Inside My Sketchbook - An Architect's Essential Tools

A look inside my sketchbook as I start a new project and review my current favorite sketching tools. See my go-to paper, pens, pencils, markers; everything in my everyday carry kit for sketching.
Instead of the chronological approach I've used in the past, I now dedicate entire sketchbooks to individual projects, tasks, or idea categories. I've found this helps me to organize information and find it quickly when I'm searching for it later.


Sketchbooks

Here's what I'm currently recommending (it's a substitute for my favorite, but still quite good) Although the Muji A5 dot grid with elastic is my all-time favorite, lately the stock on Amazon has been outrageously priced (in-store, they're ~$4 each).

Pencils

Kuru Toga .5mm - I use this for sketching currently. If you prefer a chunkier lead, try this lead holder clutch made by E+M

Colored Pencils

Pens + Markers

Pilot Precise V7

Signo

Sign Pen

Markers

Accessories

Pencil Case

Eraser

Eraser Pen

Desk Brush

Chop Stamp

No Longer (Just) An Architect

An excerpt from a conversation I had with Maleick, a 22-year old architecture student from Baltimore. He’s preparing to graduate architecture school this spring, making plans, weighing his options and struggling with the anxiety of not knowing what’s next.

Twenty-two years ago, I stood where Maleick stands today, entering the profession with the same concerns, the same worries. And today - twenty-two years later - I’m no longer an architect. Yes, I have the degree and the license and buildings I’ve designed, but the profession I stepped into back then no longer exists. There are no more architects in the singular sense of the word. Today I’m a photographera graphic designer, a marketer, a filmmakera writer, a negotiator, an editor, a curator, and a creator. Professional practice is anything and everything we design it to be.

Approaching practice with a creator's mindset has allowed me to explore a spectrum of influences and interests and incorporate those into my work as an architect. In much the same way, my architectural training informs and colors my other creative pursuits.

The uncertainty remains though as a part of life. What do you think? Did I get it right?  What advice would you offer a soon-to-be graduate?

Architectural Design Process : Form, Orientation and Sunlight

Learn how you can use the Sun to locate, orient, shape, and inspire the details for your architectural design. In this video, I walk you through the design process for a project whose form, orientation, and details were all developed by carefully analyzing the solar path on the building site.

How I find Architectural Ideas

Eight strategies I use to find architectural ideas and confront - the intimidating - blank page.

Topics covered:

  • Bisociation 
  • Trusting the design process
  • Embracing constraints
  • Inventing deadlines
  • Doing the opposite (anti-project)
  • Subtracting to solve
  • Stealing (like an artist)

These are just a few of the design tricks I use to help grease the creative wheels and instill the confidence I need to keep moving forward. What's great is these techniques work for a whole host of disciplines and creative fields, they're not exclusive to architecture.

Books mentioned: 
The Art of Thought: http://amzn.to/2xabSYi
The Act of Creation: http://amzn.to/2glShdP


ARCHITECTURE GEAR:
* Prismacolor Markers: http://thirtybyforty.com/markers
* Timelapse Camera: http://thirtybyforty.com/brinno
* AutoCAD LT: http://amzn.to/2dxjMDH
* SketchUp PRO: http://amzn.to/2cRcojz
* HP T120 Plotter: http://amzn.to/2dBGf1O
* Adobe CC Photography (Photoshop/Lightroom) Plan: http://amzn.to/2dhq5ap

DRONE: 
*Mavic Pro by DJI: http://amzn.to/2hW3dTA

DSLR CAMERA:
* Canon 80D: http://amzn.to/2fBWGMQ

LENSES: 
* Canon 24mm f2.8 Lens: http://amzn.to/29l7ac5
* Canon 40mm f2.8 Lens: http://amzn.to/29x2QcI
* Canon 10 - 18mm f4.5 - 5.6 IS Lens: http://amzn.to/2vyErvS

AUDIO:
* Rode VideoMic Pro (hotshoe mtd.): http://amzn.to/29qlNM3
* ATR-2100 USB (dynamic mic): http://amzn.to/2dFDaKp 

Frank Gehry MasterClass Review

An architect's review of the Frank Gehry Masterclass: what to expect, what you’ll get, who I think it’s for, my favorite lessons, and whether I think it’s worth taking.

Gehry is a polarizing figure in the architecture world. But, whether you love or hate his work, the fact that he’s realized - what are sure to be - some of the timeless architectural icons of our time demands respect and further study.

Watch the video to see whether I think the course delivers on all that it promises.

Storing Architectural Samples in the Studio

I'm limited in the studio by the amount of space available to store things and material samples can take up a lot of room. I've seen many types of storage racks used in studios where I’ve worked and tried a number of things myself here in the studio – from metro shelving, to archival folios and wooden, felt and cardboard boxes and bookcases. The problem: they all keep the materials hidden. So although they’re great from an organizational standpoint from a creative standpoint they're stifling. I’m much less likely to grab a material while designing to help me solve a problem or during a meeting if I have to dig through boxes to find what I’m looking for.

Watch the video to see exactly what I chose and why I think it makes a great storage solution for spaces with organization needs similar to those we find in the design studio.

How to Choose Architectural Materials

Architecture can’t exist on a page it must be built. Transforming drawings and tiny cardboard models into physical reality means choosing materials to represent our ideas. In part four of the architecture short course I discuss materials – how architects choose them, how we know what’s right, how they can shape how we feel in a space, how they influence our designs, and a rubric you can use when selecting your own.

Instead of an abstract exercise, I walk through the precise process I used to choose the materials for the case study project we’ve been following throughout the course.

Links to all my favorite material resources.

Drawing Like an Architect

In this video I share my essential tips for better architectural drawings. It's easy to forget that architectural delineation is part of our craft and - I believe - beautiful drawings communicate more clearly. 
Important concepts discussed:

Essential Architecture Books

The books in an architect's library provide context for their work: history, precedent, theory, technics, best practices, fresh perspectives and creative stimuli. The ones I return to often are like harmonic frequencies, which continue to vibrate and resonate over time even as my ideology is evolving.

Is it a coincidence that some of the most emotive connections to books and architectural writings were forged in architecture school many years ago? You know how they say the music you’ll listen to the rest of your life is the music you were into when you were 18? That’s how many of these books are for me. So, these precise books may not find the same resonance with you, but as a thought exercise, consider what your library currently says about you, your interests and your blind spots or your knowledge gaps one you might want to fill in.

Books feed the intellect, and a studio full of books assures we're surrounded by the ideas of many – the masters, colleagues, artists, entrepreneurs, performers, and documentarians. They’re a great equalizer when it comes to education and at a fraction of the cost of architecture school.

Be sure to check the resource page for links to all the books I mention in the video. 

Developing the Concept: Architecture Short Course (part 2)

Developing the architectural concept into floor plans, designing the form, and refining the spatial ideas are all covered in part 2 of our architecture short course.

The first step in making the abstract concept real is to sketch a floor plan and then give that plan a three-dimensional form. A floor plan is a quick way of describing the hierarchy and relationship of spaces and it begins fixing their real physical dimensions and shapes. Throughout the design process architects must continually consider the design in both the plan, or overhead view, and the sectional, or volumetric view. The easiest way I’ve found to do this is to begin by sketching a plan and then construct a three-dimensional version of that plan either in model form or by sketching.

In order to get to three dimensions, we have to make some decisions about form, space, and order. When we speak about form we’re referring not only to a building’s shape but also to its size, scale, color, and texture…basically, all the visual properties of an object. Form has a direct relationship to space in that it influences both interior and exterior rooms. And lastly, order is how we choose to orient and relate the forms and spaces to each other. This directs the inhabitant’s experience of a place.

We'll review strategies for refining the floor plan, designing meaningful building forms, editing, and converting two-dimensional abstract concepts into three-dimensional buildings.

Studio Project: Plywood (as a wall finish)

My design studio acts a lab for experimentation, in this video I discuss lessons learned from installing plywood as a finished wall surface. The four main discussion points covered are:

1) Material thickness: 1/2" - 3/4" typical range. NOTE: if you're using sprayed foam insulation in your walls, the plywood covering must act as an ignition barrier for the foam - thickness will be critical. Thickness also affects: translation of framing inconsistencies to the finished surface, stability and price.

2) Panel cores and veneer faces. Steer clear of the Chinese Plywoods. Choose panels from the same lot and age if possible. Veneer plywood has a front and back side; the less banded side is the finished face. Take care when cutting to avoid material blow-out.

3) Attachment. Concealed versus exposed fastener. I recommend a concealed clip as well as a tip for aligning the finished face of the panels (it's a special fastener).

4) Finishing. Determine the project goals first, then select the finish. Mine were: - Low sheen - Preserve natural wood appearance - Easy to apply - Non-yellowing

I review oil-based and water-based finishes, Danish oil, spar varnish, paste wax, natural soap (Hans Wenger furniture), and finally WOCA oil + lye.

For a broader material discussion please see the video for part 1...

As always I welcome questions and feedback; you can reach me at: eric (at) thirtybyforty.com

Studio Project: Concrete Slab (as finished floor)

In this video I discuss five important considerations with a concrete slab that will act as a finished floor:1) Installer / subcontractor 2) Color 3) Consistency 4) Control joints 5) Reinforcing

You might also consider building a mock-up especially for large floor areas to ensure you’re getting the finish you expect.

I finish the video reviewing progress with a timelapse video of the slab placement and finishing. Framing is up next...

As always I welcome questions and feedback; you can reach me at: eric (at) thirtybyforty.com

Flat roofs and snow: 5 myths (busted)

In this video I dispel 5 common myths surrounding the use of flat roofs in snowy climates. The very notion of shelter is linked to the image of a roof above our heads. And while the elements of snow and rain may shape our living habits, advances in material technology and application now afford us a broad range of choice when it comes to the shape of the roofs over our heads. Contrary to popular belief, even those of us living in extremely snowy, wet environments are able to live beneath a flat roof. 

 

Designing a Small Studio - Lighting Plan (Part 7)

In this video I discuss the development of the lighting plan for our small studio project. I begin by discussed the (3) elements every professional lighting plan includes: ambient, task, & accent lights. I also describe a useful guideline for figuring out the amount of light required in a space as well as how I've applied the building concept to the lighting plan.I end the video by discussing a simple affordable fixture, why I chose not to use exposed conduit in spite of the aesthetics, and how to think about the location of your electrical panel (stay until the end for a cool little trick I employed).

Thanks for watching...

Four Homes Built on Boundaries

In this video I explore four homes built on boundaries. It's a look at how a home can challenge the natural environment and occupy the boundary between architectural convention and stunning natural beauty. When confronted with a design brief and an undeveloped site, architects often look to the edges of that site for inspiration and meaningful architectural solutions. These boundaries, both real and imagined, are exciting places to build. The boundary often gives rise to the form of the building, its materials and even how it’s structured.

Designing a Small Studio - Selecting Materials (Part 6)

Materials can be used to convey the underlying concept of a building or in some cases they can function as the entire concept (Peter Zumthor is an excellent example). In this video I detail the process I used for connecting the "lens for the seasons" and "barn" concepts to an attitude about building materials.

I begin with abstract imagery, then build Pinterest boards with inspirational images, then I gather and collage materials. Instead of directly quoting the Pinterest images I draw upon their essential ideas to develop the material palette for the building.

The concepts are hard to compress into a short video (my apologies) if you stay tuned to the end I talk about a quick tip for securing free material samples I recently discovered.

Designing a Small Studio - Building a Study Model (Part 5)

In this video I discuss the benefits of building a small scale, physical study model using the reference project I've been designing: my studio building. Computer models are excellent tools, but simple cardboard models allow real-time manipulation of forms and the development of ideas that don't always present themselves when working in a digital environment.

For me, model building has always been a part of the design process. They help: 1) To study building forms and spaces. 2) For real-time solar studies. 3) With envisioning scale of elements as they relate to the human form. 4) Allow one to explore a variety of material and color options, quickly and easily. 5) One can quickly flesh out ideas in much the same way a hand sketch might, however, model construction uniquely forces you to make decisions about building elements that sketching doesn't.

Future videos will describe sketchy model building hacks and tactics to more quickly build a useful avatar for your architectural project.

Designing a Small Studio - Revisiting and Integrating the Concept (Part 4)

In this video I overlay the plan diagrams on the site plan which reveals a clear favorite. I go on to describe 6 tactics I use to turn a simple diagram into a meaningful floor plan. They are:

1) Study a building precedent (in this case a barn).

2) Develop an ordering system (grid, column layout, geometry, functional). Once it's established you can decide when to "disobey" the rules.

3) Create zones: entry, circulation, storage, living. Divide public and private spaces.

4) Analyze adjacencies - group common functions and support spaces. Make sure their orientation makes sense for the plan location.

5) Refer back to the concept. In this case the "lens for the seasons" concept reinforced the barn plan typology and spurred on new ideas.

6) Create layers of meaning. Begin by thinking about the way we experience space or places and look for opportunities for the building to enhance daily life.

The next video explores the use of small physical study models for solar, material, and proportioning studies.

Minimal Deck Guards and Edges

I thought it would be interesting to explore the ideas at work behind the design of a guardrail for a recent project of mine. While it's one small component of the larger design it speaks to the architectural process at work. The guardrail sought to carefully balance the competing desires of an unobstructed view,  safety and of course aesthetics.

Concept

Pond House guardrail edge
Pond House guardrail edge

I always reference the building concept when designing each individual component of my buildings. The concept for this project was inspired by the fishing shacks and wharf structures of coastal Maine and resulted in a trio of cottages. Two are situated at the edge of the tidal salt pond and the third extends out over it - a modern wharf of sorts. The marine references are clear in the built-form, from the bright-work of the large sliding doors to the simple, utilitarian, expressive structural concept.

The wharf cottage contains the most public functions - the kitchen, living and dining rooms and has a large wrap around, cantilevered deck. The deck is positioned so as to welcome guests arriving and links the interior and exterior living spaces to the view to the fjord beyond. Because it's cantilevered, the deck appears to float as a thin plane above the water below.  So as I design different pieces of the architecture, I'm always cognizant of ideas about slimness, simplicity, honest expression of construction, and the influence of the watery site. I wanted to maximize the client's view to the fjord from both inside and out and of course maintain a safe gathering space - and it had to look good.

Deck Design

Before I can get to the guard design, I must design the deck. Each of the decks for the project were conceived of as thin planes floating above the landscape. To do this I created a steel channel frame at the edge of the deck. This steel channel not only references the simple steel shapes used on the docks and piers here on the coast but it also provides a very thin profile to the deck edge which was important to the design. The structural beams and foundation piers for all of the decks are set back from the edge to further enhance the hovering effect.

Guardrail Design

Guardrail section detail
Guardrail section detail

All of the effort at slimming down the deck edge profile would be lost if I were to place a substantial, meaty guardrail system on top of it. Cable rail seemed an obvious choice with references to boat rigging and its near invisible and weightless stature. But cable rail has must meet all of our code concerns too, which means we need intermediate supports. That's easy you say, every three feet add a post. True, I could've done that and probably been fine, but it would've looked ad hoc, not considered. I wanted to be sure that we had an even spacing along the length of the deckf and I also wanted it lined up with the regular module of the large sliding doors and the structural columns which are the dominant ordering system of the wharf cottage. Why? Mostly because I like lining things up, but also because the order makes sense and feels better. It allowed the corner offsets to be the same and it fits the tidy aesthetic which contrasts the disordered organic surroundings.  I'm always battling entropy - unsuccessfully I might add.

Here's where the added advantage of the channel deck edge comes into play. That allowed us to offset the vertical supports to the outside edge of the deck extending them down by the Ipe decking and welding them to tabs on the steel channel. The added bonus is that it gives over the deck edge to people rather than a guardrail system.

Is it perfect? No. It turns out that welding the vertical fins to the tabs on the steel channel at the deck edge is difficult to do when suspended over a pond. I'm not afraid to say that I'm always learning. And, I'm always humbled on job sites by the skill of the contractors that work so hard to make my drawings a reality.