Friday, August 22, 2014

Follow the Wow

Here's the text of today's speech to the UNLV incoming freshmen; the article can also be found at the URL:

As part of a military family, I moved around a lot.  While this sometimes made it hard to make friends, always being the “new kid” gave me a unique perspective; I saw things with new eyes that locals lived with their entire lives.  This highlights the importance of traveling to new places, but also how essential it is to develop your own perspective; awareness and consciousness are crucial.

One of the most meaningful experiences for me was the year my father was sent to Spain.  Seeing ancient Roman ruins, winding streets, and many other things made a profound impression on me.  One day, walking to the market, I heard the church bells ringing, so I looked at the church; it was at that moment I decided I wanted to be an architect.

Getting to that goal took another 25 years; I was twelve at the time. :)

While most people don’t decide on their path in life that early, the process of becoming the person you wish to be is the same; you must consciously create your future, which requires laying out your game plan, and then building towards your goal. This is designing and building your future.

As the coordinator of the UNLV School of Architecture’s Design-Build Studio, I see what we do as providing unparalleled opportunities for students to begin thinking for themselves.  In my view, the primary purpose of college is learning to think for yourself; this is a critical part of creating your identity.  In the Design-Build Studio, students literally create something from nothing; designing their ways of seeing the world and their places in it, and then making it a reality.  Our first project was to lead UNLV’s participation in the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2013, an interdisciplinary, university-based competition to design solar-powered housing prototypes.  UNLV’s entry, entitled DesertSol, was created by a diverse team of students and faculty, including participants from architecture, engineering, graphic design, journalism, economics, and many other disciplines.  We were the only U.S. team in the to finish in the top 3.  We competed against USC, Stanford, CalTech/SciARC, ASU/NM, and beat them all!  We need to shout this from the rooftops!  UNLV is an ideal partner in helping you to build your future.

This isn’t the time to do what others tell you.  You have a unique opportunity to define your path, your future.  Find out what makes you go “Wow! That’s REALLY interesting!”  If you find this and pursue it, you’ll be much happier than doing what’s expected. Perhaps an example from my own career will illustrate this point.
When I was in graduate school, I was tasked with defining the project for my thesis.  I wrote about designing a house, and what I thought it meant to me.  My advisor challenged me; she said that it could be a good project, but she told me that it would be much better if I went home over the weekend and wrote about something that was deeply personal and meaningful to me.  Not something architectural, but meaningful.  That piece of writing ended up going on the cover of my thesis document, and was the best work I did in college – it transformed the course of my career.  In fact, it got me a job at the best architecture firm in Phoenix, and paved the way to who I am today.  If you follow the “wow,” it will work for you, too.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

studio progress!

Well, as usual, I haven't been very good about posting images to this blog, but it hasn't been because I haven't been busy; the Solar Decathlon has been taking over my life!  It's good, though, as I think we have refined it into a pretty compelling project; more on that later.

In the meantime, I'd like to share a few photos of the ceramics studio project I've been working on.  It's taken much longer to complete construction than I anticipated, but it's looking pretty good.  The framing, exterior cladding, and glazing are done, and the spray-foam insulation just went in.  Enjoy the pictures!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Solar Decathlon Conceptual Design

The Autonomy House

Autonomy is defined as the state of being independent, free, and self-directing. The Autonomy House is designed to operate independently from all traditional public utility services. It is a self-sufficient structure designed mainly as recreational or vacation home, while also having the capability to function as a permanent, year-round residence in our arid desert environment. Environmental technologies and renewable energy combine to allow the user to live grid free in a place of their choosing without having to give up any modern comforts. Careful integration of accessibility and age-in-place considerations assist in creating a home that can be enjoyed for many years during any stage of life.

A Walk Through the Autonomy House

Approached from the North, Autonomy House beckons the visitor to its entrance with subtle vegetation and the sound of water trickling over stone. The journey begins by ascending into a narrow space of light and shadow, which creates an ethereal feeling, the building structure seemingly dissolving in the dappled light coming through the perforated screen enclosing the approach walkway. The effect is reminiscent of the quality of light one experiences while standing beneath a native mesquite tree canopy. As the visitor proceeds up into this space and turns the first corner, the passage continues to narrow. Looking ahead toward the end of this section, the visitor is drawn by the promise of conclusion which, in fact, is not an end to the journey but instead a delightful intersection of open landscape views to the right, while to the left this cool, shaded space is terminated by a shallow pool, the source of the bubbling water first noted upon approaching the house. As the visitor turns to approach the water for closer inspection, the threshold and termination of the journey is finally revealed along one wall of this unexpected space. Once through the door, the visitor becomes cognizant of the fact that the entry sequence was only one of many unanticipated experiences that the Autonomy House will provide during their tenure.

Upon passing through the door, the house opens up dramatically, revealing an open, airy, multifunctional space, ideally suited to an active lifestyle that lends itself to entertaining guests, while maximizing the apparent spaciousness of the design. A visitor will immediately appreciate how the house is flooded with natural light, while carefully controlling glare and the heat gain associated with poorly-positioned windows. More than virtually any other climate, the deserts of the southwestern United States demand consideration of window position, and the Autonomy House demonstrates that careful design allows for abundant daylight, while preventing excess heat gain.

Las Vegas is often called “The Entertainment Capital of the World,” and the Autonomy House responds to this context in several ways. The main living areas are perfectly suited to entertaining, with a flexible design that responds to the occupants’ needs. A large-format screen can be lowered from the ceiling, allowing one to have a big-screen movie experience in your own home. The kitchen is organized for efficient food preparation, while allowing the ‘chef’ to be a part of the action. The shelving along the living space’s north wall conceals an expandable dining table and seating area, which can be stored during a movie night, or extended for a Thanksgiving meal.

During much of the year, the Mohave Desert can be quite comfortable, if the house is designed in a manner that responds to its particularities. Many people are attracted to the desert due to its mild winters; its spring and fall are ideal for outdoor entertaining. The harsh light and heat of the summer can be mitigated by reducing the amount of direct sunlight that penetrates outdoor patios and courtyards. The Autonomy House responds to these conditions by bending its form around the western edge of its patio, protecting this space from the western sun. It also extends the aforementioned perforated screening overhead, dramatically reducing the intensity of the summer sun, while allowing it to escape at night. Metal surfaces heat up quickly during the day, but also cool rapidly once the sun sets, allowing these outdoor spaces to be far more comfortable during summer evenings than would be possible using heavier, solid materials that would trap the heat, making outdoor spaces unlivable. The screen pattern, while recalling the aforementioned mesquite, also responds to seasonal differences; the pattern will be more open at its southern edges, admitting more low-angle winter sunlight, becoming denser as it moves northward to exclude summer sunlight. The eastern edge of the patio opens up to a seating area, which allows one to experience the powerful landscapes that draw people to the desert, while at night the space is open to the starry sky.

As one moves toward the private areas of the house, one discovers the bathroom, which is enclosed using an amber-colored GFRP wall material. This material causes the user to be bathed in a warmth similar to the first rays of sunlight, without having to expose the homeowner to excessive solar gain. At night, the resonant glow this space gives off contrasts with the cool blues & grays of the rest of the building, creating a balancing effect.

Architecture has sometimes been defined as the creation of memorable experiences. The Autonomy House is intended to provide opportunities for memorable experiences, and to allow its occupants to bask in the grandeur of the Mojave Desert.

new furniture piece

Well, I'm still working on getting the Chung Studio through the City of Tempe, so not much to report on this front right now. In the meantime, I thought I would share a few images of a piece of furniture I made recently. The idea was to use some pieces of material I had lying around my garage, and I needed a coffee table for my Las Vegas condo, so I dug out the pieces I used as the model base for my thesis - 11 years ago. I also found a piece of plywood from my very first furniture design project, way back in 1996, which was just the right size for a table top; a nice find.

I designed the piece to go together without hardware, and finally got the chance to use a CNC machine, which I used to cut the top. It certainly could have been made using standard tools, but it was interesting learning the process of translating the template into the actual piece. After learning this process, I have a bed headboard and kitchen table design in the works, so stay tuned!

Friday, August 26, 2011

drawings of studio project

Well, again, it's been way too long since I wrote anything on here, but in this post, I've included the elevation sheet for the ceramics studio. There have been a few minor revisions, but the design is substantially the same. With any luck, we should be in construction in early fall.


Thursday, June 9, 2011

new project!

Well, it's been awhile since my last posting, so I thought it was time. I am currently working on a very interesting little project. Scott Jarson put me in touch with an acquaintance who needs a ceramics studio, and now I'm working on the design. Below are photos of the model. I created an 8'-0" datum, above which the roof 'flies', the idea being that it opens up to receive the light. The highest point is about 14'-8", oriented to the northeast.

Construction is 2x6, with cement-board, with areas above the 8'-0" datum being clad in translucent polycarbonate panels. The interior will be clear matte-finished plywood. Honest materials, clear, simple design, well-suited to the art of ceramics design and production.

The studio takes the form of a box, with its lid opened to receive the light. The lower area is closed, so one's eyes are lifted upward to receive the sun, as well as inspiration from nature, the creator and giver of all things, all art, all inspiration, all creativity.

The hard exterior 'shell' forms a protective layer, which contrasts with the warmth of the plywood interior. A hard 'carapace', shielding the soft interior.

The polycarbonate panels will be only slightly translucent, allowing the blue sky outside to balance the yellows, reds, browns of the plywood 'lining.' The cool gray concrete floor balances the warm plywood ceiling.

Construction and detailing will express the honesty and directness of the materials from which the building is made. Connections displayed for all to see; the mark of the hands that make the studio, just as an artist's hand and mind remains embedded in the completed work.

Will Bruder has a way of saying that any reasonably competent architect can do something compelling with a large budget. If you want to see how good you really are, he says, try doing something good with a tight budget. I've always found this to be a great mantra to give students something to think about. It changes one's perception of budgets in a fundamental way, as it disciplines the mind in a way that makes the designer determine what is truly essential in any project. If the budget's tight, there's no room for 'fluff', or arbitrary, capricious design moves. In a way, being responsible to a client's budget in this manner could be seen as an ethical imperative.

With all of that in my pipe and smoking, it's definitely time to 'put my money where my mouth is...'