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.

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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.

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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

Residential Design – The Artist’s Home & Gallery

Hello again readers,

This week a house created using circles. Throughout history there have only been a handful of circle based designs that achieved notoriety. The pithy of circle homes comes from the fact that the shape is difficult to construct and costly to build. The most famous circle building in Architectural history being the Pantheon in Rome, Italy. I designed this circle house for a successful artist who wanted a home and a place to exhibit his work. Along with the gallery space, the main house has 3 bedrooms and 2.5 baths with a 2 car garage. My design joins the 2 circles with an octagonal foyer so that the footprint resembles a pair of glasses.

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Residential Project – Mitre House

This design was heavily influenced by a retreat in Spain, called the Cordoba House. The retreat was designed by Emilio Ambasz as a place of meditation and reflection. The signature element of the house being two tall walls that create enclosure as well as supporting an observation deck at the top of twin staircases. This simple design decision created arguably one of the best architectural projects that I have seen to date. Even more remarkable is the fact that the house was designed in the 1975, yet this still looks amazingly timeless and fresh.

The Cordoba House, Cordoba, Spain

The creation of a corner is so basic yet so powerful. Inspired by the corner and its enclosing effect, I opted to create the opposite effect by opening up the corner which created an entry point while at the same time articulating a mortise and tenon effect in the walls which created windows for my design. The two corner walls resulted in a building footprint similar to a piece of pie.

Arriving at the house, one descends a short flight of stairs to the basement entrance. Once inside you begin your ascent up into the house via a grand stairwell or if you are lazy you can take the elevator. All living spaces are on the second floor with bedrooms on the third floor. The house has 4 bedrooms, 2.5 baths with a basement garage. All of the bedrooms are placed around a central rotunda, with an occulus opening onto the living room below.

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Residential Design – Climbing the Mountain


To celebrate Independence Day here is my latest design. This modern house shaped like the Price is Right game Cliffhangers is a 3 bedroom 2.5 bath home with a 2-car garage and attached screen porch. Cool features include a Juliet balcony looking down on the living room and an expansive deck off of the master bedroom. I will often sketch out a plan and then model it if I feel it has potential. Below you can see the original sketch and compare it with the final product. Happy climbing.

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Residential Project – Waterwheel House

This design was based around the desire to incorporate a water wheel, ramp, and a skylight into a house. The skylight and water wheel made it in, the ramp got chucked. This design is sited adjacent to a fast flowing brook making hydo-power generation possible. This 3 bedroom 2.5 bath house with attached 2 car garage features soaring ceilings in the main living spaces and views of the water wheel from the dining room. An adjacent bluestone patio off the living room offers plenty of outdoor living opportunities with its built-in grill. Another added bonus is the inclusion of a laundry chute to eliminate carrying clothes downstairs to the laundry facilities. Below are photos and plans for this watery design.

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Architect Profiles – Voysey & Lutyens

Deanery Gardens - Home designed by Lutyens

Hello again readers,

I came across this lecture from 2010 presented by the Essex Library and Centerbrook Architects, a well-known firm based in Essex, CT that gave a talk on the life and work of Edwin Lutyens and Charles Voysey. It was interesting and worth seeing. I learned a bit about where they got their inspiration for their designs and some of the background behind their work. The sound on the clip is a little scratchy but is still tolerable. The lecturer is Charles Bensen, an architectural history professor from Bolder, Colorado. He has also given lectures on Antoni Guadi at the same series. The lecture is 1 hour. Click here to take you to the download site for the lecture. Press the download button and right click SD .MP4 file selecting save link. The lecture should download to your desktop for viewing. Enjoy.

Photo Of Lutyens
Photo of Voysey

Residential Project – Fun in Finland

Hello again readers,
It has been a while since I created a new design, so without further adieu here it is. I titled this project Fun in Finland as the house uses many of the design principles and forms of Finish architect Alvar Aalto, whose work was recently featured in the rotating photo album on the site. Aalto was best known for his libraries, municipal buildings (i.e. town halls) and concert halls. In his later years he was a professor at MIT in Cambridge, Mass. This brick complex is a 4 bedroom 3.5 bath residence with a 2 car garage and a separate home office adjacent to the house complete with separate entrance and guest parking for customers. The design reflects the pulling apart of two forms that could have been previously joined. In between the 2 forms is a rock garden that forms a contemplative courtyard for arriving guest to the house or the office. In true architectural form, the window pattern mimics the symbol for a pocket door. In addition to the office space, the house also features a green roof above the garage. Access to the roof garden is through the kitchen or the living area making the green roof the ideal location for a home vegetable garden. There is also a special meditation space above the master bedroom that could be used as a study or just a place to relax and unwind. This house uses a series of ramps to traverse the 3 floors of the house instead of traditional staircases. Feel free to comment as usual.

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