ruminations about architecture and design

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

architecture and productivity

Photo Levittown by Jon Smith

An effective method of increasing productivity in construction is by reducing the role of the designer. A design is required, but if interaction between client and architect is minimized--or eliminated--then the construction delivery process becomes the primary objective of a project. Does the end product suffer? Aesthetically, the consequences are often banal instead of disastrous. Functionality can be impacted, but not necessarily to a greater degree than when intensive design efforts are wasted on trying to predict future needs. 

Sunday, August 20, 2017

building architecture and productivity

The technical research department at towers of ilium has been asked to comment on a recent article in The Economist magazine about the failure of the building construction industry to match the productivity gains of other manufacturing industries. The research department (which has no research budget) will recycle the following arguments:

-Buildings are large--large things make precision difficult to achieve and transport costs high
-Buildings are frequently unique to program and site. Even subtle differences in topography require re-design
-Building systems are more complex than in the past. A concrete wall with some single-glazed steel windows doesn't meet code and doesn't satisfy client/user expectations
-Architects are still involved. This point will be developed in later posts. Please do not adjust your set until Tuesday. In fact, do not stop staring at your computers for the next 24 hours--you will be amazed at how much you can accomplish!

Friday, August 18, 2017

reality is a harder place

Architecture that comes to life in a sketch frequently dies in the details. Sometimes, a compromise can be reached, but if heroic efforts are required to massage a design idea into something that complies with code and construction methods, then the potential for error increases substantially.
A sketch is not a holy writ--it is tool that informs the goal of getting something built. The ability to produce and abandon sketches is the mark of a healthy design process.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

why castles?

A castle is the ultimate expression of secure domestic architecture. Although modern survivalists tend to favor lodges in the empty places of the American West, the European tradition retains the most evocative and prominent examples of the type. To live in a castle is to achieve fantasy. Those who built them were clearly engaged in a visual arms race. Practical features are subordinate to an obvious need for more turrets and towers. Disneyland has cemented the imagery so thoroughly that we cannot conceive of a princess living anywhere else.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

building science and the grenfell fire

As predicted, Joe Lstiburek wrote some good commentary on the Grenfell Fire. It can be found at this link here. He makes several interesting points about fire safety in the context of cladding systems with exterior insulation. Among these are a criticism of excessively large rainscreen gaps--3/8" is plenty-- and  the importance of fireblocking between window heads and combustible exterior insulation. He doesn't comment on the overall thickness of the poly-iso insulation used in the cladding retrofit. They could have used a little bit of the money saved by using only 4" of insulation to buy a non-combustible aluminum composite panel.

Monday, August 14, 2017

the value of the one-off

People who commission works of art should be aware that the artist draws a paycheck with the expectation of being able to work without interference for long periods of time. This isolation requirement is also implicit in arrangements made with tradespeople. It reaches an extreme when we deal with mass-produced items--which have been carefully designed with only filtered input from potential consumers. Acceptance of the design decisions is measured at the time of purchase.

Unique efforts, however, are as necessary as they are dangerous. The artist defines certain parameters in negotiation with a client or patron--or as is more often the case--such parameters are defined by the previous body of work. The client wants to be surprised. It's like buying a car without getting a chance to test drive it.

Friday, August 11, 2017

finishing things-part III

Continual maintenance is a philosophy in search of an application. To what degree? At what costs? For how long? By what methods? A general rule is that maintenance should be a small fraction of purchase cost--i.e. a tank of gas is worth less than the car. Accumulated tanks of gas can eventually cost more than the car, but that merely demonstrates how the car is not a source of value unless it is moving people and things around.

Eventually, the most useful thing becomes an artifact. At that point, it may have achieved artistic value, but at what cost? Is it in the way of something better? Portable objects can retain value for as long as they exist. Architecture and infrastructure need to be assessed frequently. Much is found wanting.