Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Lou Kahn + Some Thoughts on Drawing

Architecture.  Making buildings.  Hopefully, with enough effort, the building will be worthwhile in the end. I'll stand there and admire it, and hopefully get to take a few photos of it, before turning it over to the owner. Maybe I will get to return and visit from time to time. Sometimes projects are far away, and you may not get the opportunity to go back, ever.

When you look at a particular building, all you can see is the finished product. There are no semi-erased lines on the floor showing where the walls would have been, before the architect revised the plans. Architecture is a process that leads to a product. To the viewing public, there is only the product. But to the architect, it is all about the process, and once the process is complete, the architect moves on.

One of the things I enjoy most about teaching drawing to young architects is that the process of creating architecture is fundamentally based on drawing. It's what we do. Novelists write, painters paint, architects draw.

Drawing is the primary means by which we communicate our ideas. When the students pin up their final designs for critique at the end of the semester, I think it's important to point out the examples of students who have design concepts that are beyond their ability to depict via their drawings. This gives me the opportunity to give one of my favorite mini-lectures: That your ideas are only as good as your ability to communicate them. It doesn't matter, in the end, how brilliant your ideas are, or how brilliant you think they are. If you can't communicate them with the world in an intelligible way, you fail. 

We also draw to study the world around us. This type of investigative drawing is similar to, but distinct from, design drawing. There is an exhibition running through July 1 at Lori Brookstein Fine Art, in New York, of some drawings by the great architect Lou Kahn.  The drawings on exhibit are sketches from his travels, of the 'investigative' type.  They strike me as being much more about the process of investigation and discovery, than about having anything to do with making a picture to be framed and hung on a gallery wall. The gallery has the exhibit available online; I encourage you to click through the link and check it out. Better yet, go see it for yourself if you can.

I think if more people saw drawing as a process of investigation and discovery, and less about trying to make a particularly nice looking picture (and by whose standard, anyway?) you would see more people out and about with their sketch pads and pencils in hand.  Drawing is a language of communication -- whether you are projecting your own fantasies to show others, or privately exploring the world around you. Each of us has a unique, individual voice, which can only be discovered by taking pencil or pen in hand and doing the work.

Imagine how the world opens up to an adult who is illiterate and then learns to read and write. I would argue that there is a similar expansion of one's life available to the person who is willing to make the effort to discover his own visual voice, and learn to use it to express himself.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Summer of Bikes, 2011

Among the things I'm most excited about right now is my Summer Bike Project.

Years ago, I built a bike, when I was in architecture school.  It was for a summer object making class, and it was the first time I made anything substantive out of steel.  They picked my bike for the postcard advertising the exhibition. (I hasten to point out whenever I show it that I did not design the postcard itself, just the bike.)

Here are some closeup details.  I was especially happy with how the chain-drive steering turned out.

The steering wheel:

The seat itself came from a kid's trike:

We did a lot of scavenging that summer.  Most of the bearings and other components were cut off of junk bikes we found or bought cheap from thrift stores.

For my bike(s) this summer, I have found some good resources online for bearings and other components, and I don't plan on doing any bike-part-scavenging.  The website I'm looking at the most, as I work through my designs, is  They seem to have just about everything in the way of bike parts, and lots of helpful diagrams.  I'll also hit up some local bike shops once I'm closer to starting, and see what they have in stock for components.  It's always good to have relationships with helpful local experts when you have technical questions about a project.  Also, returning/exchanging parts that don't turn out to be quite the right thing is waaaay easier when you're dealing locally.

The new designs I'm working on have a pretty clear relationship to my original bike: I'm keeping the smaller rear wheel and chain-drive steering concepts for now (although for one of the bikes I'm sketching, I'm attempting to simplify things by using conventional steering.)  Things are still developing, but I should have some pics to show in the next few days.

Also, I'm in talks with a couple of friends in an attempt to persuade them to make bikes along with me, and then put together some kind of exhibition at the end of the summer.

Stay tuned!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Tuesday Night OList Happy Hour: Projects, Planning, and Productiveness

It's been a while since I've blogged about an OList Happy Hour topic.

Being in a big planning push this week to get a start on my summer projects, it got me wondering what the other OList folk have planned, project-wise, for their summers.

This line of thinking then had me wondering what others were doing to plan out and organize their work.  At the moment, I'm in the process of charting out the coming months, setting milestones, and conducting research. I'm determined to get as much as I can out of the long days and nice weather.

What projects are you planning for the coming months?  Can you think of actions you could take to give your productiveness a boost?  Join us for Happy Hour tonight and let's discuss!

Happy Hour Mechanics:

Happy Hour takes place in the OList Chatroom, every Tuesday night, from 9-10 p.m. Eastern and 6-7 p.m. Pacific.

Point your browser to  You will be asked for a login and password - check your OList email for these.

You will see the chat window that looks like this:

On the right is the list of users participating; on the left is the chat itself.  At the bottom, you have the option of logging in through your facebook account, or as a guest.  If you log in through facebook, it will pull your profile picture into the list next to your name, which is a nice feature.

For general information on the OLists Socials, check out the OList Events page here.

Your hosts for the OList Socials are @DianaHsieh@laforgetm (aka William Green) and myself, @Earl3d

Monday, June 13, 2011

Summer Welding Projects

This week is our finals week at school, which means Summer is finally upon me!  I'm looking forward to spending a lot of time in the shop this summer, and have been excitedly prioritizing my welding projects.

The list* looks something like this, thus far:

1. Finish the glider I started last summer.  It was well underway when the Tennessee House completely took over my life for pretty much the rest of the year.

2. Handrail for my cousin Ed's stairs.  He asked me to put something together for him a while ago.  This will be relatively simple and quick once I have my shop back up and running.

3. Rack for my dumbbell set.  Another easy, utilitarian project.  It's good to have a few simple things to work on in between, and along with, the complicated ones.

4. New bicycle.  Yes!   A new bike for summer.  I'm already sketching and researching parts for this, and getting very very excited about it.  Watch for a whole post on this topic.

5. Experiment with making metal bowls on my lathe.  If this sounds complicated and weird, well...  I saw a video online ages ago where someone had put a metal plate on their lathe and was using their welder to build up metal bowls.  Think of a potter with a wheel, only instead of starting with a lump of clay, you start with a flat metal plate and build up the thickness as it spins.  This will be extremely experimental, and I'm not sure how it will go.  I've been wanting to try it for a long time.

In addition to these, I have one special commission already in the works, and am talking to a potential new client this Friday about some welding she needs done.

It's going to be a busy, fun summer!

*Subject to change, of course!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Strange Architectural Dream #541

Last night I dreamt I was touring around in, and investigating, a small Gothic cathedral.  In the dream, I was disappointed to discover, upon careful examination from all angles, that it was not Notre Dame de Paris.

The cathedral portion of the dream was depicted entirely in sepia tones.

Also, there were hot tubs and bad guys involved at some point.

That's all I can remember.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Frank Lloyd Wright on What's My Line

As we continue our celebration of Frank Lloyd Wright's birthday:  Here is a clip of Wright that I found on YouTube.  Wright appeared on the game show What's My Line on June 3, 1956.

It's a little long but very fun to watch.  I love how he signs his name on the chalkboard at the beginning.


Happy Birthday Frank Lloyd Wright

Frank Lloyd Wright was born today in 1867.

Wright's design philosophy was heavily influenced by his association with Louis Sullivan, as well as the writings of the French architect Eugene-Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc.  These two originated the idea that architecture must be grounded in, and exemplary of, the highest and best aspects of the technology and culture out of which it arises.  

Viollet-le-Duc came first; Sullivan further developed his ideas, originating the well-known formulation, "Form Follows Function".  Without their fundamental guiding principles, Wright might have been a talented designer, but would not likely have reached the heights he did in his career.  I describe the philosophical link shared by these three giants in the talk I gave recently at ATLOSCON, and which I will give again at the Chicago Objectivist Society's conference this coming Labor Day weekend.

As a celebration of his fabulous contribution to my very Top Value, I offer a few snaps of my visit to one of his greatest achievements, Fallingwater.  The house was completed in the late 1930s, while Wright was in his late 60s.  When most people would be at retirement age, Wright was in his prime.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Night Blooming Cactopodes!

I'm quite pleased about the fact that just earlier today I was writing about last year's spectacular crocosmia bloom; and then, this evening, I went outside and saw the first blossoms of the summer on one of my giant night-blooming cactopodes in the front yard!


Each blossom opens at dusk, blooms for only one night, and then withers as the sun rises.  They generally produce enough blossoms to go night by night for most of the summer, well into late August.  When properly pollinated, they produce bright red fruit, somewhere in size between a golf and a tennis ball.

Witness: fruit from a previous year.

As I stood there admiring the cool evening ambiance and lovely scenery of my garden, my neighbor Mercedes appeared at her front gate and we chatted.  Well, we sort of chatted.  Our conversations are generally along the lines of making benevolent statements to one another and smiling a lot.  Her English is about equivalent to my Spanish.  She is the matriarch of their household, which includes everything from a relatively small, cute baby (her granddaughter), to a handsome Marine (her son) who is now attending the Police Academy.  On more than one occasion, she has shown up at my doorstep, smiling, with a plate full of carne asada or chile rellenos for me. 

I picked a flower and gave it to her, and then there was one left.

Crocosmia Part I

Last year the crocosmia in my front yard bloomed and bloomed and bloomed.  They were gorgeous.  This year we had a lot of rain, which beat them down, and they just didn't look as good.

Fortunately, however, last year I got great pictures.  Somehow they never made it onto the blog.  Today we'll look at some of those.  I'm planning to follow up with a couple more posts on crocosmia, because they're my favorite flower, and I like to talk (and write) about things that merit that distinction.

So, without further ado, here's a quick tour around my little front yard.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Amusing UK Signage Graphics Part III: Danger!

Today we close our series of Amusing UK Signage Graphics with Part III: Danger!  All of these were taken by me during my trip to the UK in the Fall of 2009.

There's something oddly specific to me about this. 

This reminds me a bit of the ones we have on jetways
that warn you of the tripping hazard.
The image of the guy tripping and flying through the air
always makes me chuckle.  Of course,
I probably won't be laughing when it's me
that falls on his ass, but still.
(Actually I might laugh at myself in such a circumstance.)

Danger of Death! 

Enter these premises and God himself may very well strike you down!
Consider yourself warned. 
This one was my favorite. :)

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Pantheon, Rome

Another great building that I could write a whole extensive field trip post about, and may yet do someday, is The Pantheon in Rome.  It has such a rich history, and is one of my favorite buildings.

For today, I'm just posting a single, composite picture of the interior of the Pantheon.  I took this on my last trip to Italy, in 2004.

Click to embiggen, and enjoy!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Amusing UK Signage Graphics Part II: Fashions

Today I present Part II of my series of Amusing UK Signage Graphics, from my trip to the UK in late 2009. Our topic for today is Fashion. Sort of.

Part II has fewer pictures but I'm fond of them nonetheless.

Bowler Hats Required Here!

Don't forget your fashionable footwear.

OK, so it's really a safety helmet. 
But what a smart looking helmet it is!

That's it for today's installment.  Part III is a little longer, and includes my favorite one out of the whole series.  

Look for it on Friday!