Category Archives: quality

Proposed Raised House in New Orleans

I just added a new design under Past Projects–something that was inspired by the homes I saw built for the Make It Right organization in New Orleans.

I think Make It Right is an incredibly noble cause, and Brad Pitt and everyone else associated with it should be commended.

I also think some of the houses can be designed better.

What to ask when designing

I’ve written numerous posts about design and how it’s defined, but I wanted to share the two questions I ask myself (as well as my students) when starting a design:

1) What problem does it solve?

If the design doesn’t solve a problem, then it’s art. (Art does have a purpose, but solving problems isn’t one of them.) If it doesn’t solve a problem, then why would anyone want to buy your design?

2) How is it better than anything else out there?

Design shouldn’t reinvent the wheel. If you spend time coming up with a design and someone has already done it better than you, then why would anyone want to buy your design?

People buy problem solvers, whether it’s an energy-efficient home, or a music player that fits in your pocket, or a car that efficiently makes doughnuts in the Dairy Queen parking lot. Making money isn’t necessarily a measuring stick for the success of a design, but a great design is something that people should be buying.

Answer those two questions, and then the only thing you need to worry about is your marketing.

Why the American dream is a tribute band

“Helloooooooo, Suburbia! (The audience goes wild.)

“When the tour bus got into town this morning we drove by some Santa Barbara-styled homes (loud roar from the audience) on our way to lunch at a post-modern strip mall (another loud roar).

“Now who’s ready to rock? (Yet another loud roar.) And who’s ready to rock AND roll? (Loud roar, with a hint of bewilderment.) Let’s get this party started with some Rick Springfield! (Guitar riff; thunderous roar; mosh pit ensues; tear gas fills the air.)

This is what entered my head as I looked upon the “Foreclosed” article and slide show at Architectural Record.

Suburbia needs help. It was designed with the mindset that energy and resources will always be inexpensive and abundant. The amount of energy and resources used per capita is proving to be unsustainable. So what do we do?

We can’t continue to build suburbia the way we’ve been building it. But we can’t build it in a manner that won’t be accepted by contemporary society. Our culture moves forward by being nudged, not by being thrown over a cliff. The short-term goal of redesigning suburbia should involve a nudge, and the long-term goal should involve a series of nudges.

In regards to city planning, one could argue that we’ve seen it all. These nudges are going to push the designs of our cities towards something we’ve seen in the past, but should it resemble something that’s worked before (i.e. a city plan that’s been inhabited for hundreds of years) or something that’s been proposed (i.e. a city plan that’s been drawn and not built, or that’s been built and rejected by its inhabitants).

Does this design by Studio Gang Architects really differ from this by Archigram? Is the Simultaneous City really that much different from Pruitt Igoe? Is this neighborhood really just this neighborhood plus Frank Gehry?

We’re stuck with suburbia (think of the environmental impact if we wiped the slate clean), but there’s no reason why it has to be a bad place. (Bad is highly subjective, although my use of bad involves its complete dependency on inexpensive energy and resources.)

Suburbia will become better by taking advantage of what’s already there with more density (not high-rises–remember, just a nudge), making purposeful use of the spaces between circulation and destinations (just a fancy way of saying design and make use of the wide open spaces throughout suburbia that currently are a waste of unoccupied lawns and parking lots), and subdue the car-centric attitude of design and focus on alternate means for people to get around if they want to walk (and accomplish something by walking other than burning some calories).

We have seen it all. Suburbia will always be a tribute band and, if successful, will probably look like something from the 80s–the 1780s.

“Rock me Amadeus!”

Starbucks and shipping containers

Finally, the two things that the U.S. has too many of–Starbucks and shipping containers–have finally combined into one.

Using shipping containers can possibly be a future trend for small businesses (or large businesses that require a small commercial footprint like a Starbucks) for its low cost, its potential for being mobile, and its ability to be placed almost anywhere (think of a coffee shop or a drive-thru grocery stand in a mall parking lot).

A mobile architecture for a mobile society.

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.

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