cargotecture – going strong

If you haven’t noticed I haven’t posted a lot of information on container based projects lately. This is mostly due to the fact that I haven’t had a ton of time with my current work load.

BUT, today I noticed a post on Inhabitat profiling ShelterWerks, a company out of Seattle that is turning cargotecture into a modular home solution. I had a little time to check out their site and I’m fairly impressed. The costs they estimate are reasonable and the designs are simple and functional – unlike some others out there. If you’ve got a second, go check em out.

ShelterWerks stock residential model

ShelterWerks stock residential model

ShelterWerks stock residential model

ShelterWerks stock residential model

the brighter side of Sandy


As the eastern seaboard was devastated by Hurricane Sandy, I remember thinking back to all of the hurricanes I had sat through, and a few I had surfed through (a small salute to a seriously misspent youth) and all of the destruction over the years, some big but mostly small. But mostly what I thought of may be considered a bit morbid to some, but being a “glass half-full” kind of guy, I thought “man, this is going to be huge for architecture and construction”.

I know, I know. You’re thinking “but dude, this was horrible. It was a travesty. Lives were lost and some lost everything in flooding or fire.” And that is all true. And my heart goes out to those people and their families and I sincerely hope that the rebuilding effort is swift and as uncomplicated as possible. But, there’s my point. “The rebuilding” is important.

Natural disasters, while terrible and devastating can bring incalculable opportunity in the rebuilding process. Take Joplin for example. Almost an entire city destroyed in a single day by one massive tornado. Rebuilding will go on for years, but the citizens and the leadership are using this as an opportunity to make their town something better. The same opportunity is there all over the northeast in areas hit by Sandy.

Imagine, instead of just rebuilding what you had or taking your insurance money and buying some other house that isn’t quite right, take that money and invest in a home or an addition that truly suits your family. Or even better use the opportunity to redesign, rethink and rebuild an entire community. Here is an article from the Huffington Post that talks about some of these opportunities.

The point here is, even in the face of tragedy and destruction, there are opportunities for good. Sometimes things must be torn down in order to take a more critical look at how we can make our lives better through architecture for generations to come.

Daily Prompt: Comfort Zone


What are you more comfortable with — routine and planning, or laissez-faire spontaneity?

I don’t always adhere to the “letter of the law” when it comes to these daily prompt posts….and today is no different. 😉

As architects and design professionals it is easy to get comfortable, to stick with what you know, to take the road often traveled. By this I mean it’s easy to stick ourselves in a category and never venture beyond our self-imposed bounds. And in years past, this wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. If you got a few similar projects, you quickly became very good at a select market sector. And if you did good work for those clients, word spread and suddenly you’re the “strip mall guy” or the “urgent care guy” or the “hospital guy” or the “residential addition guy”, so on and so forth ad nauseum. But if history teaches us anything it is that a good thing can not last forever.

Businesses, any business, that do not position themselves to adapt and grow or change with the times will fail. It is no longer a matter of “if” but rather “when”. Architects, design professionals and architecture in general are no different. I even venture to state that Architects are not meant to be pigeon-holed into any specialty. We are Master Builders, and this is our calling. It is not our calling to be hospital designers, or home designers, or mini-mart designers. An Architect can do all of these things once the right team has been assembled. And that is the way it should be.

So, I challenge all my fellow architects and designers out there, stop pigeon-holing yourself. Get out of whatever comfort zone you’ve put yourself in, or been put in by others, and get out there. Design something different, design it well and more clients will come. Our specialty should be architecture. Period.

Daily Prompt: 180 Degrees

Tell us about a time you did a 180 — changed your views on something, reversed a decision, or acted in a way you ordinarily don’t.

In the field of architecture, you lead two lives. These lives are not simultaneous, nor do they overlap. There is an order to them – one must come before the other. And the former will not prepare you adequately for the latter. These two lives that we lead in architecture are education and practice.

Eichberg Hall - Architecture Studio - Savannah College of Art and Design

Eichberg Hall – Architecture Studio – Savannah College of Art and Design

In education we are taught how to design, how to craft space and light, solid and void. We are taught the precedents of history and then taught to ignore them. We are taught that anything is possible, though leaving out the two most important factors to that statement – Time and Money. We’re taught that anything can be built with a miraculous material called Anti-gravitonium, glass in a universal building material with magical structural properties, and polished cast in place concrete is the only acceptable opaque material that can be formed in ANY shape conceivable…again, irregardless of Time and Money.

In education we explore the sometimes completely unrealistic limits of architectural design and theory. Our imaginations are stretched beyond their limits and sometimes beyond the limits even of Hollywood. We come to think, after years of this experimentation, that life beyond academia will be “just like studio”.

That life abruptly ends day one, minute one of our first internship. Our life takes a 180 and we crash headlong into the face of practice. The practice of architecture is not even really a 180. It’s more like you used to live on Mars. Now you’ve come back to earth where things actually have to make sense, fit within budgets and schedules, be buildable, and most importantly they have to stand up. Because in the real world where cyanoacrylate is not your major joining compound, buildings really do have to work, to stand up. Otherwise they will, and do, fall down. Usually with people in them. And that’s bad.

an architects office - life of an architect (looks way too clean)

an architects office – life of an architect (looks way too clean)

Our life in architecture begins with education. This life quickly dies upon graduation and is reborn in practice. This, for me, is real life, real education, real architecture. These two lives are not simultaneous, nor do they overlap. There is an order to them – one must come before the other. But in practice, this is where the real fun begins.

home design – “how to” part I


Since starting this blog a little over two years ago I’ve talked a lot about the role of and benefits of having a trained architect/designer involved in your project. And that conversation is still an ongoing one because I believe that the architectural profession has a ways to go before middle class America begins to see the true value in our services. But I want to now take some time and a few posts to talk about home design as a “how to”. I have no idea how many parts this series will have. I assume more than one but perhaps less than 50? We shall see. Either way, the goal here is to offer some insight into what I think is good design and proper planning when considering building or renovating a home. It’s my hope that these blog posts will be the start of a conversation and I’d love to hear from homeowners, architects and designers alike who may be following this blog. You all know I’m not afraid of criticism, so lay it on me.

Here in Part I I want to talk about the basics of planning a new home. Specifically I want to talk about function, organization and multi-use. To me these are the three key elements to today’s modern home and I’ll do my best to describe and narrate each element as succinctly as possible without going off on one of my famous architectural rants. But no promises.

Now, in residential design you first have to start with a client and that client will bring you the second thing you need – a building program. The building program is just a fancy term for all the spaces that make up your home; i.e. how many bedrooms, how many bathrooms, eat in kitchen or formal dining, is there a pool, do you need a helipad, etc. So we’ll start out with a basic program for a single family house for a modern family of 3 plus dog. It might look something like this:

3 bedrooms, 2 1/2 baths, office, living, dining, kitchen, pantry, garage/carport, storage and a den/rec room

Now, for the average person this list doesn’t mean much more than something you’d see on a “for sale” real estate flyer, but most architects and designers will look at this list and immediately start to associate each functional area in relation to another and begin creating imaginary bubble diagrams in their head. Bubble diagrams are an informal way to think about the organization of space, function and circulation. These diagrams usually come either during or just after a conversation about how you’ll be using the space the most, i.e. do you entertain a lot, do you have a large family or friends that come over often for large dinner parties, do you spend most of your time indoors or out, how important is a “space” away from the main public areas, etc. All of these questions inform an architect on how you live and how you might use your space not just in the immediate future but also down the road when life may change, such as when kids leave for college. This is the function of your home, the how and the why of how you live your life.

The average person, of average intelligence, is, generally speaking, smart enough to sit down and think critically about how they live and reasonably lay out a home floor plan that will serve it’s larger purpose of providing shelter and a level of modern comfort like air conditioning. But I think we can all agree that there is a something extra that should be in a home, no? There is that feeling of home. It’s not tangible and for most of us it is a feeling that comes after living in a home for some time. Usually after making some adjustments and getting things the way you want them – in other words, you’ve fit the house to match your lifestyle. But what if instead your home was designed and built with exactly this something in mind?

This something, coupled with our functional requirements, leads us to the organization of the home. This is where the building program meets the bubble diagram. They go out, they have a few drinks, one thing leads to another and….well, you get the idea. Hopefully less than 9 months later out pops a conceptual design. Typically consisting of floor plans and elevations (perhaps even a 3D model if your architect is savvy enough), this is where all those ideas begin to take physical form and you can begin to actually imagine yourself in your new home.

Within the organization of your home, and given our modern, technologically saturated lifestyle, multi-function plays a key role in the long term success of any residential project. Lets face it, life changes. You get married, you have kids, they grow up and hopefully leave, but maybe they come back with husbands, wives and kids of their own, or an aging relative needs help….there are literally thousands of possibilities for how your life may change and your home should be adaptable to at least most forceable outcomes. We as architects and designers can’t predict everything that may come your way, but we can plan in such a way that as needs change the house can change with those needs. This is a little extra something that gets thrown in with the original something from above.

I hope this has given you a little insight into what it is exactly that we, as Architects and residential designers, bring to the table in the early stages of planning a home. Stay tuned for part II in which I plan on talking about the next stage of planning which has to do with getting pricing from contractors, the process of value engineering and why your architect is your first line of defense in ensuring your home is priced and eventually constructed properly.

Container Architecture – a reality

I’ve talked about this before….many times. But it seems that I have to do so again, and again because there are others out there who quite frankly keep lying to people and it gets annoying.

So, here are three things you need to know before entertaining the idea of building your own home from repurposed shipping containers. Please keep in mind these are not the ONLY three things you need to know, but rather these are the three things that I notice most often send potential clients running away in frustration and even bewilderment.

1. In order to build a house – no matter what material you use – it will cost you money…lots of it.

Your home, that thing that keeps your family safe and secure from the elements, is the single largest investment you’ll ever make in your life. You will not build a house, even if you build it yourself, for $50 or $60 per square foot. I don’t care what anyone tells you, this just isn’t going to happen unless you get all your appliances and half your building materials donated or from a junk yard….in which case I doubt your home will be very safe or secure. You’re not Mad Max, nor do I suspect you’d like to be. Take the time and spend the money on quality design and engineering at the front end, then hire qualified builders to construct your home. I guarantee your family will thank you and you’ll secure your investment for the future.

2. Unless you’re a trained designer or Architect you do not want to design your own home.

This is especially true when dealing with shipping containers. Containers are huge steel boxes that are designed and constructed to act as a single structural unit. Once you start chopping holes and welding pieces together you change the properties of that structural unit which can lead to dangerous living conditions. A well executed plan is first properly planned.

3. There is value in design and construction services.

Below are a series of photos – both DIY container homes and container homes that were properly designed, detailed and constructed. You tell me which ones are the better investment both financially and for the safety and security of your family.

DIY #1this one actually isn't that bad...but still, it could be better.

DIY #1
this one actually isn’t that bad…but still, it could be better.

DIY #2yeah, I don't want to live here either.

DIY #2
yeah, I don’t want to live here either.

DIY I even have to comment?

DIY #3
….do I even have to comment?

ah, a real home. designed, detailed and constructed properly.

ah, a real home. designed, detailed and constructed properly.

a smaller home - more of a cabin really. but still well designed and executed.

a smaller home – more of a cabin really. but still well designed and executed.

And, just in case you’re wondering, a typical American Home, whether built out of wood studs or repurposed shipping containers, will still cost you in the neighborhood of $150 per square foot and up. This cost is beyond what you pay for your land, your design and engineering and is completely dependent on the quality of materials that you use. If you do all the work yourself (not recommended) you’re still going to end up around $100 per square foot. And that’s assuming you do everything perfectly.

So please, PLEASE when someone tells you that you can “build your own corten castle for pennies on the dollar”…..RUN.

vacation and vallidation

That’s right! I’m back! The family and I had an awesome vacation visiting family in Kansas City, MO for 10 days. Not only did I get to actually get to take some real time off from work, work and work, but I got to hang with some really awesome people and spend time in a city that has embraced it’s urban center. If you’re following my instagram you’ve seen the photos, mostly of my kids and their shenanigans.

While there I didn’t JUST take really awesome pictures of my awesome kids doing awesome stuff and generally just being…you guessed it, AWESOME, but I also got out in the city and even gasp the suburbs to take a look at the local architecture and get a better feel for how things work and where things are. And as I’m exploring, and interesting notion was validated for me – a city does not work without the cooperation, collaboration and investment of it’s officials, citizens and most importantly ARCHITECTS.

There will be much MUCH more about this in future posts. So stay tuned.