urban vs suburban

urban vs suburban

in my twitter adventures, i get into lots of heated debates about all manner of subject. recently a discussion was had about the future of our urban environments and how to incorporate our current suburban architecture “into the fold” so to speak. during the course of this discussion I suggested that the suburbs won’t die till Americans get over their “bigger is better” mentality. a good friend of mine calmly suggests that “it is not always about bigger is better, SUV, etc. some people like the disconnect of suburbs”. and I have to wonder, is that true? do we really want to “unlug” and retreat to the relative solitude of the burbs with our minivans and flat screen tvs and 5000 channels all showing the Real Housewives of Orange County and Jersey Shore? or is the majority leaning more towards more dense urban lifestyles?

personally I think it’s both. there is a market for everyone. there are those that prefer the quiet suburbs and even the desolate rural areas that surround our cities and stretch across our country. but then there are also those that prefer the hustle and bustle of dense urban metropolis complete with mass transit and walkable micro-neighborhoods within the larger urban landscape. the real issue as we continue to move ever forward as developing nations is how do we connect all these different “islands” of development? how do we create vibrant, interconnected and inclusive cities that include urban, suburban and rural neighborhoods?

the simple answer is public transit – combinations of rail and bus lines that work in tandem with existing and future roadway networks.  this, in my opinion, is the future of “city life”. you’ll be able to live in a rural neighborhood, maybe with a couple of acres of land, your own small farm perhaps. but you work in the urban core as a stock broker or architect or whatever. you drive to a transit hub, park your car/truck and take a train into the urban core. the same would be true of living in a suburban area. and then going the other direction, living in the urban core it would be possible to take transit OUT to the suburban and rural areas of your city, to one of these hubs, and from there perhaps rent a car and go out to whatever activity is available – hiking, camping, river rafting…whatever.

I think we’re getting close to a time where the old ideas of utopian city planning are going to come true, but on a much larger scale than was ever conceived or even intended. whether this happens in the next 5 years or 20, what is apparent is that we can’t continue as we have. our total dependence on the single user auto is ending, suburban sprawl has failed and our urban centers struggle to stay viable. but if we connect all these “struggling” entities into contributing parts of a whole linked by efficient transit corridors then success is much more attainable and without giving up our diverse lifestyle options.

basic container design

As I continue working with shipping containers and designing structures based on modular technology, it’s become increasingly apparent that a “get back to basics” strategy sometimes needs to be applied.  Searching the internet you can find literally thousands of designs and design websites showing every design type from the most simple and “rustic” to the most complex and “archi-sexy”.

I recently came across this graphic on another blog and thought “this is exactly what I needed”.  It’s a simple graphic of “typical” container layouts.  Obviously this isn’t an exhaustive list of possible combinations, but it gives a good starting place for thinking about how to organize a home out of modular building blocks like containers.

image courtesy of residentialshippingcontainerprimer.com

As you can see above, the simplest modules are single story, side by side  and staggered configurations.  A side by side configuration lends itself to designing “pods” – one public (kitchen/living) and one private (sleeping/bathing).  By staggering two containers side by side you are able to take advantage of the offset in the form of porches or other exterior spaces.

From there, more complex stacked designs begin to offer double height interior spaces as well as balcony and covered outdoor spaces that can be used to blur the lines between interior and exterior living spaces.

The moral of our little tale here is, by keeping things simple you can open yourself up to some very dramatic and exciting design solutions.  The old adage “KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid)” just makes sense doesn’t it?

And now for some random Google images of Container Structures that apply the above principle.

by architects Pieter Peelings & Silvia Mertens

simple house in Porta, Austria

Cordell House – Texas

student housing – France

mainstream isbu home


"the ranch" - copywrite r | one studio arch 2011

It’s funny to me that so many people are so resistant to building with alternative technology or alternative materials.  Especially in America.  I mean, we are the land of risk and experimentation, aren’t we?

Anyway, I was on another blog reading about some “container angst and opposition” and stumbled across this home built in Kansas City by an industrial designer.  Built from 5 standard high cube shipping containers, the home is roughly 2000 sf and, as you can see in the video, is more than livable.  Enjoy.

a balancing act


image courtesy of google images

the last couple of weeks have been insane. between work (my day job), class (my second job) and the few side projects that I’ve had going (my third job), combined with my duties as homeowner, husband and father I’ve been stretched a little thin.

My question for you out there: how do you balance your professional and personal lives as an architect? As architects, typically we are consumed with our craft and everything else becomes the “after thought”.  What successes and/or failures have you had in balancing all the different hats we wear?

ISBU Bungalow – in progress

I’ve been busy as hell lately designing ISBU single family and multi family homes and I’ve just realized that I haven’t really posted any significant design work in a while.  So, I thought I would take a second to post some interior shots of an ISBU home that I’ve been working on for a couple weeks.  It’s a 2 bedroom, 2 bath single family home with a second story loft/guest bedroom.  Constructed of (2) 20′ high cube containers spaced 24′ apart, you get a 480 sf open space for kitchen/living/dining/laundry with access to front and rear porches.

Now, as the project is still in development, I’m not going to show you the whole thing, but I would like to get some feedback on these interior renderings.  At 800 total sf (approx.) for the project, would you feel comfortable in this space?  Is it adequate for entertaining?  Does the kitchen function and flow?  Obviously, these are all questions that I’ve already asked myself during the design phase, but then my idea of a functional public space and your idea may be completely different.  Criticism is important to me, so please don’t hold back.  If you hate it, great, tell me why and what you would do differently.  If you love it (which I know everyone will cause I’m the bomb diggity, obviously) then I also want to know why.  Architecture can’t progress unless someone offers an opinion on a design, so please let the comments flow!

Tiny House – Toronto

I’ve got a small bone to pick here for a second.  Over at Jetson Green there is never a shortage of good news on the tiny home/modern/green design front and I religiously check this blog every morning to see “what’s new”.  But this morning, the latest article is another in a long list of something that seriously troubles me and has held back the mainstream from getting on board with smaller living, in my opinion.

Now, first let me say that the home is beautiful.  From the photos it seems well designed and functional, which are the two most important qualities in a home that any architect should strive for.  And according to an interview at dwell magazine with Andrew Reeves, Principle at LineBox Studio, Inc., the house is “totally green by scale”.

So, here’s my gripe.  The home, coming it at an amazing 566 square feet and featuring an upstairs loft space was built, not including soft costs like land and parasite..uh I mean lawyer fees, came in at an astonishing $210k….this factors out to about $371 per square foot of living space.  This, to me, is insane.  Living where I live in Florida, for $371/sf I could buy/build A LOT.  There really isn’t much that would be out of my price range at that level.  And this, to me, is where the small living movement has fallen short and not attracted the kind of main stream attention that it deserves.  I mean, seriously $210k is a lot of money even for a house designed to “modern” standards (i.e. the typical 2500 sf monstrosities you see littering our sub urban landscapes) let alone a home of modest and modern materials at 566 sf!

Ok, I’m done with my little rant.  So you too can gaze on the wonderfulness of this design, here are some photos.  At the bottom are links to the Jetson Green and dwell articles as well as a link to the LineBox Studio website.  They have dedicated a blog to this project where you can see more photos and cost breakdowns.  Again let me say that I think this home is well designed and I’m sure more than meets the needs and expectations of the client.  But, I think also that we need to begin thinking about how to design homes like this at a more modest price point – between $150 and $200 per sf (getting us near a cost of $85k – $115k).  This to me is more to the heart of living a smaller lifestyle.


Jetson Green
Dwell Magazine
LineBox Studio, Inc.

happy v-day

image courtesy of google

Happy Valentines’ Day from R |One Studio Architecture

Now go hug your favorite building.  If you don’t have a favorite building within hugging distance, I suppose your significant other will suffice as a stand in.  😛