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Why I Created a Database to Document African Vernacular Architecture

Architecture is a unique component of a country's culture just as much as its language, music, art, literature or food. Architecture is also the most visual of those cultural components; the pyramids in Egypt, skyscrapers in New York, a temple in Japan, and onion domes in Russia all convey a unique image. This is called “genius loci,” the “spirit of a place”. Every country has its own genius loci, its own uniqueness. Vernacular architecture is composed of local materials and derived from local customs, techniques that have been passed on from generation to generation. But vernacular architecture in most (if not all) African countries is disappearing, being abandoned for western materials and techniques.

Rwanda - Kings Hut interior. Image © Larsen Payá Ethiopia - chicken coop constructed with woven reeds. Image © Abby Morris Benin - a Tata Somba. Image © Lafia Yarou Zambia - thatch stored in bundles being applied to roof. Image © Jon Sojkowski via Zambia Architecture

Norman Foster: Striving for Simplicity

“Quality is an attitude of mind.” 

New Site Revealed for BIG and Heatherwick-Designed Google HQ Expansion

Google has found another way to realize its futuristic Mountain View headquarter's expansion. As the San Jose Mercury News reports, the search engine giant revealed plans to utilize a vacant site just east of their existing Googleplex that was approved by the city almost a decade ago to host nearly 600,000 square-feet of office and commercial space. The approval occurred prior to the city implementing strict legislation that restricts office expansions in the North Bayshore district, therefore Google's entitlement is essentially "grandfathered in."

How to Drastically Improve Your Architectural Renderings

These days, the production of architectural renderings is something of a digital arms race, as the more sophisticated visualization becomes, the more of a disservice you do to your designs if you're not able to present clients with increasingly photo-realistic imagery. In this post, originally published by ArchSmarter as the first in their "Pro Smarts" series which features tips and tricks from seasoned professionals, Jonn Kutyla from PiXate Creative describes his seven-step process for creating more realistic renders.

Creating photo-realistic architectural renderings requires careful planning and attention to detail. Adding minor details to your renderings can be time consuming, but it is certainly worthwhile. Some of the smallest details have the greatest impact on the realism of the rendering. Today we’re going to focus on the site around your building. This isn’t going to be a tutorial for specific software, but rather a guide to using nature to make your renderings more believable.

10 Highlights from Guardian Cities' "History of Cities in 50 Buildings"

All good things must come to an end, and Guardian Cities' excellent "History of Cities in 50 Buildings" series is sadly no exception, with only a few more left to be published before they hit 50. The whole series is definitely worth the read, bringing in the best of academic and architectural writing from guest authors and the Guardian's own Cities team, but if you're strapped for time - and if you're an architect, it's fairly likely that's true - we've rounded up 10 highlights from the list to get you started.

Amazonas Theatre, Manaus. Image © Wikimedia user Leaderfo Narkomfin Building, Moscow. Image © Wikimedia user NVO Ponte Tower, Johannesburg. Image © Flickr user fiverlocker Byker Wall Estate, Newcastle. Image © Flickr user George Rex

Can We Make New Office Buildings As Cool As Warehouses?

We are rapidly running out of old warehouse buildings to renovate, and selling space in the glassy towers of the central business district is difficult as corporate buildings become less and less attractive. We need a new building that is attractive to companies who cut their teeth in co-working incubators before seeking their own digs.

We are a society obsessed with the new. We want to look eternally young, drive the latest car, wear runway-fresh clothes and have up-to-the-minute technology at our fingertips. We do not care if the battery in our phones cannot be changed, because we are happy to simply get a newer phone. The American pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness is a glittering glare of polish and gloss, all sparkling and new.

That is, unless we’re talking architecture.

Cannon Design's own St Louis Offices are located in a power house built in 1928. Image © Architectural Imageworks, LLC Ansarada / Those Architects. Image © Brett Boardman Donmar Dryden Street / Haworth Tompkins. Image © Philip Vile Cannon Design Regional Offices (St Louis) / Cannon Design. Converted industrial buildings "are big spaces vertically as well, trading the standard 9-foot (3-meter) ceiling in most office towers for soaring rafters". Image © Architectural Imageworks, LLC

Jean Nouvel on Architectural Eroticism and His Battles to Complete Buildings Correctly

Recently, Pritzker Prize winner Jean Nouvel has been in the news for all the wrong reasons; after his Philharmonie de Paris opened ahead of schedule in January this year, he has been involved in a very public battle to have his name removed from the project to distance himself from the "aberrational decisions" of the client. In this interview, originally published by the Huffington Post as "Interview With Jean Nouvel," Elena Cué sits down with Nouvel in his Paris Studio to talk about his inspirations, the phenomenon of architectural eroticism, and why he is often disappointed with his completed works.

Elena Cué: The anti-Le Corbusier architect Claude Parent was your mentor when you were starting out at the age of 21. Please tell me about what meeting him meant for your career. You were actively involved in May 68 with a radical stance against the educational model of the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. What were the things you demanded?

Jean Nouvel: I felt that his studio was one of the most creative at that time. He and his partner, Paul Virilio, created a space where a new approach to architecture could evolve. Paul became a very well-known philosopher and thinker of the time. I joined the intellectual rebellion of "May 68" and it certainly impacted my architectural style in terms of its criticism of the way in which French cities have traditionally been constructed. Later on, I joined with them to create the "March 1976 Movement," which demanded that the design of French cities no longer follow the same traditional model. Soon after, the architecture trade union was formed. It was a time of intellectual excitement.

The Torre Agbar. Image © Flickr CC user Juanedc The Fondation Cartier. Image © Flickr CC user Rory Hyde The Museo Reina Sofía. Image © Flickr CC user Manu (mscosgalla) The Philharmonie de Paris. Image © Flickr CC user Marko Erman

#LoFab: MASS Design Group's Campaign For Local Building

"If I get a contract, so does the entire neighborhood."

Bamboom: Elora Hardy's TED Talk on Bamboo's Exploding Popularity

Perhaps the most surprising thing about bamboo - besides being an entirely natural, sustainable material with the tensile strength of steel that can grow up to 900 millimeters (3 feet) in just 24 hours - is that it's not more widely recognized as a fantastic construction material. Like many traditional building materials, bamboo no longer has the architectural currency that it once did across Asia and the pacific, but the efforts of Elora Hardy may help put it back into the vernacular. Heading up Ibuku, a design firm that uses bamboo almost exclusively, Hardy's recent TED Talk is an excellent run through of bamboo's graces and virtues in construction, showing off sinuous private homes and handbuilt school buildings.

Karawitz's open shell of bamboo. Image Courtesy of Karawitz Architects The Green School in Bali. Image Courtesy of PT Bambu One of Elora Hardy's bamboo bridges. Image Courtesy of PT Bambu The Green School in Bali. Image Courtesy of PT Bambu

The Transnational Urbanism of Paris: An Interview With Assistant Mayor Jean-Louis Missika

In the past century, the rise of globalism, of relatively cheap international transport, and above all, of the "world city" has fundamentally changed the way we think about citizenship and the nation state. To accommodate that change, we have also had to invent a new kind of "Transnational Urbanism": at the more esoteric end of this scale are ideas such as JG Ballard's "city of the 21st century," a geographically scattered "city" made up of the interconnected no-man's-land of international airports, which was recently exemplified by Eduardo Cassina and Liva Dudareva's hypothetical proposal for Moscow's Central Business district. At the other end of the scale are pragmatic choices that must be made by cities such as New York, London and Hong Kong that truly affect the lives of people not just living in the city, but around the world.

To probe this topic, MONU Magazine has dedicated their latest issue to the topic of Transnational Urbanism. In this extract from the magazine, MONU's Bernd Upmeyer and Beatriz Ramo interview French sociologist and Assistant Mayor of Paris Jean-Louis Missika to discover how the city is positioning itself as a 21st century global city, and how it is absorbing and adopting change in everything from the creative class to smart cities and 3D Printing.

Map of Paris with Montreuil in the east and Saint-Denis in the north. Image © City of Paris Aerial view of Ivry Bercy. Image © City of Paris Interior of the incubator in Halle Freyssinet in the 13th arrondissement in Paris. Image © City of Paris Aerial view of Ivry Choisy. Image © City of Paris

An Interview With Zhang Bin, Atelier Z+

"It’s really easy to build a building. From the very beginning to the realization; it’s very easy! You just give it an interesting form and you get approved. But the real issues are how to make it user-friendly and to enhance the quality of the life of the people trying to escape the influence of the “system”. That’s the challenge. In my experience […] I’ve learned that for architects, both Chinese and foreign, the use of form to create an object is easy but how to do the right thing is very challenging."
- Zhang Bin, Shanghai, Sept 2013

Anting culture and sports activity centre. Image Courtesy of Atelier Z+ Library of Tongji Zhejiang college. Image © Su Shengliang Building C, College of Architecture and Urban Planning, Tongji University. Image © Zhang Siye Anting culture and sports activity centre. Image Courtesy of Atelier Z+

Lonely Houses: Sejkko’s Surreal Photos of Traditional Portuguese Homes

The son of Portuguese immigrants in Venezuela, Manuel Pita, also known as “Sejkko,” is a scientist and photographer who expresses his creativity on Instagram. In his latest series, “Lonely Houses,” Sejkko’s surreal photos capture the traditional houses of Portugal, edited to “bring them as close as possible to the way my eyes see them,” he explains. 

Courtesy of Sejkko Courtesy of Sejkko Courtesy of Sejkko Courtesy of Sejkko

Seeming Inevitability: Reconsidering Renzo Piano’s Addition To Louis Kahn’s Kimbell

South view. Image © Robert LaPrelle
South view. Image © Robert LaPrelle

When Renzo Piano’s addition to the Kimbell opened in late 2013, critical responses ranged from “both architects at the top of their games” (Witold Rybczynski) to “generous to a fault” (Mark Lamster) to “distant defacement” (Thomas de Monchaux). In this excerpt from a special issue of Cite: The Architecture + Design Review of Houston, Ronnie Self gives a deeply considered assessment of the two buildings after a full turn of the seasons. The special issue also includes a review by Christopher Hawthorne of Johnston Marklee's plans for the Menil Drawing Institute, a review by David Heymann of Steven Holl’s expansion of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and an essay by Walter Hood and Carmen Taylor about Project Row Houses. Also featured are interviews of the directors of all four museums and their architects (Piano, Holl, Johnston Marklee, David Chipperfield, and Rice Building Workshop), making for a very comprehensive issue.

Piano’s main task was to respond appropriately to Kahn’s building which he achieved through alignments in plan and elevation and by dividing his project into two major bodies: a concrete walled, glass roofed pavilion facing Kahn and a separate, sod-roofed structure behind that should integrate a significant portion of the project with the landscape and thereby lessen its overall impact. Still, the loss of the open lawn that existed in front of the Kimbell where Piano’s building now stands is regrettable. Kahn’s Kimbell was conceived as a large house or a villa in a park, and unlike much of the abundant open and green space in the Fort Worth Cultural District, that park was actually used. Piano’s new outdoor space is more like a courtyard – more contained and more formal. It is more urban in its design, yet less public in its use.

Aside from lamenting the loss of the open lawn, how might we judge the addition?

View of the double staircase leading to the lower level. Image © Robert Polidori View from the southwest. Image © Robert LaPrelle Lobby view, looking south. Image © Nic Lehoux Detail of roof and beam system. Image © Robert LaPrelle

AD Classics: Austrian Cultural Forum / Raimund Abraham

Before the impossibly “super-thin” tower became ubiquitous on the Midtown Manhattan skyline, Raimund Abraham’s Austrian Cultural Forum challenged the limits of what could be built on the slenderest of urban lots. Working with a footprint no bigger than a townhouse (indeed, one occupied the site before the present tower), Abraham erected a daring twenty-four story high-rise only twenty-five feet across. Instantly recognizable by its profile, a symmetrical, blade-like curtain wall cascading violently toward the sidewalk, ACFNY was heralded by Kenneth Frampton as “the most significant modern piece of architecture to be realized in Manhattan since the Seagram Building and the Guggenheim Museum of 1959.” [1]

The massing of the building is dictated solely by zoning laws and the immediacy of its neighbors. Image © Photo by David Plakke, davidplakke.com; Courtesy of Austrian Cultural Forum New York © Photo by David Plakke, davidplakke.com; Courtesy of Austrian Cultural Forum New York The director's office that occupies the box-like protrusion on the southern facade. Image © Photo by David Plakke, davidplakke.com; Courtesy of Austrian Cultural Forum New York East-facing section with the "scissor stairs" on the left-hand side

Archiculture Interviews: Thom Mayne

"It's amazing how resilient our society is, and that resiliency includes architecture. It's resilient in terms of the society, it's resilient economically, and that's a really good thing."

A Country Of Converted Oil Rigs: Is This How To Save The Maldives?

If you want to see the future of urban adaptation, head to the Maldives. That’s the message and warning behind Mayank Thammalla’s master's thesis from the Unitec School of Architecture in Auckland, New Zealand. Under even the most conservative IPCC forecasts, the low-lying Republic of Maldives will become almost uninhabitable as sea levels rise, while any further rise could leave many of the 200 inhabited islands underwater. It’s an existential threat like no other - in as little as ten year's time, the Maldivian government could be faced with the impossible situation of deciding how to deal with over 400,000 refugees leaving the area where their country used to be. Instead of attempting to rebuild the Maldives elsewhere or mount a series of defences against the oncoming sea, Thammalla’s research project has the difficult goal of realistically preserving Maldivian life in the same geographical location as it is now. His solution? Semi-submersible oil rigs.

A proposed system of transportation between public levels. Image © Mayank Thammalla An exploded view of the structure. Image © Mayank Thammalla A rendering of the proposed structure during a storm. Image © Mayank Thammalla A rendered view from a mosque. Image © Mayank Thammalla

NCARB Discards “Intern” Title

The National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB), the governing body for much of the architectural profession in the US, is taking steps to take “intern” out of architectural vocabulary. In a press statement, NCARB president Dale McKinney, FAIA, NCARB, said that in the future, NCARB will only encourage regulatory language for post-licensure individuals

“Architects are those who have met all the requirements to become licensed in states and jurisdictions throughout the United States,” McKinney said. “Everyone else is not an architect. But their status also doesn’t need a regulatory title such as ‘intern’ or any similar reference. This has become a term that has been perceived as negative by many in the architecture community and a term that really does not fully value the work that aspiring architects bring to the profession.” 

Architect + Entrepreneur: A Field Guide to Building, Branding, and Marketing Your Startup Design Business

The inherently dry subjects of business development, marketing, P+L reports, taxes, and insurance are less likely to feed the intellect of the architect than discussions of materiality, parallax, articulation and form. Yet the reality of what it means to practice architecture, by necessity, requires reconciling these two divided worlds. Nowhere is the need to unify them as great as with the startup design business.

Author, award-winning architect and founder of the firm 30X40 Design Workshop, Eric Reinholdt, explores these topics in "Architect + Entrepreneur: A Field Guide to Building, Branding, and Marketing Your Startup Design Business." Part narrative and part business book, Reinholdt advocates new approaches and tools that merge entrepreneurship with the practice of architecture and interior design. The book offers a framework for starting a design practice in the 21st century which leverages the lean startup methodology to create a minimum viable product and encourages successive small wins that support a broader vision enabling one to, “think big, start small, and learn fast.”

Read on after the break for an excerpt from Chapter 2 - Getting Started.