With the advent and proliferation of tablets, using a pen to annotate or even sketch is becoming more and more useful, if not necessary. Enter the Space Pen. Now, you can sketch or annotate 3D models on the web. Developed at the University of Washington’s Design Machine Group, this tool provides an ideal interface with another of the group’s projects, Spot, the daylight measuring tool for architects.
Is Space Pen really as simple as it sounds? Can you really just draw and edit any 3D model? Yes. But it is not just that you can draw on any surface, it also recognizes certain basic shapes to aid in the drawing process. It also automatically renders a 3D floor plan from one’s model in real time. Another boon is the addition of a “light pen” allows users to add directional light to the drawing. It’s also free.
The MIT Media Lab’s Mediated Matter group is perhaps not the first choice of exploration for architects and architecture students. What does “mediated matter” have to do with the design of urban and suburban space and structures? Quite a lot, as it turns out. Because the goal of this group is to develop “novel processes that enable and support the design of physical matter,” using computer design combined with “biologically inspired fabrication.”
Below, I look at three projects developed and directed by Neri Oxman, an assistant professor of media arts and sciences at the MIT Media Lab. Professor Oxman also received her PhD in design computation from MIT.
We begin with a project that combines local and global-based knowledge as they relate to construction. The Rapid Craft project basically mines local construction designs and techniques and combines them with the latest design technologies.
There are a lot of different approaches to making buildings more efficient with finite resources, and some of them have been highlighted in this series. Strategies like green roofs, passive heating and cooling, as well as more advanced technologies like newer materials to fabricate solar panels, are all important developments. And as we have seen, different architects and designers have deployed these strategies successfully. Most often, however, these strategies are just applied to a single building. It’s rare that an entire campus will be built using multiple strategies that try to re-use, preserve, and even incorporate such approaches into the curriculum.
Enter Muse, located in Calabasas, California. The brainchild of actress Suzy Amis Cameron and rebuilt by Ecovations, a design/construction/consulting firm, the school exemplifies a sustainable approach on a grander scale.
There are admittedly many differences from architecture school and working in the profession. One major difference is that while in school, people are in a mode of exploration, and any and all tools to facilitate that exploration are welcome. By the time one reaches the stage of “doing the work,” the suite of tools becomes far more narrow: AutoCad, Revit, Ecotect (maybe), and the occasional 3D program like Rhino. And if a person decides to hang out their own shingle, the computer tools becomes even more limited because of cost issues, unless bootleg copies are something you want to risk.
The [design machine group] at the University of Washington is a cross-disciplinary group from the College of Built Environments and the Department of Architecture. It’s directive is to explore and develop ideas “that will shape the future of design and information technology.”
Their research projects range from fabrication tools to new ways of rendering large-scale models. Amongst the most exciting is the SPOT tool. First of all, this tool is free, so anyone, anywhere in the world can use it. And because it was developed for architects, its features have the needs of architects in mind.
Architecture professionals often agree that CAD applications, whether in the PC or Mac platforms, could use some help. Revit of course offers some dramatic improvements but not everyone uses it. So some Engineering faculty at Washington State University have come up with an alternative solution. The Virtual Reality and Computer Integrated Manufacturing Laboratory or VRCIM offers a unique solution for increasing the effectiveness of CAD-based design and visualization.
The approach is very simple: embed VR capabilities into CAD to improve the tools and effectiveness of CAD. Basically, we are discussing the ability to perform such simple tasks as visualization and tracking to complete haptics drawing within the CAD platform. This first step in improving CAD involves the construction end of projects using VR and CAD. Thus, one can envision the assembly and disassembly of projects using VR versions of mechanical tools such as wrenches and the like. And the functionality is easily adapted to haptic devices. And of course, the team has designed templates that can be easily implemented.
Virtual Reality used to be the stuff of third-rate movies and tv shows with really fantastical plots that made one think, “how did these people get this job?” Fortunately, there are many university researchers who have constantly toiled at making real VR a useful and integral reality.
Take the VR learning site at Columbia. For anyone curious about western architecture there are some interesting structures to explore. It’s true that Columbia and the core Art History class that initially inspired this site is unfortunately Eurocentric: for example, French structures seem overrepresented.
I am, admittedly, a big fan of UCLA. At least in the U.S., college loyalty begins and ends as an undergraduate and if you happen to receive your graduate degrees at the same school, well, the deal is sealed, as it were. But we’re not discussing the basketball team, here. We’re actually talking about academic programs and research.
And it just so happens that because UCLA is a research university, there is a lot of interesting research going on there. For example, at UCLA’s Department of Architecture and Urban Design, there is a program that was begun back in 2002. It’s goal? To help everyone improve the energy efficiency of their homes. For free. It’s called HEED, or Home Energy Efficient Design.
What is it? Basically, it’s a set of tools that help people re-design housing to be more energy efficient. That goes for both new and existing structures. And even better, while it was initially developed for California homeowners who were identified by their utility providers—the project began in 2005—the software was restructured to serve professionals in the building industry. That means it was re-made to serve architects, contractors, engineers, and of course, the homeowner to restructure efficiency for both new and existing structures.
Working in a large space, at work or at school, makes one extremely sensitive to the idea of microclimates. Whether there is a skylight or window that uncomfortably irradiates the immediately surrounding area, or if there is a thermostat that just can’t be set warm enough, everyone has experienced the discomfort of the unadjustable microclimate. It’s not unusual, though it might be a bit disturbing, to see a co-worker swathed in a blanket (I’m not making that up, unfortunately), or a foot-heater discreetly tucked under a desk. Or you might be one of the unlucky persons either stuck under the artful skylight or near a south-facing, floor-to-ceiling window. That’s because most office spaces are designed for a uniform, master-control HVAC system.
It’s important not to confuse the availability of different technologies with widespread, institutionalized use because to do so is to conflate two very different issues. So while this technology may have been around in bits and pieces, it has yet to be combined into comprehensive tools. And as for implementation, many in the architecture industry have experienced the resistance to both passive and advanced energy efficient technologies.
Nobody ever discovered ugliness through photographs. But many, through photographs, have discovered beauty. Except for those situations in which the camera is used to document, or to mark social rites, what moves people to take photographs is finding something beautiful.
-Susan Sontag, On Photography
Julius Shulman was best known for photography that envisioned architecture as art. His images distilled architecture as paeans to its central function in society. As such, Mr. Shulman created a photographic trope that either ignored people altogether or portrayed them as props that highlighted architecture’s mastery. It is thus fitting that the winner of last year’s inaugural Julius Shulman Photography Award went to a photographer whose focus some might arguably say is people.
Sustainability can be associated with wildly expensive technological advances. Which not coincidentally can immediately turn off clients.
So how do we define it? What does it mean, from a resource-conservation standpoint, as well as from a business one? For one viewpoint, we turn to Mark English, AIA. He has promoted sustainability efforts on several different levels for years. That means that not only does he incorporate sustainable strategies in his designs, he also helps other firms implement them in their work. He has been involved in programs including the California Solar Initiative, Green-point Rating, and he is also a Director on San Francisco’s AIA Board. He also edits two online publications including “Green Compliance Plus” where articles explore such topics as Passive Houses and the debate on Green Certification, and which also assists other professionals in meeting energy-efficient goals. Another publication, “The Architect’s Take,” presents news from an architectural standpoint. In fact one of those articles provided the basis for some of this author’s work.
“Made in China.” For so many in Western nations, this phrase conjures up a plethora of horrific images. There is the Human Rights argument: low wages, inhumane working conditions, and so forth. Then there is the issue of quality, as in, there is none.
First let’s talk about human rights in terms of manufacturing. The favored discourse is that Chinese factories exploit their employees and hence the resultant quality of the goods is far inferior. Sensational stories that support this conclusion always seem to cross international lines. Moreover, there are basic protestations of Human Rights’ violations and then the specter of Tibet is raised.
The Economist has some really interesting articles on doing business. The latest are on the 100th anniversary of IBM and another which measures the success of multinational business vs. philanthropy in changing society for the better. IBM came out the winner in the latter one. Not, however, because it is a multinational corporation but because of the way it does business. IBM treats its employees well which directly shapes its influence on the larger, now global, community. Moreover, while many think of IBM as a “tech” company and its stock is often listed as such, IBM actually categorizes itself as a service company.
There are five major strategies that have ensured IBM’s ability to withstand the vicissitudes of a dynamic business sector, three of which directly apply to architecture firms. First, IBM puts its customers first and foremost. They do this by using a significant number of their employees to foster and maintain client relationships. That makes it more difficult for other companies to poach their customers. Why? Because those other companies don’t think developing and keeping clients happy is a good use of their resources, i.e. employees. IBM knows better. Clients trust them precisely because of their long relationship. So when clients need something, they turn to IBM. That means a steady client-base of loyal customers who in turn recommend IBM to their clients and friends.
The best of architects is not that they can use cool software or design buildings, or even that they can help create interesting spaces. If you think back to your school days, the best of architecture was problem-solving. You were given a challenge and then you had to think of good ways to address those challenges. That included addressing social, cultural, racial, environmental, and not least, spatial, needs.
Given the opportunity, architects use a myriad of tools and critical thinking skills to solve many different problems, not just strictly spatial ones. In fact, years ago, Guy Horton and I discussed the possibility of starting a round table or a colloquium, to brainstorm on different issues with others both in architecture and other academic fields, and to offer possible solutions.
More after the break.
An article in this week’s Economist about Italian business clusters—that is, where businesses in the same industry form geographic clusters—offered some interesting observations. First, that traditional business models cannot survive global competition. A strategy to deal with global competition includes innovation and building brands. In short, diversification.
This led to a question: how does one approach diversifying architecture firms so that they, too, will be more able to weather economic vicissitudes? For that, let’s turn to Paul Nakazawa. Of course, there is the more “traditional” model of diversification: “many architects have several different kinds of SEPARATE businesses, which serves to diversify dependency on one source of revenue. The time-honored diversification scheme is teaching and practice — we all know lots of people who do that gig.”
More after the break.
An informal poll of recent M.Arch graduates resulted in a very interesting statistic: approximately ½ are either unemployed, working for free, or “working for themselves” though many of these new “firms” have yet to win contracts or projects. Coincidentally, or perhaps not, this statistic mirrors the national unemployment rate in the profession. For those who are fortunate enough to gain paying projects, residential remodels seem to dominate.
More after the break.
Since 2002, the U.S. Department of Energy has been running the Solar Decathlon to promote innovation in sustainable building technologies. The program places twenty collegiate teams from around the world in competition to produce prototype homes capable of producing more energy than they consume and powered exclusively by the sun. This year, the teams received the surprise news that their “sites” have been changed from the Mall to an as yet undecided alternate location. Even though one of the conditions of participation in the contest is to provide for the replacement of damaged lawn areas, the Department of the Interior and the National Parks Service are worried about the grass. Judging from the current state of the lawn, it would probably be in better shape after the Decathlon teams have removed their houses and fixed it.
Here is a link to a heart-wrenching video produced by the SCI-arc/Cal Tech Team. They ask you to contact members of Congress and The White House. Please support the Decathletes by calling, emailing, tweeting, facebooking, and writing.
More after the break.