Multi-plane Drawing

For a long time I’ve had this idea of a type of architectural rendering that utilized transparency paper to create depth. Its inspiration came from many types of media I had seen in the past:

  • I had seen 3D models that were essentially a series of planes. Each plane was the profile of something like a tree in the foreground, building in the mid, and skyline in the back. Put together like a hollywood set.
  • I once saw a really great section drawing in a portfolio printed on transparency papers. Each layer of transparency had different information (lines, entourage, cut plane, etc) and they merged together to create one 2D section drawing. As you flipped through the portfolio, you flipped through layers of the drawing.



  • I have gotten a reputation as “the graphics guy” and have used Photoshop for many years to put together architectural renderings and diagrams. I’ve developed my own unique style that sort of runs between realistic and dreamy, and have learned that the layers are what makes a rendering rich. What is interesting however is that often times people don’t ever see the individual layers of a rendering and only see the finished product. The mash up of all the layers.

With all of these influences and experiences I decided to experiment. The premise was simple:

Could you de-laminate a perspective into layers and stack them together to create depth?


Mark I:

Each experiment varied slightly and a lot was learned from each. The first, this very lazy mock-up, functioned as a proof of concept but not much more. The major flaw was that there was no continuous frame to contain the image. The transparency paper naturally wanted to bend and break from the two bars sloppily holding it together. Still, the intent was good and was enough to show that what I was proposing was possible.


Mark II:

Version 2 of this same image was significantly more successful (and more expensive). Going to the local craft store I collected a series of matte boards for picture framing. Using this as the frame for each transparency sheet, I used small pieces of foam core to space the planes farther apart. The effect of this is difficult to capture in photos, but below is a series that attempts to do so.


Mark III:

Marks I + II both utilized a fully rendered image, meaning it was entirely computer generated. Mark III was different in that it utilized a landscape photograph with lots of depth. Starting there I was able to split the image into foreground, middle ground and background layers.


Mark IV:

This version very closely resembled the section drawing I described above, but was created using a section perspective drawing. The cut plane, edge lines, entourage, and shading were all separated onto different layers. The result was at times confusing and highly conceptual, but the sense of depth was achieved. This time, rather than using matte boards I used $1 wood frames.


Mark V:

Up until this point the experiments were kept rather small, all around a 4″x6″ framed opening. Mark V was an attempt at an 8″x10″ drawing that very quickly turned messy. At smaller scales the transparency paper maintains rigidity and is easy to work with and glue to the frame. At a larger scale the transparency sheets bow under their own weight making the framing process very difficult and frustrating. From this point on I learned to keep things small (or get a friend or two to help you glue sheets down). Another downfall was my ambitious layering. Though 6 layers doesn’t seem like a lot, the image probably could have handled 2-3 max to keep it legible.


Mark VI:

Mark VI was another challenging idea that in concept was interesting. The idea was instead of framing a perspective, you could frame a layered topographic map, and, if there were enough contours, you could start to perceive space. This was made of 24 layers. I quickly learned that transparency paper isn’t as clear as 4-5 stacked sheets seem. By the time you get to 10 or 15 sheets, the transparency wears away and the very far back sheets become cloudy and obscured.


It is impossible to capture the effect this one has when properly backlit using a camera. But generally the concept worked. If held up to the light in the right way, you can read a hillside form with a series of volumes staggered across the landscape. The main issues with this, aside from the clarity of the transparencies, was the necessity for perfect alignment. The more precise and crisp the lines you draw are, the more imperative it is that the sheets stack perfectly. And when they don’t it is immediately evident and spoils the illusion.


Mark VII:

Mark VII represents a final strategy attempt for the layering of the images. Rather than trimming edges with sharp, straight lines, the layers are separated in a softer way that allows them to bleed together more.


In this way the contrast between printed image and transparency is much less and allows for more movement in the image before the layering fails and reveals blank spots in the image.


In concept, this idea works. It isn’t the best way to portray all buildings and requires a bit of fine-tuning to create the most convincing image. But my next instinct went to pushing the idea further.

What about Shadows? 

I found a portable projector in the office and attempted to create my own overhead projector (the kind your teacher used in high school).


As expected, Mark VI (the topo experiment) was too layered to create any meaningful shadow. However, other simpler experiments were much more successful.




I’ll definitely be experimenting more with this technique. It would be really great to create a large, more immersive version of these, but for now the small pocket versions are really fun to play with. Also, since these are so difficult to understand as still images, I posted some videos on my instagram which you can see here. 

Got any suggestions for what I should try next with this technique? 

Have you seen anything similar to this before that I can reference for future experiments? 

And if you’re wondering, yes I miss school and all the freedom and fun that came with it. 

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Japan -Part III-


Okay, this is the third and final post about Japan, and it’ll be a little different than any of my other posts. For one, it will almost be completely composed of pictures of me and my travel buddies, and as many interesting Japan stories as I can remember.

Photo credit/model credit goes to my cousins Ali Al Omar and Tarik Sharif, and sister Noor Hason. 

Item One: The Cities


We definitely hit some of the more popular cities in Japan, and it showed. It was frequently a bustling scene with large crowds and lots of people. I think people typically associate this imagery with Tokyo, but we experienced it in Osaka and Kyoto as well.


People generally seemed to be in a hurry to get to their destination. Although we avoided the metro during rush hour, it still got pretty crowded. However, regardless of how busy it got, people were generally very respectful, quiet, and kept to themselves.


You see the face mask regularly and cousin Tarik decided to join the trend. I’m not sure if those that wear them are trying to avoid getting sick, or if they are sick and are taking care not to get everyone else sick. Regardless, the facemask fashion scene was prevalent, and you could get different colors and patterns at the local shops.

Item Two: The Food

My perspective on Japanese food might be skewed as I don’t eat pork and a large part of Japanese cuisine (from what we experienced) was pork. On top of that, we didn’t put a lot of effort into finding the best spots to eat or making reservations (something I would recommend people do if cuisine is an emphasis for their trip). We did go to many different types of restaurants ranging in price and formality, but for the most part I felt Japanese street food was THE BEST.

Evidence as follows:

1- Matcha Ice Cream

2- Fried Goodies on Sticks

3- Onigiri

4- See items 1 through 3


In Tokyo Disneyland they take popcorn to another level. There are MANY different flavors of popcorn and it is a large part of Tokyo Disneyland Culture. The locations of the popcorn stands where you can find each flavor are marked on the official park map. Flavors included things like chocolate, blueberry, caramel, and my personal favorite curry.


We maybe had some issues with language barrier at times, and when you have dietary restrictions it can be an issue. For example, I accidentally ordered a non-alcoholic beer in Tokyo Disneyland. If I had known any Japanese, this could have been avoided. If I hadn’t assumed everything on the kid friendly part of the drink menu was soda pop, I probably would have been able to order a melon soda or even just a regular coke. Instead I picked the one item I didn’t immediately recognize for the sake of being adventurous… You live and you learn.


Look at that mountain of cotton candy. It is beautiful, it is instagrammable, it is more sugar than any one person should have. We managed to have a few in the group (3 mountains of cotton candy for 4 people). But this transitions nicely to the next item…

Item Three: The Cuteness


I’m not sure what it is about Japanese Culture, but “Cuteness” is very important. I have never seen as much cute stuff as I did in Japan. Food was cute. Corporate mascots were cute. Train safety signs were cute. EVERYTHING WAS CUTE.



We even had the chance to use a Japanese photo booth in one of the arcades. It is essentially the OG snapchat filter photobooth that makes things “cute”. They instruct you on how to pose in the photo booth, then you move to the next booth to decorate your images.

(By what standard they are judging cute I really don’t know… I would call these “creepy” more than “cute”)


Item Four: Japanese Heritage

I’m calling this Japanese heritage, but in a lot of ways it is just tourist stuff. Example: samurai swords. There is something historically significant about samurai swords. But I don’t know that many average Japanese people own them. However, everywhere you’d expect to see tourists, samurai swords aren’t far away.


Same goes for tatami mats. I didn’t get a strong understanding of whether tatami mats are prevalent in the average japanese home, but 2/3 airbnb’s we stayed in had them, and to be honest that was a major factor in selecting our lodging.


Kyoto, being the more historically rich city, was full of these culturally/historically/Japanese-whatever-y things. People would be wandering the city in traditional Japanese clothing that they rent from local stores. Even Japanese tourists from other parts of Japan were participating in this experience.


Item Five: Big Man, Small City

Cities in Japan were large. But in terms of scale they are very… intimate? I’m not sure that is the word I’m looking to use, but follow this train of thought. Even by American standards I am a large man. I’m 6′ 3″ and I weigh more than you can count on two hands. So even at home I find myself in situations were I am “too big”. Now imagine being in a country where you are at least a full head height over the average population and can see down the street where most people are drowning in a crowd.

You can imagine that size differential impacts you in certain ways. 


I don’t have many examples to show of this. But a good one is the following story:

While at Tokyo Disneyland, we were rushing to get in line for a small roller coaster. There was a nice young Japanese lady working the front of the line whose role is typically to guid people to the correct line and ensure that children are tall enough to ride. This nice young lady stopped me and pointed towards the height measuring station. We all laughed assuming it was a cute Disney employee joke. Of course I’m tall enough to ride. The issue was, I was almost TOO TALL TO RIDE.


Item Six: Japanglish

We saw more examples of this that we didn’t necessarily photograph, but Japanglish is a real phenomena that was usually pretty funny. Japanglish is essentially strange uses of the English language that don’t really make sense, mis-spellings, and in general odd phrases. Examples:


I do love bread, but why is that on a mug?


After we saw this we regularly quoted that line from Dr Dre’s “The Next Episode” of recent meme infamy as: “Smork weed everyday.”


MAN. Singular. Not Plural. This room. It is for MAN. You must be MAN to enter.

Okay, I think we have sufficiently covered everything I want to record before I forget all these details. I don’t have much to say about the remaining images. Just enjoy. 


Japan – Part ii –


best trip of my life… blah blah blah… once in a lifetime experience… blah blah blah… will never forget… blah blah blahhhhhh…. 

Okay more pics. 



We were only briefly in Osaka. Just one night and one day. There is so much there we didn’t get a chance to see, but we did see the Glico Running Man!


We had a lot more quality time to spend in Kyoto, and it was well worth the train ride. Unlike Tokyo, Kyoto was smaller, quieter, and older. A lot of the memorable temples of the trip were from our time in Kyoto.


^Look at that handrail. Who detailed that?? 


By the time we got back to Tokyo, we were already exhausted. So we took a day off to re-charge in TOKYO DISNEYLAND. I mostly put my camera away and enjoyed the day. And after that, we only had a few days left to explore Tokyo.


Tokyo, for me (although others in the group would disagree) was the highlight of the trip. I see how you could easily spend a month there without seeing everything. Or even feeling like you had seen anything at all. It is dense and fast paced and it was all too easy to get lost in the rush of it all. Before we knew it the trip was over and we had barely put a dent in our travel plan book.


People tell you about how amazing the food is when you go to Japan, and I don’t think they are exagerating. But if you have dietary restrictions coupled with the language barrier, it can be tough finding the perfect bowl of ramen you’re craving. Luckily a friend from grad school played local tour guide and hooked us up with the bomb ramen spot. I would say it lives up to the hype.


But maybe better than any of the restaurants we ate at was the plain old convinience store foods. 7/11 and Family Mart dominated every few corners in the city, and they had THE BEST onigiri. I think I had one tuna and one random onigiri for breakfast almost every morning.

Yes I know, “Tuna for BREAKFAST? EW!”. No. You are Ew. When you are in Japan, you eat as much Tuna as you can. You are ew.


I could probably write an entire post about the architecture of Japan. I won’t caus I’m tired. But what I will say is the simple, sublime miniamalist architecture we all drool over in our architecture blogs/magazines of choice does exist in Japan, however it is not nearly as prevalent as I thought it might be. Don’t get me wrong, the city is filled with noteworthy architecture. But with so much built environment surrounding you, it is ineveitable that most of it is not in my opinion photo worthy.

We did see some sick building though…. 


We are almost done here, I’ll just keep rolling. 



Okay, so that is 2 parts of Japan trip. I’ve only got one left and then I’m sure I’ll forget about this blog and go back to doing whatever it is professional architects do. 

Seeya in part 3. 

Japan – part i –

Gosh it has been a while since I’ve done this, lets see if I remember how this goes….

Last November I had the chance to go somewhere I’ve always wanted to go. If you follow along at all you’ll know I tend to travel a bit and I’ve been quite a few different places. But this place is one that I’ve been dreaming of for a long time.



Now these images are barely edited, not cropped, nor are they presented in any particular order. I’m not going to write extensively about them unless inspiration hits, nor am I going to try and choose pictures that capture the vast extent of our travels. I’m just gonna share some of my favorite photos and hopefully that will be good enough.


Japan is a trip I’ve been dreaming of forever. We managed to cram Osaka, Kyoto, and Tokyo into a one week-ish trip that was far too short. We were ambitious, we saw a lot, we were exhausted.


I can talk forever about how amazing and gratifying this Japan trip was. I think I was not disappointed by anything the entire trip. There is a lot I can say about each city individually, but using broad strokes Japan was a beautiful synthesis of old and new. Modern and traditional. Technology and history.


For every ancient shrine there was a completely contemporary home. On almost every corner (in fact maybe more than every corner) there was a vending machine filled with cold and hot drinks. The streets were incredibly narrow and everything aside from the sprawling city seemed scaled down (from a plus sized American’s perspective).


One thing immediately noticeable was the cleanliness of the city. Although we found it rather difficult to find public trash cans, the streets were almost completely free of debris and liter.


And the overwhelming politeness of the Japanese people prevailed over everything. I’ve never been somewhere so alien and accepting simultaneously.

I’m going to try to limit this Japan series to three concise posts. Stick around for parts 2 and 3! 

Or whatever, free country. 

Photomerge the Missing Years

It has been close to two years since I posted anything of recent relevance. 

Since I went on that epic trip overseas I have sort of rested on my laurels and continued to post images from a trip I took two years ago. Since then life has continued to roll on. I finished school and got a big boy job. And other important life things happened (wink wink). So what happened during those missing two years??? Well… here they are in photomerge form. 

Salt Lake City, Utah;


Chicago, Illinois;


Washington D.C.;


Shoshone Falls, Idaho:


Heber Valley, Utah;


Houston, Texas;


This is only showing places where I remembered to take photomerge style photos… much much more happened. But I don’t have time to talk about that now.

When one challenge is overcome, its time to face the next one… Wish me luck.


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The New Acropolis Museum (?)

The following is a totally made up story about a very real piece of architecture and the Acropolis in Athens, Greece. It is, in the loosest sense of the term, based on historical events.

One day long time ago, some people built the Acropolis on top of a very prominent hill. It was visible from all over the city, and those responsible for its placement patted themselves on the back and said “Oh hell yeah. People are gonna love this thing forever. Its gonna be a crumbling mess and people will still come from all around the world to see it.”

And they were right. 

Fast forward… I dunno… like 100 years? Probably more like 1,000. Lets say fast forward 100-1000 or maybe more years later and some civilization is in power and at war and they store gun powder in the Parthenon. The thing gets hit by a cannonball and BLAM. 

Fast forward again, and people start to take an interest in historic preservation and restoration. They look at this thing and they say, “You know what would fix this? Lets put in a bunch of rebar to hold it together and lets recreate and rebuild everything man, time, and pollution has destroyed.” They had really great intentions, but they totally botch the project and the whole site is worse off than it started. Rebar is rusting, the added portions look totally terrible, and things basically are not going well.

Okay, now in 1975 people say, “Whoa. You guys. Listen. We gotta do something here because this is really historically significant and we want it to last forever for posterity. What can we do to save the Acropolis and the Parthenon?”  They think about it for  like 20 minutes straight and say, “We gotta build another acropolis with all our modern technology and slowly move everything into the new acropolis we built to save them forever. But one question: Who will design this new museum?”

As they finish saying that, Bernard Tschumi flies in on a hot air balloon and is hired on the spot.

(You can read an abbreviated version of what actually happened by clicking here. It is actually rather interesting.)


So my version of the story may have taken some artistic license, but the basic plot is spot on. This is the New Acropolis Museum by Bernard Tschumi in Athens, Greece.





This building is massive. And please forgive me, it has been so long since I visited, I know the building is actually sited ON TOP of some other ruins but I can’t recall what they are…


The entry to the museum is under a giant flying canopy.


Under the canopy are some exposed ruins, this makes the museum experience begin even before you enter. I think the floor is also glass and allows you to see the other ruins sheltered by the footprint of the museum.


Eventually as you explore the museum, you find that the giant canopy above the entry is a roof terrace to the museum’s cafe.


You may have caught glimpses of the glass box on the top of the museum in other photos. This is where my make-believe story gets real. This glass box is oriented the exact same way as the Parthenon is on the Acropolis. This glass box is the new Parthenon resting above a man made hill of Acropolis artifacts. Look at the reflection of the Parthenon in the photo above. Bernard Tschumi wins points for that regardless of this strange strategy for historic preservation.


Inside you find all of the standard museum programmatic components. Notice the scattered lights in the museum gift shop. I decided they were mimicking stars in the night sky.

Either that or someone had a field day in Revit placing lights everywhere.


The museum is clean and beautiful. There are many pushy security guards that won’t allow you to take photos.



Much of the museum is as beautiful as you’d expect. But the central area is a type of atrium where many floors at different levels all cross and open up. The building really has a spectacular sectional quality.




The coolest (and most creepy) part of the museum is glass floors. It is something that is used in multiple areas and can be unsettling. People who are scared of heights may find certain spaces challenging.

As well as anyone wearing a skirt or dress…


Once you reach the top floor you are in the New Parthenon. Metallic columns match the locations of the original Parthenon and the friezes that are slowly being removed from the Parthenon are being relocated to here.


It is a cool idea, but I am amazed at this historic preservation solution. I can see that the decorative sculpture is being saved, but how is this preserving the architecture? 


Regardless of your opinion of the preservation strategy, the building is cool. Definitely one of the more interesting pieces of architecture we saw, and perhaps one of the more contemporary in terms of style and aesthetic.

If you go to Athens, you can’t miss it. It is literally gigantic. Even if you tried, you probably still couldn’t miss it. 

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Athens: The Way I Remember It…

I should start by saying at this point, all of this is just a distant memory. Immediately after braving the bitter, dark winter in Helsinki for a week, I journeyed to Athens, Greece where I met the rest of my family. The photos taken help jog specific memories of the trip, so this post will serve as a bank for memories saved for about 2 years.

I remember arriving late in the afternoon and having my first impressions of the city at sunset.



The city is surrounded by hills or mountains or something… This isn’t a memory, it is a description of the images above.

One thing I do vividly remmeber is the Acropolis perched on a hill in what seemed to be the center of the city. The Acropolis was literally unavoidable. It seemed no matter where we went, we ended up at the base of the hill.






This part is confusing for me, because I honestly cannot differentiate between the ruins… This city is full of remarkable sites of architectural and/or archeological significance and is a case study in historic preservation (good or bad)… 

Basically what I’m saying is everything has columns and ruins are everywhere.



I never really understood why architects insist that young architects must see the ancient masterpieces. What can be learned by seeing these things in person that is unlearnable via looking at pictures? (That is a somewhat rhetorical question, I’m sure you can always learn something. The bigger question is, is it actually worth the trip?)

In my mind, better and more significant than these areas of historical significance is the city itself. The memories that have stuck with me still are not of architecture of civilizations past, but of the places people live today. 



athens_greece_market athens_greece_citystreets03





As a whole, the city is rather picturesque.

Lots of stray cats…



But it seemed if you could get over how dirty a city can be, and how many stray animals there were, and how many restaurants had barker staff physically pulling you into their restaurants… I would go so far as to say Athens was rather Romantic.







I’m not sure if I enjoyed the trip as much as I remember enjoying the trip. But, it is a happy memory now. 

Does that even make sense? What the hell is going on here?

Eh… whatever. It isn’t like anyone reads this far through the posts anyway. Especially not when you post three times a year…

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Helsinki Files 11: All that Aalto.


…does this thing still work…?

Okay, listen. I have enough backlogged content to post on this blog that it is a crime. However, a much worse offense would be to ignore the remaining Helsinki photos I have. So rapid fire, here I go. This is all the Aalto I have left:


It has been well over a year since I took these photos, so you’ll have to forgive me for having very little to say. But here is what I will say:

  1. Pay attention to the difference between exterior and interior images. These photos were taken in the dead of winter, so you’ll see a cold blue tint to all exterior images. I made no effort to correct this in photoshop because I think it shows the Finnish attitude towards architecture extremely well. Because it is cold outside, it is extra warm inside. Warm materials. Warm colors. Warm life. 
  2. More than other notable Modern architects, I think Aalto liked to have fun. I’m not talking about his personality, but more his design. He didn’t seem to let the rigidity of modernism and ideals of global appeal restrict him and his design. He seemed to genuinely try and make special places for people, something that could arguably have been overlooked by his peers.
  3. Aalto likes daylight.

 This first set of photos is from the National Pensions Institute:


I have nothing to say… So I’ll just continue with the images:


Oh, here is something! Look at these cool Aalto door pulls:


Cool, right? 


This building had a really neat cafeteria that had this crazy ceiling that somehow provided radiant heat? (The question mark is because I vaguely remember this piece of trivia, but could also be making this up…)


This building also had a miniature Aalto Library:


I may have said this before, but I think Aalto’s best work is his library work. I think the color of the books compliments his quiet palette to well, and his attention to daylight is an obvious match for this typology.

Next are some smaller Aalto projects, starting with this bookstore:


Doesn’t it look so fantastic with the Christmas lights? I think they should consider leaving them up year round. 

Also, you know you’re an architectural Baller when the cafe in your project gets named after you…


These last few images are embarrassing because I honestly cannot remember if they are even related. The interior images are of a bank, but I cannot recall if the exterior image represents the exterior of the bank?

Whatever. I’m tired. Just look at the pics and leave me alone:


Okay. Thats it. That is all the Aalto I have left. I think one more Helsinki post and we can move on to something new. For those of you still reading, Hi. Thanks for sticking around.

For those of you who have given up on me… Come back… I miss you…


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Helsinki Files 10: Forever Finlandia



I know, right? Sorry, but it would kill me not to share a few more of my Finnish memories, however distant they may be. Especially this Alvar Aalto classic: Finlandia Hall.


From the outside, this triumph of modernism appears as a jumbled composition of masses, protruding and gliding through and across one another. It is, as you would expect, white Carrara Marble from Italy.




The fascinating patterning of the marble is not as purposeful as you may think. The way each piece bends and curves into each other is actually a side effect of the stone’s expansion and contraction and has caused pieces of the facade to “pop-off” without notice.

How do you say “HEADS UP!” in Finnish?


At night it is illuminated with lights that may or may not change colors… I honestly don’t remember…


The interior of the building, much like the exterior, is classic Alvar Aalto. Warm materials and quiet spaces filled with daylighting strategies and custom luminaires. It is just as lovely as it is simple.



The auditorium seems very futuristic to me. Google it if you like, better pictures than the following exist.


For some reason, nothing is as futuristic as the pre-show lounge. This seems to me like a set out of Bladerunner.




And, as stated earlier, the custom Aalto luminaires:


Interesting wayfinding details:


And tile, in both black and white:



Also, these interesting acoustic panels that look suspiciously like duck feet… What does it all mean?


When paired with a curved wall, the light from the suspended cans cast through the acoustic panels creates wave patterns across the walls.


Such a splendid building. You know you must visit it, so I won’t nag you.


I Lied… But if you aren’t into architecture, at least go to see these puny Christmas trees:


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