDR
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Location: San Francisco

Post by SDR »

Now, a selection of views of original Usonian perfs, starting with the early years (pre-WWII):


Sidney Bazett residence, Hillsborough, CA, 1939 -- plywood

Image . . Image


Stanley Rosenbaum residence, Florence, Alabama, 1939 -- perf used vertically, and horizontally (as a ceiling light source)

Image . . Image


Loren Pope residence, (originally) Falls Church, VA, 1939 -- perfs of solid wood, after 60 years of weathering

Image


Bernard Schwartz residence, Two Rivers, WI, 1939 -- note breakage to two vertical members

Image


Post-war: Melvin Maxwell Smith residence, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, 1946 -- clerestory perf turning a corner, perfs used vertically as an interior screen

Image . . Image

yellowcat
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Post by yellowcat »

Those are some very good section details SDR!

Too bad they don't include some hardware notes. The item labeled "operator" is not much help.

I think if someone was going to build these today, it would be good to track down a supplier of marine plywood, especially for any "perfs" that would be on an outside wall. I noticed in the section drawing example that copper flashing and copper screen was specified. That would be important if the structure was near a coast.

SDR
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Post by SDR »

Yes. Marine-grade plywood would be a desirable choice---but the edges of the material were not intended to be exposed to the elements, on
land or sea. Protection of those exposed edges would be a good idea, though that doesn't appear to be the case on examples of perfs that I
have seen. Wright wasn't fussy with details, preferring to let materials be themselves. A very careful builder might have wanted to glue match-
ing solid-wood edgebanding on every one of the hundreds of exposed edges to the perfs, using one of the weatherproof adhesives.



Just because Wright designed his perfs to be read as wood-over-glass on both the exterior and the exterior, doesn't mean that a perf array
couldn't be constructed with wood on only one side of the glass---at a big saving in labor over the original configuration.

Here's a perf on a Wright-designed house (designed in 1941 for Roy Peterson, built for a client named Haddock in 1979). It appears to have
wood on the exterior side of the glass only.


Image


It would be equally likely that a good effect could be had---and a defeat of weathering effects---by placing the perforated wood panels on the
inside of the glass . . . as long as the exterior appearance was satisfactory. A clerestory band above eye level might not look too bad ?

S

SDR
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Post by SDR »

Here we have a portion of the Standard Detail Sheet of which we showed a larger area, above. Here the filler around the glass, sandwiched between the inner and outer perf boards, can be seen; it is a thin slat of wood or other
material that is the same thickness as, or slightly thicker than, the glass. Screws would pass through this layer, around the glass (which would surely be a simple rectangle), to assemble the finished perf panel.

The note [2" x 4" Strut] refers not to the filler strip but to the post, seen beyond the cut. Refer the the previous illustration . . .




Image

rroach@hypoxia.net
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Thank you!

Post by rroach@hypoxia.net »

Wow, I was hopeful to get ANY response, impressive the detail and thoughtfulness of the replies. Thank you so much!

In al my research on perfs I did not realize they were made of plywood as the faces often have very nice grain and the look, to me at least, of solid wood. Obviously these will need to be made from nice quality plywood that takes a good stain.

We are considering baltic birch plywood for some interior finishes, maybe even for ceilings in 4 ft squares. That plywood has minimal voids in cross section so edge banding is not needed. I'll find out if marine grade baltic birch plywood is available.

We're probably a 6-12 months away from building the first prototypes of these windows. I'll be sure and post some pictures!

Thank you again for your help!

SDR
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Post by SDR »

That sounds good.

As a woodworker I've tended to shy away from stains---though I realize that many don't believe a wood project is complete if the wood hasn't been
altered in color. (Indeed, some use the word "stain" when they refer to any wood finish !) Many of us feel that the wood should be selected for its color
and grain, in addition to the other physical properties required, and clear-finished only, if any finish is needed. Indeed this was Mr Wright's tendency,
particularly in the later period of his career.

Stains do not protect the wood; only the finish coat can do that.

I raise the issue because birch can be difficult to stain evenly. There are remedies for this---but samples of the same material you intend to use
should be treated and stained identically to the intended finish process, to judge the effect.

Stains, much more than clear finishes, will enhance the grain, as well as highlighting any problem areas in the workpiece, including uneven sanding,
surface defects, and unwanted grain features. So, the materials should be carefully selected from available supply, and protected from accidental
damage during handling and processing, to facilitate the best outcome.


Anyway, all that aside, Apple Ply is a superior brand of so-called Euro-ply, the multi-layered plywoods popular today. It seems to be available primarily
if not exclusively with maple surfaces---a good substitute for Baltic birch.

Best of luck with your project, and do please keep us in the loop !

Steve
Last edited by SDR on Mon Nov 11, 2019 9:50 am, edited 1 time in total.

rroach@hypoxia.net
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Wood choices for perfs

Post by rroach@hypoxia.net »

Thanks for the tips.

ApplyPly is available in many veneers which would be a help. But at first glance not rated for exterior use.

You'll appreciate we're trying to find reasonable options for reverse board and batten (12" wide cypress not in our budget universe), and I've considered trying a mockup of something like apply ply.

Will keep researching.

Thanks again, it is great to have people helping who are interested and deeply knowledgeable about what we're exploring.

SDR
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Post by SDR »

So, your house will not only have a perf band, it will replicate (or be inspired by) other Usonian details ?

Exciting ! Can't wait to see more.

As exterior wood wethers, and changes color, the same specie on the inside of the house will remain much more in its original state, typically
fading or darkening (due largely if not entirely to UV exposure). Perhaps your exterior perf layer could be made of a different specie---or material
---than the perfs on the inside of the glass ?

We have discussed the "updated Usonian" many times, here, and a consensus has emerged to suggest that no 1940 Usonian would satisfy
today's building codes and standards, even if its form and provisions were satisfactory to its owners. So, absolute authenticity would likely be
impossible, today, for a house intended to be occupied and used as a residence. Thus, material substitutions would not be unexpected, in such a
project . . .



Here are photos of a Mark Mills house, in which the interior and exterior differences of a given material, the latter allowed to weather naturally,
seem to be celebrated:


Image Image

photos © Michael Mathers

Roderick Grant
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Post by Roderick Grant »

When Brandes was built, FLW designed a typical perf, which the owner felt he could not afford to construct, so the house went without perfs while Brandes lived there. His son inherited the house, and considered adding the perfs, but by then they were even more costly. I suggested that he add them to the interior only, which he did for a fraction of the cost. An advantage to that solution is that the wood used could be anything desired, plywood to teak or mahogany. Weather ceases to be a problem if the clerestories are not operable.

The solution worked with Brandes, because the clerestories are not particularly noticeable from the exterior. The same solution would not work well on a structure like Gordon or Kundert, where large wall sections are involved.

rroach@hypoxia.net
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hesitant to overstate what we are trying to do

Post by rroach@hypoxia.net »

Yes, you are right. Based loosely on the Hagan House. We will try to capture some of the feel, while being modern, super insulated, built for living in. For example, the entry will be very much like Hagan. But the perforated skylights in the eaves--certainly not all the way around the house. Though I may have to have one, maybe over the main entrance! The north side will have the perfs all along the top of the wall if the engineers can figure out how to shear those two sections of wall with the perfs at the top. There will be a long gallery on one wing to the two bedrooms (with one wall being the perf wall we're talking about on the north). Cantilevered car port (again, awaiting engineer final say), cantilevered covered outdoor porch/kitchen. Maybe a corner mitered window. Probably built in Wright style benches in the LR. A modern kitchen. Working with a designer who did a mini-internship at Taliesin West. But whether we can pull it off to have anything approaching the interior feel of a Wright Usonian, I do not know. We're just finishing the floor plan, and hope in next few weeks to get a SketchUp model for commenting. I'll figure out how to put a link here once we have all that available.

SDR
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Post by SDR »

Super. One of the modern-day codes that seems universal now (?) is that ceilings must be no less than eight feet, meaning that the intimate feel experienced
in parts of a Wright residence---the entry, most typically---will be compromised. (Simply scaling everything up, in the vertical dimensions, is NOT an effective
remedy for this problem, in my view . . .).

Mr Wright was a master of scale and proportion in his work; these are of course vital elements of any superior architectural design. One aspect of this, in Wright,
is the sometimes lavish use of material merely to achieve the desired composition; those extended eaves aren't there merely to shade the building and shelter
its occupants---for instance . . .!

The same is true of the interiors; the magic is in part the result of carefully-considered (and/or divinely inspired) proportions, horizontal to vertical. Tamper with
these at your peril . . . :oops:

Some of us believe it is better to leave Wright alone, and seek inspiration elsewhere, if it is not within a builder's reach to respect fully the master's effects. But
the wish to "own Wright," to live in that sort of environment, is a compelling one, isn't it.

S

rroach@hypoxia.net
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inspired by....

Post by rroach@hypoxia.net »

SDR, you're right! What we are trying is to design a home inspired by FLW--through our own eyes. Not a duplicate, not a copy, and no doubt not as good. And making no claims to be anything but that--a design inspired by his great work. But hopefully when all is said and done, a pretty great house for us to live in.

My reading of the residential IBC is that no lower 7' ft ceilings are required, and in a sloped roof room, 50% of ceiling has to be above 7', meaning soffits around the perimeter for space definition should be OK. I asked our designer to double check on that just now, so if I am wrong I'll get back to you. We'll try to create some spaces with soffits, the entrance will be dropped to 7' or so, opening up to the higher ceilings in the gallery and LR/DR kitchen.

We may be on a fool's errand, but so far we are having a lot of fun designing.

Roderick Grant
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Post by Roderick Grant »

James DeLong ran into that problem with flat ceiling heights. He challenged the rule, and got away with ceilings as low as ~6'10".
The rule dates back to the Great Depression, when so-called "Hoovervilles" started popping up all over, rental housing and shanties built on the cheap with very low ceiling heights.

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