Architecture News – Finalist Selected for National Mall Projects

Wining Design

Hello again readers,
It has been almost a month since my last post, due in part to the lack of anything noteworthy to post about the industry in general. The architecture profession remains mired in recession still reeling from the residential housing collapse combined with the fact that the top 1% (the primary client base for architecture services) has been hording all of their funds keeping future projects unrealized. This deadly combination of factors has all but killed the industry. The prospect of further economic trouble in Europe will likely result in more job losses and further consolidation to an already crippled profession. On a personal note, I have been busy with other work so I have not had time to design anything new of late, however I will be posting again shortly.

Recently the wining design for the National Mall was announced. The project called for proposals to redesign Constitution Gardens shown below as it exists today.

Constitution Gardens Today

Many radical designs were submitted by many big name firms, but the committee opted to select the most restrained and conservative option. The winning design submitted by Roger Marvel Architects & PWP Landscape Architecture features a restaurant pavilion with a skating pond integrated into the existing lake. I feel the committee made a good choice. Some of the other options were a bit too wonky and cutting edge for the sedate and traditional monument lined streets of DC. Below are renderings of the wining design. For further info see the following article.

Software Review – Revit 2013 Architecture

It is April and time for my annual review of the new release of the Revit Architecture software. With each passing year the software seems to become more and more bloated (or robust depending on your view of things). The Revit families and material libraries that are downloaded from Autodesk during the install of 2013 are up to 800MB now, so you need a machine with lots of free space and memory for it to run. But enough on the install process, lets get right to the good, the bad, and the ugly for this year’s release of Revit Architecture.

First the Good
Revit has finally allowed for the creation of a legitimate T-based stair like the one shown in the photo below. Prior to this release, the best you could do is make a 2 run stair and then make another separate stair starting at the landing of the first stair to create the right side of the T. This was awkward and required determining the height of the landing of the first stair among other things. Given the robustness of the program and just how common a T stair is, it is amazing that it took this long to finally get that feature into the program.

Creating a T stair is a bit complex using Revit 2013, but it least it possible now. I was surprised that they (Autodesk) bothered to create a single button based option for winder stairs (considering these are rarely used today and against code in all commercial/civic buildings) but they opted to skip a single button option for the much more common T stair.

Here is a link to a video demonstrating how to create a T Stair in Revit 2013.

The whole stair tool user interface was also given a huge upgrade which was very much needed. Stairs and railings now are automatically created and dynamically adjust to meet the levels in your project. No more editing railings post stair creation to reflect landings and stopping points after the fact. You can also specify where you want the railing to attach to the stair; at the tread or the stringer which is really nice.

Option for selecting tread or stringer circled in red in UI

I also liked that they now number the risers so you don’t have to count stairs anymore, which is nice.

UI indicates riser number at beginning and end of run

Spiral stair logic was also upgraded. Prior to this release you could never create a true spiral stair that had more than 16 risers to reach a level without exceeding the 360 degrees radius within the run command, so using the run command for a spiral stair was not only confusing but kind of pointless. Also creating a fully code compliant spiral stair involved guesswork trying to figure out how the angle between risers shown in Revit correlated with what code dictated for min tread depth on the outer edge of the stair. The new stair UI makes things much easier.

Other nice additions
For those users with the latest and greatest video cards, a new interactive ray-trace feature was added. This allows users to instantly see a 3D view rendered without going through the hassle and downtime of waiting for a rendering session to complete. My video card was too old for that feature to work properly but I like that it is now available.

Screen Capture of raytrace session

They also added Bentley modeling import capability for users of that program.

The Bad
Material libraries still continue to be a huge headache. Every year they add more complexity, data fields and bloat to the dialogs. In Revit 2013 you now create individual custom libraries for each project. You can then specify a storage location (i.e. on your computer or a remote server) for those libraries. This feature was designed to dovetail with server-based and cloud-based support utilized in very large architecture firms. For the single seat user whose projects all reside on their local machine it is just unnecessary. In my mind, the old Accustudio static library (found in Revit 2008) approach to material management worked best. The library is created once and all the materials you created over your lifetime of using Revit are always available for every new project, no maintenance or yearly upgrade process. I understand the need for project and file portability, but you spend more time upgrading your old libraries to meet the ever changing standards that Autodesk creates that it easily requires a full time person to maintain and upgrade these ‘floating’ libraries with every new release of the product. When will Autodesk realize that this is a huge and I mean huge productivity drain for an office.

The Ugly (The Microsoft Mentality towards UI Design)
Autodesk has unfortunately opted to follow Microsoft’s practice of burying functionality under countless dialog boxes and buttons just to execute a specific function. Lets compare the old UI (Revit 2009) versus the new UI (Ribbon) to illustrate. In the photos below I chose to execute the stair command within Revit and these two screen captures illustrate what the user experiences for both UIs. With the old UI, all the options for a command were clearly visible for the user to choose and select. Encapsulating the options for a command within the function dialog was more concise and logical instead of searching for the button on the ribbon that does the same function within the new UI. Put another way, there is no wayfinding with the Ribbon user interface.

The Stair Function with the Ribbon UI

To a new user of the product, you are left wondering what button on the ribbon do I select. Only after scrolling the mouse over the draw button do you see the same options that were all clearly visible in the old UI. Making the user read the labels of all the tabs in the ribbon and then having them decide which button they should press is not terribly intuitive and creates an unnecessarily steep learning curve for new and existing users of the product.

Many would argue rightly that the new UI is better in that you aren’t switching between the tabs to access functionality. The old UI only allowed you to access sections under the basic and drafting tabs which made for unnecessary mouse clicks to access that particular function. A software developer would also point out that the tab architecture is more associated with early Microsoft apps then the Ribbon, yet it executes the command much faster. The ideal outcome would have been to integrate the customized quick launch toolbar and retain the command structure associated with the tabs, but the likelihood of that happening now seems pretty slim as Autodesk has fully embraced the ribbon and it is now in its 3rd year of use.

Overall Assessment of Revit 2013
The stair improvements in Revit 2013 are great, but it is not enough to make me upgrade from the far superior Revit 2011 version that still supports the old UI without the server bloat or the fussy dialogs and configuration settings. That is my take, I welcome other opinions so feel free to comment on this article.

Residential Project – Rocky Mountain High

This week I present a house set in Colorado. The house is clad in a rusting steel that matches the rust colored plains that lead into the Rocky Mountains while the front windows are covered with a series of punched holed steel panels that diffuse the light into the house and provide privacy. The views are what this house is all about. The master bedroom looks out over the mountain range while one of the smaller bedrooms offers views from an expansive deck. A tread only stair leads up to the roof deck for the greatest view of all. The house has 3 bedrooms, 3.5 baths, along with a swimming pool with outdoor shower and an enclosed carport. The house also has a separate study and home gym. If that wasn’t enough, the house uses ramps to facilitate circulation through the different levels on the ground floor so it would work for someone who has difficulty with stairs.

Image Gallery with Plans

Architect Profiles – Joze Plecnik

Hello readers,
This is a new feature that I am adding to my blog profiling the life and work of well known and perhaps lesser known architects. Plecnik is not well known in the United States and hardly mentioned other than in the history classes of architecture schools; all of his work is confined to his home country of Slovenia and the cities of Prague and Vienna. However his work has steadily been wining more converts as more people visit the former Soviet Bloc countries and see his buildings first hand.

Plecnik lived from 1872 to 1957 and was considered part of the Vienna Secession movement that was at its height at the turn of the century. The Vienna Secession movement was a modernist reaction against art nouveau (the sinuous style promulgated by the likes of Mucha and Macintosh in favor of more blocky forms that embraced technology and modern materials. Of all the buildings that Plecnik designed in his lifetime the most memorable was probably his unbuilt scheme for the parliament building in his home town and the capitol of Slovenia Ljubljana. The scheme may remind a laymen of the Travelocity Roaming Gnome from the building’s pointed dome.

Plecnik's Entry for the Parliament Building

All architects have signature elements that define their work. Plecnik was known for his use of columns on his building. The column was his favorite architectural element. The photos below showcase the types of columns created for his buildings.

Columns on the Assurance Building in Vienna

As much as Plecnik was tied with Otto Wagner and the Vienna Secessionist movement, Plecnik’s own style evolved into something more traditional, one might say Neoclassical. His campanile and covered market are both highly classical in style and proportion as was his scheme for Prague castle recreating the columns from a Greek Temple inside the castle.

Plecnik Hall, Prague Castle, Prague

The Covered Market, Ljubljana


Plecnik also designed furniture and other decorative elements in addition to his work as an architect and city planner. Below are a few examples of his furniture.

Image Gallery

40B Development Project – Community Development & Affordable Housing

This week I created what is called a 40B development project, which is a housing scheme that combines affordable and market rate housing together in one property. Cities and towns will often give preference to these types of projects as they are perceived as helping the less affluent into housing in an area that is normally out of their reach. My project consists of a two-unit complex with a shared parking garage. The affordable unit is a 1-bedroom/1-bath single floor apartment. This unit works well for the elderly/disabled as there are no stairs to climb and could be made handicapped accessible with few modifications. The affordable 1 bedroom features a unique oval-shaped courtyard that brings nature indoors while making the space appear larger and more open from all angles. The apartment has a fenced in yard and an extensive porch for enjoying the outdoors.

The deluxe market rate apartment is a 2 bedroom/2.5 bath luxury penthouse. Features include garage space, a lap pool, private deck off the master bedroom, massive dressing room and master bath, eat-in kitchen with separate dining room, a 2 story living room with a mid-century Gyro-focus fireplace and floor to ceiling views of city, and a separate media room/study. This apartment spans two floors and can be designed with or without an elevator.

In addition to creating affordable housing, my development project also created a small community center to serve the local community. The center offers exercise equipment, a climbing wall, pool tables, a juice/coffee bar, and free wi-fi access to its patrons. There is also a basement function space for events.

Image Gallery

Ask the Author – How does the new site work?

The new A Point In design uses a menu bar found directly under the top header. Select from the listed categories to read articles related to that topic. Also a list of the latest articles will be found directly to the right of the sidebar when you arrive at the site, similar to the old site. To leave a comment on an article scroll to the bottom of the post and enter comments in the space provided. All comments will be included that are not spam.

Residential Project – Where the Desert Meets the Sea

Hello viewers,

Welcome to my new blog. For my inaugural post I present this design. I was inspired by a project I saw recently featured on ArchDaily’s site for a housing development in Peru. The locale, vista and scenery were really breathtaking. The site was profiled in the video shown below. The four house complex called W Houses located in Cañete, Peru was designed by Barclay & Crousse architects.

The setting more than the housing was what I found inspiring. So I created my own design to be placed along side the Peru project. My greatest difficulty with this design was trying to figure out the materiality for the building. I tried many different materials ultimately choosing a stucco and sandstone combination that matched the red earthy desert. The photo below is one of my material test cases.

The house itself is a 4 bedroom 3.5 bath house with a swimming pool, decks, and a 2-car carport. Given the arid location, no grass was planted on the site and arid plantings were chosen that were drought tolerant. The house wraps around to form a courtyard which opens onto the swimming pool with views of the ocean in the distance.

Below are photos of the inside with the plans