Staking day on site, laying out and adjusting 22 corners of a 5,100 SF footprint to see how the placement feels... with just a string and a 300' tape.Share: Follow:
Connections are the biggest challenge of material design.
I like to use a femur to illustrate this concept. Do you see the straight shaft of the bone? Relative to the rest, it is quite simple. Although you wouldn't want it to happen, a femur broken in the middle can heal, maybe with assistance of pins and plates, back to 100% mobility.
Broken joints, on the other hand, are rarely fully restored. Hip replacements can be pretty successful. But the complexity of interfaces between bone, cartilage, ligaments, tendons, bursa sacs and muscles at the other end make full recovery unlikely.
Architectural materials are no different.
A femur is much like a column. Designing a column size is relatively simple work. There are common tables to set the basic sectional dimensions capable of managing a given vertical load.
The real work in structural design is determining how the column's base and capital are connections at its base and the beams it supports. Are they welded or bolted? Are there lateral forces being managed by those connections? How do we manage cracking and settling at the footing? Are the beams resting on top of the column or are they bolted on to its side? Are vertical columns continuing above? Countless more decisions are resolved. Just like in animal structures, failures in building structures are most likely at the connections, too. So designers spend most of their time working out connection details.
The same principle can be seen in materials. Take for example, wood. It is beautiful, but challenging to work because it is unstable. Wood warps and moves even with minor temperature or humidity changes. Much of wood design and craftsmanship involves designing around this temperamental nature.
The slab in the sketch below is a piece of wood that will move a great deal in the vertical direction. Wood is more stable along its length, but perpendicular to the grain movement can be up to a half a percent. You won't notice this... until it cracks.
Traditionally, wood movement was managed by floating a panel assembly of wood in a frame. The panel, itself a series of pieces sometimes joined by tongue-and-groove joints, floated in grooves carved into the sides of the styles and rails of the frame that held it. The subtle offsets, grooves, mortises, and tenons all do their job to avoid cracking and maintain a well-formed rectangle for the life of the piece.
In fact, the historical name for a woodworker, prior to these engineered wood products, was a joiner. The skill of the craft was artfully assembling solid wood without it coming apart.
Today, we are spoiled by engineered wood products: plywood, particle board, high density fiberboard (hardboard, such as Masonite), medium density fiberboard (MDF), oriented strand board (OSB), melamine (plastic coating), laminates (phenolic-impregnated paper), thin wood veneers, laminated timber (glue-lam, cross-laminated, laminated strand), etc. Modern glues and resins, in combination with the re-orientation of wood fibers, make it more stable.
I venture that all these engineered products have completely spoiled our sensibilities to natural materials. Before engineered wood products, wood was used only in solid form. Thus the qualitative term solid wood, although I'm not sure anybody really comprehends that term these days. Imagine the challenge of putting together cathedral paneling in solid wood with only weak animal hide glues. Outside of the rare craftsman, all the products we see and use today from big box stores, retail furnishing centers, internet merchants, and mass flat pack channels are created from engineered woods.
So, now that all of our wood products are stable, has our understanding of materials warped?Share: Follow:
After defining the project, design explorations begin.
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.Share: Follow:
Here's a quick glimpse into the very beginning of the design process.
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?Share: Follow:
Even if you don't get the project, you can still enjoy the process!
This was a quick look at an urban rooftop living room and kitchen addition. The building was a three-story masonry construction from 1915 in downtown Raleigh.
The existing stairs were in different locations on each floor. So this design re-stacked them for more efficiency toward the rear. And it introduced a skylight above it to filter natural daylight down the dark, north facing rear of the building.
The initial sketch worked out the spacial organization and then a 3D model looked more closely at the forms.