Category Archives: architecture

Less stuff

Less stuff–the answer to all of our woes? So the argument made in this presentation is that less stuff leads to more happiness. Now the cynic out there may take a poll asking one hundred homeless people to figure out the level of their happiness, and then graph that level of happiness and compare that with “home-advantaged” people. And that comparison may lead to the discovery that homeless people, although they own fewer things but consume a more considerable amount of soup, are not any happier than other people. And even if they were happier the cynic may try to hypothesize their happiness is based on a soup-induced delusion with no real connection to reality. But that’s the cynic (and probably the lobbyists for the Campbell Soup Company).

The optimist (who also enjoys a nice heaping bowl of Campbell’s Soup, especially the 100% natural Select Harvest line) would argue that the fewer things a person owns, the less of a slave he or she is to those things. We’re conditioned to think, through marketing and peer pressure, that our desires are actually our requirements. We HAVE to own $90 jeans; we HAVE to give our loved ones a Lexus for Christmas; we HAVE to use up a hundred percent of what the bank agreed to loan us to buy the biggest house that we can’t really afford.

Less isn’t about living a homeless lifestyle with homeless things, eating nothing but soup (unless it’s Campbell’s Soup Slow Kettle Style soups, which carefully combine unique ingredients in creative ways). Living less is living with more quality; living a non-disposable lifestyle.

Now this non-disposable lifestyle doesn’t quite align itself with the capitalistic economy we currently have. (How can a tire company survive if it sold tires that lasted 200,000 miles?) But that’s okay. It’s just something we as a society will deal with (and thrive with) when we’re happy.


Home of the future — 2015 edition

Despite there being a whole lot of pessimism in the architecture and construction industries today (thanks a lot Mayans), we will someday need new homes built. I know it sounds like a farfetched idea that somehow the current building stock won’t last us for another hundred years, but these new homes will need to be built adapting to current trends in design and energy use.

I came across this article on Yahoo! about homes built in 2015. Yes, 2015 sounds like this futuristic time when cars will fly, all diseases will be cured, and people will be able to share their music libraries between two different iPods. How different will our homes be in this future?

Probably the most obvious, due to many outside forces, is that homes will be smaller. Less to heat, less to cool, less to clean, less volume to fill up with crap, and less to build. Humans can definitely get by with less than 2,400 square feet of space, but Americans may have a harder time than most other cultures. But there are many “design devices” that can be used to make a smaller house seem much larger, such as increased window area (which will have to be cleverly shaded when the sun is not wanted) and placement of windows, and more open-space within the interior. Higher ceilings (but not too high) also work incredibly well. (They allow warm air to rise above the occupants, and simply make a room feel larger.)

Other design attributes listed from this article:

Spacious laundry rooms–as long as the laundry room is serving as another space, such as a hobby space or as a space to practice your jai alai.

Master suite walk-in closets–sure, just go against everything I said about smaller spaces.

Porches–an exterior space that, with the correct placement of decently sized exterior doors (like a Nana wall), can make an interior space feel much larger. It also adds a connection between the resident and the rest of the neighborhood by providing a place to enjoy your home while potentially meeting neighbors walking by. And it looks like the Cleavers house, which corresponds to my theory that architecture is slowly resetting itself back to 1950.

Eat-in kitchens–the death of the formal dining room means having another place to eat other than a tv tray next to the couch.

Two-car garages–come on, who doesn’t want a garage large enough to do doughnuts inside of while driving a Mini Cooper? Or at least an alternate space to play jai alai when the laundry room is occupied?

Ceiling fans–sort of like a fashion designer saying that the future of pants is a button with a zipper? The point is that we will become more dependent on efficient means of cooling like a ceiling fan than on air conditioning. We have an automatic response of turning on an A/C when the temperatures eek past our comfort zone. Our future society will need to learn that it’s okay to be 85% comfortable.

I look forward to a future of doing doughnuts in my garage learning to live more sustainable.

Homes with amazing staircases

The following are some impressive images of residential staircases.

Of course I’m more partial towards the one with a slide, but the library stairs offers a great use for storage and an impromptu place to sit and read. The last stair shown, called the Ribbon Stair, has an interesting aesthetic but is missing the one design item in stairs that most locales outside of the U.S. don’t seem to require–the handrail. (It’s not that people outside of the U.S. have better balance than Americans, they just have fewer lawyers than us.)


What is architectural design?

As an architect I am in constant flux of what it is I do. I don’t construct buildings or fund projects — I design. But what the hell does that mean?

The architectural profession has done a horrible job of conveying A) what it is that architects do, and B) why we’re even necessary to society. We can postulate the essence of architecture, and we can criticize architecture on both a theoretical and substantive level, but can we even define what architectural design means?

At least at this point in my life, and this place in time and space, I define architectural design as problem solving by adding value. To try to break it down to its most simplistic state, we design to solve a problem. But design goes beyond just solving problems. I solve problems in my black-belt Sudoku puzzle book (truth be told, I’m more like an orange belt), but that’s not design. Where’s the value to society? Who really benefits by me sitting in the bathroom filling out squares with a number between one and nine?

There’s always been that faint distinction between art and architecture (at least by my turtleneck-wearing brethren), but the true difference is that art doesn’t solve a problem. Sure, it inspires the uninspired, and it ruminates the people who can’t tie their own shoes, but it doesn’t solve a problem. Likewise, architecture that doesn’t solve a problem, such as not fulfilling the intended program of the building, becomes art. If people can’t use the building, then what problem was solved? (Yes, you’ve kept the elements out, and bears are deterred from attacking the inhabitants, but if the program is not fulfilled then the building’s not very useful.)

I don’t want to come across as someone who thinks architecture should fulfill its utilitarian purpose and be good. I think every piece of architecture not only can inspire but should inspire. To make bad architecture into great architecture takes a little more effort (although it typically takes a whole lot more talent).

That is what good architects do, and that is what I do — solve problems and add value.

Why CFLs are not the future

The next time you have a bright idea the light bulb above your head will no longer be an incandescent bulb, but instead a CFL (compact fluorescent light). But is changing from incandescents to CFLs a bright idea?

There are a lot of issues with both incandescent bulbs and CFLs, which should mean that CFLs reign as the light of choice will be much shorter than the time we’ve depended on incandescents. In this era of quality over quantity (at least I’m hopeful this era is in its infancy), the pendulum of what we require will fall on the side of LEDs (Light Emitting Diodes), which provides the same quality of light as incandescents with a much longer life span.

For an apple-to-apple comparison of the past, present, and future of lights (as described from this article):


Projected life span:

Incandescent — 1,200 hours

CFL — 10,000 hours (Eight times longer)

LED — 50,000 hours (42 times longer)

Electricity used to produce light equal to that of a 60-watt incandescent bulb:

Incandescent — 60 watts

CFL — 14 watts

LED — 6 watts

Cost per bulb:

Incandescent — $1.25

CFL — $3.95

LED — $20

Annual operating cost based on equivalent of 30 incandescent bulbs:

Incandescent — $328.59

CFL — $76.65

LED — $32.85

Instantly turns on:

Incandescent — Yes

CFL — No

LED — Yes

Contains toxic waste:

Incandescent — No

CFL — Yes

LED — No

What should be the next urbanism buzzword?

Apparently the term “smart growth” is out of style as much as a Sony Walkman and Crystal Pepsi (tastes just like Pepsi, and now with more transparency!). In this article on Next American City’s website they are looking for the next urbanism buzzword. So, for you who are not in the know about urbanism slang (which I mean slang used by city planners, not urban youths), “smart growth” is out, and “intelligent cities” is in.

I’m not sure if the next urbanism buzzword will change anything. We use these terms to succinctly describe (apparently in two words or less) the strategy of designing our built environment and of protecting our natural environment. Seems like for something so important we could get away with using at least three or four words. These terms at least try to communicate a way to design our cities with a more holistic approach rather than a focusing on each parcel of land as though it existed in the vacuum of space-time.

So, if you’ve read all of Nostradamus’ quatrains and feel like sharing with the rest of us on what will be the next urbanism buzzword, you can post your suggestion via Twitter @NextAmCity, or on their Facebook page.



Green design predictions for 2011

There’s a certain power exuded by making predictions. Sometimes that power is real, and other times that power is either a handful of optimism or pessimism.

I came across an article filled with “green” predictions for 2011 conjured (there’s my optimism) by some noteworthy architects and members of the media. The predictions range from the conceptual to the basic premise of sharing with others.

And because I love to make predictions (when everyone has a slide in their homes you’ll think I’m the next Nostradamus), I’ll keep my predictions (at least for now) on the conceptual level. My bold (and remember, very conceptual) green design predictions for 2011:

1) People will choose quality over quantity, at a micro and macro level, and in all facets of their lives.

2) People will comprehend and practice reduce, reuse, and recycle (in that order).

3) Society will reduce its dependency on fossil fuels and will instead meet its energy needs with faberge eggs and bald eagle skulls. (Wait a second, that’s not very green… strike that last prediction.)

The article for green design predictions for 2011 can be found here: