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25 December 2011

DIY Christmas

My wife came home with a Christmas tree, somewhat unannounced, about two weeks ago. After she set it down she said she was off to go get a stand... hmm. The ubiquitous Christmas tree stand in the US is stamped sheet metal painted red and green; I'm not a huge fan, so I offered to make one. She expressed her skepticism, but a few days after finals I built it.

It's made from leftover 1 1/4" angle iron (about 5' of it) from my previous coffee table project. I chose a triangular base because it would never wobble and would most easily hold the tree. The three pieces are identical which made fabrication quick and simple. More so in this project, because of its utilitarian nature, I let the material and fabrication process guide the design. For example, aesthetically, the angle iron should be rotated to show the flat side on the outside, but this would require some fairly difficult cutting and welding to make the connection between the three pieces. Instead I chose to keep the top flange hanging to the outside so that the angle iron could be simply butt-welded to one another.

The three pieces just prior to butt-welding them together then bending the legs up and welding them in place.
I tapped the angle iron to receive 5/16"-18 screws.
The finish is the same boiled linseed oil  that I usually use. I use steel wool beforehand to remove most of the mill slag.
Next I had a problem with the Christmas tree ornaments... so I designed some a laser cut them. Bonus: I found all the plywood in the garbage bins around the M&M building.This was a quick job from start to finish. For next year I'm going to come up with some more interesting designs and use  the 1/8" Baltic birch ply (it cut much faster and was burned less).

This photo was taken before I sanded them to remove the burn marks.
The cut-outs left on the laser bed.

 Here's a video of the laser cutter cutting the ornaments out. It's kind of like watching a waterfall or fire; even though it's not that exciting it's oddly mesmerizing and hard to avert your eyes.

I made some frames from Peruvian (tropical really) walnut for a few in-laws and myself. I also grabbed some panga lumber for the first time; beautiful wood but it explodes when you machine work it. I kind of liked it.
The finished stand. Still need to get some black bolts... Home Depot lacks aesthetic options.
The finished product.
The staves (soon to be molding) of Peruvian walnut being routed to form a rabbet.
This was my Christmas gift to my sister-in law. The frame is 11" x 14" (inside) and made of Peruvian walnut with maple splines.
The photos is a silver gelatin print I enlarged from a B&W negative I took of her in Napa. It's mounted on museum board .

23 December 2011

My Mom Really Needs a Bottle of Ripple

Muppets outtakes.

Feist - Graveyard (live)

Cults - Go Outside


Dear Mother, 
I don't want to be a doctor, and live by men's diseases; nor a minister to live by their sins; nor a lawyer to live by their quarrels. So I don't think there's anything left for me but to be an author. 
Nathaniel [Hawthorne]
A square in Berlin near the Altes Museum. The sign you can only kind of see on the right is Weihenstephaner - my favorite brewery.

21 December 2011


"The gods are of no sect; they side with no man. When I imagine that Nature inclined rather to some few earnest and faithful souls, and specially existed for them, I go to see an obscure individual who lives under the hill, letting both gods and men alone, and find that strawberries and tomatoes grow for him too in his garden there, and the sun lodges kindly under his hillside, and am compelled to acknowledge the unbribable charity of the gods." - Thoreau  Journal entry April, 15 age 23

My sister in law, Gaja, picking blueberries. This photo was made with a Diana+ using 120 B&W film.

20 December 2011

Fall 2011 Studio Work

My studio project this semester took place at The Plant in Chicago. I described it a little bit in this post. It was nice to have an actual client this time around, and to top things off it's entirely conceivable that they may implement some of the ideas that our studio came up with - being as that they're in a seemingly perpetual state of demolition and construction.

This is my 3' x 4' board that's on display at the plant right now.
Plan view (Google Earth view).

This is a Sanborn (historical) map overlaid over my plan. The old non-existent  buildings inform the new layout along the old rail corridor.

Birdseye view looking west. The beer garden is in the center with hops to the left and greenhouses to the right.
Birdseye view from the south looking north.
This is the terraced seating area between the great lawn and vending area of the beer garden.

The beer garden with terracing.

Diagram of the greenhouses,
Section of the greenhouse.
The back of the greenhouses. That's a double height rolling door on the left.  The concrete is left exposed so it can be used for work (i.e. compost can be laid against the wall, sand or debris can be piled, etc.)

The hop garden/parking lot made from simple telephone poles and stainless wire rope. Everyone really liked this which is funny because of the sheer practicality. If they actually built this I wouldn't be too surprised.

This is the initial scheme for the drainage of the street and site. I reconfigured the idea  to be less complex and more effective.
In the final scheme water from the street flows into a recessed planting area with well drained soil while the run-off from the site flows through the gabions and into the same area. The recessed area can store some amount of water as it waits to percolate into the soil. In the event of a large storm excess water would flow into the sewage system as it already does.

17 December 2011


This is for the rats from yesterday.

"Philosophers and scientists confidently offer up traits said to be uniquely human, and the monkeys and apes casually knock them down - toppling the pretension that humans constitute some sort of biological aristocracy among the beings on Earth." - Carl Sagan

This is the power and steam plant next to the Materials and Minerals Building (M&M, the wood shop) on IIT's campus. M&M was the first building (1939) Mies built in the US. It's also where I make all my furniture.

16 December 2011

Recommended Reading

The universe is immensely large.
To try imagining how big, place a penny down in front of you. If our sun were the size of that penny, the nearest star, Alpha Centauri, would be 350 miles away. Depending on where you live, that’s very likely in the next state (or possibly country) over.
In our ever expanding knowledge of: animals are basically just like us. Rats appear to have empathy. Also in the article, rats will share food and give up chocolate in order to help another rat.

Who are the 1%? They tend to vote Republican even if they aren't more conservative. They tend to have far more education with a simple caveat - being highly educated doesn't guarantee vast membership in the top 1%:
This is not to say that college degrees guarantee vast wealth. To the contrary, only a small fraction of all Americans who report having a postgraduate education (1.5%) or an undergraduate degree but no postgraduate education (0.8%) fall into the top 1% category.
And Some videos in order of educational - funny.

Via Freakonomics:


Small is Beautiful

Tata Nano, the world's least expensive car.

This article about the Tata has me a bit worried. For those of you who don't keep up with Indian automotive companies, the Tata is the world's least expensive car. It's spartan as hell and costs $2,400. The problem lies in the fact that Indians aren't into the idea of owning the worlds cheapest car. It's just not selling (contrary to this Wired article from 2008 which predicted that it would be a huge eco-problem because it would put so many people on the road, I agreed then, oops). And that's a problem for me. Let me explain.

Green technology is incremental. The gains it provides are percentage points, and as percentage points go they tend to be low. Not that I'm against them, I think it's a great effort, and I'll try to employ them probably even more than most architects. But I have a different approach too. If I only learn a few lessons in architecture school, one of them will be that every square inch costs money.

Oh? Don't want to pull that flat wall in to fit the contour of the rooms? Only 10 square feet you say. Well let's see, that's $140 a square foot in hard costs, plus your borrowing costs and other fees - times 10. Yup, that just cost you $2,000. Want to put a kink in that wall?

If your home is half the size it costs half a much. Half as much to heat. Half as much to cool. Half as much to repair. Half as time much to clean. No new technology - just smaller. It doesn't just work for buildings, it works for cars and other things too. This Formula 1 designer made an electric car that gets 350 MPG just by making it super light weight (more info).

I've brought up this idea to my professors and I usually get lukewarm feedback. Most buildings are formulaic. So many square feet per occupant, so much height, so many watts per square foot for lighting, etc. I'm told reinventing the wheel shouldn't be done, but in NYC or London people live in much smaller spaces because of the cost. I'm convinced that a good percentage of my generation would be willing to live in somewhat smaller places (say 10-25% smaller) in order to save money/work less/have more disposable income. Isn't that what our generation is all about? Less shit, more experiences.

But the Tata is proving otherwise. People do want more stuff. Bigger stuff. Nicer stuff. But this is also a country of poor people on the come up. Like most of our grandparents and great grandparents they didn't have anything growing up and now they want the Cadillac, their double quarter-pounder, and the swimming pool behind the mcmansion. Maybe we're different? Maybe not, if my brief stint on this planet has taught me anything it's that people are more similar than they are dissimilar.

As I always tell my friends who want me to build something. If we make it half the size we can make it twice as nice. Most have never thought of this. A big table from plywood can be cool but how about a coffee table made of black walnut instead? Consuming more doesn't mean consuming more. It means consuming quality, and that's what I want to build.

15 December 2011


“My education has been so unwitting I can't quite tell which of my thoughts come from me and which from my books, but that's how I've stayed attuned to myself and the world around me for the past thirty-five years. Because when I read, I don't really read; I pop a beautiful sentence into my mouth and suck it like a fruit drop, or I sip it like a liqueur until the thought dissolves in me like alcohol, infusing brain and heart and coursing on through the veins to the root of each blood vessel.” - Bohumil Hrabal

Travel is much the same. This photo was taken on my first trip to continental Europe. My travels; especially Switzerland, Denmark, and Germany; will undoubtedly influence my designs far more than any studio I've ever had or book I've ever read.

Cemetery in Chur, Switzerland

14 December 2011


What are you truly good at? I mean, expert. Ten thousand hours plus. As in, if you handed someone a resume with these things listed on them you would be expected to perform them at an expert level right then and there. What are yours? What would you like to be expert at? Post in the comments section. I'm legitimately curious.

I did this little exercise in my head and it kind of surprised me. Most of the things I want to be expert at I'm really not, and the things I am expert at are... strange?

Here are mine:

1 - Photography: If the camera has some manual controls then I'm comfortable with it. Large format film? Yes please.

2 - Paintball: It's interesting that becoming really good at something means that you understand your weaknesses better. Even up until the day I stopped playing (after 12 years and a few years pro) I had tons of skills that needed work.

3 - Riding a bike in a city: Chicago isn't Europe and biking here has more to do with comfort level than rules. After almost a decade of riding in Chicago almost every day I've developed an odd awareness for how to go as fast as possible without getting hit.

Genetically engineered (Scottish) legs don't hurt either. Photo: Jacki
Things I want to be expert at:

1 - Architecture: the programs associated with it, comprehensible sketches at a moments notice, the ability to communicate my ideas clearly, and a good understanding of its history/theory. They say most architects don't become good until they're in their 40's. By that logic I'm 3/15 of the way there or about 20% - sounds about right.

2 - Woodworking, welding, making things: The architectural job market may force me to get better at this anyways. I'm further along on this one.

Slowing Down Time

A group of scientists made a camera which shoots 0.6 trillion frames per second. As per explaining my million, billion trillion obsession - 0.6 trillion is 600 billions or 600,000 millions - frames per second. High speed camera = the ability to see things happen very slowly by playing the footage back at a normal rate. We can now see light as it travels (!).

Why isn't this on the NYT front page? Why are all the magazines in the grocery checkout isle feckless and base? The availability of media and physical goods reflects the desires of those able to purchase them. Thus, the world is built for people who love 12 oz. light beers, football, and Maxim magazine.

13 December 2011

On Creative Production

This more or less perfectly and succinctly explains how I feel every day about architecture school and my work surrounding it.

- Ira Glass (stolen from here, really like the site too)

And the hilarious and perhaps funniest/most true article I've ever read on architecture: Your House, Your Sandwich: An Architectural Drama in Five Parts.

The Plant - Architecture Installation

About two weeks ago I helped my studio professor, Mary Pat Mattson, setup an installation at The Plant. The Plant is a former pork processing plant on the edge of the Chicago Stockyards and served as the site for our project. The whole place is overbuilt - 2 1/2' thick columns, stainless steel, solid brick floors, and cork insulation throughout. Pretty cool.

We hung 3/32" stainless cable on 1/2" embedded anchors; to go with the overbuilt theme. The lower end is held in tension by a brick, there are more than a few laying around this place. Lighting is accomplished with simple clamp lights. I anchored some conduit to the ceiling with pipe clamps and tapcons for the lights to secure to.

I should have brought a bigger tripod and a note saying "yes it's a camera, please move along." I need to re-edit this too...

Pre-public arrival.

Jason talking to the documentary film maker. He's been following John Edel around for a few years and says he's going to make something in 20. Should be interesting. John is a really cool guy. He manages his pie in the sky thoughts with a down to earth attitude that's impossible not to admire.
Nice and blurry, just the way I like me. Photo Credit: Vija.