A Great Place to Go, to Get to Someplace Else

Like pirates, boats and booty? Try Saint Malo – a medieval port town in northern France. Once the smarmy haunt of pirates (but not Johnny Depp, smarmy), there are still masts everywhere (but newer masts, and no sign of Johnny).

Tim Bjella Sketches - Fishing Boat at Saint Malo

Saint Malo - Tim Bjella
Tim Bjella, typical tourist

Robyn and I passed through Saint Malo back in 1990, a stepping stone on our way to the picturesque, but oh-so-touristy, Mont Saint Michel. We stopped here mainly to pick up some cheese and a loaf of French bread. After searching everywhere without success, a helpful Frenchman suggested, “We just call it bread here.”

Robyn Bjella - Saint Malo
Robyn Bjella, taking a break from taking a break

Saint Malo has great beaches, but cold water. It is a nice place to spend a few hours walking the ramparts and sketching the boats before moving on to somewhere else, possibly somewhere with more Johnny, and booty.

Tim Bjella Sketches - St. Malo, France

A loooooooooooooooong jetty protects the harbor

Amazingly, this town was reduced to rubble during World War II by an Allied mortar attack intended to oust thousands of reported Nazis who were barricaded within. Turns out the reports were incorrect. There were fewer than a hundred. Oops.

A Nice Walk Along the Breaker

A stroll along the ramparts (or jetty, or wall, or… well, you can walk on top of just about everything here)

Think glass is weak? Think again.

Willis Tower Glass Observation Pod

Despite years of practice, Robyn, Beck and I are not levitating 103 storeys above Chicago (20 feet is about our limit). And, no, our magic carpet didn’t suddenly vanish, either – if I had a magic carpet, I certainly wouldn’t be bragging about it on a blog. Obviously, I’d be planning world domination, so I could make all of you my minions. Let’s just take a moment to revel in that thought…

Willis Tower Above the CloudsAnyway. If you wake up in the middle of the night with an irrepressible urge to walk on glass that is higher than the clouds, Chicago’s Willis (formerly Sears) Tower is the place to be. You might want to wait until they open in the morning, though. I’d hate to read about your bullet ridden corpse in the paper. Not to mention, I’d have one less minion.

Seriously, though. I don’t have a magic carpet.

Once the tallest building in the world, the Willis skyscraper was recently retrofitted with glass boxes that project beyond its facade. While I understand the engineering behind this, it still makes me nervous. Maybe that’s why it makes me nervous.

The glass floor is not resting on a steel frame (i.e. strong and unbreakable) like you would expect. It is suspended by little bolts drilled through it and attached to the side panes of glass by a few moreWillis Tower Observation Pods bolts. So, the glass floor is actually supported by the glass walls. The glass walls are themselves supported by a steel frame at the top (finally, some steel!) via more holes and bolts. That’s a lot of holes between you and the pavement below. The glass floor relies on the integrity of the swiss-cheesy glass walls to support the entire weight of you, hordes of well fed tourists and the glass box. Hope you didn’t eat a big lunch, too!

Also, did I mention you are walking on glass? Yes, it’s thick and laminated, and a magnificent work of engineering, but it’s still glass.

Willis Tower Observation Pods from Above

Willis Tower

Crowning the Tower. It’s Just Like Legos! Not.

Bjella Architects Sonoma California Tower

“Do the workers on the job site ever throw things at you”?

“Have you ever had a nail gun “accidentally” discharge into your thigh?”

“Do you have to dodge dirty buckets of water tipped from floors above”?

The answer to these questions is no, but probably should be yes. Why? Not because architects are mortal enemies of contractors (usually it’s more of a love fest with our contractors – we are fortunate to work with the best), but rather because we often push them to extremes.

This house and winery in Sonoma, California is a good example. Its heavy timber “crown” was painstakingly built on the ground and lifted by crane to cap the home’s lookout tower. It sure was easy to draw it on paper, but building it was somewhat more complicated. It is designed with concealed connections, which is where it gets tricky. You cannot simply nail or glue heavy timbers together. You have to bolt them (for some reason our clients don’t like their homes crashing down on them in the middle of the night – go figure). But we didn’t want to see the bolts.

If you are wondering about the design idea, the inspiration, for this home/winery:

  • The tower is symbolic of a wine bottle (this is a winery after all!).
  • The crown is the cork in the wine bottle.
  • The arched, barrel roof is derived from a wine barrel lying on its side.
  • The colors and materials are natural and “of the vineyard.”
    • The lumber for the crown was milled from trees on the site.
    • The colors of the home are found in the surrounding soils and Madrone tree bark.
    • The stone emanates from a nearby quarry, selected to match the site’s natural rock outcroppings

 Silhouette of Modern Home in Sonoma California by Bjella Architects

For more about the vineyard and its fantastic wines, check out the Gustafson Family Vineyard.

See more of my work at Arteriors Architecture.

People Who Live in Glass Houses… Live in Our Houses. A Hilltop Home in Los Angeles, California by Arteriors Architects

Los Angeles Hilltop Modern Glass House

In my neverending quest to create “art you can live in”, I present this home in Calabasas, California. But, not as art for art’s sake. Anyone can design a home as a piece of sculpture, or as a shocking statement, but the true art lies in creating an artful home that also embraces the occupants. A thoughtful home that cuddles them and makes them feel comfortable. A romantic home that enriches their lives with textures, light and pleasing spaces throughout their day; all the while breaking away from the standard memes that we think of as a traditional home.

Los Angeles Hilltop Modern Glass House View from Above

This provocative hilltop, floor-to-ceiling glass house just outside of Los Angeles, California provides stunning views of the city below across an infinity edge pool. Its flat roofs are green-planted and hold an extensive solar panel array along with water reclamation systems.

See more of my work at Arteriors Architecture.

Modern Zen Kitchen Design in Minneapolis, Minnesota

Zen Kitchen
A loft designed for a couple moving from the suburbs to the city, wishing to embrace the change of location as well as lifestyle.

The owners of this loft desired a contemporary, yet warm and welcoming, subtle Asian aesthetic. To this end I employed a series of yin yang contrasts: dark vs. light materials, textured vs. smooth, horizontal vs. vertical elements.

The couple spends the winter in warmer climates, but wanted the design to subtly remind them of the winters they were missing when they were home for the summer. The cabinetry was designed to abstractly recall the leafless tree branches prevalent in a Minnesota winter. To achieve this, the cabinetry doors were stained dark grey. A branch pattern was then routed into their surfaces. Finally they were overlayed with a layer of sandblasted, black glass.

The materials are natural, quartered white oak cabinetry, sustainable warm-toned bamboo flooring, black slate and glass tile, black granite countertops and stainless steel. See the video interview or read the article at Trends Magazine.

This kitchen won first place, “Best of the Best” in Subzero’s coveted 2013 biannual regional kitchen design contest. It also garnered the 2013 RAVE (Residential Architects Vision & Excellence) award.

See more of my work at Bjella Architecture.

Trends Magazine Interview with Architect Tim Bjella – Modern Zen Kitchen Design in Minneapolis, Minnesota

I stumbled across this video on the web today of a penthouse loft I designed back in 2012. It’s an interview with New Zealand’s Trends Magazine that I had missed when it published. See the photos.

See more of my work at Bjella Architecture.

The End of an Era – Novelty Architecture sketches

My all time favorite sketch is… drum roll, please… a hot dog stand. Yep. Of all my sketches, this kitschy, little hot dog stand truly flips my boat, floats my world and rocks my switch (in all conceivable variations): Tail o’ the Pup – an icon of Los Angeles since 1946, and one of the last remnants of days long past. You know, the good ol’ days when buildings looked like the things they sold… otherwise known as Novelty Architecture. O.k., it wasn’t that great of an era, but still, it’s mostly gone, so show some respect.

The Pup is currently in mothballs, but slated to reopen in 2016. As befitting a work of (almost, kinda) art, Tail o’ the Pup is now a designated cultural landmark (the bar is apparently not all that high in L.A.). Greece has the Parthenon. We have a 17 foot long greasy wiener in a bun.

So why do I like it? Because it’s memorable. It’s silly. It’s fun. And, the Parthenon doesn’t make me smile. By way of context, I’m also a guy who thinks that all water towers should be painted with giant googly eyes. Seriously. That would be SO cool!

Not to be outdone, however, I’m currently working on an idea of my own. It’s a house, that looks like a shoe. Hope nobody’s already done it. I’ll get back to you on that.

Tim Bjella Sketches - Tail o the Pup

Tim Bjella Sketches - Tail o' the Pup

Tail o' the Pup

Below is another example of a novelty roadside attraction. Can you guess what type of food is served here? If you guessed Chinese, you are wrong (and probably don’t get out enough – or take-out enough).

Tim Bjella Sketches - Roadside Stand

Before you start thinking that Novelty Architecture as an art form lacks versatility and is limited to fast food stands, here is (was, actually) a famous (or not) real estate office in Hollywood, the Sphinx Realty:

Tim Bjella Sketches - Sphinx Realty

Sphinx Realty

And lastly, a long since demolished burger stand in Coulee City, Washington. A Tee Pee. Maybe they served bison burgers?

Tim Bjella Sketches - Coulee City, Washington

Tim Bjella Sketches - Coulee City, Washington

Novelty Architecture. Can’t get enough of it? See more on Pinterest .

Cheers! Tim Bjella

You call that a staircase? THIS is a staircase.

Modern Sculptural Winding Stair

Architects LOVE staircases. To us, they’re like candy, except less sticky. Ask us to design a house and we’ll probably suggest you put a staircase in every room, just so we can design a few more. A typical exchange with a client goes something like this:

“Yes, sir, of course you need a staircase in your bathroom.”

“But, but, but… it’s a 1-level house.”

“That is true, sir, but how will you get to the toilet we installed on the roof? And, you get to take the slide back down. Won’t that be fun?”

“The SLIDE????”

Modern Sculptural Winding Stair

See more of my work at Bjella Architecture.