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


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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.

Design Process - Selecting Materials

This is the third in a mini-series I've created which chronicles the design process for small project I've been working on - the design of a modern Barn Studio outbuilding.  In the first post I talk about how I developed the design concept and the second post describes the evolution of the elevations, which shapes the final appearance of the barn studio. I've recorded a video that discusses the material selection process for this small project.

Read on for the specifics not covered in the video.

Material Ideas

I can never seem to make enough room for material samples in my personal sample library. They take up more room than my physical book collection. For me, they offer inspiration and they speak to who I am as an architect. I’m driven by the process that turns these raw materials into a home. I love how they can speak about a client or a site - it’s part of the magic of architecture for me. 

Selecting materials usually comes from a larger idea about the site, the place, or a specific building reference. For this project, the material inspiration comes from the barn typology. Barns were often frugal constructions clad in whatever materials were locally available to the farmer. Historically, local sawmills would mill the trees felled from a building site into rough lumber. This was used for both the timber frame structural system as well as the exterior sheathing. Wood sheathing was an obvious material choice for the side walls.

Walls

Knowing what material we'll be using is only one aspect to consider. Will the siding be horizontal boarding, vertical tongue and groove, clapboards, shingles? What's the finish? My client requested I consider board and batten in a vertical configuration - this was their image of what a barn was. It wasn't my first choice, but it's a perfectly reasonable and appropriate aesthetic. So that was the foundation for one of the three options. I usually propose at least three options for our discussions. The first is an expected option, usually based on a specific client request. The second is an option they may not have considered at all, something unexpected. The third is usually a hybrid that combines the two - a middle ground. This way we're sure we've explored a range of possibility. There's usually a fourth that comes out of my client's feedback that hybridizes these options in ways even I hadn't expected. I love this aspect of the process.

Back to the vertical board and batten. The reason I didn't like it? The vertical scale of the barn. It's much shorter than it is long. My preference, especially for small structures, is to reinforce whatever the dominant ordering proportion is with the siding. The barn's dominant scale is its horizontal scale, it's length.

To highlight the building's horizontality, I'm proposing a horizontal tongue and groove siding up to the seven foot level. This reinforces our earlier decision to go with a shorter seven foot door and canopy height to achieve a taller, more barn-like proportion. We're tricking the eye into thinking the building is taller than it is by creating this horizontal band with blank wall above it.  Above this horizontal band would then be shingles to create a finer texture, smaller scale and let the upper portion of the structure recede - again this reinforces the scale shift we're looking to achieve.

Roof

For the roof, metal was another obvious choice - an appropriate agrarian reference, with a durable and clean aesthetic.  To me it was a better choice than wood because it has a crisp, tailored look that fits with the tight, simple geometry of the outbuilding. However, the design review committee didn't agree. It was apparently deemed too industrial for the neighborhood. So, wood shingles was a next best option, and this reinforced the decision to use shingles in the zone above the seven foot level.

Doors, Windows, Hardware, Flat Roof

For the doors and windows, hardware, and flat roof canopy element - gray metal and stainless steel. Simple, durable, utilitarian and monochromatic.

Trim

I opted to minimize the trim on the structure completely eliminating the corner trim and keeping the other profiles as narrow as possible. The siding boards are mitered at the corners and the shingles are woven allowing the horizontal lines to continue uninterrupted along all faces of the building. Window trim is minimal at only two and one-half inches wide and it will be stained to match the gray of the shingles.

Color

All siding is left to weather naturally to a gray color. We may use a bleaching oil or weathering stain to control the process ensuring it weathers evenly, but the idea is to minimize any maintenance. Low maintenance is a hallmark of the barn typology.

Site Elements

The main house siding is partially clad in stone and the property has a number of dry-laid stone walls as well. It was the inspiration for the long dry-laid retaining wall to the north edge and it fits well with our neutral gray palette.

So this is the basic process by which I go about selecting the materials. It's informed by a number of factors but there's an overriding logic to the decisions. They're decisions made with intent to achieve certain effects. Decisions drawn not only from an idea about what a barn should be clad in, but also from the proportion and size of the building. We look to the architecture to help us make decisions about the right solution.

I hope you'll continue to follow the process as we move forward with the next steps designing the Barn Studio. We'll discuss lighting and the interior materials in a future post. If you’d like your very own Barn Studio it's available for download. And, there are a few other variations I'd gladly share if you're interested, just drop me a line and let me know.