Thoughts on to a trendy word

The Danish concept of “hygge” (pronounced sort of like HUE-gah) has been in the press a lot lately. The word refers to the mood or quality of things being special, cozy, or pleasant. The New York Times recently ran an article on the notion here: Move Over, Marie Kondo: Make Room for the Hygge Hordes

A recent book “The little book of Hygge- The Danish Way to Live Well” extols the virtues of taking pleasure in the everyday act of living. It recommends, among other things, warm fireplaces, wool socks, books, comfy places to sit, candle light, wood finishes, and warm beverages. A lot of our clients seem to be after that feel, and I am glad to now have a word to help define it. I was also recently sitting on my couch, contemplating our new living space, and came to the conclusion that we have hygge down pat. – Elden

Architecture is Personal


Collage 36 houses

I started working with Rachel and Doug in September 2006, just shy of a year after they launched Wagner Zaun Architecture Inc. Reaching this milestone leads me to reflect on 10 years at WZ, and what it means to me.

The built environment has always been important to me.  I grew up in a colonial saltbox house, built in 1730s, and even when I was very young, the history of my home and my neighborhood were fascinating to me. At age 8 or 9, my friend Jessica and I spent countless hours digging in the dirt surrounding an abandoned home in our neighborhood, which later dramatically burned to the ground.  We filled two shoeboxes with pottery shards, and other 200+ year old flotsam, and filled our imaginations with stories of the long ago residents who threw the lovely patterned dishes and cups out their window.

When I was 13 (in the late 70s) we moved. My parents decided the environment should be considered as they built a small new home, utilizing passive solar energy, wood heat and solar hot water. Later, in college, I learned that the 1600s and early 1700s colonial homes were built with the same energy principles in mind, oriented southeast, with large central chimneys.

Also at that time I started to recognize the privilege of my experience. I became interested in advocating for safe, stable housing as a right for all people.  I was lucky to work in affordable housing development for many years in Minneapolis.

After college I had worked with the City of Boston on a huge project to survey all city owned buildings and evaluate them for accessibility, but when my second child was born with physical limitations, I learned through personal experience the impact of inaccessibility in architecture. Rachel Wagner came to our rescue and made our home livable and beautiful.  Soon after, I joined WZ as the office manager.

A few weeks ago I created a photo collage of many of the single family homes designed by WZ.  It was a bit overwhelming to see so many homes on one page, and it was only a portion of the many successful WZ designs I have seen from Pre-Design through Construction over the past ten years.  I cannot take credit for much of this accomplishment, but I do feel rewarded to have been in the background, to help keep the office running, so the work can get done.

You can see how my values and background fit with what WZ aims to accomplish in their work. They are dedicated to working with affordable housing groups, committed to design that is sustainable, and their design aesthetic draws on history and context, to create beautiful spaces and buildings.


The Long View

Michael Heizer at the site of “City.” Credit: Michael Govan

I recently read an article about the large scale environmental sculptor Michael Heizer.

Michael Heizer has been working on a mile long sculpture entitled “City” for the past 40 years.  In the article he talks about the challenges of remaining engaged and true to an idea that takes many years to come to fruition.  He also described the concept that there can be intrigue and joy in starting something when you don’t know how it will end.  There are many similar correlations in life and relationships.  Marriage, raising children, starting a new friendship, all offer boundless hope and intrigue but they rarely offer knowledge of how these relationships will actually grow and evolve.

Architecture has similar parallels to sculpture and life.  It’s very common for projects from conception to completion to take several years.   Even with the homes we design a good process from the start of design through construction completion can take 2 to 3 years.  It’s very difficult to predict the final outcome of the many decisions made along the way.  In this context the process is as important as the final product itself.

Architecture should and needs to start with ideas and dreams.  But in order to achieve Architecture (actually building something), the realities of climate, gravity, schedule and budget need to be introduced to that dream.  The long timeframe and often relentless reality can easily erode and distort the original idea until it becomes unrecognizable.  This is where a well-designed and executed process comes into play.  A process that ensures what was conceived in the beginning, remains evident in the completed project.  We call our process “What Matters Most.”  We work with you to determine what matters most to you, your building site, your neighborhood & your community.  We then work with you to establish a budget and schedule that realizes the realities of getting something built.  Once we have these critical elements defined and prioritized we can then actually relax and enjoy a process that many of our clients will likely only experience once in their lifetime.  This is my greatest pleasure as an Architect.  To take a client on a creative process where we design and build a home (that they love) and that they never could have anticipated when we began.



2013 ReScape Awards

2013 ReScape Awards

The Canal Park Brewing Company received the 2013 Minnesota Brownfield ReScape Award.  The award is given to four projects demonstrating innovation, collaboration, and exemplary results in revitalizing formerly contaminated land.

Wagner Zaun Architecture is proud to have been a part of such a fantastic project!