Seven circles of architectural hell

Oh boy, here we go again. And this time with proper number. Catalogue houses. Nemesis of every architect. As I promised a month ago, here are some more pictures from the catalogues. And these should be there as a raised finger for anyone who wants to build a house.

Building a house is for most of the people the biggest investment in their lifes. And the amount of the money spent on buying or building a house can be very high. But everyone who wants to build its own fortress cannot be blinded just by a good price. The most important thing is the value you will get for your hard earned money.

Perfect house for a twins who married other twins. So for about 4/7 000 000 000 of people. For everyone else, this is a no go. Who would be the other family you would like to live with?

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And be careful not to get decapitated.

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Who had the idea to put a toilet at the front door? And I mean, literally, just a meter from an entrance? This toilet is clearly for the use of a guest. And the number one thing your guests probably want is privacy. The basic rule should be that the line of sight to the toilet doors should be broken. So in case you need to use the toilet, you won’t be seen. And here, you are literally a step away not only from the front door, but also from the living room on the left. So, good luck with an unseen escape from a fancy dinner to a toilet. Let’s just hope there is some proper and LOUD fan installed, so homeowners can only guess what are you doing just two meters away.

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And here are two houses for the fans of morning jog from bedroom to the kitchen. Especially the second one. If you wake up and you are having the breakfast as the very first thing as I do, you have to overcome ten meters long hall, turn right go thought the living room and dining area and back right to the kitchen. Better have a minibar by the bed, so you won’t get dehydratated on the way. Circulation around spaces is essential. Imagine you have to go this way at least twice a day. And what if you are afraid of dark? You should only get this house if you want to rent it to the producers of cheap horror movie, because that is the only place where you can see a hallway this long.

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This should be labelad as ‘How not to do zoning in a single family house’, but surprisingly, someone accidently put it into a catologue of houses you can buy. This layout ruins the sexual life of both the parents and the children alike. Just imagine that your parents are doing their bussiness right behind the wall. And they are probably trying to be very quiet in order not to raise any suspicions, so the only time they can really get it on is when you are on a school trip and that is sad. Or we can put it the other way around. One meter from your head, right behind the wall, your teenage son or daughter are exploring their bodies and maybe watching some naughty websites. The other children room has at least the buffer zone from the closet.

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Another example of toilet right next to the front door in a pretty long hallway. And the bathroom even has a shower. So the eventual guest can even wash themselves. If you are the homeowner who wants to use this bathroom. You have to go right next to the front door. You know, that place with dirty shoes, which are probably placed right next to the bathroom doors.

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Why to have a separate doors to the office and bedroom when you can have tiny two square meter hall between them. And when you want to go in either of them, you have to open and close two doors instead of one. Brilliant.

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Ugh, I hope these warning were enough to discourage you to buy a house from the catalogue. And the examples were both from Denmark and Czech Republic. And I believe it is the same around the world. Be careful what are you buying. Especially when it is a house for the rest of your life. Think of your family.

Cheers

Ondrej

Ex-centric eye candy – Austria/Poland

Architecture outside centres bears qualities which often stay hidden simply because those buildings are often outside of the spotlight of architecture magazines and they are not as spectacular as monumental high-rises and huge campuses of technological giants. Commonly, architectural websites are often focused on buildings of huge scale. It is natural to be amazed by the modern, tech-savvy and innovative buildings.

There are, however, other qualities buildings can have. It was quite a surprise this year, that Pritzker Prize, often referred to as the Nobel Prize of architecture, was given to not so widely known architecture trio, RCR Arquitectes. Founded by Rafael Aranda, Carme Pigem and Ramon Vilalta in 1988 and based in Olot, Catalonia, Spain, this studio explores local traditions, building techniques and materials. And the Pritzker committee has decided, that smaller, local architecture, is often overlooked and more people should know about it.  And the work of this trio is truly exceptional.

And that leads us back to the project of Faculty of Architecture in Liberec. Collection ‘Architecture outside centres’, published around 2014, explores lesser known local architecture.

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And it is a true architecture book. Mostly comprised of pictures. Those are truly eye-candies. And I decided, since there are only 500 copies of those books, that I should share some of the interesting buildings there. I choose those examples randomly, so whatever caught my eye, I took a photo and got a link to find out more. The first part is from the trips to Austria and Poland.

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Ecker Abu Zahra Schuppen, Luftenberg, Austria (Hertl Architekten, 2010)

Even a small shed, with its subtle earthy tones used on cladding, can persuade us that architecture matters at every scale.

Rohner port house, Fussach, Austria (Baumschlager Eberle Architekten, 2000)

Cantilevered port house, located above the flood level overlooks the area of the port.

The Timmelsjoch Experience, Timmelsjoch, Austria (Werner Tscholl Architects, 2010)

On the highest point of the Brenner Pass, one can find a man-made erratic boulder, overlooking the valley. The museum inside the ‘cave’ pays tribute to the pioneers of the High Alpine Road and their remarkable accomplishment.

Museum Liaunig, Neuhaus, Austria (Querkraft Architekten, 2008)

Art collector Herbert Liaunig decided to move his collection into a new space. After an architecture competition, concrete block, which is mainly underground to save energy, grew on the plot. Only one end, part of the 170 m long block is cantilevered over the road to invite people inside.

Steinhaus, Steindorf, Austria (Architekten DOMENIG & WALLNER ZT, 2008)

Own house of an architect Günther Domenig, which took long twenty years to build, because of the financial problems and complications from the authorities. The architect enjoyed his home only for four years, since he has died in 2012. The house now serves as a center for concerts and festivals. Domenig was a leader of ‘Grazer Schule’, deconstructivist movement in Austria. In his house, concrete, steel and glass clashes together in a symbolic composition. Despite the cacophony, the building creates a harmonious complex on the shore of the lake.

Kielce geological center, Kielce, Poland(Palk architekci, 2009)

Karst area around Kielce was proclaimed a geological reservation. Geological center, which rose from an architectural competition cleverly uses local materials. Stone for facades and interior cladding, and local flora for the green roof. The shape itself is a reminder of material which has been mined from the limestone quarry.

Bolko loft, Katowice, Poland (Przemo Łukasik, 2003)

Claimed to be the first Polish loft. Architect Przemo Łukasik wanted to create an inexpensive home for himself and his family. He used an old part of a lamp factory. He kept the load bearing concrete platform and skelet and added an industrial staircase, which was left behind after another his project. Area below serves as a covered porch, which would certainly appeal to Le Corbusier and his five points of architecture.

Art-Punkt, Opole, Poland (Małgorzata Pizio-Domicz Antoni Domicz , 2010)

Offices for a nearby theater. Repurposed from an old hostel. Interesting plastic veil around the cubic volume, with lights around blinded openings.

Polish-German Library CARITAS, Opole, Poland (M. i A. Domiczpracownia architektury, 2001)

Three very distinct volumes were built on a vacant lot between city blocks. The entrance, glass hall is placed between former brick building, which was restored and newly constructed concrete block. The final collection of three materials is surprisingly coherent and symbolizes the connection between Poland and Germany as is the purpose of the library.

Traffic node, Wrocław, Poland (MAĆKÓW PRACOWNIA PROJEKTOWA, 2011)

For the purpose of 2012 Football championship, new traffic node, combining tram and train station was built. Arrow shaped roof points to the direction of the football stadium. In a strange contrast with modern sharp shape, the trams of the city look rather archaic. One can only hope that in the future, the architecture and public transport will find a common ground.

City hall, Siechnice, Poland (MAĆKÓW PRACOWNIA PROJEKTOWA, 2012)

Example how one man, born in a small town of Siechnice, can shape his own hometown. Architect studied urbanism of his hometown for many years, so it was no surprise that he won a competition, which purpose was to define the city centre and overall urbanistic concept, since the city was clustered as a result of fast expansion during the construction of nearby power plant.

These examples show the importance of the architecture in everyday life. How the small local projects help the communities and can bring people together. And finally, that every architecture matters, as long as it is made with a pure desire to make the world better.

Cheers

Ondrej

Spend time to save time

Investment. Many people imagine buying properties, stocks or gold. But there is one commodity, which has much higher value. A commodity that is extremely hard to buy. A commodity that is usually insanely expensive. Everyone has more or less the same amount at birth, and we are spending it every second. Time. Do you wonder why rich people take a helicopter from the airport to city centre? Does it seem like an unnecessary luxury to you? They know they can make more money, the time is, however, merciless. Both rich and poor are spending it at the same rate. And that is why rich people try to save as much of time as possible. Nobody can get the time back.

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However, there is a way to save time. And we are getting back to the first sentence. Investment. What if I tell you there is a way to save time? It is not a secret. But it takes some time now, to save some time in the future. I will give you an example. I spent last few days making templates. Many different types. This semester we calculated required sizes of beams and columns. It takes between 15 to 30 minutes to calculate one. And I spent one afternoon (3 hours), making an excel spreadsheet, which reduces this time to around 2 minutes. By a simple calculation we can assume that after calculating twelve beams, I have my investment back. I invested 3 hours in saving many minutes next semester. This also allows me to try different sizes of beams in a quick succession and that can result in more efficient design.

Yesterday, I spent the evening making my own custom Revit template. I looked back to this semester project Revit file. Looked for things I spend a long time adding and arranging. Line styles, hatching patters, reinforcement bars. And I added those to my template. Changed few things that help with readability of drawings. And I am planning to further upgrade it when it will be necessary.

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This rule can apply to many things which follow the same algorithm every time. Next time I could improve my U-value excel calculator, heat loss calculator or anything else that I might use in the future. Also, our structural design teacher made many useful templates for calculating self-weight, wind loads and snow loads. So we do not have to calculate it by hand. There is also many useful software which can help you every day. For me, this software is Beamax for beams, Finnwood for light floor partitions. Calculating many things by hand would be impossible. However, someone has spent many hours creating a computer software. And their hours are saving you many hours.Výstřižek

In general, the rule is simple. Always think ahead. Whenever you do something, try to do it that way, so you do not have to ever do it again. At least not for the same time. Automatization is the key. Spend time to save time.

Cheers

Ondrej

 

 

 

Wild West Story

This year, for the first time, I have submitted an entry into a design competition ‘2017 Life of an Architect Playhouse Design Competition’.

It is an annual competition for anyone interested in design and helping children in need. The purpose of this competition is to pick the best designs for a playhouse, which will be built by the sponsor and then raffled for charity (Dallas CASA). The event will take place in July. So if you are from Dallas (who am I kidding, the only one who reads this is probably my mother – Hi mum!)  definitely check it out and you can win some spectacular playhouses.

Unfortunately, not this one. The competition was tough, there were more than a thousand of entries from all around the globe and the winners do look absolutely stunning. So I must admit the judges were fair and did not choose my piece of work. However, I believe I was a decent opponent to the winners. Let me know what do you think about my design? What should have I done differently? Leave a comment.

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But I do not write this to brag about how I am the best, so let’s step down from my soapbox and get to the point.

The lesson I learned or rather reminded myself of, is the importance of scale. In the beginning, the playhouse looked very different. My first ideas took a direction to a cube with many openings and tunnels and paths to take. (There were size requirements of roughly 2x2x2 meter cube) And during the design of this first idea, I had to have in mind the size of the client. Children. And so I spend an afternoon making 1:1 scale mockups of some of the features. I made a mockup of an opening to see if an adult can fit there with some effort to check the children inside. It was made of just some furniture and boxes which were lying around. It served its purpose though.

I suddenly saw the world through the eyes of children. The size of everything was suddenly oversized. Designing for children is not the same as for adults. The scale was different. Designing it as it was a normal building would end oddly.

And then, few days passed and the idea I had at the beginning suddenly wasn’t so appealing. So I changed my constraints. The goals for my playhouse changed. I wanted it to be more than something the children will spend some time on and then they will move on. I wanted it to have a purpose beyond it. When the children grow up, the parents can use it as a tool shed. And I designed it in such a way that I would not be embarrassed to place it on my own (so far imaginary) garden. And from these, the wild west barn slowly emerged. I researched some of the typical American barn designs and I tried to recreate them at kids scale. Red Hardie shingles on the side, with an inch gap between them, to provide insulation in hot Dallas climate. Big sliding barn door in the middle. And two true western rocking chair to sip a cold pint of lemonade after the long day of hoarding the herds.

And I spent some time researching the traditional stud construction, so widely used in the US. Feets and inches, another enemy of mine during this process. And step by step the final form of the tiny building emerged.

When I look back now, there are some things that could have been done better. Overall I am satisfied though. If I could, I would be delighted to have this in my backyard.

And the most important thing, I hope the scale is right. It was not easy to create a mini barn. To me, it looks okay, but there is not much experience behind me yet. What do you think? Yay or nay?

Cheers

Ondrej

Scale – domain of an architect

One of the things architects should be great at is the perception of scale. Sooner or later, every architect will develop an inner sense of the right scale. There are myriads of materials to help young architects with this topic. One can read the ‘bible’ of every architect, the Neufert. Here one can find every possible kind of dimensions, from the height of dining table to diameter of halfpipe for a skatepark. Someone else maybe wants to ask old masters for an advice. Vitruvius or Le Corbusier and his modulor. There are many essays about golden section and classical Greece orders.

But you do not need to do this. The only thing you really need is ‘just’ spend some time tweaking your ideas until the scale clicks. And one of the things which are important, not only for architects but more for clients and people who do not read drawings. They are not trained as architects are. Hopefully, there is a tool which can quickly set the scale of the drawing even for an untrained eye. The scale figures.

The average height of a European people is 180 cm. Of course, the size of each individual varies, but we see some people every day and because of that, the size of a human being is firmly encoded in our brain.

Our perception of the scale can be set by many other things. If the object has some set of standard measurements and we see it daily, it can serve as a setter of scale. It can be…let’s say..door. However, since we have fixed dimensions of doors in our mind. We can also manipulate the scale of the space by changing the usual dimensions of the doors. The scale is not about the actual size. It is our perception of the size. Maybe we have a huge villa and we need to break the scale down, so it does not stand out in the suburbs. Or our living room is quite small and we want it to appear bigger. There are many tricks how to achieve that. It is all just architects-magicians tricks. And it is the same as with the magic tricks – we want to be fooled.

And when we get back to scale figures. Even though people come in different shapes and sizes, our brain knows how the average human body looks like. And when he recognises one, he sets the scale for the objects around it.

So how about to try it on yourself?

Here is the elevation. What is it?

To me, it looks like a garage. The roof is, however quite sloped, that tells me that there might be some space above the garage doors. Maybe it could be a small house with a garage on this side and few rooms from the other side and small attic. Maybe it could be smaller, maybe bigger. You probably think you know the size. But are you sure about it?

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Let’s call Bjarke to help us with our problem. What does Bjarke say abut it? Oh, it appears that I was right. Bjarke, who might be 180 cm tall but who knows, is telling me that this garage door is indeed approximately 2 meters high, maybe 2,1 meter. So problem solved, I was right, and everything is how it should be. Or is it?

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Oh no! Bjarke! What have you done? Did you build an oversized house? Or are you pretending to be 20 cm tall? Can you see how is Bjarke playing with us? Now you can perceive it both ways. The house is huge and Bjarke is normal. Or is it the opposite? Bjarke is tiny and the house is normal? I am getting a headache.

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Come on! Bjarke! You do not have a pet Chihuahua, so you cannot make a doghouse out of this. Bad Bjarke! I have drawn such a nice and proportioned – okay it is mediocre at best. I have drawn an elevation and you are mocking it.

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Hopefully, mischievous Bjarke has left and Jacques finally revealed that I have not drawn a house, but rather a playhouse! Place for kids to play in a garden. Jacques does not seem to be amused. He never does. He does, however, design spectacular spaces. Go Jacques, you are free now, sorry to bother you.

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And now imagine that these tricks can be brought to any scale. People expect certain things. We expect that the water flows down and that a gravity exist. But sometimes, architects try to fool us. With the help of engineers, they design big cantilevers or slender columns which look too thin to support what lies on them. Sometimes it is important to correct the scale of something that looks odd. Play with the scale is a double sided razor. We might create something unusual as well as unnatural. Architecture is the art to balance on boundaries and scale is one of many boundaries architects face.

Cheers

Ondrej

Small architecture, big importance

Architecture books are known for being comprised mostly of pictures. They are basically picture books for adults. There is not much text, the pictures, however, speak for themselves. In these books one can find inspiration and wisdom of the others. And one can learn from them. The pictures are also beautiful, they induce emotions.

Nowadays, there are many websites about architecture, with nice pictures and renderings. But for me, the books are the real thing. Yes they are heavy and they occupy space. But I love the feeling of having a book in my hand.

Like that one. ‘Architecture outside the centers’ .It is a book published by The Faculty of Art and Architecture. There were only 500 published and I own one of the copies. ‘Architecture outside the centers’ deals with the architecture which was not designed by big names, or built in the main cities. It honours the small architecture. Buildings designed by small offices, buildings in towns and villages. These buildings are not often widely known. They do, however, carry much significance, which is usually hidden, since these buildings themself are hidden from a sight of popular websites and global magazines.

And with that premise, students and lecturers of the faculty made several trips around many countries. They visited Scandinavia, Italy, Switzerland, Chile, Japan, Poland and many others and sought architectural wonders unknown to world. Because architecture is not only about magnificent New York high rises or stunning opera houses. Not only about starchitects such as Bjarke Ingels, Rem Koolhaas or Daniel Libeskind.

Architecure should serve everybody. Architecture is there not only for a businessman from a big city, but also for a priest of a small village.

Architecture is about small village church, retreat on the edge of the world and about school in small provincial town as well. Architecture is about small local offices and architects who grew in the vicinity and who help the local communities.

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Who design remote vineyards in Chile.

Who test eccentric ideas.

Who design remote retreats.

And restaurants on edges of the world.

Who challenge the gravity.

Who do not say no to small projects.

Who shape our world.

That is why I love that book. I can peek behind the curtain of ideas which are small in scale, but huge in their significance.

Is there any building which is not widely known, but you think it should? If you live in a village or town, do you have some local architect working there? Do you think architecture should be practised in small towns? Can architects make a living in a small town? Share your opinions in the comments.

Cheers

Ondrej

Mistakes as a learning tool

I remember that at the beginning of the first semester our communication teacher asked us about being a student. Particularly who do we think is a good student, what traits should they have. I answered that student should not be afraid of making mistakes, because in the end, sometimes only by getting it wrong four times, they can get it right on the fifth time. She nodded and asked me if I am afraid of making mistakes. I said no. 

I lied. 

I hate making mistakes. At least showing my mistakes. I do not want to show any weakness. I brought this trait from my home country. The education system in the Czech republic is based on right or wrong. There is no middle ground. I always learned the facts, algorhytms and definitions and then got most of them right.

In life, however, many times there is no right or wrong. It is more like ‘good, adequate, better, not so good, could be better, optimal or perfect’ and everything in between.

And suddenly here in Denmark, we are nearly forced to make mistakes. Nobody tells us how things should look like. We must figure everything on our own. I still hate making mistakes, but I am getting used to them. I enjoy the procces of making. I value high every colleague of mine with whom I can disscuss our design solutions. If they are at least adequate, if they could be improved. People ask me about advice every day and I ask them. I look carefully around me and make notes in my head who knows what and when the time comes and I need an advice I know who to look for. 

And this whole process is there for us, so we learn things now, and not make them when they will actually cost real money. Now in our project, the only money we can make and our clients can spend are monopoly money. And for this money we are working hard every day. But we are getting one priceless thing with that as well. Wisdom.

And if it is true that you are more clever for every mistake you make, we will be so clever at the end of our studies.

Cheers 

Ondrej