Residential Design – Hangman House

Elevation View
Elevation View

Well 2012 is almost over and to close out the year here is another funky residence for your enjoyment. Sometimes an idea that you put to paper initially turns out to be a dud, but revisiting it some time later will often give you new incite and new ideas will emerge from the rubble. That was the case with this project. I initially sketched out a design but didn’t really see a good way of arranging the rooms. The original massing of the building also changed with the later iterations.
Photo of model with the Original Massing in purple
Photo of model with the Original Massing in purple

Original massing of house
Original massing of house
What remained was the idea of interlocking parts that insert into one another. The name Hangman house should be obvious as the third floor profile mimics the shape of a human head. I think it is kind of striking. This three bedroom 2.5 bath home places all the living spaces on the second floor with the secondary bedrooms on the ground floor; a more typical European/Japanese home arrangement. The house is clad with Cor-Ten steel panels with exterior concrete walls. One of the best features of the home is a large walkout bay window with a built in window seat. This could easily double as a secondary eating area if one desired to use it that way. As always photos of the home and plans will be at the bottom of the post.

Photo Gallery

Residential Design – The QuaDror House

Hello again readers,

I saw this product featured in Dwell magazine and it intrigued me enough to want to use it in a design. The QuaDror Support system was created by the Industrial designer Dror Benshetrit as an alternative to the traditional lally column used to support most buildings today. His system combines 4 V-Shaped pieces to create a sawhorse-like buttress that will hold the weight of the floor above it.

Examples of QuaDror System in a Prefab House

In addition to the structural system, Dror also created a desk that mimics the same sawhorse design. Both the desk and the support system were used in my design.

QuaDror Compact Desk by Dror Benshetrit
Unlike the prefab houses that were shown in the Dwell article, my design is considerably more custom. My house has 3 bedrooms/3.5 baths with luxury amenities such as an elevator, infinity edge pool, game room, finished basement rec room, separate office, 2 fireplaces, and a carport for 2 cars. The house uses 5 QuaDror support trestles (4 in the basement and 1 on the ground floor). I tried to integrate them as much as possible into the living spaces as you can see from the photos in the gallery below. The study is supported completely by one trestle leaving the space underneath open for a carport. The movie I created of the house will give you a good view of the 2 most evident trestles.

View of QuaDror House from the Street

Photo Gallery

Home Movie

Residential Design – English Country Estate


It has been awhile since I posted a new design so without further adieu here it is. This castle like structure is a 4 bedroom 3.5 bath home with every feature under the sun. I took my inspiration from the work of H.H. Richardson’s libraries using his Crane Library specifically to guide the massing of the house.

Crane Library – H.H. Richardson

I also researched the common features in old English homes and attempted to incorporate as many of those details as well. Such features as a Great Hall and a Folly, a Greek building facade not unlike a set piece that became popular in the mid 1700s with a resurgence of interest in all things Greek. These Follies were placed on the grounds of the estate and served as conversation pieces and locations for events and parties.
Example of a Folly
With parties in mind, this house offers a large living room, billiards room, massive dining hall with its own minstrels’ gallery overlooking the dining room, wine cellar, library and extensive grounds all to entertain the perspective guest. Below are plans and photos of the property.

Photo Gallery

Commentary – Architecture School Rankings for 2013

Even though the Architecture profession exists in its own little world, they too possess a ranking system which attempts to rate the various design schools available to students in the US. Unlike the US News/World Report findings which cover all US colleges/universities, a firm called Design Intelligence compiles its own findings through interviews with design school students and uses a variety of other criteria specific to design schools to determine America’s best design schools. Keep in mind that there are only about 100 schools in the US that offer an accredited degree in Architecture and in some states there is not even one school that offers an accredited degree, so you need to do your homework if you are seriously considering Architecture or Interior design as a career option. For an official list of accredited schools click here.

The list below taken from the Design Intelligence Survey ranks the top twenty schools for the different design majors.

Top 20 Architecture, Graduate

1.Harvard University
2. Columbia University
3. Yale University
4. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
5. Cornell University
6. Southern California Institute of Architecture
7. University of Virginia
7. University of California, Berkeley
9. Washington University in St. Louis
10. University of Cincinnati
11. University of Michigan
11. University of Texas at Austin
13. Kansas State University
14. University of Kansas
15. University of Pennsylvania
15. Rice University
15. Princeton University
18. Iowa State University
18. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
20. Clemson University
20. Savannah College of Art and Design

Top 20 Architecture, Undergraduate

1. Cornell University
2. Southern California Institute of Architecture
3. Rice University
3. Syracuse University
5. California Polytechnic State Univ., San Luis Obispo
6. University of Texas at Austin
7. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
7. Rhode Island School of Design
9. Iowa State University
9. Auburn University
11. Pratt Institute
12. Carnegie Mellon University
13. University of Notre Dame
13. University of Oregon
13. Boston Architectural College
16. University of Southern California
16. Cooper Union
18. Pennsylvania State University
19. University of Arkansas
19. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Top 15 Landscape Architecture, Graduate

1. Harvard University
2. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
3. Cornell University
3. Louisiana State University
5. University of Virginia
6. University of Pennsylvania
7. Pennsylvania State University
7. Rhode Island School of Design
7. Texas A&M University
10. University of California, Berkeley
11. Kansas State University
11. University of Georgia
13. Auburn University
13. University of Texas at Arlington
13. University of Texas at Austin
13. University of Washington

Top 15 Landscape Architecture, Undergraduate

1. Louisiana State University
2. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
3. Pennsylvania State University
4. Kansas State University
5. Texas A&M University
6. Cornell University
7. Calif. Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo
7. Purdue University
7. University of Georgia
10. Ball State University
11. Iowa State University
11. Texas Tech University
13. California State Polytechnic University, Pomona
13. Michigan State University
13. Ohio State University

Top 10 Interior Design, Graduate

1. Savannah College of Art and Design
2. Rhode Island School of Design
3. Pratt Institute
4. Cornell University
4. Parsons The New School for Design
6. New England School of Art & Design at Suffolk Univ.*
6. School of the Art Institute of Chicago
8. Boston Architectural College*
9. Kansas State University*
9. University of Oregon


Top 10 Interior Design, Undergraduate

1. Savannah College of Art and Design
2. University of Cincinnati
2. Rhode Island School of Design
4. Pratt Institute
5. Auburn University
6. University of Texas at Austin
6. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
8. Boston Architectural College
8. Cornell University
8. Kansas State University
8 Parsons The New School for Design

Top 10 Industrial Design, Graduate

1 Art Center College of Design
2 Pratt Institute
2 Rhode Island School of Design
4 Arizona State University
4 Auburn University
4. Cranbrook Academy of Art
7. Georgia Institute of Technology
7. Ohio State University
7. Savannah College of Art and Design
7. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Industrial Design, Undergraduate

1. Art Center College of Design
1. University of Cincinnati
3. Pratt Institute
3. Rhode Island School of Design
3. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
6. Auburn University
6. College for Creative Studies
6. Savannah College of Art and Design
9. Carnegie Mellon
9. Syracuse University

These lists can serve as a starting point for helping one choose a design college, but they don’t predict your chances of graduation, nor do they reflect how you will perform on your ARE exam (the multi-part licensing exam required to obtain an architect’s license). Sure bragging rights matter (but more to the admissions staff then to the students enrolled at a particular school). Every school wants to be top dog and all of the ‘top schools’ pride themselves in remaining high on the rankings list in their respective categories year after year. Looking over past Design Intelligence surveys, I found few discernible changes in the schools or their order in the rankings over a period of a decade. When a change did occur in the rankings it was due to the arrival of a rising star architect who had recently assumed a leadership role at the school in question and the school received a bump in the rankings because that new leader’s work was in vogue in the architectural community. That ‘it’ factor alone doesn’t make the school any better per say, it is just a factor that shuffles the numbers. The consistent performances of the top schools should also not be taken as a sign that these top schools are consistently excellent or worthy of their hefty price tags either. Some ivy-league schools coast on their reputations and some are just plain over-rated. Also newly accredited programs tend to be more innovative then some of the old guard schools that have been accredited for decades. (FYI MIT offered the first accredited Architecture degree back in 1865.) When I applied to design school back in 2006, I was unaware of the Design Intelligence survey and based my decision on location and time required to complete the degree alone. The photos above were the schools I visited in person as part of my college search. Looking at Design Intelligence rankings, I see that many if not all of the schools I visited are ranked highly today, but I would not personally rank all of them as excellent, some were far from it. But opinions are just that, subjective; one man’s garbage is another man’s gold.

Every school on the list has a slightly different focus to its design curriculum (with variations in preferred computer software packages used at the school, favored architects emphasized for students to emulate, and favored teaching styles). All of these details are not listed in any of the magazines or surveys(Design Intelligence included) and the only way you find out this info is by talking with students enrolled at the school or by attending the school itself. However, probably the most important factor that isn’t publicized at all in any of these rankings relates to the Architecture profession itself.

I found that Architecture is very much a cross-generational profession, meaning if your parents are architects, you (their children) will most likely show an interest and aptitude for the profession as well. With only a limited number of design schools to choose from, your favorite architect’s son or daughter is more then likely to be in a design class with you. These famous architects operate successful practices and know which skills are most valued on the job. They also know what is taught in today’s design schools (as many teach graduate seminars or lead design studios at said colleges and universities) thus are likely to advise their own children to apply to certain schools over others. Use their wisdom to your advantage. The Design Intelligence rankings don’t publish the lists of names of the students enrolled in a particular design program at a particular school, but you can find out that info by checking out the online work featured on each school’s website. Each design studio will list the names of the student’s work featured for that particular studio. Looking over those websites you will likely recognize the famous surnames from some of the best known design firms in the US today. As most design studios have only 5 to 10 students in each section, the lists of names is quite manageable to research. So for example, if Frank Geary or Richard Meier is your favorite architect, start with the schools from the list above checking each school’s website and see where their kid’s name pops up, (I know it is kind of stalking) but that is often the best testimonial of a program’s quality that you are going to find and much more meaningful then any of these rankings. And keep in mind, you don’t need to limit your list to big name architects, if there is a local architect in your hometown and you like their work, ask what school they attended and if they were happy with their education. In the Architecture profession, personal recommendations carry a lot of weight in all aspects of the business.

My final piece of advice on selecting a design school is to know your strengths as a designer and try to select a school that emphasizes/supports your strengths. Are you a good drawing student or do you design exclusively on a computer screen? Are you more suited to an engineering/trade school environment or a theory based education? These questions are important as finding a school that works for you rather than in its own way can make the difference between keeping your sanity or flunking out. The arduous process of obtaining a design degree will be a lot less frustrating and doors will open a lot easier if you have a supportive faculty that rewards your abilities rather than enduring a program where you find yourself butting heads with the faculty, which ultimately leads to transferring or dropping out altogether. Also if you are the child of a practicing architect, by all means avail yourself of your parent’s advice in selecting the right school and feel free to ask them for help with design problems that come up during your design education.

The percentage of people who graduate with a design degree is very small compared with those that start one. Design school has one of the highest attrition rates of any academic program due to the heavy workload and constant evaluation process that design students are held to. Every person I know that made it through had parents or close friends in the profession who probably helped them to make it to the finish line. Being able to bounce ideas off a practicing architect and being able to ask a parent to explain a concept when many Architecture professors often only speak in generalities or what I call ‘Archispeak’ will save you from making silly mistakes or embarrassing yourself during important evaluations. Also having a family member in the profession creates an automatic employment opportunity (sure it’s nepotism) you can pursue when you graduate. In this economy that is huge when so many architects are out of work and finding your first job can be so difficult.

A design education is an enormous investment in time and money so choose, but choose wisely as the knight from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade so eloquently stated. Do your homework before selecting a school, and that means talking to at least 3 different students at each school you are thinking of attending. Visit campus while classes are in session and if possible visit on a crit day. Don’t rely solely on Design Intelligence’s rankings or the testimonials of a school’s star student to make your decision on where you will do best. These people often paint a distorted picture of the school. Ask about the criteria I mentioned above and research your favorite architect’s background and the schools that his/her children currently attend. Above all, know yourself and where your talents lie and leave the rankings for the trashcan where they belong.

Link to Design Intelligence survey

Architecture News – The best paint colors for 2013

Ultramarine Green

This is kind of a fluff piece, but if you are thinking of redoing a bedroom or a room in your house and could use some inspiration from paint chips this article will do the trick. Below are the top 10 paint colors as chosen by decorators from the Pantone paint catalog for the upcoming year.

The original article can be found here

Residential Project – From the Files

North Elevation

Hello readers,
It has been a while since I last posted, but don’t worry I haven’t forgotten about you. This design is a smaller version of my Turret House featured on my old blog that I never got around to publishing until now. It is a 3 bedroom 2.5 bath brick house with a 2 car garage and fenced in yard. The house is designed to please the music lover in the family with a special piano alcove in the living room for all of those recitals that you either dreaded or loved. In addition to the piano alcove there is a rear patio with pergola off the living room for enjoying those hot summer days and a covered garden porch for tending plants in the fall.

Image Gallery

Architecture News – NYC Design Competition for Affordable Apartments

Hello readers,

Although this is somewhat old news (the contest was announced back in July) I felt that the topic was important enough to warrant posting. The contest sponsored by NYC Dept of Housing Preservation and Development was to design an apartment complex which contained apartments that were no more than 300sqft in size. The small footprint would in theory keep costs low and make it affordable for young people trying to find a place to live in NYC. A photo of a sample layout is shown below. The submission deadline for the contest is Sept 14, 2012. For an idea on what a 300sq ft apartment feels like, check out this brief news clip.

While the idea of living in a 300 sq ft apartment is novel, I am not sure how I feel about this project or its goals. On the one hand, high density development is considerably more sustainable than living in the suburbs; however there are costs with being so close to your neighbor. The limited personal space in a city of millions can feel suffocating and the forced interaction with your closest neighbors can raise stress levels and anxiety in an already hectic city.

Another way of looking at this project is seeing it in terms of social control being exerted over the young and poor in the city. Architects through design control the way people live and move through their spaces. In a way this is more personally intrusive then any government mandate could ever be. Through the physical layout of the apartment you are dictating to someone how they make their morning or evening routines in their own homes. This is exerting a level of influence that peripheral issues such as taxation or regulation could never touch. With so much at stake, the onus on the architect to get it right becomes very high. Take something as small as the way a refrigerator door opens. If the door opens the wrong way, every time you use the appliance you will be irritated by having to step out of the way of the door. These little inconveniences compounded over months, combined with the stressful city life can make someone downright miserable over the long term. Thoughtful design makes life easier while poor design choices serve to annoy and make life all the more difficult.

Given the degree which you are affecting someone’s life by though this housing, the short timeline given to develop plans for this project seem grossly inappropriate. As a designer/architect you need the time to iterate to make the design as optimal as possible as well as attempting to consider every possible factor in a living environment. Even after all of that work, you are still going to miss things. There are unexpected outcomes in even the best planned developments. The absolute failures of urban housing projects for the poor in the past should serve as reminders to carefully evaluate the merits and pitfalls of the even smallest detail in the design. Do we really want to be short changing another generation with sub-standard housing?

In addition to the logistics and functionality of the apartments there are hundreds of social issues at play in housing. The final design will ultimately reflect the architect’s values and ideals for living more than the values of the young people living there. Is the architect an extrovert or an introvert? If introvert, he may value privacy and solitude in the design more. If extrovert, he may opt to create more common spaces for people to gather in, and by doing that how will the ambient noise from those common spaces affect those that may want more privacy? What is the architect’s opinion on technology? Should we be attempting to get people out of their phones and conversing with their neighbors or should this housing act as a cocoon where one can escape away from the trials and interactions of the city? Also the issue of park space is another issue to consider. When you consider all of these separate topics and how they interact with one another designing a suitable building becomes an ominous task. That is why so few architects succeed at large scale central planning, there are just too many variables.

One also has to ask if this project is really designed to help the young or just serve as an additional source of income for the rentier class that collects their bloated monthly rent checks from the city dwellers seeking accommodations within the city limits. Does this development scheme offer any type of equity to the young person living there?

If it doesn’t, a better solution would be to offer the apartments to young people by having them pay into a currency pool used to fund the building’s construction and maintenance using an alternate currency such as Bitcoin. By paying rent into a monetary system that is by nature deflationary rather than inflationary, the tenants’ purchasing power is preserved and equity is created rather than destroyed. The current rent system sends the tenants’ funds to an often unknown landlord’s pocketbook while the increasingly worthless US dollar erodes what little money the tenant might have left over after paying his rent.

Under the Bitcoin scheme, at the end of his/her stay in the building, he/she can sell their share in the apartment to the next occupant for a set fraction of the same number of Bitcoins that he initially payed to occupy the apartment. As each whole Bitcoin is worth more over time, equity and profit are created for the current and future tenants. That way they could walk away with some equity to buy a real home or property in the future.

Although this scheme will be affected by the fluctuations in the value of Bitcoin currency, (i.e. the more people who demand the currency, the more value each coin holds as the number of coins is limited to 21,000,000) recent trends seem to indicate that the currency is increasingly acting as a repository for value in the face of corrupt or collapsing governments. As public trust in the formal government erodes, more of the economy and people move from the formal to the informal sector of the economy.* There has been a direct correlation between the increasing price for Bitcoin and the unraveling of the economies of Greece/Europe in recent months. With most developed countries including the US facing default on sovereign debt and the unpopularity of austerity measures needed to remedy those debts, the poor are turning to outlets that will protect their savings from inflation or taxation.

So to conclude, it would seem that there are a lot of factors to consider when designing for this seemingly simple 300 sq ft apartment competition, from layout to financing.

* For further reading on the subject of formal vs informal sectors of the economy see Hernando de Soto’s The Other Path and The Mystery of Capital & Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West & fails Everywhere Else

Commercial Work – Badger Creek International Airport

Following on the heels of the previous airport design, this larger terminal can more readily accommodate international flights and passengers. The building’s design morphed into the shape of a badger/skunk/ant eater through various iterations to the anchoring piers from the previous design. Travelers arrive underneath the head of the badger covered by a protective canopy that extends the length of the terminal. Once inside, the airport offers a restaurant, a food court, a duty free gift shop, a frequent flyer lounge with bathroom and massage facilities, and internet access. The airport has 6 active gates with twin 9000ft runways capable of accommodating a 747 or A380 aircraft. A separate general aviation facility was also designed on the premises. Onsite parking is available with shuttle bus access to the terminals.

Media Gallery

Commercial Project – Regional Airport Complex

Hello readers,
I have been working on 2 airport projects this month that I thought I would share with you. The complex consists of a commercial jet terminal with 6 gates, one capable of a 747, an air traffic control tower, two 9000 ft runways, a separate general aviation terminal for private aircraft with hanger storage space, along with a long term airport parking facility located nearby.

The main terminal features an in-house restaurant overlooking an orchard with a sculpture by Jonathan Brofsky at its center. The work titled ‘Hammering Man’ makes for an interesting conversation point for the diners and new arrivals. The terminal also features a bar, concessions, and an airport lounge for weary frequent flyers who can relax and take showers in the the deluxe facilities. For those studying design and Architecture, I can attest that airports are some of the most complex facilities to design for. The passenger workflow diagrams are daunting, particularly when you attempt to integrate airport security and customs into the mix. The main idea behind the design was to express world travel, with a globe-like sphere at the center of the terminal mimicking Earth. Around Earth were several suspended old time biplanes traversing the globe. Others might see influences of Star Wars in the design, specifically R2.

Media Gallery

Architecture News – Australian Home of the Year Selected

In news from Down Under, the Australian annual Home of the Year award was awarded to the Shearer’s Quarters, a property located on the island of Tasmania. The project was designed by John Wardle Architects and features a linear open plan concept with a minimal building footprint. Below are photos of the property. The house is designed with sustainability in mind using many recycled materials from the area. I love the living room in this design, but I don’t care for the all wood paneling featured in the sleeping quarters and hallways. That reminds me too much of 1970’s ski lodges, but I completely understand how the wood paneling would be aesthetically appropriate in a camp setting.

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Note: All photos courtesy of John Wardle Architects

Click here to visit the contest’s website for details on the other winning entries in the home of the year contest.

John Wardle Architects Website