Category Archives: design

everywhere, everywhere containers

A friend of mine sent this article post to me the other day.  I’m telling you, container homes and offices are EVERYWHERE.  You can’t escape them, they are here to stay.  These images are not projects that are just in random overseas countries – they are in our own back yard and it’s AWESOME!  Enjoy.

The Daily Green

Anyone who wants to learn more about containers, container homes or building with them – let me know!


dMass via jetsongreen

this blew me away at 630 am.  Just AWESOME!  Mad kudos to Howard J. Brown, founder of dMass.

i teach and i do

I love that old saying “those who can’t do, teach”.  I actually do AND teach.  For the last two years I’ve been teaching Autocad (from intro to advanced) at a local community college in St. Augustine.  But, this semester, I get a new challenge – teaching Principles of Architectural Design – a.k.a. “hand drafting”.

This is VERY exciting for me.  I first started learning hand drafting, technical drafting, in my senior year of high school.  It was something I took to naturally and really enjoyed.  This was critical to my early success in college.  As you can imagine though, architectural education in the last 10-15 years has mostly centered around computer aided drafting, instead of hand drafting – technology makes the world go round after all.

I began learning autocad in 1999 with release R-12 and have followed each new release since (pushing 12 years experience with autocad now), but hand drafting was still what I was more comfortable with, so most of my projects were done by hand.  This included plans, elevations, perspectives, renderings, etc.  As I moved through my studio classes it became increasingly difficult to continue producing hand drawn graphics for my critiques, so I was forced to hone my skills in CAD and other 3D platforms to more rapidly produce final products for critique.  I began thinking, even back then, that the art of hand drafting was being lost in education and became convinced of this when I began practicing in early 2004 and realized that I would probably never again do any hand drawings as an intern.  In order to survive as an intern I had to ramp up with CAD very quickly, and I did.  But I still maintained my drafting table/sketch books at home.

Hand drafting and sketching are invaluable tools for an architect/designer or someone wanting to practice in the field.  Hand drafting teaches you in a tactile way how to visually represent a building with 3 dimensional qualities in a 2 dimensional medium.  With CAD you use color to represent line weight (i.e. depth and drawing hierarchy), but if you don’t understand what line weight really is how can you accurately draft what you’re tasked to?

So, it’s going to be an exciting semester.  I plan on torturing my students from the very beginning with lettering – OH THE HORROR!  😉  It’s going to be so much fun to see the completely defeated look on their faces when they realize the work that goes into a quality hand drafted architectural drawing, and additionally that they can’t yet reach that bar of quality.  But in the end, I hope, they’ll have a greater and more profound understanding of the HOW of architectural drafting, which in turn will make them better at computer aided drafting and will lead to much less frustration in my other classes.  😛

history and modernity

My thesis in college studied how modern and historic architecture could and should fit in the same neighborhood context.  But we so seldom see contemporary or modern architecture butted up beside a historic monument outside of cities like NYC or Chicago or Prague.

Why is that?  Is there a general fear within planning departments to blend the new with the old?  Is it a lack of vision or imagination that perpetuates the repetition of styles that have no real historical significance in our modern times?  Some might wonder why I’m asking these questions (even though they are questions I’ve asked before) and it’s because I’m seeing a good bit of talk lately on the issue of Urban Planning in cities around the country.  Most of these discussions center around land use planning and infrastructure, but along with that will go the types of buildings that are constructed and what they look like.  In other words, the style of our cities is as much important as how our cities are arranged.  Compare two cities like Atlanta and Savannah, both in Georgia.  Atlanta, being a modern metropolis with an expanding urban core and dedicated public transit has a very fast paced and modern quality of life that is reflected in the architecture.  On the other hand, Savannah, being steeped in it’s history and it’s historic identity has a much slower, easy quality of life and even new construction is forced into a “historical mold” that tells us nothing about the modern times we live in today.  Two cities directly impacted by not just planning and land use, but also impacted by the architectural styles present.

What would happen if we married the modern and the historic?  Anyone who knows me knows that I am a huge fan of Historic Preservation (in it’s true form of preservation not forced architectural copy), but I am also a modern architectural designer.  It’s important that our generations’ architectural record reflect modern technologies, modern styles and modern materials.  Otherwise we leave no clear architectural expression of our own for future generations.  Currently I see us in a “Architectural Dark Ages”, where the majority of the construction I see going up (in my own little corner of the world) is, for lack of a better phrase, CRAP.  It’s a copy of one or two or even 10 different architectural styles that hold some kind of significance in history, and these buildings try to use these styles to relate in some way to their surroundings when all they’re really doing is insulting every architect who came before them trying to leave a mark of their time and place in history.

Ok, that was a really long sentence, please forgive my rant.  But haven’t you ever driven/strolled/walked/run though a neighborhood or city and wondered “what in the hell were they thinking?”  It happens to me quite often (occupational hazard).  Like right now, I’m sitting in a starbucks (i know I know, I’m not shopping local….but hey, I like the coffee damn it), in a strip infill building in Riverside that has NO meaningful architectural expression….none, nada, zip, zero, zilch….and what’s worse is across the street is a residential development….oh please don’t make me describe it.  Let’s just say it ain’t winning any awards, and, like a good serial killer, is not terribly memorable in appearance.

But these are the types of developments that are railroaded through planning and development.  Why?  Because they don’t challenge any conventions, they are specifically non-descript, could fit in any neighborhood in any city in America and give absolutely no consideration to pedestrians or the greater betterment of their surroundings.  I’m thinking we can do better, don’t you?  As architects, developers, land owners and potential homeowners, we can do much better for our cities.  Demand a higher level of design, a higher quality of life and a higher quality of architecture and design will follow.

the problem with DIY design

As I’ve said many times before, I read a lot of blogs and some of them are DIY (Do It Yourself) blogs about design and construction.  I want to take a minute and talk about the problem with DIY design.  Notice I said “design” and not “construction”.  I’m all for anyone who wants to go out, buy some land and build their own home.  When I was a kid my mother and step father did this (I helped in a very small capacity being only 7 but I still helped) and it was an awesome experience.  To build a home, you have a set of instructions (construction documents) and guidelines (local building codes) to follow.  It’s like a kit of parts that just needs to be assembled in the proper order.  But designing that home is a different animal all together.  It takes more than just a kit of parts, or a program, to put it all together.

When an architect ( at least this one) begins the design process it starts with a couple of casual conversations with the clients to determine “who” they are.  This leads into more specific conversations about “how” they live.  Most clients won’t realize how important these first conversations are in the process of designing a home for them – but it is critical.  You can not properly design a home for someone without knowing who they are and how they live. All of these “spec” homes that are built are built for a generic client, which means when someone does move in, they will invariably have to either change something about the house or compromise how they live in some way in order to be comfortable in the house.  I’ve talked about this before, so I won’t go into great detail on this point.  Suffice it to say this is not the ideal recipe for the biggest investment you’ll ever make in your life – your home.

Once the architect has an idea about “who” and “how”, he can begin to develop the program with the client – these are the spaces that will make up the home (i.e. living room, dining room, # of bedrooms, etc).  This list will be talked about and refined many times at the beginning of the design process in order to get at the core spaces required by the clients.  These spaces will then be arranged according to “how” the clients live.  This is where an architect becomes crucial to the process of designing a home for someone, and why the “DIY Designer” should always consult an architect prior to construction.  Architects and designers spend a lot of time and energy learning and studying how people use space and how spaces relate to each other in a building.  The average DIY-er will be able to choose a floor plan from a book or a website, but that plan won’t ultimately meet their needs and will require the same choices as purchasing one of those “spec” houses I mentioned earlier.  The DIY-er will also not know what questions to ask themselves about how they live, how they want to live and ultimately how they will live in the future.  An architect does know what these questions are and will know how and when to ask them.

Again, I’m all for someone purchasing some land and building their own home – the construction is easy.  But designing a home that will fit your personal lifestyle is something different and requires at least a design consultation with a architect or designer to properly lay out your new home.  It will save time, money, frustration, money (yes it bears mentioning twice) and possibly your marriage (you try explaining to your wife why you forgot to put a mud room off the garage with laundry storage and a dry storage pantry just off the kitchen).


monday bloody monday

so not having a whole lot of inspiration to write today (and having a half dozen other projects to work on) I thought I’d post some more videos garnered from on shipping container/alternative homes.  Enjoy.

This guy is insane!  Looks like he’s using all 40′ containers which would put his footprint at roughly 56′ square….not exactly gonna fit on your typical residential lot, but when finished I’m sure will look really cool.

Most realtors will tell you that to sell a house you need location location location…to live in a shipping container you need storage storage storage.  I think this does it.  14 sq meters.  Whoa.

how to live small with a family

My wife will kill me for writing this one, but here it goes:

There’s a huge movement sweeping across the country known as “the tiny house movement” or “micro living”, or whatever else you want to call it.  Basically, people are moving away from large expensive homes in favor of smaller more economical and ecological homesteads.  In order to do this, obviously, some sacrifices need to be made, but one thing  that I’ve come to notice that is a little unsettling (and in my opinion would slow down the trend) is that a good portion of the “case studies” for smaller living are of either single people or couples with no children.

[editor’s note: this is simply my observation thus far.  anyone out there with children living in a home smaller than 1000 sf, please comment with photos of your home.]

When I design a “small” home, I always design with my family in mind: husband, wife, two kids (three on the weekends).  My wife will say that our current home (coming in at 1200 sf) is no where near enough, but then our home wasn’t designed or built for 21st century living [we own a 1918 Craftsman Bungalow currently in various states of renovation].  Our home was built before the automobile was widely used, before television, before central heat and air (for residences).  Life was much different 92 years ago.  Changes are obviously in the works to maximize the use of our 1200 sf, but that’s a story for another time.  Even with such a modest home, we waste a great deal of space simply because of the nature of how it was designed – segregated spaces and separate functions.

The logistics of housing 4 or 5 people may seem like a daunting task and you may think that this would muscle out the idea of “micro” living, but you would be wrong.  It’s all in the way you perceive things and how imaginative you can get with how spaces function.

For instance, do you really need a dedicated living room, dining room and kitchen?  Probably not.  Even for a family of 4, providing a generous kitchen with seating at an island is sufficient for every day use and reduces the overall square footage needed for each function.  Living spaces can also be reduced in size by the careful and thoughtful placement/use of built-ins.  With the advent of wireless technology, flat screen tv’s and compact discs, virtually all of your media needs can be stored in a very small amount of space.  A dedicated media built-in need only be about 12″-18″ deep, depending on the type of equipment you have, and can be designed to have multiple functions such as entertaining, reading, romper room – basically any public function.

Through careful design and efficient use of space, as well as taking a cold hard look at what is really necessary for residential living, a family of 4 could comfortably live in a home of no more than 800-1000 sf.  Think NYC/London hyper-urban living in the suburbs.

Oh, how glorious it would be to build a sub urban neighborhood with a density closer to an urban center, but still supplying green spaces, access to mass transit and easy connections to necessary services like shopping, groceries, schools, hospitals and leisure all without sacrificing privacy.

Reading this post and my other post, why a custom residence is better, will hopefully make you think twice next time you drive through some big box sub urban neighborhood to drop $200k+ on a house that has 1000 sf that you really don’t need.  And then go find an architect or designer who is passionate about his profession and wants to design a home for you that fits you and won’t waste space or your money.  There’s a better alternative, you just have to look for it.

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