I am very excited to be working on a new house project for a couple who lost their house in the recent Fourmile Canyon fire just west of Boulder. I feel deeply for their loss – years of mementos, photos, etc. all lost, not to mention the house itself, the repository of years of memories and events. So it is kind of odd for me to be happy working on a project that stems, to some extent, from a great sadness. But I can’t help it, I love to make buildings, to sit down with folks, listen to their stories, their dreams and thoughts and try to give form to those explicit and implicit desires.
The design we are working on tries to balance the centrifugal forces that are directed toward magnificent mountain panoramic views with the centripetal forces that focus on a courtyard and the internal landscape of the house.
These are some relatively early views of SketchUp model of the project. SketchUp is a great tool and its integration with Google Earth allows us to upload the model and place it in the actual topography and verify view corridors to specific sites – in this case, a distant view east to Denver and extensive views west and south to the mountains.
While I would probably never give up the tools of physical models, sketches, plans, etc., the use of SketchUp is a powerful tool that might tempt one away from such traditional design methods. It can in fact be a bit difficult to remember that even though we can make a fully rendered model of the project that we can walk through, view furniture and the light streaming in, that we have not completed the design of the project. We may have crafted the space and maybe even captured some of the touch and feel of the building, but we hardly even touched the larger and more difficult task of detailing the structure. Every eave, every handrail, every window mutin has yet to be drawn and studied. As my friend David Leary says, it’s a marathon, not a sprint.
I have a bit of a superstitious disposition. I try to wear my lucky hat when fishing. It frankly does matter which pencil I draw with. And for every presentation of a new design or interview with potential clients, I wear an orange shirt.
Not the same shirt mind you. Almost any orange shirt will do, and over the 16-plus years of this predilection, I have had quite a few. However, it all started quite innocently and probably took a year or two off my life in the period of few minutes.
When I was in grad school, my first architecture jury was approached with even more than the usual amount of apprehension. I was about to present my work in front of some of the most respected, most famous, architects and educators on the East Coast. I had done well at the local state university and worked in the architecture world for a few years but now I felt I was about to be handed my ass and kicked out the door of the fancy ivy league institution. Clearly a Kentucky kid was about to be whupped.
I was working on a painfully complex project with carefully interlocking spaces and building elements. To demonstrate this I had a series of color-coded plans and building sections. Red for circulation, blue for public spaces, etc. And, not by design, the day of the jury I sported an orange shirt.
In my undergrad school, juries were often savage affairs of public humiliation and even occasionally criticism. I assumed this fancy grad school would turn that up a notch or two, and as this was my first grad school jury, I was expecting the worse. So, when a preceding student presented two or three sketchy drawings and received a flurry of sympathetic response, this did not ease my anxious heart, it only deepened the truly unknown depth of the chasm I was about to be hurled into.
My turn. The pin-up wall behind me was chock full of my drawings, models, sketches, diagrams, etc. I had worked my ass off and hoped to get some quality criticism and to frankly make it to the other side of this. As my friends know, public speaking is a bit of a disaster for me. I blush, get flustered, stumble over my own words, etc. So, as I begin my description of my project, I am stunned, completely flummoxed when one of the jurors stands up and very loudly and aggressively says, “what’s with all these colored drawings, all this is distracting, it’s all just so much eye-candy!” “And, what’s with this orange shirt, are you trying to distract us?!”
Umm… ugh…excuse me?
He launched into this yet again, declaiming my project and my shirt. And again. And again. Mind you this is with me only ONE SENTENCE into my description. He didn’t even have the decency to let me finish before he attacked me. Blushing and bit confused (“I don’t really remember this happening at UK”), I asked him if he was done. That prompted new vigor and even more complex and fierce denunciations. So I asked again. And maybe this time I was a bit aggressive in turn. And maybe I told him he could just sit down and that I deserved the opportunity to finish my description and get some comments from the other jurors. And maybe I suggested that he could sit the fuck down and I possibly helped him to do just that. With my hands on his shoulders (being smaller than me certainly increased my bravery), he sat, and in the awkward, stunned silence of the assembled crowd I started, again, my description. Much to my surprise, I got through the whole thing with my prof speaking quietly into the ear of the asshole juror the whole time. I don’t know what he said, but Mr. Asshole didn’t utter another word as his fellow jurors gave me some tough but really valid and needed critique. Jury over and, only a few months into my grad school experience, a bit of a reputation forged. One that I didn’t want, didn’t seek, didn’t need. Having even more people show up for my juries to see if I would manhandle another juror was not good for a reluctant public speaker.
In any case, I survived grad school and in memory of that juror, whom I later found out was dean of another ivy league grad school, Dean Asshole, I have worn an orange shirt to ensure success in all of my presentations over the last 16 years or so. And it works almost every time. Needless to say, the thought of finding myself without a clean orange shirt on the day of a presentation is a bit of nightmare. So we can’t let that happen.
As regular visitors to this blog might recognize, there have been rather a lot of photos of old and worn trucks that I have taken and posted. These are all from the same couple of places here in Boulder where these semi-trailers are rented out as storage spaces. It may be my favorite place in Boulder and certainly a source of inspiration.
Today, just patterns from the wearing of paint off plywood:
most of the truck photos are gathered in a set on my Flickr page if you are interested:
This is a quick watercolor sketch I did last week of the Chicago skyline from the north side of Belmont Harbor.
this view is always interesting early in the morning or late in the afternoon when the sun is shining on either the left or right side of the buildings. The distant view is possible because of the distance that the harbor entrance creates, making a layer of Lincoln Park trees run along below the layer of tall buildings.
Different cities inspire people in different creative mediums. I think of New York as a writer’s town. By far the most sketching I have ever done was a two-year stint working in Boston.
Maybe the picturesque plazas and squares in Boston establish those views for sketching in a way that the grid of streets in New York and Chicago doesn’t allow.
The watercolor above is a bit unusual in that most of my looking around Chicago has been done with a camera. The hard, straight rationality of Chicago’s grid of streets and the regularity of office windows may lend itself more to the shifting light and perspective best captured on film.
I’ve now lived in Boulder longer than I did in Chicago. And so, Boulder’s medium of expression? I guess I’m still working on that.
Millennium Park in Chicago has become a very interesting foil to the Art Institute. The band shell/amphitheater by Frank Gehry is a bit disappointing (too 2-dimensional), but the Crown Fountain is one of the best pieces of public art in the city. Designed by Jaume Plensa, the fountain is two 50 foot high glass block towers with video projections on their facing sides. The projections are faces of people from the wide spectrum of citizens of Chicago.
In warm weather the fountains ‘spit’ a stream onto a slate plaza, usually filled with kids playing in the stream.
On a recent trip to Chicago, the Midwestern rain had the fountains turned off, but the reflection in the plaza doubled each image, making a kind of visual skyscraper to join the others in the city.