The project can come to life through a number of physical and virtual tools. I believe the pinnacle of architecture is a great physical model accompanied by sketches and drawings. But digital tools are usually more expeditious and flexible.
Here’s a quick glimpse into the very beginning of the design process.
sketch, 2016-06-21, canteen design diagram
This sketch is for the renovation of a large corporate canteen. The spaces are used by more than a hundred employees at a time for eating lunch or taking a quick break at a large food distribution center.
There are three existing rooms: two seating rooms with tables and chairs on either side of a central food pantry. This last space is a place for employees to store their lunch bags in large refrigerators with sinks, microwaves, and vending machines to support warming and supplementing them.
I’ve added a shaded zone to indicate the larger facility beyond. The left and bottom of the canteen space have glass to the outside, with the bottom facing east and the left facing south.
One final item was the existing televisions mounted on the walls of both existing seating rooms. Tuned to inane daytime talk shows all day, I could imagine resting in this din only in some Harrison Bergeron dystopia and was determined to provide relief for the minority if I could help it.
I usually start design with an attitude about the sun and environment beyond the architecture. They are like a free design feature. Here, the bottom seating room had strong sunlight and expansive views outside. It struck me as a meadow of sun and views to nature, the tranquil place of repose to relax with connections to outside after long hours in a dark warehouse. It could be a social space for talking and enjoying human conversation removed from blaring electronic media.
But the upper seating room had limited glass. With little natural light already, why not darken it further for an enhanced television watching experience for those that care? It could be the inwardly focused space with multiple televisions, supported by dark finishes, soft lighting, and smaller groupings of tables at different heights. Imagine a pub or sports bar.
With contrasting rooms on either side, the central pantry bottleneck was broadened and straightened to simplify passage within and to either side. Two “streets” were carved across the transitions between to exterior doors for smokers.
The entire cityscape come together in a singular metaphor. Does this help to explain how design is at the same time a philosophical idea and a solution to physical needs?
sketch, 2016-04-11, post-and-beam foundation details
(A lot has happened since the previous article, and with little time to write, I thought I’d post some sketches of various explorations from the intervening period.)
This sketch is pretty typical of my usual process: Multiple ideas and scales derived simultaneously. This keeps formal and material explorations coordinated and sensitive to the other.
First, in the upper left corner, there are two circles bisected by lines. If you look carefully, you’ll notice that the left-most line is a simple dot-dash, the architectural symbol for center line. This represents the figural core of a thing, essentially its idealogical center. You can’t actually see the center of a material, but we humans like to align materials by their center of being.
The second line, to the right of the first, is a double dot-dashed line. This is the symbol for property line, and represents the edge of a form, space, or property. We can touch this face and use it to define how big things are and when they touch.
Farther right, just past the middle of the sketch, you’ll see these two line types expounded in a simple grid with two rectangular columns. See how these two line types are used? The center line (in the middle!) bisects the two columns while their edges are defined by the property line type.
Architecture is a constant play of idealogical alignment and physical material alignment. Our mind perceives beauty when forms are visually aligned. A series of exposed columns is aligned by their centers along a idealogical grid line, as in a Greek arcade or medieval cathedral nave.
But columns are rarely all the same size. Lower ones are bigger and upper ones smaller. Interior or exterior columns often differ in size. And most steel H columns have a major and minor axis which rotate depending on how they resist the building’s bending in various directions. Simply aligning these can be difficult, but it becomes exponentially more difficult when attaching facades.
In this sketch, I was discussing a wood post-and-beam house and how its enclosure might work. You can even see some large scale spacial exploration within the same grid in the right-most portion of the sketch.
Finally, the lower left is a detailed look at the actual materials. This is a concrete footing pier for the timber frame above. A steel “T” connects the wood post above to this foundation form below.
Although a little series of exploration sketches like this might take just a minute or two, they may make key decisions that drive an entire project!