Category: Architecture (page 2 of 3)

Frugal Architecture

This past week I, along with ten or so other classmates, participated in the For a Frugal Approach in Architecture International Symposium and Design Workshop, sponsored by the Bruno Zevi Foundation. The focus was frugality in architecture, specifically for post-disaster emergency housing. The symposium started on Thursday (Jan 21) with a day of lectures from a number of international leaders in the field, including Nina Maritz (Namibia), Jorge Mario Jauregui (Brazil), Giorgio Goffi (taly), Sarah Wigglesworth (UK), Eko Prawoto (Indonesia), and Danny Wick from Auburn’s Rural Studio in Alabama.

It was held at the Citta’ dell’Altra Economia (“City of the Other Economy”), a part of an old slaughterhouse complex converted into exhibition and meeting space “for the promotion of the economy” related to agriculture, trade, and renewable energy, etc. It was a neat conversion but for this event the space was a bit too small (not enough seats) and did not seem to be heated. Logistics of the event was interesting since every speaker had to be followed by a translation between Italian and English. It also started at least half an hour late and presenters tended to go over their allotted time amounts – but punctuality certainly doesn’t seem to be common in Italy. Admittedly the whole day seemed to drag on, but I particularly enjoyed Giorgio Goffi’s work, and Danny Wick’s presentation on the Rural Studio was especially interesting.

On Friday we met at the Faculty of Architecture (department of architecture) at Sapienza University in Rome for the design workshop. American students from Northeastern University and Roger Williams University also participated. We were each paired with an Italian student to design a proposal for an emergency housing unit for the Abruzzo region near L’Aquila in response to the April 2009 earthquake there. We began at 9am and had until 7pm to finish, which ended up being extended to 8. The night before I had familiarized myself with the Abruzzo area and the extent of the disaster. My partner Marcella came with a basic design layout and some thoughts on materials, so we just built off of that. The language barrier was at times challenging (we referred to Google Translate on occasion) but she spoke English pretty well so it wasn’t really a problem.

We decided on a fairly simple L-shape with a half courtyard space in the SW corner. Each adjacent dwelling was set back halfway from the previous to permit ample direct sunlight to the courtyard windows for solar heat gain in the winter. For the east and west walls we decided to use thick stone walls (available from building rubble) to create thermal masses that could absorb solar heat during the day to be redistributed during the cooler night. There were some issues we didn’t get clarified and were not optimal for environmental conditions. My partner told me most of their curriculum is design-based and didn’t really have classes on building tectonics or passive design for environmental controls. It was a nice realization of how much I have actually learned at Iowa State about not only design, but also how buildings go together and how to harmonize them with environmental conditions.

Some of the architects who spoke the day before came for a while and walked around to check on the progress. Nina Maritz talked to us earlier on when we were still clarifying specifics of materials and orientation. Later one Giorgio Goffi stopped by, but only spoke in Italian. He had suggested considering our L-shape as a starting point and how they could be used to create a variety of different sizes and forms. This was not a bad idea, but it made it more difficult to clarify specific decisions regarding solar orientation, tectonics, and of course organization. We attempted to show both ideas – the variation that Goffi suggested, and the more specific possibility of one L. However the new abstract L variety got rid of the original relationship between adjacent units, making several material and orientation decisions less significant. In the end we sort of ran out of time and had a less than stellar presentation – we both agreed it was not good graphically and did not represent our ideas well. But we discussed a lot of interesting strategies during the day, so it was a really good learning experience.

The program wrapped up Saturday morning with visual presentation of the proposals and discussion from the panel of speakers. Unfortunately it was extremely unorganized with slides out of order and starting half hour to an hour later than scheduled. The discussion was interesting and informative, but like many professors and experts, almost everyone had to get the last word in, even if it was simply to agree with and over reiterate someone else’s point. Following the discussion orderves and champagne was served in a small courtyard next to the auditorium, so all was good.

Overall “Frugal Architecture” was exhausting, but a great experience. Getting insight into architectural education in Italy and the different perspectives and approaches the students bring was extremely valuable. It was also a terrific opportunity to challenge my own communication skills and knowledge of architectural and environmental systems.

Design Process Blogging at NDSU

I came across a number of blogs this week by M Arch students at North Dakota State, chronicling the progress and process of their studio projects over the past semester. The course is Arch 771: Advanced Architecture Designs taken by fifth year students in the five year Masters degree program offered at NDSU. The project appears to be an infill master plan for the university’s emerging downtown campus. Renaissance Hall, which was NDSU’s first downtown facility opened in fall 2004, in the renovated 100-year old Northern School Supply Building, housing architecture, landscape architecture, and art programs. I attended NDSU my freshman year and took pre-architecture and drawing courses in this building.

In 2008, two more buildings about three blocks north of Renaissance Hall were renovated and expanded to house the College of Business and the remaining architecture studios. Recently a five-story retail and student apartment complex called Cityscape Plaza was completed to accommodate the growth of students downtown. As more university growth takes place downtown it is important to create a cohesive campus downtown. These student proposals begin to look at what could become of this downtown endeavor and ways to link it to the main campus about 12 blocks to the north through visual and physical connectivity.

It’s interesting to see a range of graphical representation of site analysis and proposed modifications. Sketchup was used heavily, but done quite well. Admittedly the blog format as utilized is a bit difficult to navigate at first because most don’t provide an overall summary about the project. I imagine, since multiple teams have blogs, it was either a requirement or recommendation to document their process. It is especially intriguing for me to go through their process since, from my understanding, I would have been in that same course this semester had I not transferred to Iowa State after my freshman year. Additionally it is always fun to see the kind of work being done at other architecture schools. Check out the project blogs below:

> Pushing Fargo Forward
> Epidemic Design
> Interesting Fargo
> Town and Gown
> SeekSolveShow

Spatial Representation

Above is a quick mapping diagram I made for a group case study project a few weeks ago. It describes the relative size and location of our case, the University of Iowa Athletic Facilities Complex to the rest of campus and within the larger municipality. I find representation and diagramming of spatial relationships and place very interesting. By simplifying and abstracting existing space, certain qualities may be presented more clearly than if presented so literally.

Solar Decathlon 2009

The 2009 Solar Decathlon competition is underway in Washington, DC. Twenty teams from around the world, including Iowa Sate University, arrived last week to reassemble their solar houses along Decathlete Way on the National Mall. Public tours began yesterday and continue through next Sunday, October 18. All twenty solar houses will be closed to the public on Wednesday for judging and measurement purposes.

It has been interesting and exciting to watch the project progress from design to construction here at Iowa State. So far the Interlock House has been doing pretty well in the score standings, which are judged on ten categories and continuously updated throughout the week.

Seen above is Iowa State Project Engineer Tim Lentz working on the Interlock House roof on the National Mall in DC on Tuesday. The photo was featured on the White House blog this week. (Photo credit: Stefano Paltera / US Dept. of Energy Solar Decathlon)

> Solar Decathlon
> Iowa State University Solar Decathlon
> Iowa State University Solar Decathlon Blog
> ISU Solar Decathlon (interlockhouse) on Twitter

New Arch program at SDSU

Starting in fall 2010, South Dakota State University will begin offering a professional architectural degree program. Currently South Dakota is one of only a few states with no architecture degree program. The new program comes after two years of study by the university’s Architectural Feasibility Task Force, which was made up in part by architectural professionals from around the state. South Dakota firms have had trouble attracting younger architects without an in-state academic program. Additionally since South Dakota residents must go out of state for architecture, they face higher out-of-state tuition costs as well.

The new program, which will be apart of the College of Arts and Sciences, will include a four year Bachelor’s degree in architectural studies, and a six year Master’s of Architecture degree. Around 60 students are expected to enroll in prerequisite courses for fall 2010 semester, with about 30 to be admitted into the program the following year. Iowa State University typically admits 68 students each year, and North Dakota State has admitted 72 in recent years, so SDSU’s program will start out quite a bit smaller.

SDSU’s program structure follows a growing trend of providing a four year non-accredited B.S. or B.A. degrees in architectural studies, followed by a one or two year accredited Master of Architecture professional degree program. Iowa State currently offers a five year Bachelor of Architecture professional degree and a variety of Masters options. NDSU transitioned in 2005, from a five year Bachelors, to a five year Master of Architecture program that includes a pre-professional B.S. in Environmental Design degree after the fourth year.

It will be interesting to watch SDSU’s program develop over the next few years and see it’s affect on surrounding university’s programs.

> South Dakota State University: Regents approve first accredited architecture program

Constructing the Interlock House

I was in Ames this past weekend where my friend Eric Berkson, IT Coordinator for the Iowa State Solar Decathlon team, gave me a tour of their solar powered house under construction. Called the Interlock House, it utilizes a NanaWall system on the south facade to create a versatile sunspace that can be closed as a solar-collecting greenhouse in winter, a recessed exterior porch for summer, or completely open for cross-ventilation. It is a very cool system. The 2009 Solar Decathlon competition will be held October 9 – 18, on the National Mall in Washington, DC, where the Interlock House and 19 other competing solar houses will be reconstructed and open to the public. The Interlock House website includes an interesting photo blog, which I borrowed the following photo from.

Iowa State's Interlock House for 2009 Solar Decathlon competition

> ISU Solar Decathlon 2009: Blog

Libeskind’s Sculptural Approach

Today at FORUM I went to a seminar by Maria Cole, who worked with Daniel Libeskind (most famous for the Jewish Museum Berlin) on the addition to the Denver Art Museum. Coming from a very pragmatic, program-based approach to building design, it was a contrast to Libeskind’s more sculptural approach. Instead of producing a design through space programming, his first compulsion is to develop a sculpture that can address urban forces and implement the program later.

In the case of the Denver Art Museum, a large, triangular form extends to the north, gesturing, but not quite touching the original museum building (like God’s finger extending to Adam’s, but not touching, in Michelangelo’s “Creation of Adam”). On the south side the museum steps down to a more human, pedestrian scale to relate to the Golden Triangle mixed neighborhood that is adjacent.

The structure of the addition is not aesthetically significant to the design and is mostly hidden. Libeskind considers the building as sculpture, so the structure inconsequential. Therefor the structural design of the building was made as simple and efficient as possible with the complex design.

Interesting presentation. The art museum addition is quite an intrigue from the outside…I will need to check out the inside sometime. There are numerous examples of modern galleries of art building new additions that are as fantastic as the art itself. It raises the question: are these new spaces buildings for holding artwork, or are they their own piece of art? The addition to the Denver Art Museum is not only a building expansion, but an addition to their art collection.

> Denver Art Museum
> Studio Daniel Libeskind
> Wikipedia: Denver Art Museum

Day 2 FORUM Update

Today was the second day of FORUM 2008 in Denver. Each night features a keynote speaker and election and business matters. As the VP of our Iowa State chapter, and the only ISU member attending the conference, I am participating in the Council of Presidents, which met this morning and will meet again Thursday to elect the next leaders of the organization. Today was the college and career fair expo with reps from a number of architecture grad schools around the country, a few, mostly, local firms, as well as a few professional organizations and businesses. I had the opportunity to speak to a few firms and visit some offices in Denver with the FORUM “Firm Crawl” today. I also stopped by two other neat firms on my own.

I’ve been commuting into the downtown for the conference each day from Castle Rock, south of the metro, where I’ve been staying with my brother’s family. I’m taking the RTD light rail from the County Line park-n-ride near my brother’s workplace up to downtown. Initially I found the numerous lines confusing since the majorities of each line are shared along the I-25 corridor (each different line has a slightly different terminus), but it is certainly easy enough to figure out.

From County Line, second to last stop on the E,F, and G lines, takes about 35 minutes to get downtown, and so far has not been too crowded. The ride is pretty comfortable, though the seats aren’t very easy to sit on for that long. My only major complaint, though understandable, is the high transit fare. $4 one way from County Line to downtown (spanning four fare zones) – soon to increase to $4.50 in January. So I am spending quite a bit of cash on transit this week.

I took the #32 bus from downtown to a firm office about 30 blocks away – on a 40 foot Orion V. The bus was pretty clean and comfortable, with padded seats. One way fare on local buses is $1.75; $2 beginning in January.

All in all it’s been good so far and the contacts I’ve made should be helpful in landing an internship this summer – especially with the economic downturn where unfortunately many architects are facing layoffs. Check back for more updates.

Constraint Based Architecture

A few weeks ago (Thursday, Oct. 9), I attended Iowa State’s Architecture Advisory Council Lecture Series with Joshua Prince-Ramus, president of REX Architecture and founding partner of OMA New York (REX’s predecessor). He was partner-in-charge of the Seattle Public Library at OMA New York and current projects under construction include the Dallas Center for the Performing Arts Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre, and Museum Plaza in Louisville.

While presenting these major projects his lecture focused on constraint-based design and judging architecture on performance rather than subjective aesthetic taste. He was also critical of the current profession of architecture and contemporary architecture education system. Josh’s arguments were certainly interesting and compelling.

His critique of the profession concentrated on liability and the contract for architectural services provided. He explained that architects used to be master builders, but now most tasks of building are carried out by engineers and construction contractors. Architects bear less liability, but also have less authority. They are also underpaid and, according to Josh, are the laughingstock of other professionals because they essentially do not stand up for themselves. He argued architects should be demanding higher compensation for their services like other professions do (example, lawyers). Likewise intern architects should also be paid and paid decently – why should even an intern provide architectural services for little or no compensation?

Josh’s critique on architectural education was similar. Instead of focusing on representational design and the idea of individual creativity, he promoted knowledge of writing a good contract and designing around constraints. He sees the conflict of form verses function as juvenile and nonexistent. Instead judge a building by its performance. Likewise, he asked why we talk so much about what an architectural design supposedly represents? Instead, talk about what it does. This really hit home with me, especially going into a new studio project at that time to design a chapel to “engage nature.” Representing or symbolizing nature would be easy, but creating a space to engage nature and have a meaningful experience would be a challenge.

I found his methodology interesting. He is very adamant about design coming out of constraints – “because of this constraint, this has to happen, so this has to be this way, etc, etc” – almost as if there is no aesthetic design decisions or “creativity” involved. His buildings are clearly the kind that you either love or hate, but unlike starchitect buildings such as Frank Gehry – which he cited a number of times – I believe his buildings perform very well for its users, despite varying aesthetic appreciation. So while I don’t necesarrily like his designs, I do respect them as good architecture. One concern I might have with some of his buildings is their seemingly lack of human scale (Seattle Public Library, Museum Plaza, I’m looking at you) and relationship to the street and pedestrians. His buildings are good individually but I don’t know that they could create a community.

One very intriguing project Josh talked about was Museum Plaza, currently under construction in downtown Louisville. In this project Josh claimed to prove how architecture can solve development issues. Philanthropists wanted to build a new art museum but wanted it to be profitable, therefor this needed to be a mixed-use development. The site specified was very awkward, adjacent to the riverfront freeway and on the wet side of the Ohio River flood wall.

To keep the project up to date with volatile market demands, the whole thing was designed like a stereo equalizer – each tower (each use) could be adjusted at any time. A “bucket” was put in the middle of all the towers to contain the gallery, retail, and public space that would normally be at street level – since this building is outside the flood wall, the lower floors can only be used for parking only. To stay on schedule, details of the bucket space could be designed after construction began.

Groundbreaking took place in October 2007, with the world’s highest shovel drop, five stories high. When completed this will forever change the look of Louisville’s skyline. Half of Kentuckiana might love it and at least half will surely hate it. See the links below for more info and make sure to check out the amazing Museum Plaza proposal animation on YouTube.

> REX – Architecture PC
> Museum Plaza – official site
> YouTube – Museum Plaza proposal

2008 AIA Iowa Convention

The 2008 AIA Iowa Annual Convention was held yesterday and continues today at the Polk County Convention Center in downtown Des Moines. I attended two of the workshops yesterday, Speed Mentoring, and Transitions in Internships.

The Speed Mentoring workshop in morning was co-organized and presented by my former studio instructor, Erin Olson-Douglas. After a brief presentation on the history of mentorship in the architecture profession and its more contemporary dynamic, we paired up and had speed mentoring in a similar fashion to speed dating. I had the opportunity to talk to four different professionals for five minutes each. Each dialogue was a little bit different.

One conversation I had was with an architect at OPN in Cedar Rapids working on the new federal courthouse design. It was interesting to hear about their experience dealing with the flood and the unfortunate headache the courthouse project has been with the years of setbacks from the federal government. Another architect I talked to, from Fort Dodge, suggested I participate in a Community Design Center project to engage my broad interest in architecture, urban and community design.

The workshop wrapped up with some feedback about the workshop – what could be different, and about mentoring in general. Overall everyone seemed to really enjoy the workshop. I had expected the session to be geared more towards mentoring students like myself, but the demographic of participants was actually much more diverse. In this session we were lined up in order of experience – so the most experienced talked to the least experienced (students) first. However since we only moved four times, the most senior, experienced professionals may have only talked to students and new architects, while those in the middle only talked amongst their peers.

Everyone seemed to agree that all aspects of mentorship were valuable and the idea that the mentor is sometimes also the mentee, contrary to the more traditional notion of a mentor. It was a good experience meeting with established Iowa architects and getting a better understanding of the role mentorship plays in the profession today.

In the afternoon we attended Transition in Internship, a workshop concerning the internship development program and exam required to become a licensed architect. Most participants except for me and a few of my classmates were current intern architects readying to take the exams, so much of the discussion was new to us. It was still valuable to learn about the process and what is to come.

An interesting display at the exhibition was a company, DIRTT, from Canada that produces modular wall systems that can be custom designed by architects and are environmentally friendly. The ISU Solar Decathlon team also had a display. Another good year at AIA Iowa.

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