What's better than architecture after school? #ArchiTalks

As I've mentioned on #Architalks posts before, kids and architecture are a match made in heaven.

After-school activity:

Now that everyone is back to school, parents are wondering what their kids are going to do between when school lets out and they get picked up.  What better than a little architectural exploration after school?  Bring a little artistry from the art class, a little knowledge from science class, a little creativity from the heart, give it a good mix, and see what happens.

That was the thought that prompted me to offer an architecture afterschool program at my daughter's elementary school.  I figured that if 5 kids signed-up, my daughter included, I would have a viable class - viable for their sake!  I originally planned to either teach a class on Mondays or Fridays - whichever got more interest.

Holy cow! I got 30 sign-ups in less than a week, meeting my planned max class size for both days!  Now, there's a waitlist!  The response was overwhelming, to say the least!  I guess parents were itching for a class that didn't fall into the normal range of after school offerings.  Everyone is so excited for the program to start.  Parents tell me "this is right up Jill's alley - she's always building", or "This is awesome, we are super excited, he's going to love this".

No Pressure, right!

School vs. education:

I guess there are more kids who straddle the right/left brain-divide in these early elementary years than I thought.  Why allow that superpower to get squelched under the rigors of school?  Was it Mark Twain that said "Don't let school get in the way of an education?"

As I've written in a previous post, I was good at school and always got good grades, but it wasn't till I went to architecture school that I had that thirst to learn more and passion to immerse myself in my field of study.  The only explanation, besides the fact that architecture is so fascinating, is that I could have one foot in the creative world and one foot in the analytical.  So yes, I can relate.

So, what's the class going to be like?  I don't really think about it as a lecture series.  Yawn!  Rather, I believe in the idea of encouraging curiosity and sustaining inquiry.  Not coincidentally, this is the central idea at Magellan International School.  Perhaps, that's another reason why my Architecture After-School program appeals to so many of the parents and their kids.

Topics of interest:

The challenge is not really what to talk about, rather where should I stop? The sky is the limit.  I taught a couple architecture classes over the summer at ACE Academy that I cleverly called "Through the looking glass - How this modern material changed the face of architecture", and "The Big Feat - Design and Construction of Olympic Facilities".  So, I've got a theme going with a twist on children's' classics story books.

This fall, my program is titled "No place like home" borrowing from the classic Wizard of Oz.  I'm taking the kids on a tour of homes from around the world, exploring the idea of home and what it means to different people.  We will study different methods of construction and technologies, design aesthetics, environmental effects, factors like culture, community, lifestyle that affect forms and neighborhood arrangements.  Kids will wonder at the diversity of what people consider home - from the cramped high rise apartments of Hong Kong to luxurious grounds of the Buckingham Palace;  the favelas of Rio to the exquisite victorian row houses of San Francisco...The idea of home means different things to different people, yet we all find love and comfort in our home.  Kids will engage in activities such as sketching, model building, and design projects.

Right now I'm deep into the lesson planning phase and really looking forward to meeting all the kids!  Their enthusiasm is sure to make this semester a very educational and fun experience.

Want to stay updated? Like and follow the ArchiKids facebook page.



This post is a contribution to the #ArchiTalks series of blog posts.  For other blog posts on “Back to School”, please click on links below.

Jeff Echols - Architect Of The Internet (@Jeff_Echols) What Have We Learned? It's Back To School For #ArchiTalks 21

Mark R. LePage - EntreArchitect (@EntreArchitect) Back to School: Marketing for Architects

Bob Borson - Life of An Architect (@bobborson)

Cormac Phalen - Cormac Phalen (@archy_type) Back to School Again

Matthew Stanfield - FiELD9: architecture (@FiELD9arch) Designing Back to School

Marica McKeel - Studio MM (@ArchitectMM) ArchiTalks: "Back To School"

Lora Teagarden - L² Design, LLC (@L2DesignLLC) 4 Tips As You Go Back To School

Enoch Sears - Business of Architecture (@businessofarch) Back to School!

Lee Calisti, AIA - Think Architect (@LeeCalisti) good to go back to school

Michele Grace Hottel - Michele Grace Hottel, Architect (@mghottel) #architalks 21 "back to school"

Kyu Young Kim - Palo Alto Design Studio (@sokokyu) Back to School: Seoul Studi

Jarod Hall - di'velept (@divelept) Back to {Architecture} School

brady ernst - Soapbox Architect (@bradyernstAIA) Back to the Cartography Board

Brian Paletz - The Emerging Architect (@bpaletz) Back to School

Michael LaValley - Evolving Architect (@archivalley) #ArchiTalks / 15 Ways to Make the Most of Your Architectural Education

Eric Wittman - intern[life] (@rico_w) getting [schooled] again

Jared W. Smith - Architect OWL (@ArchitectOWL) Back to School...

Michael Riscica - Young Architect (@YoungArchitxPDX) Let’s Get Back To (Architect) School …or Work.

Drew Paul Bell - Drew Paul Bell (@DrewPaulBell) Back to School...Suckasssssss

Keith Palma - Architect's Trace (@cogitatedesign) bettermenTen

Adam Denais - Defragging Architecture (@DefragArch) [ArchiTalks #21] 10 Things Architecture Students Say Going Back to School

Jim Mehaffey - Yeoman Architect (@jamesmehaffey) Back to School? It Doesn't Stop there for Architects.

Tim Ung - Journey of an Architect (@timothy_ung) 10 Things I wish I knew about Architecture School

Glass in Architecture - Summer Wonders #ArchiTalks

Phew! I made it through 2 whole weeks of summer school.  You see, I've been busy teaching a class for Summer Wonders at Ace Academy, a local school for gifted kids, called "Architecture Through The Looking Glass".  Here's a peek into my class about glass in architecture. The course introduces young kids to a world of architectural studies, where the boundaries between science and art are blurred, just as much as the separation between discovery and imagination.  It's a space where I believe kids thrive. They effortlessly juggle reality and fantasy.  And that makes for a great architect.

Course curriculum summary

Over 10 days, we wove the history of glass with the history of architecture, threading the past with the present, and imagining the future.

What is glass? What are its characteristics? What is it made of? Is it available in nature? We studied natural glass in contrast to manmade glass, and made the journey from ancient glass-making to modern glass manufacturing - all in the context of how this magical material has transformed architecture.

What is the role of glass in architecture? What was architecture before glass vs. now? From medieval castles to elaborate renaissance cathedrals to contemporary skyscrapers, the exploration of glass as a building material has played a critical role in the evolution of architectural styles through history.

What did we learn?

We traveled through time to see the ancient architecture of Egypt, India, and the Americas; the innovative designs of the Greeks and Romans; and their evolution to Romanesque and Gothic architecture.

“Let there be light” got a whole new meaning when glass rondels and stained glass windows were incorporated into the churches and palaces. We’ve come a long way since then in just the last 150 years.

We explored the fascinating art of blown and spun glass as seen in the amazing creations of Chihuly, and finally the mass manufacturing of float glass as seen all around us in our present day.

The kids learnt about the post-industrial-revolution era of glass buildings and the green house effect. They constructed their own version of the Crystal Palace. They were introduced to modern architecture and the minimalist period, when the 'Glass House' designed by Architect Philip Johnson was made possible, thanks to the wonder of glass. We studied the Louvre Pyramid in Paris, and Apple's flagship store, also known as the Glass Cube, in New York City.

Today, we live in the glass age.

Is glass breakable? Bendable? Stronger than steel? You might be surprised to learn that our traditional ideas about glass are being shattered as we speak.

Structural glass buildings, intelligent glass, laminated glass decks and stairs, building integrated photovoltaic (BIPV) glass panels, etc., celebrate advancements in glass technology.  We build taller and taller skyscrapers clad in glass curtain walls, no matter the climate.  As seen in the Burj Khalifa, Dubai, which holds the record for the world's tallest installation of an aluminum and glass facade. The architectural glass provides solar and thermal "protection" as well as an anti-glare shield from the intense desert sun, extreme diurnal variations, and strong winds.  Sigh!

So, what does the future hold? What innovations can we expect to see in glass technology in the coming years? Last but not least, the kids participated in a design exercise where they have to imagine and design the buildings of their future.

Multi-sensory learning

The idea acknowledges that kids learn in different ways and that students learn best when information is presented in different modalities - visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and tactile. In that spirit, the course was peppered with visual presentations, discussions, and hand-on activities that resulted in a lot of projects.  Projects with large footprints. Sorry parents!

Learning by doing - glass in architecture

Kids love making stuff.  Of course!  They learn by doing!  And what's an architecture class without some model-making.

The kids built post and beam structures, pyramids, and tepees.  They built green houses, and skyscrapers.

I was amazed at how fast they were able to decide what they were going to make. They were always eager to head down to the treasure room to pick up materials from the piles of recycled everyday stuff. I found myself repeating the concept of planning vs. doing. But, they didn't waste time planning, they immediately got to work.

The kids made art with sugar glass. They designed and created rose windows.

Learning visually - glass in architecture

The kids loved the slideshow presentations and videos.  Below are links to some of the short videos we watched.

Blown Glass - Genuine Rondels Rolled Glass Float Glass Greenhouse effect The Glass Age - Who doesn't love the MythBusters? Part 1 & Part 2 Our Future - glass in architecture and our lives

Overall, it was a great experience for me.  And the kids, I hope!

As a mother of 2 young kids, I'm no stranger to the unbounded energy and passion that children posses.  But, teaching K-6th graders from 9am-3pm took my understanding to another level.  I have a renewed appreciation for teachers and what they do to for our children.  Walk a mile in someone else's shoes, right!  So, my heartfelt thank you to all you teachers out there, for your hard work, your creativity, and for pouring your heart into our kids future.



This post is a contribution to the #Architalks series of blog posts.  For other blog posts on “Summer”, please click on links below.

Enoch Sears - Business of Architecture (@businessofarch) Summer is a Great Time To Market Your Architecture Firm!

Bob Borson - Life of An Architect (@bobborson)

Marica McKeel - Studio MM (@ArchitectMM) Summer : A Review

Lee Calisti, AIA - Think Architect (@LeeCalisti) summer working, had me a blast

Evan Troxel - Archispeak Podcast / TRXL (@etroxel) Lake Powell

Lora Teagarden - L² Design, LLC (@L2DesignLLC) Seasons of Summer

Jes Stafford - MODwelling (@modarchitect) The Dog Days of Summer

Eric T. Faulkner - Rock Talk (@wishingrockhome) Summer -- Architecture Imagery

Michele Grace Hottel - Michele Grace Hottel, Architect (@mghottel) #Architalks 20 "summer" and architecture

Stephen Ramos - BUILDINGS ARE COOL (@sramos_BAC) 4 Secrets To Getting The Most Out Of Your Summer Internship

Brian Paletz - The Emerging Architect (@bpaletz) Summer Surprise

Michael LaValley - Evolving Architect (@archivalley) An Acrophobic Architect's Illuminating Summer of Roofs

Brinn Miracle - Architangent (@architangent) 4 Reasons Solar Power is a Hot Topic

Emily Grandstaff-Rice - Emily Grandstaff-Rice FAIA (@egrfaia) Seasonal change

Jarod Hall - di'velept (@divelept) ... and the livin's easy

Drew Paul Bell - Drew Paul Bell (@DrewPaulBell) Summer Rhythms

Jeffrey A Pelletier - Board & Vellum (@boardandvellum) Do I Need to Hire an Architect?

Samantha Raburn - The Aspiring Architect (@TheAspiringArch) An Architectural Spark for your Summer

Kyu Young Kim - Palo Alto Design Studio (@sokokyu) Summer in Seoul

Keith Palma - Architect's Trace (@cogitatedesign) [Dis]Connected Summer

Adam Denais - Defragging Architecture (@DefragArch) 5 Things to Make the Most of Your Summer

Jim Mehaffey - Yeoman Architect (@jamesmehaffey) An Architect Summer


Talking to kindergarteners about architecture

I went into my daughter's kindergarten class today to talk about architecture.  I wanted to share my love for architecture with these wide-eyed 6 year olds.  My intent was to whet their appetite for creativity and design. Maybe one of these kids might get inspired to become an architect.  As you might have heard "it's hard to become what you don't see".  Actually, as I write this I am realizing that in 20 years, when these kids are 25-26 (and I am 60!), I could be hiring and working with one of them!

I also wanted to create an awareness about what architects do, much in keeping with the purpose of this blog.  Of course, they didn't need me to tell them that architects design buildings.  They already knew that. So, I talked to them about what informs architectural design.

They have been learning about 'the environment and human societies'; inquiring about 'who they are' and 'how they express themselves'; wondering about seasons and 'where they are in time and place'; 'simple machines' and 'how the world works'.  These are their 'units of inquiry' thus far in kindergarten.

Doesn't all that sound like the perfect set-up for a presentation on what informs architectural design? It's like sowing seeds on a freshly plowed field that is all set for a ripe harvest.

We talked about Roman architecture and the exploration of innovative construction systems that gave us the arches, barrel vaults, and domes.

We talked about settlements in different climates around the world - how density of built environment is a response to climate, culture, and construction materials.  We contrasted dense urban areas to the typical american sub-urban neighborhood,  The kids remarked about the abundance of greenery in suburbia and I tried to draw attention to the abundance of paved road area.

We talked about architectural styles, sloped roofs and flat roofs, what works for extreme climates and what doesn't.  I had to tell them about Frank Llyod Wright and Falling Water!  6 year olds are not the only ones who get excited about a waterfall through a house.

We talked about the different climate zones in the US. We talked about heat, humidity, and comfort. We talked about how the sun's path in the sky in the summer and winter are different and how we can take advantage of that when we design buildings to keep us comfortable.

Did I lose them? Did I overload them with too much information? Maybe!

Or perhaps, this is the moment (s)he will talk about when (s)he receives his/her Pritzker Prize in 50 years :)

These kids are the architects of the future.  Even if none of them choose architecture as their career, they will design and shape the world in their own way.

Architecture is a very versatile field.  It engages right and left brain.  So engaging in architectural pursuits is prefect for kids of all ages who are trying to explore their gifts and interests.

I love the inquiry-based learning environment in my daughter's school.  Every time I do one of these projects with her class, I wish I was a kid all over again.  The school outlines 'units of inquiry' that delve deeper and deeper at subsequent grade levels.  What I (selfishly) love most is that they encourage parents to come and present their expertise and knowledge - much more stimulating (not to mention inspiring) than listening to your teacher drone on about something that might be on a test.  After all, the parent body is a vast network of people with real-world skills and a variety of talents, people from different backgrounds, every single one contributing as citizens of the world.

Viva La Education!




My First Project - The First Solar Decathlon #Architalks

I suspect this Architalks topic was meant to induce nostalgia - shuffle through some old pictures (remark on how young and thin we were back then), dig up fading memories, and reminisce about good times.  Why else would one want to revisit their first project? Well, I would like to talk about my first-ever design project that got built.  It was a competition project that I was involved in when I was in graduate school.  We slogged over it for 4 long semesters, including a sweltering summer of hands-on construction.

At the end of that project, I was tanned beyond recognition, had calluses that a rancher would envy, and knew a lot about energy production and efficient building systems design.  This is where my math brain really came in handy.

It takes me back 15 years to the year 2000, right at the turn of the 21st century.  I had traveled from a far away land (India) to be part of The University of Texas at Austin.  I was working on my Masters at The School of Architecture, which was one of the few schools that offered a "Design with Climate" graduate degree program.  The future was full of promise.  It was going to be awesome.

Solar Decathlon The US Department of Energy (DOE) had just announced a national collegiate competition.  Their purpose was to raise public awareness of energy-efficient design and construction as well as to foster innovation in multidisciplinary fields of clean energy.  The competition challenge was to design, build, and operate a solar powered house, completely off-the grid.  The entries would be tested and evaluated based on 10 different contests.  The criteria included aesthetics, affordability, innovation, energy efficiency, comfort, livability, commuting, etc.  They called it the Solar Decathlon.

The first-ever Solar Decathlon was held in October 2002 and teams were to assemble their houses on the National Mall in Washington D.C.  It was such a huge success that the competition has since expanded to include other countries, and occurs biennially.  The 7th Solar Decathlon took place this past month, October 2015.

Team UT We (the grad students in the "Design with Climate" program, under the leadership of Professor Michael Garrison) teamed up with Pliny Fisk and his Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems (also called Max's Pot), here in Austin.

Solar Decathlon 2002

Our design We designed a home-office that harkened to the old dog-run style houses.  Since we had to produce our own power using clean energy (solar photo-voltaics), we did not want to spend it all on air-conditioning.  Also, in the hot-humid climate that we experience in Austin, a summer breeze can do much to keep you comfortable.  So, a dog-run style breezeway created opportunities for outdoor spaces to enjoy a cool morning or evening in the shade.

The most unique feature of our design was that the kitchen/ bathroom component of the house was fulfilled by an Airstream (à la, true Austin Weird).  Brilliant, right?!  This way, we eliminated having to build one of the most complicated systems in a household (plumbing, installing appliances), we isolated the parts of the house that produce the most heat and humidity (kitchen and bath), and added the convenience factor (if you take a trip, you take your kitchen/ bath with you).

The south facing roof was fitted with 3.6KW of photo-voltaic panels that harnessed solar energy that we stored in batteries.

I was in-charge of the production of hot water.  We looked at several solar water heating options, including the old-fashioned flat plate collectors, but the numbers did not work out.  We eventually found a more high-tech product in the Thermomax evacuated tubes. This also allowed us to use hot water for space-heating.  The glass tubes with the copper pipes and filaments looked so beautiful, gleaming in the sunlight, that we decided to expose the underside and use it like a pergola.

For ease of construction, transport-ability, and easy assembly at the competition venue, the house was comprised of a kit of parts.  The layout of spaces followed a modular structural grid.  We built the house at Max's Pot over the summer semester.  We then disassembled it, and packed it all up, and sent it to D.C. in a trailer.  We had 2 days and 2 nights to assemble the building on the national mall, and have systems up and running for the week-long competition.

Sure enough (Murphy's law), we had cloudy days when we were running our tests and taking measurements.  Of course, we had taken this into account for our photo-voltaic and hot water design.

We did not win big!  But it was quite a project and quite a build-experience, not to mention a great team-building exercise.  I've run into some of the people on the team who have stuck around in Austin, but I wonder what everyone else is up to.

The future is now. It's exciting to see the competition still going strong.  Although energy-efficient design is still not mainstream in the American home market, it's encouraging to see the continuing push for new programs, building technologies, and incentives.  For more resources, check out

I for one think, we need a new energy paradigm.



This post is a contribution to the #Architalks series of blog posts.  For other blog posts on "My First Project", please click on links below.

Bob Borson - Life of An Architect (@bobborson) My First Project: The Best Project Ever Designed That Wasn't

Marica McKeel - Studio MM (@ArchitectMM) My "First Project"

Jeff Echols - Architect Of The Internet (@Jeff_Echols) My First Project - Again

Lee Calisti, AIA - Think Architect (@LeeCalisti) first project first process

Mark R. LePage - Entrepreneur Architect (@EntreArchitect) Our First Architecture Project [#ArchiTalks]

Lora Teagarden - L² Design, LLC (@L2DesignLLC) #ArchiTalks: My first project

Jeremiah Russell, AIA - ROGUE Architecture (@rogue_architect) my first project: #architalks

Eric T. Faulkner - Rock Talk (@wishingrockhome) The First One -- A Tale of Two Projects

Rosa Sheng - Equity by Design (@EquityxDesign) Why every project is my "First"

Michele Grace Hottel - Michele Grace Hottel, Architect (@mghottel) "My First Project"

Michael Riscica - Young Architect (@YoungArchitxPDX) The Early Years of My Architecture Career - My Role

brady ernst - Soapbox Architect (@bradyernstAIA) I Hate Decks

Eric Wittman - intern[life] (@rico_w) [first] project [worst] crit

Emily Grandstaff-Rice - Emily Grandstaff-Rice AIA (@egraia) Project Me

Daniel Beck - The Architect's Checklist (@archchecklist) Fake it 'til you make it

Jarod Hall - di'velept (@divelept) Define First

Anthony Richardson - That Architecture Student (@thatarchstudent) my first project

Lindsey Rhoden - SPARC Design (@sparcdesignpc)

Drew Paul Bell - Drew Paul Bell (@DrewPaulBell) My First Project

Jeffrey A Pelletier - Board & Vellum (@boardandvellum) Top ten tips when faced with a challenging Architectural project

Aaron Bowman - Product & Process (@PP_Podcast) Community 101

Samantha Raburn - The Aspiring Architect (@TheAspiringArch) 6 Major Differences between my 1st School Project & my 1st Real Project

Kyu Young Kim - Palo Alto Design Studio (@sokokyu) My First Project – The Contemporary Cottage

Nisha Kandiah - TCDS (@SKRIBBLES_INC) The Question of Beginning

Citizen Architect #ArchiTalks

If you are wondering what "citizen architect" means, and I had to look it up too, below is how the AIA (American Institute of Architects) describes it.  Sounds like a soapbox kind of topic, doesn't it.

The Citizen Architect uses his/her insights, talents, training, and experience to contribute meaningfully, beyond self, to the improvement of the community and human condition. The Citizen Architect stays informed on local, state, and federal issues, and makes time for service to the community. The Citizen Architect advocates for higher living standards, the creation of a sustainable environment, quality of life, and the greater good. The Citizen Architect seeks to advocate for the broader purposes of architecture through civic activism, writing and publishing, by gaining appointment to boards and commissions, and through elective office at all levels of government.

American Institute of Architects

Well, I just recently became a US citizen.  It seems only appropriate that I contribute to the #ArchiTalks post from that perspective.  Four seemingly unrelated topics on my mind are:

  1. Gratitude
  2. Context
  3. Diversity
  4. Opportunities

Firstly, Thank you I am extremely grateful to all the people who have welcomed me, included me, made me feel integrated and part of the american society.  Starting with my husband and his family, my professors and classmates, my employers and colleagues, and last but not least, all the clients I have worked with - a big thank you for opening up your lives and your homes.

In doing so, you have helped me understand the american psyche - your desires, motivations, aspirations, concerns, needs, lifestyle, etc, which enables me to be a better architect.

Context  Architectural design is highly contextual.  It is intimately tied to a place and people; culture, history, climate, economy, and technological capabilities, dictate the design, not to mention construction methodologies.  But sometimes, one is blinded by familiarities.

If I had a dollar for every time I have heard "we've always done it this way", or "we've done it that way for 30 years", or "we've never done that before", I'd have a paid vacation.  You're probably thinking those words were spoken by contractors, and you'd be right.  But I'm here to say, I've heard architects utter those dreaded words.  And to me, that's like dragging your nails across a chalk board.  It's bad enough coming from contractors, it's sacrilege when an architect says it.

On the contrary, if you were given a design project in an unfamiliar context, what is the first thing you do?  You start by asking questions, right.  The more unfamiliar the context, the more questions you have.  The outsider's perspective puts a new spin on thinking outside the box.

I happily tread that tight rope between the familiar and the strange.

The D word: Diversity I was struck by the diversity at my naturalization ceremony.  There were 950 people from 99 different countries who took the oath of allegiance with me that day.  The MC started out by saying "What does an American look like? Look around you."

I could not find the speech Kirk Watson gave that day, but this one he gave back in 2013 is pretty close.

Every one of you has experienced things I haven’t experienced. You’re familiar with issues and challenges that I might not even know about–would have difficulty comprehending–and you have ideas about how to solve problems and capitalize on opportunities that haven’t ever occurred to me.

Those things, those experiences, those ideas that make us different are the very things that make this country strong.

Texas Senator Kirk Watson

There is much conversation these days about the need for diversity in architecture.  If you are wondering what the fuss is all about, I think the above words might clue you in.  If architecture is about ideas and problem solving, we need diversity.  If we don't want buildings to all look alike; if we want to address issues that we are not even aware of; if we want to break out of the mold, then we need diversity.  We need architects from different cultural and economic backgrounds; we need architects with diverse experiences; we need architects who can transport solutions from across the globe.

Opportunities I've had many opportunities in life.  Sure, I've experienced bias and prejudice, but more often than not, my story is one of privilege.  I've known this idiom and it's meaning before, but I've never quite wrapped my head around it, until now.  I think it's because it is a state of mind.  I am happy to say, I finally feel like, the world is my oyster.

Thank you USA.



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Why I am an Architect, when I could have been a Mathematician #ArchiTalks

The short answer:- I am good at math and I like to draw!*

To draw, draw, raw, aw…. Not only do I like to draw, I can draw well, a talent I inherited from my father.  That skill came in handy when I had to draw a still life, to prove that I was worthy of attending the College of Architecture.  I remember sitting at a drawing board in a studio, alongside a batch of other applicants, sketching the objects that were carefully arranged on the table in front of us.  That was 21 years ago, so I don’t know if they do that anymore, but it sure set the crowd apart right at the outset.  I should mention that this was before we had personal computers!!!  (If you’re trying to do the math and it doesn’t make any sense, it might help if you knew that all this happened in India, in the middle of the dark ages!)  So if you cannot draw and you made it into architecture school (dumb luck or reservation politics), you were screwed i.e. you would repeat first year architecture for a long time!  But as it was, it was a class filled with kids who were well endowed with artistic talents.

Good at math, at math, math, ath, th.… Before architecture, I spent a semester dawdling in mathematics.  That’s right!  I wasn’t kidding when I said I am** good at math.  But being good wasn’t enough.  I had no passion for it.  While going from trigonometry to algebra to calculus to analytical math all day long was all fun and games, I had no idea what I was going to do with a B.S. in Math.  Does anyone?!  I was no math prodigy and I had no intention to be the next Ramanujan. (Dad - let’s not go there again!)

** I should correct that to was good at math. Those brain cells have long since atrophied.

Say what?! I spent most of my schooling secretly hating the abstract concepts and intangible theories of the sciences.  I could not wait to go to college to focus on real life learning!  Things I could touch and feel and see.  (No disrespect to my physicist friends.)  Perhaps, I forgot that part when I signed up for being a math major, because by definition, math is an abstract science.  Architecture, on the other hand…except for that one class I had in grad school that was so academic, we were reading Marx and Engels.  Worst.  Class.  Ever.

I preferred applied math to pure math anyway.  And now, I'm just looking at the problems from the other side of the lens.  These 10 amazing examples of architecture inspired by mathematics showcase what I mean.

Why I enjoy doing architecture: I am one of those people who use their right and left brain almost equally.*** The practice of architecture fans the flames of my artistic/creative side and feeds my analytical/logical mind.

***Of course, this is not a requirement.  Take this test to see where you stand.  And read my post architects come in all shapes and sizes, to identify your architect avatar.

Actually, these are reasons why I became an architect and why it’s a good fit for me.  They are not why I continue to be an Architect.  And that brings me to…

The long answer:- You see, at several points in my life I’ve taken the opportunity to question whether this is the right career path for me.

  1. Right after I graduated. 85% of my friends who graduated with a B.Arch degree branched out into other fields – advertising, industrial design, graphic design, landscape architecture, construction management, business, engineering, etc.  5 years in architecture school and they had had enough.  I did the opposite and decided to spend another 2 years in (grad) school!
  2. Right after I decided to pursue licensure. I found out that my undergraduate degree was not recognized by NCARB (if you don’t know, you don’t need to know), and my graduate degree (from UT!) was not accredited, so I had to accrue 8 years of work experience before I could start the ARE (Architect Registration Exams, i.e. the licensing test).  @#*$!!!  I waited patiently (silently plotting) and then took 9 exams in 9 months (one during every month of my pregnancy) and got licensed.
  3. Right after I had my first child. I realized that the firm I was working at was not very family friendly and I either needed a new job or a new career.  I had just got my license!  So I got a new job.
  4. Right after every dreaded “salary talk”. Ugh.
  5. Right about now! Hind-sight IS 20/20.

I have, on a couple of occasions, talked about changing careers - that usually lasts until I get over my funk.  I am either too persistent or too stupid.

Or I found my real reason WHY.

THE BIG WHY? If you’ve heard Simon Sinek’s TED Talk Start with WHY, you know that the core reason WHY you do something is a very elusive thing.

I like to think of architecture as ideation.  Architects create ideas.  Small ideas and big ideas.  Ideas that can change our energy consumption, enhance our quality of life, stimulate our senses, connect us to our family, friends, and neighbors, beautify our surroundings, solve our mundane and most gruesome problems, and in so doing, change our lives and our future.

The end: Architecture is a tough profession.  You don’t make much money, you have to work really hard (it takes a toll on your body too), and there are no fast results - much like anything worth pursuing in life.  It’s the long game.

I like being an Architect. I love the practice of architecture. It's my craft.



* Read Bob Borson's post on Life of an Architect, Architecture and Math (it'll shed some light on that reference)

This post is my contribution to #ArchiTalks series organized by Architect Bob Borson, who writes Life of an Architect. To see other architect blogger’s musings on "Why I am an Architect", click on links provided below.

Bob Borson - Life of An Architect @bobborson Why I am an Architect (and not an Astronaut)

Marica McKeel - Studio MM @ArchitectMM Why I am an Architect

Lee Calisti, AIA - Think Architect @LeeCalisti Why I am an Architect

Lora Teagarden - L² Design, LLC @L2DesignLLC Why I am an Architect

Jes Stafford - Modus Operandi Design @modarchitect Purpose in the Profession

Michele Grace Hottel - Michele Grace Hottel, Architect @mghottel Why I am an Architect

Meghana Joshi - IRA Consultants, LLC @MeghanaIRA Why I am an Architect

Michael Riscica - Young Architect @YoungArchitxPDX Why did you become an Architect

Stephen Ramos - BUILDINGS ARE COOL @sramos_BAC I like to make and create

brady ernst - Soapbox Architect @bradyernstAIA The Agrarian Pantheon

Brian Paletz - The Emerging Architect @bpaletz I am what I am

Emily Grandstaff-Rice - @egraia Why I am an Architect

You spec me to buy that?

Over the last few months, I've been working on the designs for a spec house in Houston and another in a new development in Austin.  "Spec" is short for "speculative" and the term "spec house" refers to a custom house designed and built based on speculating what a potential buyer, looking in a particular neighborhood and price point, would want in their house.  Stick to the bare minimum, and they will buy the other house; add all the bells and whistles, and you bust your budget.  The key is to find that sweet spot and a design that people will fall in love with.  They are custom in that the design is tailored to a specific site and not repeated on other lots like production houses i.e. they are unique. The firm I work at is developing both projects, which means that we buy the land, formulate the program* and size of the house, establish the construction budget and potential market value, decide on aesthetics and architectural style - all things normally dictated by a client.  Being a full service design-build firm, we are well equipped to handle all aspects of design and construction.  These are multi-million dollar projects, so it pays to scrutinize every aspect of the house with a magnifying glass. Architectural design, interior design, landscaping, pool design - everything from the floor plan to the floor tile is laid out on paper.

To that end, the core team meets every Friday, over lunch and cookies, to review and critique the progressing design.  We are a group of four architects, an interior designer, and a real estate advisor.  We talk about intent, big picture plans, small construction details, project schedule, what inspires us, contemporary work, what was successful in past projects, what was not; we make adjustments to the plan, exterior massing, interior volumes, materials, appliance package, cabinetry design; we look at interior design selections like decorative light fixtures, tile, wall finishes.  We explore design ideas that might otherwise be restricted by a client or their budget.  Sometimes it's a "best bang for the buck" or "ROI (return on investment)" conversation.  Other times, we revisit areas of the house that we were fine with for weeks, but then someone asks a poignant question and if we don't care for the answer, we go back to the drawing board.  Since it's a collaboration between different design professionals, the process is not linear, rather we go where the conversation takes us - all over the place!

We are now at a point where everyone is happy with what we've created on paper.  We are well past the schematic design stage.  We are mostly done with design development.  I say mostly, because that's never a closed chapter!  We have a long way to go before these babies are ready to go to school though.  We've only just started the the third trimester.   We are about to get into the thick of doing construction drawings.  While the architects coordinate the engineering and put the finishing touches on the drawings and specifications, others are working on the financing,  the construction team will soft start the project by getting permits and utilities setup.  Then the builder will start preparing the site for foundation.  I'm getting ahead of myself.

Being in two distinctly different markets, the design decisions made for each project are very different in order to cater to the potential buyer's assumed taste and values.  For example, the house in The Woodlands is much more formal than the one in Austin.  While every family is different, there is a common thread of needs and desires.  A well thought out spec house would be ideal for the family that does not have the time to work with an Architect, but would appreciate a house of this calibre.  Spec projects enable us to craft our brand, which by the way, we are in the process of reinventing.  All in all, very exciting work.



* A "program" refers loosely to the scope of the project; more particularly to the list of indoor and outdoor spaces that would be ideal in a building project.

Inspired Innovation

I like to draw parallels.  Literally and figuratively.  Literally speaking, it's a habit from doing line exercises in first year architecture school.  Figuratively speaking, it is comforting to see what lines up, who is on track with you, the familiar, that which follows expectation.  On the other hand, it is very interesting to see where things starts to veer off in another direction, why and how, the twist in the tale!  Is it new?  Is it novel?  Is it exciting?  Eyes peeled, ears perked up, everyone wants to know, we make the time to find out. Last weekend, I went to see the world premiere of Belle Redux/ A Tale of Beauty and the Beast, a modern ballet produced by Ballet Austin.  It was very different from anything I had seen before or expected in a ballet performance.  It was no familiar fairy tale.  Quite the contrary.  It was dark (literally and figuratively), daring, layered, interpretive, inquiring, lingering.  In an encore following the ballet, director Stephen Mills talked about the project, the process, and the result.  The directive was to be innovative, plain and simple.  No small feat there, but I think they hit the mark.  And I say that not because they used multi-media or donned contemporary costumes, although that certainly set the stage, but because of the power of the narrative.  It's been 4 days since, and I am still thinking about the performance, and digging up the story behind the stage.  I'm still peeling the onion, exploring the interpretations, and thoroughly enjoying myself.  Isn't that the purpose of art?

There are three things that have been lingering on my mind - the act of innovation, the subjectivity of beauty, and the fruit of criticism.

Mills describes innovation as "the act of making something better, more interesting, or more useful."  I cannot help but draw a parallel to the art of creating architecture.  Architects are known to be creative people; innovative, however, not the first adjective that comes to mind. Why the heck not?  We make things better, more interesting, and more useful!  Well, some architects certainly do, more so than others.

Aren't creation and innovation intricately woven together, being two sides of the same coin?  In the context of architecture, what exactly is the difference between an innovative idea and a creative idea? Is innovation so intimately tied to processes, execution, and well, technology, that it seems irrelevant as a concept in architectural design?  Where do you draw the line between creativity and innovation in the arches and vaults of ancient Roman architecture?  Would you say that creative architects gave us the likes of the Sagrada Familia and innovative architects gave us the skyscraper?

Some might argue that innovation lies in the process of turning creative ideas to reality, and while an idea might come from a single person, it takes a team to innovate.  Any creative person, scratch that, everybody knows that ideas are aplenty; turning that to reality is the mountain ahead of you.  Was it Edison who said "Innovation is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration."  Every practicing architect knows the long journey from concept drawings to getting the keys to the building - you don't get from point A to B without team work and collaboration.  Solo architect is a misnomer.

In my work in residential architecture, it is very evident that the client sitting across the table from me is there because they want something better.  From the initial bubble diagram, there is an opportunity to be creative and innovative.  Perhaps it's a challenging site or orientation, a personal pet peeve that needs to be addressed, the building material selection, the construction detailing, a project delivery method; there are opportunities at every step of the way. Maybe it's not the concept or the design, but the client's experience working with the architect that was the best aspect of the project.  Or maybe the waterproofing detail is the most innovative thing about the house.  It is simply better than it could have been.

Something that Stephen Mills said after the ballet resonated with me.  He said, "Who decides what is beautiful and what is beastly?" and then of the show he said, "some people might love it, some may not get it, and some might hate it, and I'm okay with that."

In the architecture profession, there is a lively debate about architectural style, with the architects in one camp bashing the others.  Our work is criticized by our peers, the public, and the media.  Have you ever seen the show "Extreme Homes" on HGTV? They showcase houses from all over the world that range from bizarre to spectacular, low-tech to ultra-modern, mundane to beautiful, yet extreme in some unique way.  I like to watch it, mostly because it's interesting to see what personal architecture looks like in other parts of the world, but also to understand what motivates different people and how it reflects in their built environment.  One size does not fit all.  Standing at the curb, it's easy to pass judgement on the aesthetic choices or the architectural style.  But if you get to know the narrative behind the facade, you might not be so harsh.  Indeed, you might be inspired.



Architects in all shapes and sizes - architect avatars

This should come as no surprise, but not all architects are created equal!  I'm not referring to the product of their work, but the process of their thinking, the difference in the "kind of mind".  Broadly speaking, on one end of the spectrum, there are the architects who design using their right brain, and on the other end of the spectrum, the architects who use left-brain processing to solve problems.  No matter where an individual is on the spectrum, he/she brings value to the architecture profession in general and their projects in particular. Most architects fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum and put on different thinking hats while juggling aesthetics, purpose, functionality, opportunity, construct-ability, durability, cost, etc to make design decisions.  However, every architect has either one strong avatar or several avatars that exemplify their core competency.  Based on my own personal experience, having worked with and for different architects, I've made a list of architect avatars. They are not listed in any order of importance and is by no means exhaustive.  Read on to identify your avatar.

The artist architect -  these architects are primarily artists. They are sculptors who view buildings as their medium, using its three-dimensional form to express their ideas. To them, buildings are monumental sculptures in the landscape. They are the visionaries, the dreamers, the trend setters, the trail blazers.  They capture your imagination with their doodles, abstract thinking, and inspiring narratives.  We celebrate these architects whose buildings stand as a testament to their creativity.  Frank Lloyd Wright (and his Falling Water) is an iconic example of this avatar.  Contemporary architect Frank Gehry is known for his sculptural deconstructivist forms and his abstract sketches.

The philosopher architect - they are the explorers, the thinkers. They see architecture as a benchmark in civilization, and take a world view to ponder on the merits and demerits of architecture on society, its cultural statement, and it's long-term effects on humanity.  They question convention, push the boundaries of tradition, and redefine the paradigm. Their ideology dictates their practice and product.

The green architect - a subset of the philosopher architect, they care about the environment and are conscious about how buildings tax the earth's resources.  They make educated decisions to help lower the ecological footprint of the building and users, integrating passive architectural strategies and active energy-efficient systems.

The building scientist architect - they think about buildings as machines.  Buildings are certainly expected to perform like machines with modern amenities like air conditioning, electrical, low voltage, plumbing, and fire suppression systems.  Water management, thermal dynamics, insulation, etc are all topics that they geek out on - understanding the science behind the details allows critical thinking in a variety of applications. They have a strong aptitude for the sciences and math.  They love calculations, and enjoy a technical challenge.

The tech-savvy architect - this is the gadget girl and gizmo guy.  They strive to incorporate the latest in automation and technology.  Their buildings can be secured, monitored, and controlled by smart phones from across the earth; touch screens and low voltage wiring coming out the ears; audio-video systems and home theatre incorporated; motorized shades and solar control everywhere; everything from the fire-pit to the water fountain can be controlled remotely; so much so that a single family residence requires a low-voltage room for all the equipment.  Okay, maybe this is a client avatar.

The designer architect - they have a strong passion for design and their work exemplifies the true meaning of design. They delve deep to identify the crux of the problem and find inspiration in unexpected places.  Their work is innovative and awe-inspiring.  I like to share this TED talk by architect Thomas Heatherwick of London as an example of the quintessential designer architect avatar.

The builder architect - These are the architects who care foremost about how buildings are put together. Their designs are limited by the question, "is it construct-able?"  They take great pleasure in figuring out how something will be built, and detail the crap out of their project, all the nuts and bolts figured out, on paper, before ever breaking ground.  Or he/she is at the job-site ready for some hands-on work!  They most likely grew up with builder parent(s), spending weekends on the job-site!  They are the tinkerers, the practical people, the tether to the ground.

The artisan architect - a truly skilled craftsperson, evident in the artistry of their architectural drawings as well as their designs; they revel in the labor of their hands and minds/ imagination; their products are works of beauty.  Their talent lies in their ability to imagine the artful and translate it into a tangible three-dimensional object. They crave creativity in their day-to-day. Their hobbies might include model-making, carpentry, pottery, glass work, bread-making(!), and other crafts. The work of architect E. Fay Jones comes to mind, although I have no idea how hands-on he himself was in the construction of Thorncrown chapel or any of his other buildings.  Having been to Thorncrown myself, it's hard not to appreciate architecture that allows such fine craftsmanship.

The structural architect - This category includes the architects who like to show off the structural components of the building.  I might also call them turtle architects, as they take what others like to hide and expose it and express it in the most unimaginable and impossible way.  Santiago Calatrava exemplifies this avatar - of course he is an architect and a structural engineer, and his designs are beautiful expressions of ingenuity.

The shallow architect - those who care only about the aesthetics - proportion, composition, cool factor, and sacrifice function for the looks (functionality is overrated anyway, right!).  They let the consultants work out all the other stuff - the systems suffer because the design failed to accommodate it.

The lazy architect - these are the architects who conform. They are so conservative and risk averse that they regurgitate what looked good and worked historically. They repeat what was successful in their last project, or worse, they copy what is trending in the latest publications. They develop a recipe.

The master builder - an architect in the age-old traditional sense of the greek word "arkhitekton" meaning "Chief Builder", being the artisan, builder, designer, engineer, superintendent, manager, estimator, and every other consultant involved in a modern building project.  I think it's safe to say that it's the rare Architect who can pull off this avatar.

Did I miss any?

All architects aspire to be artist and master builder, at once being on different ends of the spectrum. It's what you are conditioned to believe as your destiny after you graduate architecture school. But the truth is that the rigors of everyday practice of architecture put you on a certain path, and lead you in a direction. Not to mention, your personality and aptitudes get in the way.  And despite your best intentions, one of the above (less sought-after) avatars becomes your legacy.

We all need a small dose of external inspiration, and there is no shame in admitting that you are  going to adapt an awesome detail you saw in an open house, or are inspired by an incredible picture in a recent magazine.  Fact is, artist architects have patrons, all other architects have clients, and builder-architects have customers.  Let it not be said that you were led blindly down your path.



Architecture daily - more discovery, less creativity

Many of my non-Architect friends (some* of who went to Architecture school with me, but no longer practice architecture as they had the good sense to pursue a lucrative career) carry the impression that architecture is a field of  creativity - a profession where the creative genius roams free and untethered; that imagination is the agenda for the day; that if inspiration does not strike, there is no need to go into the office. Kind of like design studio back in architecture school - headphones, coffee, hoodies and jeans, trace paper crumpled up in the trash can, sketches all over the drawing board, books showcasing the works of celebrity Architects stacked high on the floor, large windows with sunlight bathing the room, yet a wilting plant on the window sill, budding architects lost in their computer screens ... you get the picture! Certainly, when I think of other creative professionals like musicians, writers, artists, or even other designers, I am guilty of the same perception. Are they encumbered by the mundanity of an 8 to 5 office structure? No, their creative juices flow whenever their genius strikes, might be the middle of the night or middle of a shower/ run/ swim or whatever they are in the middle of in their care-free life. Thereon they work relentlessly (in their pajamas, of course) like a madness has taken over, until the work has reached its pinnacle, whereupon it is presented to the world so everyone may appreciate the stroke of genius.

While there is a small nugget of truth in that notion, the reality of everyday practice of architecture is, I'm sorry to say, not so footloose and fancy free.  On the contrary, we labor each day investigating, exploring, discovering, questioning, drawing. Always discovering through drawing. What reveals itself when you cut that section? How tall is the space at this intersection of roofs?  Does that look proportional? What does it look like in plan view? Finding answers. Does this fireplace come in an 8' length?  Who will manufacture this custom door, and how much will it cost?  How far can I cantilever this beam?  Where can I buy this rubber membrane?  Where in the code book does it say so? But also important, asking the right questions. What exactly do you like about this picture?  Are you aware that doing "x" means getting rid of "y" which is actually a nice feature? Some answers only lead to more questions and you chase many rabbits down many holes, sometimes only to discover that the client does not have the budget for it.  And some answers bring the project to a grinding halt, such as a crippling discovery that a WQTZ (Water Quality Transition Zone)zone covers half the site meaning that our design concept and scheme went out the window.

What I am trying to say is that there is only a limited creative genius when there are real world constraints. Don't get me wrong, challenges often present opportunities for amazing design solutions that are truly inspiring. But creativity is a process and architectural creativity is a process of discovery.

There are days when I go into the office and all I do all day is review shop drawings, field questions from builders, troubleshoot consultants, and there is only problem solving. Then there are days when I can focus on architectural design. And then there are other days when the creative juices flow freely, unconsciously, and without effort,  sometimes when I am in the shower at the end of a long day of discovery, and it's just like poet Ruth Stone described her inspiration (to author Elizabeth Gilbert) -  it comes without announcement, rushing through me at a high-speed, in fullness and such vivid clarity, and in that moment I know this is genius. Then it passes almost as fast as it came to me and I fear that I will forget, and the idea will escape me, and I will be left empty.

Sharon George

*okay, I should say most, because really I've not made too many friends since those days

Why designing a custom house is like having a child

For starters, you cannot know before you start what you are going to end up with.  You might have a girl or a boy!  He might have your beautiful eyes, she might have your partner's bulbous nose.  Regardless, you will love your child and not ever regret having this little bundle of joy that you created.  From nothing to a whole new living breathing person who leaves an indelible footprint in your life - it's rather amazing!   Likewise, if you have made the decision to go through the effort of building a custom-house that fits your family, your personal needs, and your lifestyle, it's quite a responsibility, and it's worth it.

Your child's skin color, eye color, hair color, sleep habits, personality, talents, it's all a toss.  Well, maybe some characteristics are predictable within a certain level of accuracy based on the two people involved in the pairing.  Every child is unique and a direct result of the people involved.  Similarly with building a custom-house - the major players involved in the project have a direct bearing on the end result.  This includes the architect, the builder, and you (the client).  The hereditary gene pool for the project is established by this unique combination.

You bring your site, your aspirations, your requirements, your budget.  No two architects will produce the same design for the same set of criteria.  That's the beauty of working with an architect, isn't it.  Architectural design is a creative process, and the resulting product will be as unique as the individual doing the creating.  Heck, the same architect will come up with a different design if they sat down to design on a different day, but I will ponder on that in an another blog post.  Architects come in all sizes and shapes - that's why selecting the right architect is crucial to the outcome of your project.

Design is one thing, building is another.  Yet, the same principle is true.  Given the same set of drawings, specifications, and instructions, no two builders will produce the same building.  Most seasoned builders assemble a team of sub-contractors that they like to work with.  The process of building is still considered a craft.  While the framing might be done by any number of framers per drawings and specifications, we depend on the artistic eye of the mason installing the stone veneer, the carpenter doing the trim work, the iron guy welding the ornamental railing, the tile guy laying the floor tile, just to name a few.  Some would argue that there are talented plumbers and electricians too.

And then, there is the nature vs. nurture conundrum, which also directly applies to the collaborative work involved in designing a custom-house.  Your project develops a personality and characteristics that are dictated by conversations that reinforce or alter a hereditary trait.  At the end of the day, one cannot say whether nature or nature played a more vital role in the outcome. It just takes a life of its own.



Custom residences on Kiawah Island, SC - House Tour

Kiawah Island in South Carolina is a private barrier island surrounded by the ocean and vast salt marshes, known for its golf courses and multi-million dollar mansions.  I had the opportunity to tour some fabulous custom homes (designed by architects) during the AIA CRAN 2014 symposium and would like to share my pictures in a series of posts.  Alas, the pictures are not that great as they were taken in a hurry with my phone.  Not to mention, it was a cloudy rainy day, not ideal for great photography.  Better pictures are available on the architect's websites, which I will link to, but, this here is first person experience with candid shots. Respect for nature takes a whole new meaning when you have to design an environmentally sensitive building set in a delicate ecosystem with abundant wildlife and challenging soil conditions, lowcountry coastal climate, and flooding.   Being in a high risk coastal flood zone, all the houses are on raised foundation pilings, with the conditioned main floor almost a story above the approach walkway, the lowest floor serving as "enclosed" garage and storage that is "allowed" to flood, i.e. the houses are not on stilts.  Worthy to note here, the Architectural Review Board design and construction guidelines are 80 pages long.  So no, you won't see stilt houses on this island!

House by Architect Chris Rose

I loved this contemporary house designed by Architect Christopher Rose.  The simple floor plan layout was overshadowed by strong architectural features and a material palette that suggested warmth and comfort.

Chris Rose

The front facade and the stairs leading up to the unassuming entry; no grandiose door, no porch, no statement, simply enter.  The exterior color palette is meant to blend in with the surroundings.

Chris Rose

Nice vignette there at the entry foyer.  Most of the interior walls are finished with an earthy seagrass wallpaper, and trimmed with Douglas Fir - baseboards, window and door casing, accent frieze trim, beams.

Chris Rose

This industrial steel stair leads you up to the upper floor with the secondary bedrooms.  Isn't that beautiful - a piece of art built into the architecture of the house.


It looks like a spine.  Unfortunately, it is *not* the spine of the house.  There's a missed concept!

Chris Rose

A cozy TV viewing area under the airy open stairway.  No need for a closet under this stair.

Chris Rose

I can't get over how cool this stair is.

Chris Rose

If you are interested in the detail - thick wood stair tread over 1/4" bent steel plate, cut to shape, welded to a steel tube center stringer, finished with a layered brush stroke, for an industrial looking sculptural stair that meets code.

Chris Rose

Chris Rose

Moving on, upstairs to a hallway.  The steel structure of the house is exposed to the interior, but the industrial look is balanced by the earthy wallpaper and natural wood trim and ceilings, for a soft contemporary aesthetic.

Chris Rose

Smooth cold steel, natural warm wood trim and wrapped beams, and textured seagrass wall covering - the perfect blend of materials.

Chris Rose

Dark wood floors contrast with light walls and warm wood ceilings.


Overlook from the upstairs hall into the two-story living room below, with the tall stone fireplace and windows from floor to ceiling.  There's the architect Christopher Rose.

Chris Rose

Kids bunk beds, looking up into a skylight.

Chris Rose

Painted wood trim flush with the gyp-board and a neat shadow line created by a reveal separating the two materials.

Chris Rose

Extra long (double faucet) wall mount sink in a simple bathroom for the kids.

Chris Rose

The pool and deck in the back overlooking one of the many ponds in Kiawah.

Chris Rose

You can get a sense of the structural grid from the exterior.  The beams visible at the ceiling inside follow through to the exterior to support the deep roof overhang with steel brackets anchoring them to the steel columns.

Chris Rose

Outdoor shower mounted on the exterior wall of the lowest floor.  You can see the gaps between the siding to allow flooding of the lowest floor.  The mesh screen behind keeps the enclosed area relatively bug free and crap free in a flood.

Chris Rose

View from inside the garage looking out.

Chris Rose

Close-up picture of the wall on the lowest floor that is liable to flood - unfinished stud walls with mesh screen and exterior siding with gaps.

Hope you enjoyed this post.  Again, apologies for the fuzzy pictures.



AIA CRAN Symposium - The Architecture of Influence

I have just returned from Charleston, South Carolina where I attended the 2014 symposium of The American Institute of Architects Custom Residential Architects Network (AIA CRAN). Wow, that's a mouthful!  If you work in or run a residential practice, this is the part of the AIA that you need to follow and be involved with. I was excited about this symposium for three reasons. Firstly, I was looking forward to going back to Charleston and spending some time in the historic city, because the first time I was there, I spent most of my time on the beach.  Secondly, this was going to be my first time at a CRAN symposium and I had heard great things about the ones in the past, especially the home-tours.  Lastly, and most importantly, the theme: "The Architecture of Influence" - you cannot tell me that does not sound inviting to a bunch of architects.  Charleston was the perfect backdrop to explore this aspect of residential architecture.

"“The Architecture of Influence” will explore the importance of history and context in the design of new houses, and in particular how the careful consideration of historical architectural styles – both traditional and Modernist – can help architects design houses that contribute to established physical and cultural settings. How a new house or building looks is fundamental to how a community responds to it, and this symposium is intended to encourage an ongoing conversation about what it means to design a good architectural neighbor in the 21st century."

The walking tour of four houses (pictured below) in downtown Charleston was an excellent way to experience the city and appreciate architectural details that lend to the charm of the city - the courtyards, gardens, and south facing side porches, the decorative iron gates, gas lanterns, and window shutters, the variety of materials and colors, the weathered age and imperfection.

It was inspiring to see the work presented by architects and be part of the stirring dialogues that followed.  Particularly refreshing was the work of Khoury & Vogt Architects in Alys Beach, Florida (I wanna go there!).  Traditional style of design held the floor one afternoon, and modernist another.  The debate of architectural style was put to rest, somewhat, when Architect Julie Snow said, "the question of traditional vs. modern is a red herring. There is good architecture, and there's bad".  I couldn't agree more.

I really enjoyed the lively keynote address by new urbanist Andres Duany, but frankly speaking, I could have lived with fewer lectures.  A few were engaging, but many were a little too dry and academic for my liking.  I like to indulge in intellectual discourse just as much as the next person, but for afternoon sessions, they were long and one too many.   I wish instead, there was some discussion about matters such as how architects can shape and influence public opinion about architecture, or the role and value of historic preservation efforts, or any number of other relevant topics.

On the last morning, we toured four houses (pictures below), including the historic Vanderhost plantation, and the ocean course clubhouse (designed by Robert A.M. Stern Architects) on Kiawah Island, a private barrier island surrounded by the ocean and salt marshes, known for its golf courses and mansions.  Respect for nature takes a whole new meaning when you have to design a building set in a delicate ecosystem that supports abundant wildlife, challenging soil conditions, lowcountry coastal climate, and flooding.  Not to mention, the Architectural Review Board design and construction guidelines are 80 pages long.

I'll admit these are not great photographs, as they were taken in a hurry with my phone.  The Kiawah tour particularly was very rushed.  But, I'll upload more pictures in a separate post shortly.

Also, got myself a copy of the book that CRAN released - Houses for All Regions CRAN Residential Collection.