Category Archives: modern architecture

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.


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.


container homes and planning nazis

this is what became the subject of a recent post over at my other blog.  Comments started out in the realm of design as a critique of the posted project and quickly devolved into something much more sinister.  Judge for yourself and even offer your own commentary, please.  I love hearing new ideas and welcome diverging opinions.  Here is the link to the original post and the comments in their entirety.  I’ve only posted a fair few to give you the general idea of where this discussion went.

Ronin:

NOW you see what I’m up against.

This is exactly the kind of stuff we usually see… stuff that looks cool, but won’t work as drawn. While it’s cool and all, look closely at that render of the St Aug home proposal.

Then think “point loading”.

You’re going to spend more money rebuilding and reinforcing the structure to support those cantilevers than you’ll spend on the “base” structure itself.

Those top rails aren’t “structural”. The kids have spent too much time on Treehugger.

You and I know that, but somebody better tell these kids that, before they end up wasting all their money on engineering reports.

But the spirit of the project soars!

If they could re-harness that, with a sound (easily achieved) design, they could commit to creating change, one family, one community at a time.

That’s Corten Coolness.

Me:

As a pretty picture, the design is great, and as with all student projects (and even a fair few professional projects) the “kinks” get worked out in CDs. This project could work with minimal structural reinforcement, I think. Since the walls are structural, and containers are built to stack, the biggest concern, other than point loading, is horizontal support. The cantilevering of the first floor container is a little silly and would not be necessary to the design as far as I’m concerned. Also I’d like to know how they tie back the entry overhang to a aluminum railing, but that, again, is something that could be worked out.
As is, you’re right, it’s loaded with issues, but with some tweaking I think it could work. Even if it blows their construction budget (which of course they will), projects like this start to push the envelope a little bit and get some much needed press for “corten coolness” to quote your eminence. :) And the more people who can spend the money to push the envelope will push innovation which will make more complex container structures “easier” in the future. It’s a win win, as long as the money don’t come out of my pocket. :P

Ronin:

Issues aside, I like that it’s being talked about.

However, these projects usually get a lot of “fluff” publicity and the first thing they seem to point out is that “they broke the budget”.

Granted, their budgets are usually unrealistic to begin with, but…

It’s this “too expensive” seed that get’s planted, that seems to discredit the practice of converting/repurposing these wonderful boxes. It gives contractors more room to yell, seemingly at the top of their lungs;

“See? Told ya. Wood is better.”

“Um… Why?”

“Well, cuz’ I got me a wood saw, right chere…” [wink!]

Just once, I’d love to see these projects in the hands of people who know what they’re doing from day one. But (sigh!) those people are already up to their butts in alligators, trying to save families… ;)

Peter:

Give them a break buddy : )

I have seen a ton of stuff on your blog about container homes that is just as impractical from a professional point of view.

One that springs to mind was last year you ran a post on making a swimming pool out a 40ft container laid on its side, backfilling with dirt to make a shallow end, creating a masonary wall near the door end to make a “pump room” and lining the whole thing with plastic.

http://renaissanceronin.wordpress.com/2009/11/20/im-in-the-hole-and-its-wet-in-here/

Buddy – I know you mean well but thats just a whole lot of silliness there, your blog is always entertaining if not always factually correct, there are saying about stones and glass houses !

this is where things start getting……fun. 🙂

Ronin:

@Peter;

It’s funny you should pick the 40′ Corten Pond to single out.

Several lap pools and even fish farm operations that use almost exactly that configuration have been running for decades without failure. The post doesn’t do the project justice, nor does it outline the entire build process. It was to simply illustrate the potential of the steel assembly. It was a quick commentary to a posed question.

And I’m always open to “rebuttal and even correction” if you find that “I’m in error”…

I make that clear on the blog. The purpose of the blog is to allow DIY building families to explore the boundaries.

And BTW: Glazing is okay, but I prefer Corten Steel to stones… ;)

Peter:

My rebuttal is not about if you can take a steel box and make a vessel that contains water.

Its about your blog and the method you describe to build a swimming pool out of a shipping container – I said you should ease up on the students design – its not that you can build a home out of containers but they had no idea how to do it right.

As far as your design goes its just wrong.

There is NEVER a case to be made for burying a container NOT EVER – not as a cellar, not as a storage room, not as a shelter and NOT as a swimming pool.

There are many arguments here but the simple fact is the container will rust within a few years and any attempt to “coat” the container with any material to prevent corrosion is a fools errand, this is about practical affordable durable construction.

The one container based swimming pool you referenced in the posts below that has actually been built is “above ground” and so not of the type you described digging a hole and burying one nor does it have some masonry wall at one end.

As I said in the original comment your blog is very entertaining I don’t think anyone holds it to professional review for “how to accuracy” that’s not what its about – all I am saying is you get things wrong regularly so try not to be so hard on young designers just starting out.

skipping down a couple of comments to me:

Peter…..where do I begin. In your second comment you say “this is about practical, affordable, durable construction”….And you’re right. And Ronin’s comments/critiques on the original design are exactly that, critiques on the “practicality, affordability and durability” of the design as it stands. So, in that you both agree. I do love bringing two people together so effortlessly. :-\
Second, you keep saying that you give specific examples. But yet you simply keep repeating that Ronin “gets things wrong regularly” and “a lot of what he talks about is wrong”….that’s not even close to specific and is at the heart of what I was talking about. What does he get wrong? What projects or topics do you have issue with and can offer alternate opinions on? For that matter what do I get wrong? Are there things that I’ve said or posted that you disagree with? I’d love to hear your opinions, but please be specific and back up your own theories with substance. It’s really not a tall order for even the smallest and most modest of blogs.
You say you take issue with his comment on one of his blog posts that ““Just once, I’d love to see these projects in the hands of people who know what they’re doing from day one” – if you’ve ever actually read his blog that’s exactly what he does is try to provide some basic educational resources so that people will know what they are doing (or at least know the right questions to ask of those who should know what they are doing) to get these types of projects built. So, through all of this your comments are not specific, they are not targeted at any specific projects, other than a damn swimming pool, or specific topics other than this one project that Ronin takes issue with on simple constructibility issues that even you point out as being costly – so again you’re in agreement and again I point out that I’ve brought you two together in some manly bonding. Just no tongue, there are children watching. :-P
And by the way, I don’t care if I only have one person reading my blog, or even no person. This is MY blog and I’ll run it just about any damn way I please. If that kills my readership, so be it. I’m not using this as a platform for popularity or even to make money (notice no targeted Adsense ads here?). I do it because I want to offer my own opinion out to the world wide web for posterity sake and quite frankly because I like to hear the sound of my fingers typing late at night, as is evidenced by this very long comment on my own blog. :-D
You said, “Does the man know what he is talking about, in my opinion he has strong opinion but he is missing a lot of professional understanding on core issue from insulation to modification to permitting.” This STARTS to get at something specific. Please expound on this topic with some DETAIL and offer your own experience and expertise (whatever that may be) and lets start a substantive discussion. PLEASE.
As a matter of fact, the two of you have given me all the material I need for Monday’s post. I will be reposting all of these comments and adding my own little spin on where this discussion has gone and where it may be going. If you don’t like it, tough. Again it’s my blog, so….PFFFFT! *sticks tongue out like a 5 year old*.
Ronin, I always welcome your opinion on any topic foreign or domestic.
Peter, I also welcome your comments and want more specifics and substance to your comments – suggestions, whatever. I’d also be interested in what it is you do for a living. Whether architect, builder, ex mob boss, former big top ring leader, maybe even a disgruntled postal worker?
Have a great weekend. Cheers.

Things quickly spiraled out of control from here.  Click the above link to the whole messy discussion and let me know what you think.  Cheers.


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 youtube.com 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.


why a custom residence is better

I follow a lot of blogs, facebook pages and twitter peeps, so in a given day I come across a VAST variety of architecture in different forms: pics of the day, photo montages, candid shots of some guys’ living room and even the occasional rendering or glossy photo spread from Architectural Record.  And in this vast array of images that I’m sometimes bombarded with, there is a common theme in residential architecture that needs addressing (it’s been addressed before but I’ll labor the point anyway), and that is custom design, custom residences, are in the minority, not the majority.  This, to me, is troubling for a lot of reasons, but the biggest is that homeowners (me included) are left looking for homes that are already built, were not built for them and will need to be altered in some way immediately upon purchase.  This is NOT how things were meant to be.

Falling Water - FLW

The biggest road block to clients seeking out custom residential design is cost.  The accepted notion is that an architect designed home is going to cost you much more than you’re willing to pay and more time than you’re willing to suffer.  Well, have I got news for you!

Lets look at this analytically.  What are the costs of a custom residence?  There is the cost of the dirt (land) to build on, architect and consultant fees, utility fees (if there aren’t already utilities on site), permitting fees, zoning fees, taxes, insurance and of course, construction cost.

Now, lets look at the costs of that big box retailer, cookie cutter piece of crap you’re going to buy.  What are the costs associated with that house?  There is the cost of the dirt (land) to build on, architect and consultant fees, utility fees (if there aren’t already utilities on site), permitting fees, zoning fees, taxes, insurance and of course, construction cost.

I know what you’re thinking – “but you just copied what you typed above for a custom residence” – and you’d be right!

sketch courtesy of google

Because the exact same costs of a custom residence apply to any residence.  You just don’t know it because the builder wrapped all those costs, including his profit margin, into the mortgage that you’re getting ready to pay.  So, in effect, you’re paying a higher initial purchase price for a house that was not designed for you, your family or the way you live and will require an additional investment in order to get it to where you are comfortable enough to live in it after making minor adjustments to the way you live…..and this sounds like a GOOD idea to you?

wood engraving circa 1893 - "Architect at his drawing board"

I didn’t think so.  But what’s the reality of hiring an architect to design and construct a custom residence for you?  Obviously there are hoops to jump through depending on where you live and it will take TIME.  It will not happen over night and at some point in the middle of the process you will find yourself contemplating an appropriate place to dispose of your architects’ body.  But in the end, if you’re honest enough with yourself and with your architect, you will have a home that not only suites you and the way you live now, but will be easily modified, with little effort, to the way you’ll be living in years to come.

So, put aside the floor plan catalog, stop sifting through magazine articles, stop clipping pictures of bathrooms and kitchens from Architectural Digest, and call up a few architects and ask them if they’d like to help you design your home (you could even call me!).


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