These are a few sketches for a conceptual mixed-use building which contains a small coffee shop and three 2-story live/work  units.  Unfortunately, the original program for this competition has a lot of problems with it — the kinds of things that an architect and client could examine and discuss and come to terms with what the client’s needs really are, and hopefully make it an even better project.  But as a competition, that level of discussion isn’t available, so assumptions are made and liberties taken with items that are part of the given requirements.

But even if the process has its flaws, the ideas behind it — the mixed-use building, the live/work elements, the small-scale urban building — are all an appealing mix, and it’s been fun project to experiment with, even if it’s not a real project.


The tall stretches of glass are channel glass, which allows for very long spans, to give the verticality to the building, which is otherwise very height constrained.  Since the pieces of channel glass are each only about a foot wide, it  is also very workable for making segmented curves, like by the coffee shop entrance.

Inside, the coffee shop has room for only a couple of cafe tables and a minimal floating wood service counter and back bar.  Some materials are left raw and exposed, such as the CMU walls between each space and the exposed concrete floors.

coffeeshop overhead perspectivelofts-overheadperspective--

The studio lofts are so small that there is only room for a fold-out futon to serve as bed and seating, but the office space on the lower level could also serve as additional living space.  The bathroom is very small, as befits a studio, but there is still enough room for a reasonable galley kitchen.

This project overcomes the very restrictive height limitations through the use of long pieces of channel glass to provide much of the glazing for the building.  The channel glass also allows the creation of a curved wall at the corner to provide a dramatic and inviting facade to direct customers to the entrance at the end of the building.

This project overcomes the very restrictive height limitations through the use of long pieces of channel glass to provide much of the glazing for the building.  The channel glass also allows the creation of a curved wall at the corner to provide a dramatic and inviting facade to direct customers to the entrance at the end of the building.
The building uses a limited palette of simple materials for a minimalist aesthetic that serves the essential needs of the building.  Party walls between units and the coffee shop are all simple CMU which provides loft-like urban sensibility and contrasts with the refined channel glass and wood panel cladding.  The exposed ends of the CMU walls help give each of the live/work units individual definition as well as providing another vertical element for the facade.
Inside the coffee shop, a minimal floating wood service counter and matching wood back bar provide necessary work space and room for storage and display.  Storage units are located beneath the service counter.  The WC and storage are in the partial height cube that projects within the back of the space.
The live/work units have front entrances on the streetfront, as well as private access for the residents from the back side.  Skylights in the roof provide additional openness to the three small studio lofts, without increasing the height of the building.

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.

Here is what turned into an essay about working with an architect that I just posted to a local discussion group. It started with a question about kitchen remodeling, and eventually turned to “…what about working with an architect?”  I felt that it needed to be said that people should consider working with architects. Builders have done a very good job of supplanting architects in the public mind, but that shouldn’t necessarily be the case.  Architects offer a lot that is outside the normal scope of a builder’s work.

Part of my purpose for having this blog has been to try to make the process of working with an architect more accessible. As I say below, most architects are friendly creatures, and there seems to be a lot of (completely unwarranted) perception that architects are only for big, expensive projects. I want people to understand that that is not the case at all.  Architects offer a lot, and more people should understand that working with an architect can help them have a better, more comfortable, more personal home that suits their particular needs.

Working with an architect can be daunting to consider, but that shouldn’t be the case. Nor should you think that architects only want to work on big, expensive projects. Most architects are friendly creatures, and would be glad to talk about how they can help with your particular needs on a project.

While I am an architect, and I want to support the work of architects, I also have to agree that not every remodeling project needs an architect. If you are only changing the cabinets and the interior finishes, you probably don’t need an architect. And you don’t have to work with an architect if you are doing an addition or other remodeling project, but an architect can offer value in terms of helping with the design process, working through the specific needs and goals you have for your home.

An architect does more than just designing the space. An architect thinks in terms of problems and solutions. That problem solving extends far beyond the quetion of “how do make the building stand up?” A good architect should be able to evaluate your needs and develop a program and a design that represents what you want.

Some builders do offer design/build services, but others mostly just want to build, and the majority of design/builders are going to design what they want to build. That may or may not be the best thing for your particular situation and your needs.

Architects will often also take a longer-term view with the project. Instead of only looking at the immediate construction, they will also give consideration to matters such as energy efficiency and maintenance costs. What will your home be like in 10 years or in 20 years? An architect will look at a project with consideration to how things will change and adapt over time. And if a project gets to be too much to undertake all at once, an architect can help in determining what should be done immediately and what can be held off until later.

If you want to emphasize more sustainable building, or using healthy materials that will not offgas toxins inside your home, or being energy efficient, or trying to minimize your environmental impact, those are all things an architect can help with. If you have a particular style you want to match or if you want to try to do something unconventional and unique, an architect can help you.

Architects can assist with selecting materials that are more sustainable, that will offer better energy performance, and that will make for a better and more comfortable indoor environment. They can help you achieve a space that is personal and individual. An architect can help you focus the effort on the parts of your project that are most important to you.

Whether you are going to work with an architect or not, let me recommend at least taking a look at Sarah Susanka’s “Not So Big House” (and the other books she has since written in a series following that). She promotes an approach to creating spaces that are more about quality than about quantity. Better functionality and a more personal space are some of the things an architect can help you achieve.

Ideally, any construction project should be a collaborative effort. When everyone is working together on the same page, the project tends to turn out better. An architect can also help you navigate the building process, and should act as your advocate in working with a builder (which can be especially useful if you aren’t familiar with the construction process). The architect can be a person to talk with the builder on your behalf or may be able to help you in selecting the builder you want to work with.

You shouldn’t hire an architect “just because.” An architect should add value to your project. If you don’t think that an architect is going to offer anything more for your project, then I don’t think I’m going to be able to convince you that working with an architect is a good thing. If you know exactly what it is that you want to do, then working directly with a builder may work for you.

Most people, though, will find that working with an architect will bring a more complete analysis to the project and will result in a space they are happier with and one that more closely fits their particular needs. An architect brings expertise and experience to help you realize what you want for your home.

Architects work as consultants and collaborators to help the owner make the numerous decisions you need to make in undertaking a building project. There are many decisions to be made in the process of doing a building renovation or building a new building. The owner is ultimately the one to make these decisions, and the architect serves that goal by understanding the owner’s desires and helping to narrow the choices in order to meet their needs.

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.

Although this is all just conceptual, preliminary investigation to see if they want to go forward with the project, I’ve been looking at a few alternatives for the building renovation I’ve been consulting on. The process has been less than ideal, because I have had to produce drawings that were used for cost estimating, but without a clear program in place. What I’ve done incorporates a number of the features we have been discussing, and it might be adequate for a cost estimate, although cost is definitely a concern, especially after some feedback that we got about this.

I’ve pared down the entrance addition considerably from the first version. There was a lot of not very necessary, not very useful space in that, so it is reduced to a small vestibule. I think it could be great to suspend some kind of planter container under the bowstring trusses and have plants and vines growing up into the trusses and helping to provide summertime shading.

Aluminum sunshades are also apparently a very expensive item. I think I’ve come up with an alternative that would be less than half the cost, and would be a more interesting design than stock items. It doesn’t render very well (I’m showing it as a translucent material, but I probably ought to go back to something opaque and metallic). Vertical screens on the porch would likewise have some degree of opacity, but not 100%. Hard to model that for now.