it’s sexy….really.

There are two words that I use WAY too much (just ask my wife, she’ll tell you…probably without asking) and they are “sexy” and “awesome”.  I’ve been looking for new words to describe things that excite me, but…honestly nothing seems to “do it” for me.  And, as an aside, we’re talking about architecture here people, so get your minds out of the gutter…jeez.

“Architecture”, to put it mildly, is sexy when designed and constructed well.  I like to touch it, smell it, gaze at it, allow myself to be embraced by corridors and vestibules and interstitial spaces.  This is obviously a subjective statement, because what I find sexy or awesome (see? I just can’t stop) someone else might think is the most hideous and offensive building ever conceived by man.

So what makes a building awesome?  What makes a building sexy?  Better yet, what makes a building “archisexy”?  That’s my own word – patent pending, thank you very much. 🙂

For me the “it” formula starts not with any particular style, or period, or material, or even a particular architect – though I do have some favorites that I follow.  It’s really about a holistic view of the building itself.  You have to be willing, sometimes, to take architecture as it’s presented and not compare/contrast it to something else.  Let it stand alone and look at it and appreciate it for what it is and what it brings to it’s surroundings.  Sometimes what it brings is something you might want to scrape off your shoe, but it can be appreciated nonetheless. 😛

This being said, a building or singular piece of architecture, in order to make my archisexy-ness list, must have a clarity to it.  There needs to be a defined hierarchy of form and at least an expression of function.  Materials and color, in whatever expression they are being used, should have a harmony and cohesiveness between them.  It should be apparent that the materials were put together purposefully.  For this reason I tend to favor historic residential architecture like Craftsman, or Queen Anne, or Federal, or English Cottage because there is a very honest and beautiful expression of material, color, form and function.  A great deal of modern architecture, also, is imbued with these same principles and I do enjoy clean, true lines and the tactile qualities of modern materials like concrete or stone tile or timber.

Ok, I think I’ve gone on long enough about what excites me.  I want to hear what excites you.  What is it about architecture and design that gets your juices flowing?  Is it a well executed detail?  Or a clearly thought out plan?  Or is it something more ethereal, something that you just “know” when you see it?  Please comment below and lets get a conversation started!

to color, or not to color – lets blog off

“To color, or not to color? That is the question. Whether tis nobler in the sketchbook to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous saturation, or to take arms against a sea of hues, and by opposing end them?” – adapted from Hamlet

To have a favorite color is to say one is partial and exclusionary.  Can an architect afford this partiality, this bravado, this arrogance to say one color is better than all the rest?  Or should we be like Richard Meier and have a perverse and obscene love affair with stark white reflection?  Or perhaps like Michael Graves and his penchant for splashing color all over a building like a child’s painting?  If a client comes to us and says “it has to be blue”, do we turn away horrified and ashamed because we can’t fathom a building any other color but sea foam or turquoise?

And what does a color say about us as people, as designers, as architects, as builders?  Do colors hold magical powers of influence over us?  Are you defined, summed up or encompassed by color?  I certainly hope not.

I personally love the color RED.  It’s a passionate, bold and beautiful color.  But then, I’m an Aries, a fire sign, I’m HOT baby, yeah.  Does that define me?  Certainly not.  I am also fond of natural colors, muted pastels, stark contrasting lights and darks, the moody blues, the giddy greens, and the soothing taupes.  Color is just as much a part of architecture as the beam or curtain wall or roof or slab.  Without color, material is lacking something, some tangible “thing” that can never fully be described but you know “it” has to be there or “it” just doesn’t work.

In short (not really) COLOR, a specific color, should not be favored above another.  Do not limit or label yourself by a color, but instead embrace them all in a swirling crayola corn-o-copia of pleasure and visual stimulation!  You’ll thank me later.

What is “Hope”?

Overwhelmingly, the most popular and most viewed post on this blog has been there is always hope, which was just me reposting an image that I had stumbled across by a British street artist named Bansky titled “there is always hope”.  Every image I’ve ever come across by this artist (and there are MANY) are striking and provocative in some way; they get you thinking and feeling, and this is the essence of great art.  But this image in particular got me thinking about the word “hope”.  What does it mean?  What images does it conjure up in the human psyche?

british street artist Banksy

“Hope”, as defined by Webster is “to cherish a desire with anticipation”, “to trust”, and “to desire with expectation of obtainment”.  But is that really all we can expect from “hope”? Is there something more that arouses such feeling from the image above?  Perhaps the idea that we are all like children yearning to live free and miraculous lives guided by the hope, the expectation, that we matter, that our lives will have a lasting and profound impact on those around us.

Architects are no different.  I think I can speak for many other architects in stating that, what drives us, what fuels our fire, what gets our juices flowing, is an overwhelming desire to hope, to expect, that our work will have a profound and lasting impact on the world around us.  Hope is that driving force that sustains us despite a clients budget, the contractors inability or unwillingness to follow our vision and even the basic laws of physics that hinder us all.  Without hope, an architect is no better, and no different, than a developer or banker or contractor.  Hope is what allows us to create and dream a better world for generations despite any obstacle that may present itself.

21st century architecture and sustainability

“Green”, “sustainable”, “certified”, “LEED”, “USGBC”, “passive house”, “renewable”, “organic”….there are literally dozens of “buzz words” floating around the digital stratosphere these days to describe  everything from toothpaste to underwear to dishtowels to houses that are more ecologically responsible. But what does it really mean to be “green” and how does it affect architecture in the 21st Century?  Have you ever tried to sift and trudge through all of that marketing crap to get to the meat, the nitty-gritty, the soul of sustainability? Yeah, me too.  It’s damn near a full time job even for those in the know.

I look back to my architectural education, my first studio – Vernacular Architecture.  We had to research “vernacular” building.  It was seriously eye opening.  Homes built, say, in England “way back when” are mostly constructed of stones for the walls and heavy timbers for the floors and roof.  Why is that?  This is exactly what we had to find out.  It’s because THAT’S WHAT WAS THERE ON SITE when the house was built.  A guy wanted to build a house so he looked around and asked “what do I have to build with?”  He noticed the land was littered with stones just below the surface of the dirt and he had some old growth trees nearby.  PERFECT.  And thus, he built his house.  This same theory holds true for every other type of “vernacular” architecture throughout history (except those cooky Romans – they hauled in material from all 4 corners, but then they ruled most of the world so we’ll let it slide).

These are what I like to call simple architectural “best practices” which would at least get you to a green listing or two by virtue of the way things were done.  In “the old days” houses and even office buildings were designed for passive heating and cooling and at least a little daylighting.  The designer had to pay attention to the sun path, solar heat gain, surrounding natural vegetation and grading and the sites macro and micro climates in order to take best advantage of all these “systems” so that the building would be functional and comfortable for the users.  We’re obviously talking about times before the central HVAC system.

Today’s buildings, on the other hand, do not work within their specific locations and climates, they work DESPITE their specific location and climate.  And this is due to our advancements in modern construction technology.  We can literally build ANYTHING, ANYWHERE at ANYTIME.  This is a marvelous statement and awe inspiring.  Imagine what the great architects of old could do with today’s technology!?

But, with respect to sustainability and “green” architecture, have these technologies and techniques helped or hindered the progression of architecture?  If you ask me, it’s hindered, not helped.  Because, if you think about this critically, the “sustainability” movement is actually a regression for architecture.  We’re simply going back to “best practices” and utilizing techniques and technologies that are CENTURIES old – passive heating and cooling, daylighting, trombe walls, heat sinks, wells (water reclamation), leach fields…the list goes on, but you get the point.

Designed by Cadaval & Solà-Morales Architects.

21st century architecture is becoming an expression of all that is BEST about design and building and the sustainability movement has been the catalyst for that expression.  As resources dwindle and become scarce we’re seeing buildings constructed that will actually stand the test of time once again and that to me is VERY exciting.

affordable modular vs FEMA

recent damage in Alabama image courtesy of google

We’re living in some interesting times.  Economic turmoil, natural disasters, man-made disasters, Global Warming, Global Cooling, Climate Change, El Nino, Lindsy Lohan and the Backstreet Boys reunion….it can seem as if everything is spiraling out of control.  No matter what your stand is on any of these “hot button” issues, the truth is there are people in need, people without homes, people who have lost loved ones, people that need to rebuild and they need help and support NOW.

sweet tornado image courtesy of google

But what’s the answer?  How do we (either through tax dollars or individual contributions) do the most good not just in the short term but in helping the permanent rebuilding of entire communities for the better?  The typical answer is to send in FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) and they organize food/medical supplies, clean-ups and even on occasion drop off those incredibly unsightly and sometimes dangerous trailers for people to live in temporarily (NOT an ideal situation for anyone – just look at the Katrina aftermath and the nightmare FEMA trailers created there).  And this is only the typical “short term” solution that seems to be most comfortable and safe because it requires nothing on our part aside from the sacrifice of a few more tax dollars down the road.

It’s time for architects, engineers, celebrities, politicians and everyday citizens to talk about real solutions for the future of these cities that are faced with large scale rebuilding efforts and to implement them.  In today’s world with today’s technology, infrastructure and offsite modular construction capabilities, why are we not talking about a permanent restructuring and deployment of modern modular homes that are affordable and can be fabricated quickly and assembled on site to get people back to their daily lives?  This is the conversation I want to start here, now, with you.

The Strip House container prefab - r | one studio arch

People need housing.  Plain and simple.  What should they look like?  Should we provide a temporary fix, a band-aid?  Or should we provide something that is permanent, sustainable and affordable?  This should be an easy choice.  The reality is, it’s just as easy to provide permanent, modern, ecological and economical housing (both single family and multi-family) on a large scale and in such a way, in partnership with urban planners and other infrastructurists, to create a better, more efficient and more beautiful community for generations to come than it is to plop down a few trailers that will only take up needed construction space and need to be removed later.

Hive Modular - image courtesy of google

Oxley Prefab - Richard Rogers - image courtesy of google

Now for the “how”.

This really is the easy part.  Right now there are literally dozens, if not hundreds, of architects and designers out there with affordable housing solutions ready to be deployed (including one or two on this site).  They are modular, pre-fabricated and easily assembled without the need for specialized labor.  So why don’t we use them?  Why don’t we leverage the power of the federal gov’t, through FEMA, and the private sector to task these companies to streamline these affordable housing options and get them in the hands of homeowners WHO NEED HOMES.  We could literally rebuild whole communities in a matter of weeks not months or years.  Allow people to get back to their daily lives, normalcy and allow the real rebuilding efforts to take place.  We have a chance, an opportunity for real change.  Will we take it?

Mobile Architecture

My last post on the architect’s staff meeting was so popular I decided to follow up with another provocative question about the practice of architecture.  The practice of architecture, and all things that can even be remotely associated with it, are of constant interest to me as I continue to learn and grow as an architectural professional.  And that should be the task of all architects and designers, even those who maybe do not “call the shots”, so to speak.  If we’re not constantly trying to improve ourselves as architects, as designers and as professionals then eventually we will fall behind and we will fail.  This is why I continue to ask questions and challenge time tested ideas for new solutions and new possibilities.  Most people find that really annoying about me, but that’s a different story.

So, the question is:

Can architecture be mobile?

More specifically, I’m wondering, can a practice be mobile?  Can a successful architectural studio have no studio?  Instead of employees stumbling into a shiny new office 5 days a week, could those same employees instead be spread out over, say, the continental US, meeting instead via a digital office, an office “in the cloud” as the catchy commercials whisper?

As the economy continues to slump down the road at a snails pace and more and more architects and designers are either hopelessly unemployed or striking out on their own scraping together all the cast off projects others don’t want, could the firm of the future be simply a collaborative effort of many individuals working together for the cause of architecture rather than the cause of money?

I believe all of these things are possible and more.  Imagine small firms and sole practitioners banding together across the country, and even across the world, to pool the best talents to produce the best work for the client and the end users.  Is this just a foolish utopian ideal?  Am I dreaming with my head too far up my own ass?  Can architects and designers finally start setting aside our overstuffed egos and form relationships and practices that are revolutionary in a way that will not just help ourselves, but help everyone?  When the architectural community actually BECOMES a community, amazing things will happen in our built environment that will positively affect generations.

The question really becomes:

Why isn’t architecture mobile?

the architects’ staff meeting

image courtesy of

In my first internship, staff meetings were a regular and helpful occurrence.   They were relatively short (typically about 30 minutes long), held on Monday mornings and succeeded in keeping everyone up to date on the current team workload, scheduled due dates and pending deadlines.

In my current internship….lets just say the term “staff meeting” seems to be more akin to dropping the F-bomb at a child’s recital…it’s just not done.  Ever.

I am, though, of the mind that well run and regular staff meetings, especially in an architectural (AEC) firm, are not just necessary but vital to the success of a team working together efficiently and remaining profitable on most, if not all, projects.  But what I wonder is, what is the ideal “staff meeting scenario” for architects and designers?

I’d like to hear from you, the 4 or 5 people out there who waste time reading the crap I come up with.  How are your firm staff meetings run?  Do you have staff meetings?  If so, and you could change one thing, or in some way make them “better”, how would you do so and why?  Post your comments below and lets get this party started! 🙂

Living a Small Life – LetsBlogOff

This is actually a Lets Blog Off topic from August of last year, but in looking through past submissions I saw this one and was intrigued by the questions it asks: Have people in the developed world learned a lesson during these times of economic uncertainty? Is living small really the new living large? If so, what does this new smallness look like and if not, why not?

From here we can really go anywhere we want.  A simple google/bing search will drudge up enough results to sufficiently waste at least one afternoon surfing throughBut I think it’s important first to talk about what “living small” means and what the different “buzz words” are talking about.

“Micro Living” is the first “buzz word” I’d like to talk about, because it tends to get a lot of press in the media and is a bit “sensational”.  Micro living is essentially postage stamp living, or the idea that one can build a functional home that can be transported by any standard vehicle and placed on any site (even a city sidewalk – they really are that small) and contain all a person needs for daily living.  I don’t really agree with this because…well, I like to stretch my legs and be able to rise to a full standing position when I’m in my home.  But for those who go for that kind of thing, hey, there’s a market of people designing “homes” that are extremely small (typically less than 100 sf), portable and for very reasonable prices.

Micro Compact Home - 8.5 feet square

Tiny Living is the next step up in this notion of “living smaller”, and to me is a bit more reasonable goal.  Tiny homes are homes that simply pare everything down to essentials only.  While still “tiny”, but not necessarily “micro”, these homes tend to be built on a flat bed trailer, or some other very small modular width.  Your essential public/private functions are, for the most part, separate and contained.  These homes typically will not work for more than two people…unless of course you have two of them side by side. Then you’re good.

tiny beach home

Now we come to simply “living small”, which for me is where the majority of people can reside comfortably even if you’ve got a growing family.  Because, the idea of living small, does not necessarily equate giving up on essential creature comforts like a separate kitchen and bathroom but rather a new way of looking at how we use space in a home and also finding small changes we can make in our lifestyles to do more with a little less.

In America, back around the 1950s, the average American home size was between 900 and 1200 square feet.  For most of us today this is pretty small (in our current mode of thinking, or the Big Mac Mentality).  Now, let’s put ourselves in the mindset of the 1950s family and see how that stacks up to today.

living small is not a new concept

Post WWII America was booming.  GI’s were back in the states mostly safe and sound, coming home to long lost girlfriends, wives, mistresses, whatever, and starting families.  And, as our baby-boomers are proof of, starting these families QUICKLY (I mean, seriously if you had just come home after spending a year or more with 10,000 men what would YOU do?).  And they needed housing.  Thus started one of the greatest construction booms in our history.  But these were not ordinary houses being built.  Many of them were being built based on modular, pre-manufactured systems, which means they were not overly large, as I mentioned, and compared to older homes were more efficient in energy usage (now that we have central heat and air) as well as the usage of space (who doesn’t love those old appliance ads?).

And, looking back, life for the average middle class working family wasn’t much different than today.  Though, yes, mom was still home taking care of the family while dad was out “bringing home the bacon”.  But anyway.  You still had your average family living in the suburbs, commuting in to town to work or to play or to shop or to do any multitude of things that could not be got in the suburbs.

Fast forward to today and our lives are not overly different, yet the suburbs are full of homes often times no smaller than 2,000 square feet, being occupied by a husband/wife team with no kids.  At some point you have to scratch your head and ask “uh….wha?”  Where have we gone wrong?  For me, it’s a mental shift that took place slowly as America became more and more prosperous, we naturally wanted more “stuff” to display our prosperity.  As my generation is moving into the driver seat, so to speak, a new mental shift is taking us in the opposite direction – and for the better.

So, what does living a small life look like today?  Is it real?  Is it achievable for the “average joe and jane”?  I say abso-friggin-lutely.  I mean, seriously, we don’t need a lot of the “fluff” that makes up modern homes today.  While, sure, it’s nice to have “space”, but is it really necessary for how you live your life?  When a home is the largest investment you’ll ever make as an individual it should reflect your personal lifestyle, be adaptable to changes in your life (wife, kids, inlaws, etc), be efficient to maintain and be responsible to the environment and it’s impact on your surroundings.  Why not put all of those things into a home that is also space efficient and beautiful?  These are the questions that are being asked by a new generation of homeowner and are being answered by a new generation of architects, designers and builders looking to transform our built environment into something more economical, ecological, beautiful and unique.

So, yes, we’ve learned our lessons, living small is the new living large and it looks gooooood. 🙂