Monthly Archives: July 2012

On the Screen: August 2012

Garbage Warrior

As far as architecture made of garbage goes, I’ve always tried to keep an open mind. It is very difficult, for me, to not type-cast this type of building as, “Hippy Crap”. There is something to be said about a beautiful design that uses beautiful materials, just like a beautiful design that uses garbage. This film is a rather good architectural documentary in the sense that it challenges you to adjust your perspective, though there isn’t very much in the way of concrete architectural ideas.

Mike Reynolds is the hero of the film, and is portrayed as such. The majority of the film’s focus is placed on his battle with New Mexico state laws that prevent his sort of experimental habitats from being realized. However, the film doesn’t necessarily discuss sustainability as much as it does fighting laws and standing up for whats right.

I wouldn’t necessarily classify it as an architectural film as much as I would call it a cultural critique. It doesn’t have much in the way the buildings are constructed, or specific construction practices and building orientations. I think the portion of the film I enjoyed most was simply watching the camera glide through and around these homes. Seeing images of buildings is nice, but seeing videos of a home office made of colored glass bottles is a completely different experience.

Verdict: See the trailer.

The trailer will give you a good idea of what the film is like. Just keep in mind you won’t necessarily learn about sustainability.

On the Screen

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On the Nightstand, 004: Humble Masterpieces

Humble Masterpieces

“Everything is designed, one way or another.”


I bought this book at a closing bookstore for $2 thinking that it had nice images and that I would regret it if I left without it. For the most part I was right.

The book is inspired by an exhibit at the MoMA in New York City and written by the curator of the museum’s architecture and design department, Paola Antonelli. It is a book that is filled with what she calls “humble masterpieces”, but what you or I would call “regular stuff”. Each spread is dedicated to a different object and has a beautiful, macro detail image, a full perspective view, and a short paragraph or two telling the objects origins and significance. It isn’t a real page turner per-say, but each object offers a juicy portion of interesting facts and potential small-talk.

Verdict: Check it out.

If you are an inventor or are particularly interested in industrial design, than this may be a good book to look at. However, the stories within aren’t rare mysteries and can be found in more detail in other places.

It is a good book IF you only paid $2 for it…

On the nightstand

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The Grocery Museum

Last night, just before going to sleep, I began to think about what good architecture is (Possibly because I’ve been skimming through a book called Buildings for the Arts (A book that is so old, I cannot find a link to it…)). Without getting to philosophical, I was specifically thinking about firms that make good architecture and examples of good projects. I understand that the term “good architecture” is totally subjective, but I also believe that when discussing “good architecture” the same types of buildings generally pop into everyone’s minds. I would go so far as to say that people might classify things as works of architecture and regular buildings.

Architecture: Modern residences, cultural centers, historic churches, museums, etc.

Buildings: Offices, public schools, prisons, grocery stores, etc.

I know the difference is not so black and white, and that there are examples of beautiful offices and schools, but generally speaking there seems to be a big difference in people’s perception of the use and importance of these different types of building programs. Without over generalizing, it would seem as though buildings serve purely functional purposes while architecture accounts for the user’s experience.

Here is a crude sketch of what I am talking about.

On the left,  you can see what I am calling a building. Its focus is purely functional. In this instance, it was designed to efficiently sell groceries. The building is surrounded by a wind-swept asphalt desert that is likely double the size necessary and is used solely for the function of selling groceries. Though you will probably spend a significant amount of your life in and around this building, there is no effort made in terms of creating a desirable user experience. There are no windows, no daylight, no green, no public spaces, no attempt to get users to enjoy their shopping experience aside from air conditioning and a clean floor.

On the right, you can see my interpretation of architecture. Its focus is on creating a beautiful user experience. In this case, it is meant to represent a museum. Though it may be designed to house artwork, it also has a great focus on creating a desirable atmosphere. It is often times a haven of public spaces and galleries designed to attract users for no other reason than to enjoy themselves. Many times they are surrounded by parks and water features and have a great amount of emphasis put on drawing people into the building. Strangely, people do not visit a museum as often (or spend nearly as much money) as they do a grocery store. So why is it that a museum is so much better (in terms of architecture and experience) than a grocery store?

Answer: I don’t know…

To be honest, there are probably hundreds of reasons why there are “buildings” and why there is “architecture”, but I was kept up last night thinking about it. Here’s my solution:

The Grocery Museum

Each floor of the museum will house different food types. Detailed descriptions of the food’s contents and origins will be displayed on small placards, similar to that of a modern day painting.  The temporary gallery will house all of the seasonal items and the surrounding park will contain a weekly farmer’s market full of local produce. The entire design will focus on drawing people to it and making people want to stay.

And, yes. I am only joking.

Design Work just thinking

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On the Nightstand, 003: Yes is More

Yes is More

“The driving idea is turning a problem into a potential”

I’m going to start with a personal story, so if you don’t care and just want to hear about the book, skip to the next paragraph. Throughout my school career I would read only comic books, which got me in a lot of trouble when it came to doing reading logs and read-a-thons and such. I also used to make comic books for whatever school projects I could. I’ve got at least five comic books I made for classes like Language Arts, Geography, World History, and even Calculus. When I decided to go to architecture school, at the end of high school, I always said that I was going to make my architectural portfolio into a comic book. When I saw the this book existed I was extremely disappointed. So just know that I am biased against the existence of this book.

With that said, this is hands down one of the best architecture books I have ever seen. It documents the work of BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group) in what Ingels calls an “Archicomic”, essentially meaning a blend of images and minimal text to show the development and creation of the firm’s work. It is absolutely brilliant.

I had my first experience with BIG when studying abroad in Copenhagen. The firm’s work is, in my opinion, some of the best stuff that is happening in architecture now. They make fantastic looking buildings using reasonable and sensible tactics. I cannot give enough praise to the firm and their work.

In terms of content, this book is fantastic. It has beautiful renderings, meaningful text, model photographs, built project photographs, and, most importantly, countless diagrams! It is truly insightful into BIG’s work process and is really rather inspiring.


BIG is one of the better firms currently in the business and this monograph is unlike any other to date. It is meaningful. It is interesting. It is insightful. It is beautiful. Architects, designers, students, and even comic book fans should at least look through this book. After doing that, if you are able to NOT buy the book, then you are much stronger than I.

P.S. I hereby forgive BIG for stealing my comic book idea…

On the nightstand

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Why design hurts…


I’m currently planning on participating in a student/recent grad architectural design competition and am having a bit of trouble starting. You could say that I am experiencing the architect’s version of writer’s block. Which got me thinking about the design process and why it hurts so bad.

There is nothing more intimidating to me (and I’m sure other designers) than the blank page at the beginning of the design process. Especially in moments like this in which there is no site, no client, no responsibilities to which the designer must conform. The only thing a person in this situation must answer to is the story they create and gravity.

So how does the process start?

It is different for every person.

How does the process start for me?

I begin by cleaning. I clean everything; my desk, my room, my computer’s desktop, my email inbox. This cleansing helps me to focus. To purge whatever problems or difficulties I am facing in life and enable myself to focus solely on the problem at hand.

I then look at precedence images: Things I like. Things I don’t like. Things that make me think. Things that make me ask questions. Mostly just things.

I then select my tools. Perhaps a roll of trace and a thick black marker. Or sometimes a mechanical pencil and a small journal. Sometimes even some butcher paper and crayons. Once the tools are laid out, I hit the wall.

I try everything in my power to rationalize putting off the work I’m about to do. I check emails and Facebook and emails again. I wonder why today of all days nobody has called to distract me. In fact, this post is just another thing to keep me from doing the work I desperately need to do.

I fall into extreme anxiety, depression, and frustration. Then I just start to draw and write and think, mostly pure nonsense. I catch a glimpse of an idea, but quickly lose it in a fury of flying trace and crooked lines. By this time I’ll have a large pile of worthless ideas and broken visions. I’ll be worn out and stressed out.

Then suddenly, the “ah-ha” moment I had been searching for. The dam cracks, then shifts, then bursts. Ideas begin to pour out rapidly and my hands struggle to keep up. A quick pace of production follows until the idea is exhausted and I’ve created something to be proud of. It is a feeling unlike any other.

Then the tiring process begins again the very next session as I build upon old ideas and invent new ones.

I love it.

just thinking

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On the Nightstand, 002: Old Buildings, New Designs

Old Buildings, New Designs

“… design integrity is essential for exemplary architecture.”


There is a scale I use to judge all architecture and design books. A scale that, through its use, describes the benefit of owning or reading the book. Some books are excellent idea books that should be read and appreciated. Others give benefit purely in terms of visual stimulation and excel in terms of looking (not reading) through the book. The best kind of book is a balance between exemplary ideas and beautiful images.

This book is an attempt at the third type of book, and is in my opinion not a successful one. In terms of ideas or knowledge gained, the written portion of the book strikes me as pure drivel and does not allow any sort of insight into how new meets old (a premise which the book explains to be the most important aspect of this type of architecture). In fact, the first half of the book is full of the author’s over generalizations about the design process involved in the renovation, restoration, or re-invigoration of old architecture.

However, where the book really shines is the second half. This portion of the book is dedicated to case studies of successful architecture that melds together new and old through extreme, restrained, and referential contrast. Each case study has a few good images as well as a short paragraph or two regarding the history and story behind the work of architecture. Image wise, it is full of beautiful “money shots” but is somewhat lacking in terms of design drawings or, what I really look for, diagrams.

Verdict: Look through it.

If you are particularly interested in this type of architecture, than perhaps the book is worth purchasing. However, the case studies may be the only thing worth while in the book (and that only makes up the last half of the book!)

On the nightstand

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On the Screen: July 2012

Sketches of Frank Gehry

Let me first start by saying that I’ve never really been a big fan of Frank Gehry. I’ve always thought that architecture has a responsibility that art and sculpture does not have. It is burdened with the job of functioning and form takes a backseat (Form ever follows Function). Though I am no critic, Frank Gehry’s work has always struck me as the work of someone who does not understand this responsibility. His work seems irrational and sculptural in that it does not respond to anything more than it does service aesthetics.

With that said, this film was excellent. It was truly insightful to the mind and process of one of the world’s great modern architects. If you are not interested in architecture or design or even art, I cannot guarantee that you will enjoy this film. It would seem as though you have to be looking to learn something to get any sort of gain or entertainment.  Perhaps the best part of the film is the glimpse into Gehry’s work flow and his bizarre way of designing. The film portrays him literally sculpting the building, free from the worries of programmatic and structural limitations.

Everything I have learned in school tells me that Frank Gehry is doing architecture wrong. But, everything I’ve seen in this film tells me he doesn’t care. Most importantly, everything I’ve heard him say tells me he is brilliant.

Verdict: Watch it

(If you are an architect or architecture student, you might consider buying it. It may have some replay value if you are ever seeking precedence/inspiration.)

On the Screen

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1958 Design and Patriotism

“The hand of the stylist is ever designing changes to improve our life of the future. Thanks to the American stylist. Yes, Thanks to the men and women who design.”

— American Look, 26:20

Wandering the internet I found this video from 1958 called “American Look”. It is described as a documentary on design, though watching it you’ll see its very much more an incredibly long commercial for expensive things, Chevrolet, and America. Try to count how many time the narrator mentions America or freedom. I honestly lost track. But its a fun look at the past none-the-less. I always enjoy some retro design precedence.

Some interesting Timestamps:

13:38 – Segment on Architecture

17:00 – Segment on Design Studios

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A Search for the Texas Vernacular: Episode 4

Fort Worth, Texas: The Museum of Modern Art

Tadao Ando’s American masterpiece is as magnificent as its fabled to be. The exteriors (in 2012) seem rather plain and ordinary, but the interior spaces and natural lighting is superb. Seeing Ando’s original sketches of his and Louis Kahn’s buildings was an extra treat for me. Even better was when the power in the building went out, and I got to see just how the daylighting illuminated the space. Unfortunately I was forbidden from taking pictures in the upstairs galleries. However, getting the chance to touch some of Tadao Ando’s infamous concrete more than made up for it.

Just before security came:

texas vernacular

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A Search for the Texas Vernacular: Episode 3

Fort Worth, Texas: The Kimbell Art Museum

This famous Louis Kahn building was shockingly small. None the less, it has stood the test of time and seriously impressed me. Most unfortunately, the building is undergoing construction, so the infamous pool of water alongside the buildings was drained and fenced off!

Oh, Louis…

texas vernacular

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