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Peak oil is really a plateau...then a plummet

 Source: Bloomberg Business Week, Illustration Matt Dorfman

Source: Bloomberg Business Week, Illustration Matt Dorfman

There's been a lot of noise this week surrounding cars and the future.  Since I've been working on a project that deals with people in the transportation world, I've also been thinking a lot about what the future of movement is.  It's interesting to think that part of the mental process of purchasing a new car now considers whether that investment bears out a future of driver-less or high-functioning electric cars and all of it signals an interesting evolution afoot.  

On a global scale, Bloomberg has put forward a compelling animation describing the impacts of the billions being spent by private industry on electric vehicle development.  At the moment, oil industry giants are largely remaining a highly skeptical mode, if not all-out denial, assuming electric cars will only account for 1% of vehicles by 2040.  However, as put forth by Bloomberg's staff, the actual rate of electric vehicle adoption versus oil consumption may put the shift in oil demand toward a downward trend closer to 2025 - 9 years away.  

The slow adoption of electric vehicles to date has made skeptics of many, however, Bloomberg cites a trend pattern called the S-curve as a potential paradigm shifting force for this segment of vehicles.  Slow initial adoption followed by product and infrastructural advancement leads to exponential growth - take the cell phone as a primary example.  The result of this shift will be a global decline in oil demand with a commensurate reapportioning of resources to places where non-fossil fuel (i.e. renewable) energy investment has been strongest.  Sure a good portion of vehicles will continue to be combustion-based, but that number will decrease and a big factor in the global economic system of resources will increasingly be upended favoring economies who have taken a long view on new energy development.  Check the animation and read more here.

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Advancing the city's needs with social housing

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Advancing the city's needs with social housing

While there is an ever-growing need for more affordable housing as the income gap grows, a few projects have begun to address social housing outside of a vacuum.  There are now great examples of integrated communities where the needs of the residents are served by a mixed use development catering to residents, but some projects have begun to bridge further beyond even these good examples.  

In New York, David Adjaye's Sugar Hill project combines cultural resources for the city with education and housing to create a self-sustaining community that enriches all that enter it's doors.  For me, there is an important recognition of social equality in this project that not only provides a nice place for people that need the extra help, it makes their home integrally connected to the cultural realm of the city through the Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art & Storytelling

It's great to think holistically about how to create social housing and an accompanying community that provides relevant services for residents, but often these communities remain a step apart from some of the public cultural resources that provide enrichment.  It's encouraging to see a project bridge this gap and show that a city's public resources are for everyone and to see more social housing developments being thought of as viable components of creative mixed use projects.  If our museums become vehicles to support the education and care of those most at-risk in our population, it seems like we can not only enrich minds, we can empower citizens.

 

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Building (2) Bathrooms: Part Two

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Building (2) Bathrooms: Part Two

It's been a while since my last blog post and the last update on the ongoing bathroom renovations at our house.  After wrestling with city inspectors and a slipping schedule, we're at week 10 of our 4-6 week project.  At the time of my last post, we were wrapping up our rough-in work and associated inspections.  Now, we're pushing to get our plumbing fixtures installed and the finishes are all in.  Sadie and I have been living back at the house for two weeks now without a working bathroom, but we've been making it work with ourselves and our belongings crammed into one bedroom - a little like living in a really cramped dorm room.

Once we had our plumbing, electrical, hvac and framing signed off on, our only remaining inspection was for insulation.  Insulation was added at exterior walls and around plumbing in the existing bathroom and at the wall between the new bathroom and the living room for sound attenuation.

After some internal debate about whether I should keep referring to the gypsum wallboard as drywall, the drywall was installed along with densglass at areas where tile would go.  In the existing bath, one of the original wall niches that had been previously covered has been retained as a nod to the original design.  Pretty much all of our stuff has at least some drywall dust on it now.

After getting the drywall screw pattern inspected and approved, the drywall was taped and joint compound was applied to the walls. 

While we hired a contractor to carry out the bulk of the work, I took on the execution of all of the custom millwork features including a pair of barn doors for our bedroom and bathroom.  Fortunately, we stayed for the first month of construction at by buddy Rob's house and his shop came in very handy.  The barn doors are constructed of 1/2" bettlekill pine plywood.  To create a header for the rail that the doors would slide on, I unearthed one of the timber girders that provide essential lateral support for our post and beam constructed home and mounted an additional 2x8.  I also wired a new overhead light. Since I was already making a mess, I figured what the heck... I still need to mount the doors and the rail - hopefully, I don't mess that up.

Tile went in next...

And then the grout - which was a real sticking point with my client (Sadie). Finding a grout that was the right shade of light grey took some looking, but I think we made a good choice.  This is also the time where I contributed yet another piece of millwork detail, building solid hickory shelves for the niche at the master bathroom shower.  Because we have a return air duct coming into the wall from the hallway, we had to work around it and it created a great opportunity for a small bench in the shower and the shelves outside.  

This is where the project stands now.  Painting is complete and the vanities have been hung - could it be possible that an end is in sight?  I don't want to jinx anything, but maybe.  

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Building (2) Bathrooms: Part One

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Building (2) Bathrooms: Part One

For the last two and a half weeks, we've been living away from home as our house becomes the construction site for our new bathroom and the remodel of our existing bathroom.  Progress has been steady to date and this week will hopefully yield a number of inspector sign-offs on our rough plumbing, electrical and mechanical systems.  The work of finding space within our existing house footprint for a second bathroom took a while to develop, but with a little creativity and about two years of thinking and saving we will go from a three-bedroom, one bath to a three-bedroom, two bath house.  

The work to be completed includes remodeling our existing bathroom as well as moving a living room wall and reconfiguring closet, utility and laundry spaces to create space for a new master bathroom.

At the outset of our work, aesbestos testing was performed and a small amount was found to exist in the joint compound sealing between the sheets of original 1955 drywall.  Federal regulations call for abatement to be employed anytime more than 1% of the content of a material contains aesbestos - the joint compound contained 4%.  For a week or so, our house was quarantined as if E.T. had been found inside.  A nice related benefit of this issue was that most of the demolition work had to be done in a very tidy way saving our stuff from lots of dust.

And, here's what it looked like when the plastic was gone:

Demo completed shortly after and new framing was up in a day:

Most recent changes have been at a smaller, but no less important scale with plumbing, electrical and mechanical getting roughed in and construction of the new barn doors that will provide enclosure for the master bedroom and bath is moving along as well.


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How architecture works

In clearing out some old files, I came across a lecture that I put together for students starting their architecture education at University of Colorado Denver.  So that it doesn't become a lost relic, I thought I'd post it as a reflection of my take on my approach to my job.


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Don’t just think about design, feel it

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Don’t just think about design, feel it

Our reaction to our environment can be hard to quantify at times, but it may be that we should be doing less counting and more feeling. This is no different than the subtlety with which we interpret our own non-verbal communication. Since humans can interpret meaning in millimeter differences of facial expressions and since we have an innate sense of finding human characteristics in almost everything we see - from art to inanimate objects - there is a psychological relationship between the form of what we design and the meaning people derive from it.

Alain DeBotton in his book ‘The Architecture of Happiness’ writes about a psychologist’s study where respondents use a simple line drawing to describe a happy relationship and then a relationship filled with tension, argument and anger. Results were categorical - happy relationships are bubbly clouds, angry ones are jagged snarls. So what does this tell us? It is our non-verbal limbic brain - the part that deals with our gut or our emotion - speaking. Design, speaks in this way as well.

In a typical design process, we spend a significant amount of time wrestling with the logic of our decision making, pursuing the illusive modern architectural goal of creating rationalized ‘machines for living’. This is the practice we have grown accustomed to in the world of big data. We humans are comfortable in that realm because we use our neocortex for such reasoning and data correlation, but if we forget to engage the silent emotive portion of our brain in the process, we will miss the most human part of design’s impact.

If we forget to engage the silent emotive portion of our brain in the process, we will miss the most human part of design’s impact.

While the limbic brain is an older place evolutionarily in our mind, it has deep roots in our psychological sense of wellbeing, our sense of place, and our connection to our environment. It’s no coincidence that Alzheimer’s disease causes damage to the limbic brain. Another more rare condition, Kluver-Bucy syndrome is related to damage in the limbic brain and can be characterized by an inability to recognize objects or faces. In design, this subtle center of abstract recognition cannot be forgotten amid the logic and data being amassed to justify our work to our more evolved neocortical minds.

Design has a base appeal to our gut that is immesurable. Our ability to listen to that call with the rigor that we dig for logical justification can be every bit as important as finding hard metrics. When we describe a design as dynamic or aggressive, quiet or subdued, we show a recognition of it’s limbic appeal and open a window into the feel of the environment we create. This is not unlike the way a grin, smirk or frown may inform our next few words in a conversation. Humans are a remarkable blend of logic and instinct and our design should be informed by the context of both.

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A new argument for Biophilia

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A new argument for Biophilia

Designing with views of nature, natural materials, abstract, non-repetitive patterns - biophilia - is enjoying it’s time in the sunshine thanks to research proving the human health benefits of these natural cues. But spending some time in the woods along the coast north of San Francisco made me think that there is potentially a less quantifiable, but equally resonant potential for providing a connection to nature in design. If we have a better connection to the natural world, we can be reminded to be good stewards of our environment.

As I write this, I’m sitting in a stale, modern apartment in downtown San Francisco. This morning, the sun woke me up to a view of the marine layer fog receding through the redwoods toward the Pacific. There was a relatively quick 3 hour car ride between these two locations, but they are worlds apart in their atmosphere. I’ve traded bird calls for car horns and three restaurant options for probably three-hundred. But both locations share one thing in common - California and, specifically, Northern California is suffering from an historic drought. Even amid the beauty of the coast, the landscape between watersheds seems uncharacteristically dry for a place where fog lingers on a daily basis.

But the presence of the drought and the common experience of an individual doing their best to mitigate its consequences feels like a far-off problem when facing the clamor of the city. Much the opposite, life in the rural coastal region is earmarked with notes about a strained water supply, statements about rationed glasses of water at restaurants or friendly coercion to take a quick shower. This is all simple citizen and resident-led (non-governmental) regulation and being convinced of its need is apparent in almost any glance outside

Here where most resources are consumed, there was no note gently reminding me that what I woke up to and where I am now are crucially connected. This is maybe the activist opportunity that exists in biophilic design.

Here in the city, there is no friendly, yet urgent, reminder. It’s only been a few hours since returning here and I found myself thinking, a nice long shower would be nice. Here where most resources are consumed, there was no note gently reminding me that what I woke up to and where I am now are crucially connected. This is maybe the activist opportunity that exists in biophilic design.

Think about sitting on a porch with that stereotypical farmer who can tell the weather by the creaks in his joints and who knows the mood of the soil from the patterns of rain, wind and sun. Now sit in your office chair, your car seat, your recliner and see if you have the same fluency with the state of the natural world around you. In urban spaces, making a case to be stewards of the environment takes more PR than in rural places because nature has been supplanted by sprinkler systems, artificial lighting or air conditioning. Because we can’t look out our windows and see the soil beneath the street or the tree canopy beyond the skyline, design needs to provide us the natural cues to remind us gently of a natural world beyond - one upon which we rely and which relies upon us.

 

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What's so great about happy cities?

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What's so great about happy cities?

Recently, I had the good fortune of being able to integrate a research trip into some travel for work.  Vauban, Copenhagen, and Malmo represent some of the happiest cities in the world.  Understanding the relationship between urban design, transit, open space and social factors is key to making better places in the future.  This seems logical enough, but more often than not, the intangible pursuit of happiness isn't a part of our design, planning and development dialogues.  Typically, we're focused on market yields, convenience, security, and reliance on what is most familiar and safe.  Those norms result in city development exemplified by Dubai's Sheikh Zayed Road - an image of economic boom, but a place where human interaction on the street is next to impossible.  Incorporating visits to great examples of happy cities led us to look for good examples in Dubai to build off of.   As the city of Dubai and it's population matures, creating an actual cohesive sense of place becomes increasingly desirable and our design thinking will need to shift to the broader notion of creating places for people, not just monuments to economic boon - the great thing about this is design then becomes a way to seek improvement not just a vehicle of aesthetics.  Enjoy the show...

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Happiness in Urban Form

The notion of a city form that promotes day to day human happiness relates to the ability of a city to provide a living and/or working environment that affords people time and freedom to pursue their own free time whether in a private or social manner. This is a simple statement, but it has a number of implications for urban form. A city that affords one time is one that is connected and implies a certain degree of density. A city that allows someone to engage socially is one that contains open-ended public space for organic human interaction, a diversity of uses supporting heteroscedasticity among users, and opens the door to people functioning and participating in a long-term community. Finally, just as a city needs to provide for interaction, it needs to afford privacy - this can be through clustered uses, providing ownership of smaller scale public or semi-public spaces.

Really, for a city to work well, it needs to provide for human investment and support that investment.

Really, for a city to work well, it needs to provide for human investment and support that investment. The term human investment doesn’t mean monetary investment, though that is required, it refers to a people being able to really ‘live’ in a community, to call it their own. By focusing on self-propelled, convenient mobility strategies, a city’s amenities and infrastructure can be right-sized to the human pace of the population that city serves. What’s important about this concentration on the velocity of mobility is when you slow people down, you begin to cater toward a live-in community rather that a collection of transient auto commuters - this provides the basis for a local population and the local population will be the foundation of the city’s viability. Once an intact population emerges, the city can begin to be ‘lived in’.

Learning from Vauban

Upon visiting Vauban in Freiburg, Germany, the importance of this notion of creating a city that feels lived-in - what one of my colleagues termed “messiness” - becomes apparent. When a house feels lived in, you see that the kitchen is used daily for cooking, books and magazines are on the coffee table not just for looks but to be dog-eared, the yard is often a constant experiment in urban farming. Vauban is an entire neighborhood that feels this way.

Within the German city of Freiburg, Vauban is a somewhat experimental residential mixed use community that seems to be establishing a new development norm within the city. In terms of happiness, Vauban creates an almost campus-like atmosphere. Cars are not as far removed from the development as originally described - its a bit more like life in an old urban neighborhood where on-street parking is the only option. However, there are a significant number of streets - probably 40 percent that are organized for only a temporary car presence and otherwise are places for pedestrian livelihood.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of Vauban is the organic nature of the public realm and the lived-in quality of the residential developments. Even though much of the architecture isn’t very old, a significant amount of personality has been imbued on the housing, giving it the sense of being occupied much longer than it has in reality. What this tells the casual observer is that people in Vauban have a considerable association with their place of residence, it also implies a certain social layer within the community - people aren’t just making manicured lawns to show they can keep up with the jones’, they are comfortable expressing themselves.

Less than 3 km down the road from Vauban, is the old city core of Freiburg. In form, it is perhaps even more car-free than Vauban. However, it is a more dense urban mix of retail - the kind for just buying stuff, not home goods - that needs a critical mass of population to support. Nevertheless, a combination of public squares creating contagious social interaction zones serves a use within the city as a social heart. Vauban, within its more quiet play streets and cohesive, calm residential developments provide a lower scale of almost familial or neighbor to neighbor interaction - providing social stimulus, but also privacy. Connecting everything is a strong bike network breaking down to comfortable walking spaces and a high-frequency streetcar system that makes travel between Vauban and greater Freiburg simple and creates the all-important velocity of travel that fosters social interaction.

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10.6 Feet

2340smeade2.jpg

Last Wednesday was a sad day at my house as arborists had to remove a giant old maple tree from our front yard.  The gap in our landscape that remains has left me pondering what to put in its place to liven up our street frontage.

Front yards are important spaces in residential blocks as they have both a notable impact on the residents and the public neighborhood street.  It serves as what environmental psychologists would call defensible space.

According to Jan Gehl - probably the best blend of designer and environmental psychologist of the last 50 years - people need exactly 10.6 feet of front yard depth to ensure an ideal mix of defensible space between their private abode and the public street.  Too much setback and you end up with a gap in the conviviality between residents and the public realm.  Too little gap and you feel like the weekly trash pickup is occurring in your living room. 

Now that our great old maple is gone, the question becomes what to do in our front yard that is both a contribution to the street and to our own house.  Large trees frame streets and shade sidewalks.  Alone, they serve multiple purposes that benefit both residents and neighborhoods at large.   But what can be done in the meantime - in those 50 years before a tree grows?

My wife suggested an interesting intermediate solution - a landscape berm.  The berm - on a grander scale a haw haw wall uses a change in the ground plane to provide shelter, division or protection on one side while creating an elevated landscape on the other.  

Another idea comes from one of the unique design features of many of the houses in my mid-mod neighborhood - subdividing a portion of our front yard space with a low, decorative fence.  When the original architect for our homes, Cliff May approached our otherwise suburban lots, he did so with a mindset of designing for a much broader landscape.   Traditional ranches of the American Southwest create a oasis of livable space within often arid and sprawling acres of ranch land.  Here the division of public and private space is quite extreme - although you might call it the division of wild and domesticated space.  A home in this landscape needs modulating outdoor space such as courtyards separated with outbuildings, U- and L-shaped house footprints and low, decorative fences to create a medium between the wild and the domesticated.  

In our neighborhood, our house configurations mimic these traditional ranch typologies and decorative fences, in particular have become a highly-detailed, intricate expression of personality for many homes.  The fence is less a hard barrier as it is a sign of a resident’s personality and, conversely, a piece of art at the street level.

To go a step even farther, detached home residents can also think about what role their semi-public spaces play in the neighborhood.  For instance, there are examples of people creating common kitchens and shared amenities such as saunas - what if our detached garage space had a public face where weekend coffee was served and neighbors came to sit and talk?  This is a more significant front yard change, but it a progressive way of looking at how residential neighborhoods can function as communities in and of themselves.

Whatever the direction we head for our front yard (though from the passages above, I’m clearly talking myself into some kind of berm/decorative fence combo), it’s interesting to go through the mental exercise of how to correctly address the space between public and private realms.  If more people in urban or detached housing begin to understand this relationship, we can begin to understand our daily relationship with what in most cities is our largest - but arguably most under-utilized - publicly funded land asset, our streets.

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Snohetta | Coophimmelbl(a)u + Building as Landscape

If we think about how we use urban spaces, we tend to have the best experiences in messy conditions where the line between public realm and private space blurs.  The vibrancy that comes with spontaneous city life provides context and character for the private spaces that augment the city.  

Last week I had the opportunity to spend some time with Michelle Delk, Director of Landscape Architecture for Snohetta.  Working for such a well-respected design firm known for it's architectural solutions, it was interesting to hear Michelle talk about there work in a way that seemed to describe it simultaneously as building and landscape.  The firm's best known project, the Oslo Opera House is possibly the clearest example of this open-minded philosophy.  What is at once a tradtionally formal pasttime becomes a center of everyday city life as the roof of the opera becomes a massive plaza/amphitheatre for everyone.  

Images Courtesy of Snohetta

This isn't a one-off design solution either.  Upcoming work in Calgary and Lasceaux, France show a sensitivity to what happens if a building does't just sit within a site, but rather if the building becomes part of the site.  The powerful part of these designs is that it takes what would have been perhaps simply a landmark in the city fabric and makes it a node of public activity.  In doing so, the architecture becomes more subtle - less an expression of ego.

The conversation about Snohetta reminded me of Wolf Prix's description of Coophimmelbl(a)u's Ufa Cinema Center in Dresden, Germany, as an Urban Transistor.  In approaching the project through the lens of urban design, Prix fixated on the fact that European cities were experiencing a shrinkage of public spaces due to "monofunctional" private development.  

By disintegrating the monofunctionality of these structures and adding urban functions to them, a new urbanity can arise in the city. This character of urbanity would not only be determined by functional differentiation and the creation of new spatial sequences thereby, but also by the injection of media events.

Ufa Cinema Center, through providing passageways within the architecture as well as public spaces at the ground floor and public plazas within the site, creates a piece of architecture that, according to Prix, is a "juncture between urban vectors" and it is at those junctures that urban life exists.  "Thereby the Cinema itself is transformed into a public space."

 Image courtesy of  Coophimmelbl(a)u

Image courtesy of Coophimmelbl(a)u


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Being a NIMBY about work

Working for an international architecture firm sounds exciting and in many ways it is.  As a global practitioner, you get exposed to foreign culture and often less restrictive design environments than in the US.  However, many people struggle to find connection with their work after participating on projects that are halfway around the world.  I'm no different.  Often, it can be hard to grasp the reality of what you're doing when it lies around the globe and working across cultures or in ambitious developing economies can leave one stretched over a barrel when considering factors like human rights, sustainability and globalization.  But this is part of what it is to participate in the modern global economy and it's an increasingly important way of practicing.

Design studies from a recent project in Al Ain, UAE

The US is a world economic leader, but according to the Brookings Institute, our share of the global export economy continues to dwindle as growth of goods and services in China and India supersede our efforts.  Further, the Mountain West falls below the national average for international goods and service exports.  What does this mean?  It doesn't mean I need to go on a big 'buy American' rant.  It just means that there's a big opportunity to learn to embrace thinking and working globally. 

Graphic Courtesy of Brookings/JP Morgan Chase Global Cities Initiative

For their part, the Brookings Institute has paired with JP Morgan Chase to create the Global Cities Initiative - bringing expertise from Brookings and JP Morgan to the economic development officers of cities around the U.S. to help shift the focus from local to global thinking.  Traditionally, city-level economic development has emphasized attracting successful multinational companies from outside to engage with and bolster local markets.  The Global Cities Initiative turns this on it's head.  Economic developers are pushed to look at what companies already working in their cities do well and seeking other places around the globe looking for similar expertise.  Local businesses can then be exposed to a new market for global growth while bringing more success to their local economy.  Portland, for example, has joined the initiative and identified that there is significant local expertise in sustainable design - companies providing that expertise have been packaged together and presented to like-minded municipalities in Japan and China looking for sustainability experts.  While this sort of knowledge sharing isn't just limited to design firms, it underscores the long-term necessity of developing a global perspective on design.

It doesn’t mean I need to go on a big ‘buy American’ rant. It just means that there’s a big opportunity to learn to embrace thinking and working globally.

Western design firms continue to hold a strong grasp on the leading edge of quality design and architecture.  And, as countries that have been considered developed for a longer period of time than many of the emerging economies, we've had time to try and fail in many urban (and suburban) experiments.  Purely through a function of maturity of experience, we have a knowledge base that can help new development not recreate the same mistakes over again.  In that sense, it's worth thinking once in a while about design that's Not In My Backyard.

 Norman Foster found a way to sneak space for average people into the Hong Kong Financial District

Norman Foster found a way to sneak space for average people into the Hong Kong Financial District

If the opportunity of working internationally is recognized, it opens the door to a wide world of contexts to work within.  However, this puts a designer into the uncomfortable realm of passing along the best of what we know in environments that, if we're not careful, can turn into reflections of our worst western ideas.  This is an ongoing challenge and I don't have an answer here, but I think part of it lies in thoughtful, subtle design that straddles ambition of a developing world and the lessons learned of those of us lucky enough to be on the developed end of the spectrum.  

As an analogy of that thought, a coworker reminded me of Norman Foster's Hong Kong and Shanghi Bank.  Built as a monument to financial success, the building is an almost steampunk bridge structure that creates public space at its base.  And what's clever about that?  The bridge creates a public space that houses a market and shelter for the very low wage workers that would otherwise go unnoticed in a high-dollar financial district. 

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National Painting Week is here!


I'm back to helping the creative folks at Sherwin-Williams remind everyone about the simple power of paint color in honor of National Painting Week.  As a designer who tries to live by the mantra of editing down to the essential ingredients of an idea, color is something that I approach with a significant amount of rigor.  If a minimal approach to design allows space to move, think and breathe, adding accent color can let a space speak.

Minimal design leaves space to move, think, and breathe. When color is added, the design speaks

To convey this point, I've done a small experiment with a gallery and studio space I worked on for a design school.  Being a gallery space, much of the effort behind the design lies in its subtlety.  A rigor is placed into all of the elements of the design so that it can remain a timeless backdrop for the exhibitions of design work that will constantly evolve in the space.  

But we can let that fly out the window for now because it's National Painting Week. 

Photo Courtesy of RNL Design - Edits made for illustrative purposes

Since the gallery space is normally a backdrop, use of color lets the space have it's day in the sun. Suddenly, the walls that make up the gallery actually become the exhibit. But this is more than just going crazy with paint colors.

Accenting a space with paint is a process that should be approached with great care.  Essentially, you're picking out what you want to be at the forefront of the experience in the room.  If you accent too many things, it's like witnessing an argument between two people who aren't listening to one another - it won't make sense.  In the gallery space, after playing around in the Color Visualizer on the Sherwin-Williams website, I've chosen to accent with two colors, an aqua tone, Turquish (SW6939) and Knockout Orange (SW6885).  The tones of the colors play off one another, but they're kept in balance by the white field color of the ceiling.

Accenting a space with paint is a process that should be approached with great care. Essentially, you’re picking out what you want to be at the forefront of the experience in the room.


To take geeking out on accent colors a step further, the thought process between how to balance the two accent colors was to create a heirarchy in the space - you'll have to excuse the architectural jargon on this one.  Basically, we have the white surfaces as our field, then the major geometric features in these spaces are treated with Turquish.  The second accent color is treated like an accent to the accent colors.  This allows particular parts of the space to jump out and adds a layer of playfulness (or complexity - some people like making things complex).  The tone of the two colors also played a role in where they were applied. Of the two accent colors, Turquish is bright, but a bit more calming where as the accent to the accent, Knockout Orange (as the name implies), is more high energy.  My thinking around being judicious with the more energetic color was like this analogy: maybe it's okay to drink a Redbull once in a while to get some pep in your step, but you probably don't need one in your hand every waking hour (unless you want an ulcer).  

Photo Courtesy of RNL Design - Edits made for illustrative purposes

So that's my take on how to rethink spaces for National Painting Week.  The important thing to take away is that adding a paint color - and particularly an accent paint color is simple, but powerful.  So work with a purpose.  In the term accent paint, the important word to bear in mind is accent.  Just like in language, accents are small things that have big impacts - it's like the difference between having a crepe and having a crap.


Check out all the great painting projects that designers around the country are doing at NationalPaintingWeek.com


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How to implement a walkable city


I had the opportunity to attend this year's 2015 Rocky Mountain City Summit.  Among the morning keynote speakers was Jeff Speck, a city planner and national consultant.  Jeff has a TED talk about what defines a walkable city, but at the RMCS, he took his talk a step further and discussed implementation strategies. 

Walkability is tied to a multitude of factors and updates to the public ream/pedestrian environment can seem to imply costly construction work.  However, among the most effective and cheap initial measures to greater walkability is to reprioritize how we stripe our streets.  When drive lanes get wider, speeds get higher and pedestrian life dwindles.  Jeff Speck confirmed this with data relating to both safety and crime rates.  Similar trends hold true for one-way vs. two way traffic.  Something intangible called "friction" occurs between drivers heading in opposite directions and they mutually slow down.  This reduced speed leads to safer pedestrian environments and lower crime (probably because the perception of 'eyes on the street' is more present at slower speeds).  

When you think about these phenomena, Jeff Speck recommends that all roads with speeds below 45 mph be designed with a 10-foot drive lane as a maximum and, where possible, streets should be two-way.  Finally, traffic engineers should pay much closer attention to traffic count versus road sizing. In many downtown areas where traffic is distributed through a grid network, the average traffic count on a given street may yield that the street can actually be quite narrow despite being in a dense area.  Denver's downtown and my own neighborhood of Harvey Park could certainly benefit from a recalibration of our street widths and lane organization.   Maybe just a more progressive striping strategy could make the biggest first steps forward.

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The Feltron Annual Report


Nicholas Felton is a numbers guy.  Since 2005 or so he has archived data or his daily life annually and translated that information into beautiful graphic form - the Feltron Annual Report.  Each static dataset, a seemingly unrelatable web of information, adds up to a vivd snapshot of Felton's life on a yearly basis.  Of particular note is his 2010 Annual Report, which is dedicated to statistically describing the life of his father who passed away during that year.  Despite being a rigid collection of numbers, statistics like "number of photos featured wearing a tie"; "most frequently visited lunch locations"; "number of exclamation points used" really begin to paint a vivid picture and allow us to piece together a character in our heads.  For a bit lighter content representation of Feltron, the travel journal "Hello China, Goodbye Tibet" is worth skimming.

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