Are architects handy?

Every architect, constructing architect or when we are at it, every man, thinks they are handy. The truth is, it is completely different to draw something and to be able to execute it. And architecture needs both. A brilliant mind to invent the construction and golden hands to build it skillfully. However, we often confuse these two things together. We think that when we buy the right (and usually quite expensive) tools, everything is nearly done. And don’t get me wrong, you need the right and quality tools. But you also need to know how to use them. And because architects usually have quite a high opinion of themselves, they often dive into some kind of DIY projects and eventually, the majority fails spectacularly. I have been blessed with a handy father, who could probably repair, build or assemble anything if he wanted and had enough time. And he taught me few things every now and then when I was willing to listen. And I hope I inherited a tiny part of his finesse.

And since my flat was trying to kill me for long enough. One day I decided My girlfriend wanted to have curtains in front of the windows since we are exposed to the views of whoever lives in the building opposite from our flat, plus that murderous maniac, the sun.

However the majority of curtain hangers are meant to be attached in front of the windows or above them, so they are facing inwards. And we needed something that could be attached between two walls and the bar could be inserted between.

And as a true constructing architect, the solution was invented in a heartbeat. However the solution on a piece of paper is one thing, getting it done is something completely else. As I soon discovered.

For industrial grade curtain hanger DYI project you will need:

 

2x Face fix hangers 45X88 mm

Threaded rod M14, length 2m

Drill

Screws depending on your wall type

Confidence

Metal saw

 

And with this shopping list in my head, I headed to local retail chain specialised on home improvement and construction.

Luckily, I had most of the tools from my father (I got the drill for Christmas). So if anyone looked just at my toolbox they would probably think I am a seasoned craftsperson. That could not have been further from the truth. This was not the first project I did in our flat. It was, however, so far the best one (in my opinion). And with all that tools I first marked the exact position where I wanted the hanger to be. Then I predrilled small hole so I could screw it easily.

And that was it. One screw on each side is enough to hold the bar and the curtains, we are not holding the timber joists as is the original purpose of these hangers.

The next fight is an architect with metal saw vs. threaded rod.

Threaded rod fought bravely. Still, no match for my metal saw.

And a finished result with the curtains. I think I nearly busted the myth that architects only think they are handy. But let’s be honest. That was really a simple project. And even though it is simple I love it! I think it works well with the industrial features of our apartment. I think it is an efficient and raw expression of our flat. And since form follows function, these curtains are easily pulled from side to side and at the same time, they are not sliding, since the rod is threaded and can be easily taken out with one simple move.

The solution in detail.

And one of the by-products of this was the boost of my handyman’s self-esteem. In the beginning, I was kind of afraid since my reputation was at stake, but I screwed it nailed it! When I had an idea about this post, I was expecting that the conclusion will be something about how that myth is not a myth at all, but a cold hard truth. And I surprised myself. So for a post about how I miserably failed, you will have to wait until I will decide to tackle another project my girlfriend will want to improve another aspect of our flat.

Cheers

Ondrej

LEGO 21050 Book review

Create your own architecture. The motto of the book, which is an inseparable part of the LEGO Architecture Studio. What is the purpose of the book? Does it contain useful information? Should architecture students read it? In this review, I will try to answer these question.


But first, some facts. The book consists of 272 pages and includes 6 main chapters, each with a perspective of one architecture company. Each chapter starts with a brief history of the company and some of their projects, which are explored from different views. This gives us unique insight into what is architecture. Each company focuses on different aspects. Some prefer a pragmatic approach to programming and try to find the most efficient way, how the building can work. Some try to harness quality of light. Others focus on feeling from voids and masses. And there are much more to consider. And architecture is all of that. So as many architects are out there, that many opinions of what architecture is. And that is one of the things I got from this book. All must be considered but no all can be focused on at the same time.

After an introduction, each company shares things, that are important in their design. It is basically a small lecture from the architectural leaders from all around the globe. There are no long paragraphs of text, lectures are distilled to its bare essentials. One could say it is the whole architecture school stripped down to bones.


The penultimate part of each chapter is the exploration. There is an exercise with bricks, connected to the world of architecture. During these explorations, we can learn about scale, space and section, modules and repetition, a design toolssurface, mass and density and symmetry.


At the end of each chapter, exploration exercise is given to the design team of each architecture company. This consist of pictures, how different people, given the same exercise, reacted and what did they build. There are also quotes and other reflections about bricks, and how they cdesign tools.


And at the very end of the book, there is a short guide of few brick building techniques. However, there is very few of them and every curious mind can think of much more possibilities of what can be done with that collection of brick, tiles, plates and other pieces.

I would say one of the purposes of this book is definitely to encourage exploring through the bricks. When one sees how architects played with bricks and what they made, the immediate reaction is: oh, I can do that as well. When adults face a creative problem, the often feel fear. What if what I create is not good enough? Small children, however, do not fear, they just create. And we all need to learn how to be kids again. Kids do not see constraints as adults do.

As I already said, the book covers only the essentials, which is both good and bad. It can give you a creative headstart. Then, you are on your own. You are responsible for your creations. Be bold. And if you want to know more, there is huge number of other books which can share more views on a topic of architecture.

I would recommend this set and book for everyone interested in architecture, everyone who likes to make things with their own hands and explore. You are not guaranteed to be next F. L. Wright after reading this, but it is a good start.

Happy reading

Ondrej

 

LEGO 21050 Architecture Studio review

At first, I wanted to do a proper, objective and non-biased review. I can’t. I am so excited about this set! So many possibilities! And because this is my blog and I can do whatever I want, I will do the review my way.

I spent past few days with architecture studio. And whenever I had a spare hour or two I sat at my table and played with it. I spent a long time sorting everything, and the re-sorting it again and again. No idea why I did it. But that’s how I work, everything needs to have its place. By the way, I am still not satisfied with my sorting system, and the two plastic sorting trays and three cardboard trays are definitely not enough. I had to search through my things, to find as many boxes of different sizes as I could. And I have bricks sorted only to groups (plates/tiles/bricks/slopes etc.).

On the other hand, that is probably the only downside I could find during this review period. I started with reading the book and occasionally stopped to try something that came to my mind or just tried to build examples from the book.

Below you can see the building from the cover of the box. That was one of the first things I made. Just a quick build which outlined one of the possibilities. Massing study. To me, this building looks like a modern villa, sharp and expressive. One can imagine what spaces it contains, who is it for or where should it be located.

Second build included in the book. This exercise encouraged taking inspiration from around you and try to replicate it in a form of a building. Lego team took a bird as an inspiration. And one can really see the birdy nature of this structure. For me, this looks like a restaurant somewhere with beautiful views all around, hence the platforms for enjoying views.

Then, one of the exercises in the book was about the scale. What can one brick represent to us? That is only in the eye of a beholder. One brick can be whole city block, one building or a small detail of a door knob if you have enough bricks. And for this task, I have built one street. At first, one building was made from just two bricks. And there were very little details.

And then I doubled the size. At that scale, one can see more details and the building on the left got two different offsets of the facade. The buildings look very similar as they should. However, one brick now represents half the information contained in the first model.

So I decided to zoom on the building with the grilled facade and made it fifty per cent bigger. At this scale, one can see details of the street, the gaps between grills and penthouse glass facade on the top.

And if I wanted and had enough bricks, I could have made just an apartment or focus on the penthouse on top. We are the masters of the scale here.

One of the possibilities how to represent a building is a section. This can also be done with bricks. Maybe architecture is not about what there is, but what there is not. We occupy the void in space, so voids might be more important than elements surrounding you.

And when I was away, my girlfriend made this playful herd of sheep. She used to build these when she was a little kid. You need five bricks for a sheep. Fair.

And how about to explore the modular design with bricks? The brick itself is an example of module. What if we replicate them several times? Stack them on top of each other? Next to? Module can help with both the design and execution. I made a tower out of nine same modules and then I modified them.

Still same core module. Each of them slightly changed. Structural parts remain, details have changed. Variety in uniformity.

And what about texture? Smooth, rough, bumpy, swirling, soft, sharp. Bricks can do a lot.

Experiment with different textures.

But the question everybody wants an answer to. Can it really be used as a design tool or is it just an overpriced toy? One of my favourite quotes can give us an answer. Every tool is just as clever as is its user. Bricks are not omnipotent, but with the right mindset, they are just as useful as sketching by hand or massing in any 3D software. It can be used as an initial study model just efficiently as foamcore, exploring programming, visualization of ideas or outlet to kickstart your brain into creative mode. I have a sketchbook for ideas, whatever clever pierces my skull, I catch it. And during this playful time with studio, I reached for my sketchbook many times. The ideas were only tangentialy connected to bricks, they were more of a general ideas that might be explored and they were not ntertwined with my models. However, it shows that my brain got into creative mode, and that is damn hard thing to do. Being creative is pretty hard job. New and useful ideas are scarce. Studio can help.

Therefore, architecture enthusiasts, and even architecture companies should get a box. One never knows when it can come handy. It is not for every project and it is up to you to know when to use it and for what. And if you keep an open mind, you might get an interesting answer to your questions from a box of bricks.

Happy designing

Ondrej

LEGO 21050 Architecture Studio – First impression

This week on Life of a Constructing Architect will be focused on Architecture Studio. The set number 21050 has been waiting for me patiently for a month. And now, with the exams behind me, I could finally open it. Architecture studio is not a standard set. The sets are called sets, because it is a collection of specific bricks, which can form what the designers intended. The one official build. You are certainly encouraged to experiment, try your own creations and modify. However this set has no official form. It is like one of those creative boxes for young kids, only this one is for kids who pay bills and taxes.

The first thing that pops out when you open the package is the book. That is another thing that makes this set unique. Some of sets, especially from the architecture line, contain a short booklet about the building, before the building instructions. But here, you are getting full 270 pages long book about architecture. And this book cannot be bought separetely. Edited by Christopher Turner in collaboration with many famous architectural practices from around the world. MVRDV, SOM, REX, Safdie architects, Sou Fujimoto, Tham & Videgaard, MAD and KRADS architects, all of these left a mark in this book. However I will probably make a separete review just for the book itself. So let’s focus on bricks.

You are greeted by 15 bags, which are filled with 1210 bricks. At first it did not look like a big number. And then I started to sort the bricks. When you take each type of brick to your hand, count it and sort it, it suddenly feels like huge number.

I spent around two hours just sorting the bricks. I wanted to know what do I have at my disposal. It was so tranquil just take each brick to hand and relocate it to the box. There are many different kinds and all in them are white. It is important to focus only on the shapes, volumes and textures and not the colors.

And at the end of the day. Every brick was counted and sorted. Now I know what can I use and I can start reading the book and building. And after I will spend some time with it. I will write a proper review both for the book and the set itself.

And here is the whole studio sorted. The only color in the sea of white and transparent is the bright orange brick separator.

Cheers

Ondrej

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