Starting to go through the pictures from this weekend’s photoshoot of the JK Residence, and this one is good for giving an overview of the addition.

The project incorporated an extension of the back of the house, with a new kitchen and a new laundry room (out of view to the left). Existing kitchen and a small room (nicknamed “The Vortex”) were torn out and extended to create the new kitchen, dining area, and TV area for a family of three.

I was reminded of the various other outlets I have for work that you might be interested in (if you are someone who is reading this blog regularly to follow my work). There are several other sites where I’m participating in one fashion or another that might be of some interest.

Yesterday, I was talking about the Arcbazar site that I have been participating in for some small project competitions. I also mentioned that the Arcbazar site doesn’t have a good direct way of sharing work. (If you’re on Facebook, you can ‘like’ Arcbazar and see the results of all of the projects, but even I don’t necessarily want to see all of that.) I will probably end up posting links to the project if and when any of my entries ever wins an award. Otherwise, things will probably just be posted here as I see fit, like I did with the last set.

If you are interested in finding more of my work, not everything is getting filtered through the blog, so you can also check some of these sites, as well:

Tumblrcornellbox – collected works of art, architecture, photography, and design; stuff that I like. The p s proefrock blog (this blog) is also now set to auto-post to this Tumblr.

TumblrSpeedGraphicBellows (aka Phlat Phield Photos) – this was my first experimentation with Tumblr. A series of photographs that I’ve been taking since Spring. The images are things that have texture or pattern, and things that generally are context-free and are somewhat monolithic (with a tendency to photograph

Houzzp s proefrock architecture – a website for residential architecture and remodeling.

Facebookp s proefrock architecture

Twittercornellbox 140 characters or less

This is a proposed addition for an existing 2-story brick house that was to add a new eating area attached to the existing Kitchen and a new Master Bedroom with a Master Bath and a closet and dressing area, within a fairly constrained envelope size. And the owner wanted it to resemble an orangery.

(the rest of the boards after the cut, along with some further thoughts about online competitions and freelance sites)
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[I had hoped to get this review posted at one website or another that gets a bit more traffic than my little blog, because I think this is a pretty good book. I’m posting it here, but if you’re interested in using this review elsewhere, drop me a line.]

Book Review: Sustainable Design: A Critical Guide – David Bergman

David Bergman’s “Sustainable Design” is a slim but information-packed book on sustainable design that is accessible enough for a general audience and, at the same time, remains engaging for more experienced building professionals. Far too many books on sustainability lean toward the bean counting, number-crunching side of things, and sustainability is simply a scorecard. Bergman, however, sees things in a wider perspective. More than many other books on the subject, this a sustainability book for designers rather than for accountants.

The book is extensively illustrated, with graphics to explain general concepts, diagrams to show how certain systems operate, and renderings and photographs of project concepts and completed buildings that incorporate the principles of what Bergman likes to call ‘ecodesign’ and show what these buildings can look like.

Topics are covered in brief, but with good explanations of the key features that they offer, and noting how they can offer benefits when used in a building. This book strikes a better balance between introducing the concepts and giving the reader an understanding of how they might be implemented than many other books tackling the same subjects. It won’t replace further reading and deeper research into a particular topic for a full understanding of how it might be implemented in a particular project, but it gives a clear explanation of how various systems work and what makes them sustainable.

The chapters are laid out to address the major themes of sustainability and the built environment using categories that will be immediately recognizable to anyone familiar with LEED. (Site Issues, Water Efficiency, Energy Efficiency, Indoor Environmental Quality, and Materials closely match the major point categories in LEED.) However, the book doesn’t handcuff itself too tightly to LEED. Energy Efficiency is divided into two chapters, separating Passive Techniques and Active Techniques. There is also a chapter on Labels and Ratings, which delves into evaluating measurements of sustainable claims for products and for buildings, and a coda on the Future of Sustainable Design.

Throughout the book, Bergman often points out the trade-offs behind different choices. Sustainability is never a black-or-white choice, and the reader is often reminded that there can be drawbacks as well as benefits, and that no solution is right in all circumstances.

“The objective is not necessarily to create completely self-sufficient buildings. Off-the-grid buildings are useful in remote areas, where the environmental and economic costs of bringing in power or fuel may be prohibitively high, but in developed areas, maximum efficiency may be more advantageous than self-sufficiency. Is on-site renewable power environmentally preferable to, say, a remote wind farm or tidal power? This is another example of an ecodesign question that does not lend itself to a single answer.” (p 67)

Good basic design fundamentals and concepts, such as surface-to-volume ratio for a building, are also discussed in this book. While this is not a factor that any green building rating system explicitly considers, it is certainly a concept that plays a vital role in a building’s relative energy efficiency.

The approach Bergman brings to the book is that of a working architect instead of that of a generalist author (or of a committee), making it more direct. Whether the reader’s perspective is that of a designer or a client, it’s less abstract. For example, when talking about something like lighting options, he notes some of the drawbacks to fluorescent lighting such as not being able to be dimmed the way incandescent bulbs can be. Color temperature and acceptability of lighting quality are important as well as the simple lumens-per-watt. Ultimately, sustainability isn’t about buildings, it’s about people who use those buildings.

All too often, books about sustainable design and sustainable architecture are so rooted in the immediate moment that they fail to offer much vision. They can be defensive works, aimed only against the current plight and laying out strategies to overcome the problems they see before them. Bergman’s ‘Sustainable Design’ differs by not only thinking about how to solve what are viewed as the current problems, but looking ahead to how sustainability can become a more fundamental part of all design. He hopes (as do I) that what is currently thought of as the “green building movement” progresses to being a part of “design as usual,” and that sustainability is incorporated into the design of every building as a matter of routine.

144 pages; softcover; color illustrations

Sustainable Design: A Critical Guide (Architecture Briefs) on Amazon

This is a newly revised portfolio of projects, including residential work, libraries, and other commercial projects. Some of the projects were carried out when I was employed at other firms, but all of these are projects where I had a major role in the design and construction of the building. Almost all of the photography is my work, as well.

psproefrock-portfolio2012 (10 MB PDF file)

Some of these projects haven’t been posted here or on my website yet, so this is a chance to for me to share this work some more. Updating the website is on the list next, and these (and other) images will be posted there in a more web-friendly format soon.

[Originally posted at Revmodo (a new site I am doing some writing for). This is a longer article than a lot of my other articles, so I’m not going to recopy the whole thing here, and I’m even putting this portion of it behind a cut. If you want to read it all, read it at Revmodo.]

Flowing water carries more than 800 times as much energy as a comparable volume of air, which makes water power an appealing method for producing electricity. Even before the advent of electricity, water mills were some of the earliest systems that went beyond human- or animal-power to do work. In the electrical age, hydropower has typically been associated with big dams and correspondingly large infrastructures. Capturing the power of enormous volumes of water behind a dam allows hydropower stations to produce billions of killowatt-hours of electricity annually, comparable to other base load power plants. But like other base load plants, there is also a strong downside to big dams that makes them less than environmentally preferable. However, new hydrodynamic systems are coming along that draw power from moving water and are able to produce energy with far less environmental impact.
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A couple items about shipping containers have showed up recently.

There’s a gallery of shipping container construction from The Daily Green. It doesn’t have a lot that’s terribly new, but it’s a larger gallery (40-some images, I think) so it’s nice to have for reference, although most of them are not what I think are the best examples of the type (the Ross Stevens house (pictured) being a notable exception to that characterization).

There’s also an article that takes some critical jabs at shipping container construction. Although I am a fan of shipping container construction, it’s not such a sacred cow that I think it’s out of line to ask questions like this.

“Why are people recycling perfectly good shipping containers into narrow houses with low ceilings? If new shipping containers are still being produced and steel has a higher embodied energy than traditional home construction methods, then wouldn’t it make more sense to just keep using them as shipping containers? When used as a house, some of the metal will need to be cut out for windows and doors. When used as non-moving parts in low-rise construction, they offer way more structural strength than is needed, making them an inefficient use of steel. They need to be painted often or the metal will corrode, problematic if you were counting on it as the structure. If you add even a modest amount of insulation, then the tight spaces become even tighter. “

To rebut some of these criticisms, although they continue to be produced, there is an abundance of shipping containers, and reusing them is a productive thing to do. Much overseas shipping is one-way, so there is an overstock of them that is available for alternative uses.

Yes, you could use less steel for a low rise construction, but you would have some other material (or more likely materials, plural) in addition to the steel to serve as the cladding. The trade-off is that the shipping container is extremely cheap to produce. Good luck finding another 300+ square foot space with structure and cladding for such a low price. As far the criticism about painting goes, any building material requires some maintenance. Shipping containers are made for transport on container ships, so they start out being painted to withstand a marine environment. I don’t think they need to be painted more often than a wood house needs to be painted.

Shipping containers aren’t a panacea, they’re a design challenge. That’s why I find them intriguing. There is something appealing about taking a fairly unitary material and stretching the possibilities in order to develop something wonderful.

These are a few architectural photographs from a couple of recent and current projects. (Larger images if you click on them).

The LS Residence porch renovation was to rebuild the front porch of a Civil War era farmhouse.

The entablature of the porch (everything between the top of the columns and the roof edge) had been wrapped with aluminum cladding and all of the original detailing had been removed. The wood underneath was beginning to fail, and the (once we had it more completely opened up, it turned out to be structurally very different from what we expected).

The two center round columns were still in remarkably good condition and only needed to be scraped and repainted. However, the outside square columns at the corners were both beginning to show signs of damage and rot, and were both replaced.

The new entablature detailing was not necessarily historically accurate, but is probably closer to what it originally had than the blank aluminum that had been there for the past few decades.

It’s not an attempt to be historically accurate, but rather to rhyme with what had been there before (and also to coordinate with the door pediment.

Paint marks (and lack thereof) on the original boards underneath the aluminum and the existing pediment over the door suggested that a dentil band had been the original detail. Dentils in the original door pediment were apparently actual individual wooden pegs. One that detached during the scraping prior to repainting was temporarily replaced with a gold crown.

Carpentry: Kessler Design + Build
Roofing: Weasel Bros.
Painting: AM Painting


The JK Residence is an addition to an existing home which is currently under construction. These are a couple of progress photographs.

A former co-worker of mine (who is now working for another architecture firm than the one we worked at together) recently Tweeted a complaint about having to work until 5pm on the Friday before a holiday weekend. My first thought was not that I felt any sympathy (although I do sympathize), but rather that there are may architects (myself included) who would be glad to have that problem right now. The grass may be greener, and all that, and if it were a different economic climate and I was a full-time employee of a firm, I might very well make a similar complaint in the same circumstance.

Another former co-worker of mine (from the same former firm) got a new job with a large firm earlier this year after a long period of deep underemployment and now commutes an extra 30-40 miles twice a day, and, on top of that, is working far longer hours than he used to. That just seems to be the base expectation in many larger firms. Architecture is one of the fields most badly decimated by the Great Recession, and there are thousands of trained architects looking for work, or who have abandoned the field and gone instead into new lines of work. Why, then, does this seem to be the current state of affairs?

This leads directly to an article I came across a couple weeks ago, written by Andrew Maynard, an Australian architect whose work and whose approach to work I have admired for a while. (Maynard also coined one of the best lines ever on the topic of green building: “Sustainability is like teenage sex. Everybody says they’re doing it, very few people actually are doing it. Those that are doing it are doing it badly.“) His article about work-life balance is a worthwhile read, especially for other architects. He talks about how he took a very different approach to work than his peers when he was working at a large commercial firm, and how that was at odds with the prevailing culture of the firm. Rather than fighting the corporate culture, he started his own firm which he runs in a very different fashion. “At 5.30pm all staff leave the office, including myself.” Only on a few occasions does he return to the office after hours (his commute is merely a flight of stairs).

His approach is unusual for the US, as well as in Australia. In many instances, salaried employees are seen as a pool of free overtime labor, and expectations of working extended hours and of giving up nights and weekends are common. Maynard also has a number of good observations about the foibles and “broken logic principles” followed by too many architectural employees. Australian practice doesn’t sound too dissimilar to that in the US in this regard, as well. He notes, for example, “Architects are often the lowest paid person on the building site and the only ones willing to donate their leisure time for free.”[1] Architecture is notorious for eating its own, for making extreme demands on the time and energy of those (most especially the lower tiers) who work in the field. That’s not the kind of place I would ever want to run, and I wouldn’t want to work in an environment like that if I went back to work for someone else.[2]

Around the same time, the Valve employee handbook was also making the rounds. Like Maynard’s article, it also offers some good insights into a better, more humane and egalitarian way to run a company (architectural or otherwise). The pull-quote in Maynard’s article comes from the Valve manual: “Working overtime for extended periods indicates a fundamental failure in planning or communication.

Valve has a completely flat business hierarchy. There are no bosses and subordinates, everyone is on equal footing, and teams come together and work on the projects they want to work on. While that’s not the model of an architectural practice (projects are externally dictated, rather than internally generated), the idea of a flat organization is appealing.

The firm I worked for, when I was working with the above-mentioned co-workers, had a pretty flat structure. It was a small firm (although it was the largest office, barring one summer internship, that I ever worked for), and everyone had to wear a number of hats, and fill different roles at different times. We had a boss, whose name was on the door and who was the guy in charge of it all, but beneath that, there was a good deal of flexibility. No one had job titles. Everyone had their strengths (I was referred to as the office’s “residential specialist,” and I was certainly the banner carrier for green building although the firm, as a whole, was a groundbreaker in green building) and different levels of experience, but no one worked in a locked-in role. I might help one of my colleagues as a “CAD monkey” on a project they were working on, and a few weeks later, they would be doing the same under my direction.

In the last couple of weeks, I also found myself in a discussion with an old college friend who was asking me for career advice[3] (because I’ve had a career arc where I’ve made some significant changes; he’s now looking at a career change and was curious about how I made the decisions I made when faced with those turning points). Among the things that I mentioned, was a great quote from Expect the Unexpected [Or You Won’t Find It] by Roger von Oech: [T]he renowned chair designer Bill Stumpf was asked what criteria he uses to select new furniture projects. He responded, “There are three things I look for in my work: I hope to learn something, I want to make some money, and I’d like to have some fun. If the project doesn’t have the promise of satisfying at least two of these, I don’t sign on.” (p 114)

I think this may be a better rule than Maynard’s strict 40 hour limit, although I don’t think he’d disagree with my perspective here. If I’m having fun, or if I’m learning something new, or if I’m being paid for it, then I’m not going to complain about occasionally working extra hours. But that should be the envelope in which architectural work takes place, rather than the ‘pay you for 40 and expect you to put in another dozen on your own’ that seems to be more commonly found. Putting in extra time should be the exception, not the rule

Too many architectural projects are defined by a sale of hours (the hours worked by the firm’s emplyees). If architecture is merely who will do the work in the fewest hours, then it is not a skill that is valued, it is a commodity, subject to simple market competition. That may be the way to think about pricing when it comes to getting an oil change for your car or buying a steel beam; those are commodities. When I’m offering my services as an architect, I’m not trying to offer a cheaper oil change than the next guy. The value of an architect is in the advice they provide and the decisions they make on behalf of their clients.

When it’s good, architectural work can be fantastic fun, and working with good people on an interesting project doesn’t seem like work at all. (I just recently saw a Facebook post from someone who was writing about how much she loved the Malletts Creek Branch library, a building I worked on (along with the help of those two former co-workers) several years ago. It’s gratifying to see how much people still love that building.) But not every project is like that, and that should not be the expectation of all. To quote Maynard again, “Other professions, such as law, demand extended hours – why not architecture? Law is one of a handful of professions that has a cultural predilection for extended hours. The fundamental difference between law and architecture is that lawyers are typically paid very well.”

Trying to predict the number of hours that a particular project will take seems misguided. Parkinson’s Law dictates that, “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” To try to compete on a commodity basis simply transfers the burden onto the backs of the architectural employees.

Architects complain that they are underpaid and undervalued.[4] It ought to start with some recognition within the profession for the value of its own work.


Andrew Maynard: Work/life/work balance | Parlour

[1] He also (uncomfortably) points out the number of architects who think I will one day start my own practice and notes, “The proliferation of small practices and their significant cull rate illustrates a pathology unsupported by economic logic.”

[2] Economic realities force us all to make compromises from time to time. If I take a job where I’m working 60 hours a week, it’s because I value my children more than making a stand on principle.

[3] I am the first to admit the questionability of his choice for advisor.

[4] A real estate agent’s commission for selling a building is often a higher percentage of the value of the building than the architect’s commission was for designing it. We clearly value the ability to sell something far more than we value the ability to actually do a thing.

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.