projects


Here’s what it looks like to have a sample for the Workantile phone booth project fabricated with a CNC router (at the U of M FabLab) today. Or rather, here’s a link to my G+ account, where I am able to upload the video (about 2 minutes), since I can’t do so directly in WP: https://plus.google.com/u/0/117985615858763443892/posts/YZzds1RZ6PU

The tool itself is a pretty impressive piece of machinery.

Thanks to Kareem for the tour and assistance with making the sample.

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The evolution of the design for the Workantile phone booth project has been far more convoluted than expected. Flat-pack plywood wasn’t the initial concept (and, in fact, I tried to avoid that early on). But the elegance of working with just one material, and of having fewer pieces to assemble, makes this seem like the right way to go. One of the design goals for it was that it be something that could be reasonably easily assembled, and the flat-pack design should be that.

Members at Workantile are excited about it, too. There was an internal kickstarter (has kickstarter already become a generic term for crowd-source fundraiser?) to raise the funds for building the initial prototype. This includes materials costs as well as some funds for a one-month membership at Maker Works in order to do the fabrication of the pieces. It was announced on Tuesday afternoon, and now, just a couple days later, it has already met its goal.

On Thursday, at lunch, I presented some of the concepts that are still under consideration. Since it has evolved into an essentially all-plywood design, it became clear that the window openings for the booth could be *anything*. There’s no need for it to be rectangular windows. Typical muntins are linear because they are built-up stick construction. The windows for this are going to be cutouts in wood panels, so it’s a completely different kind of fabrication. The two layers also do not to match each other, so there can be some play between the interior and exterior. Some of the examples for window options include the Millenium Falcon (which is also a sort of Art Nouveau look), a Penrose tiling, and a gear pattern. These are being considered by the Workantile membership, and there will be a final discussion and vote once it’s ready to go to fabrication.

The overall evolution of the design has been interesting. I’ve worked with concepts for this using both steel framing as well as wood. I also looked at a plywood flat-pack version, but at first just as a notional concept, rather than as a real direction for the project. It didn’t seem right to experiment with the ShopBot without any experience with previous projects, although that is the solution that has finally been selected.

The first concept for the phone booth was a steel frame with glass panels, using structural sections (steel angles and the like). However, steel has proved to be very expensive, even for a more simplified option. Then, it seemed that wood frame was going to be the way it needed to go. Using a steel baseplate seemed like a good option that would allow experimentation with different kinds of walls and structure. The metal base would be re-usable, even if the phone booth required a design change. But that would make it a design with multiple materials (which makes fabrication more difficult to coordinate, since it requires multiple sources). A kit of steel parts would be fairly straightforward, but that’s going to be left for version 2.0.

So now, the design is an all-plywood version that only requires some fasteners and a couple of short lengths of 2x lumber, along with the glazing and the curtain and curtain rod. All in all, it’s pretty minimal.

In addition to getting it fabricated, there will also be a public kickstarter to do some further development and refinement of the design and to make the plans available to other coworking spaces and other places that have a need for a small, private booth of this sort.

(Click on the images for larger versions.)

This is an old Greek-revival style farmhouse, parts of which date back to before the Civil War. I’m certain the detail isn’t historically accurate. I’ve worked on many projects where classical detailing was used, and while I wouldn’t consider myself an architectural historian, I think I have a pretty good awareness of appropriate historical style.

For this project, though, we weren’t trying to do historic preservation or to restore the porch to what it originally looked like. Instead, we wanted to give it detail more appropriate to what it once may have had. Rather than trying to match what was once there, I suggested that this was trying to rhyme with what it had been. From a purist perspective, I’m sure this is sacrilege. But I think it is an improvement over what had been there before, even if it’s not as accurate as it might’ve been.

The porch was showing some signs of serious distress. The original lintel beam had been stripped of its detail and covered in aluminum sheathing some time in the past. It looked like it was failing structurally, and the project was to stabilize it and return it to functionality, but not to try to make it a historical restoration.

The two center columns (which are round, fluted columns) are still in very good shape, and only needed to be stripped and repainted. The two outboard columns (which were square, built-up board columns) were suffering considerable rot at the base and needed to be replaced.

When the carpenters started prying off the aluminum cladding and the old boards, we discovered that the whole thing was a box beam that had been nested in for some time. There was lots of pine straw and grass, and also loads of walnuts (if I’m recalling correctly) though there hasn’t been a walnut tree in the area for more than a couple decades. Rather than re-facing it, once we opened it up, it became apparent that the whole lintel structure needed to be rebuilt.

When the aluminum was stripped off, it was clear from the paint traces on the old boards that there had been some kind of a band across the middle which had been removed before the aluminum was put on. And the pediment of the front door suggests what the original detail probably was. The dentils on the porch are larger than what is above the door (again, rhyming rather than matching), but they seem more appropriately scaled to the porch.

It certainly looked better after the lintel was rebuilt and the new columns were in place, but that wasn’t the end.  It took a while for the trim millwork to arrive, so it didn’t get installed before it was winter. But, now that the weather is getting better, Mike Kessler, the carpenter for this project, was able to get out there and finish it off. There is still some touch up and painting that needs to be done before it’s ready for final photographs, but it’s mostly done, and good enough to share these images.

It’s not unlikely that the corner columns are not originals, and with some of the details we reinvented there, we were repeating past mistakes. But, as I noted already, the main goal was to restore stability and functionality to the porch, rather than to try to restore it to a historical ideal.

Another furniture project is moving forward.

Today, I met with the Workantile maintainers group to discuss the phone booth. They were uniformly in favor of moving forward with it, so we are going to build a demonstration version to try out some of the materials and to get a sense of how the whole things may work. I posted some earlier images (on G+) of the phone booth concept for a glass door version. This updated one (click on images for larger versions) envisions a bi-fold wooden door with glass or polycarbonate infill panels.

A shared workspace like Workantile can sometimes be a hard place to work when you need to have phone conversations. I’ve seen times here when it has been so busy that the phone room (we only have the one right now) and all the other remote places and corners that people typically retreat to in order to talk on the phone were in use. A small phone booth will offer some acoustic separation so that more people can have phone conversations without disrupting the rest of the space. Although it’s being designed for use in a coworking space, there are probably lots of other places where something like this would be useful.

The first phase of this is going to be an internal Kickstarter to build one model and see how it works in practice here at Workantile. The first one is not going to be the all-steel frame version, for now. But we’ll do it with some materials we have available and on-hand, like some wire-glass for the side panels, and that will give us a chance to try it with different materials. Door options may include a cloth curtain, a wood bi-fold door with some kind of vision panes, a salvaged wood door we have with full-lite glass, and the all-glass door (shower door style, with the sexy stainless-steel hinges).

From that, we’re probably going to be running a Kickstarter project to fund development, refine the design, and build a couple further examples. The plan is to eventually make the plans for it open-source, but supporters of the Kickstarter wil lhave a chance to have a say in the features incorporated into the base design. Among the options I would like to make available for premiums at higher levels will be customization consultation (for organizations and people who would like their own version of this, but with some modifications; the industrial aesthetic is ideal for Workantile, but it may not be for everyone) and a full, pre-manufactured version of it, including all the pieces necessary for building one of these packaged up and shipped to someone who wants to buy one and put it together as an off-the-shelf system (much like an Ikea product, but presumably somewhat more robust). Another Kickstarter option might be to request a particular feature be incorporated as part of the set of plans. I don’t think we’ll have a fully pre-assembled version available, but if there’s enough call for it, that could be another possibility, I suppose.

The whole thing will probably be a couple months away, once we’ve had a chance to try it out and see how the basic version works.

One of the architects I regularly follow on Twitter, Andrew Maynard, recently wrote: “Just received a new commission to work on a small warehouse in fitzroy that I had always dreamed of playing with. #Fate?”

I’d like to share his fate, with a similar circumstance; there’s a building that is now for sale in Ann Arbor at Beakes and Fifth, just north of Kerrytown [here’s the real estate listing for it].

I’ve long had an idealized view of this building as an architects’ studio/family loft. I’ve seen several Chicago loft conversions of old industrial buildings like this that have been turned into residential/office spaces like that, and the building typology and the location would be pretty wonderful. I just don’t happen to have a spare 7 figures to spend on this.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t work on it as a project.

Eventually, someone is going to buy the building and want to do something with it. Unless it’s another architect who buys it (someone with my kind of ideas, plus a less anemic wallet), they’re likely to need an architect for it, and I’d be thrilled to be involved in working on this.

Apparently, this building has been being used as an indoor parking garage for quite a few years. It deserves something far better than that. It’s only a single story, so there could be an opportunity to build upwards. The site is at the edge between the Kerrytown district and a residential neighborhood. It’s not right for a huge expansion, and I suspect the irregular size and tight site would make it prohibitively difficult to do anything that really blew out the existing building.

So, let me know if you’re interested in doing something with this building, or if you know someone who would like to do something with it.

Posting has been slow of late, so this is an update about current projects and activities.

The Corner Brewery addition is under construction, and last week the structure of the premanufactured building finally started coming together. The photo (above) is the first arch of the addition building, with the existing building beyond. The building will be assembled from a number of these sections attached together to make a long, deep-ribbed structure. Before it was raised, this part was lying on the ground, and, since it was a windy day, the loose ends of the metal were being blown around. But, as it is assembled, the whole thing should be strong and self-supporting. Hopefully there will be good weather in the next week or so, and there can be some better progress photography.

On a personal front, I will be teaching a LEED exam prep course for Wayne County Community College this fall. I’ve been a study group facilitator for a few previous LEED-AP and LEED-GA study groups working with USGBC, but this will be more on my own. I have my own syllabus to develop and go through the material in a longer format than the study groups. I’m looking forward to getting back into LEED again. Even when I have mixed feelings about its true effectiveness (LEED is, at its essential core, a marketing program, not a way to build the greenest buildings possible), I recognize that it has done a lot to raise awareness of the importance of building greener buildings and to recognize some buildings that have been leaders in advancing the technology.

A couple of residential projects are at the early stages, but not at a point where there’s much to show. It’s good to have interesting design challenges, even with smaller projects. I suppose if these were simple projects, they would just be talking with a builder. But having to re-configure an old farm house for a more contemporary lifestyle and fitting a 2-car garage into a side-yard only wide enough for a single width driveway are the kinds of things that are interesting to work through.

Some renderings of the Corner Brewery with the addition included:

There was also an article in last week’s AnnArbor.com about the project, though it doesn’t mention p s proefrock architecture.

The majority of the model building was not done by me. I took the model that the SNRE students were working with and just added the metal building addition.

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