Here’s a plan of a home. Can you tell what the home looks like by looking at the plan? No? I can’t either.
How about the elevation below? Does it help? My answer would be, “a little, but I still don’t really get it.”
Part of my job is to help clients visualize the home I designed for them before it’s built to ensure they are satisfied with my work. Plans and elevations are not enough. These two dimensional representations simply cannot convey the feeling of three dimensional spaces or the impact of the architecture on the site. Virtually walking through the home via a 3d computer model provides a much greater understanding, but does not quite paint the whole picture, either.
But a rendering… now that can capture the essence of a design in an artistic way like nothing else can.
A picture is worth a thousand words. Here are four thousand:
Throw in a view or two from another perspective, and now you actually understand what you are building.
To this day, it amazes me that the vast majority of homes, even very expensive ones, are built with, at best, a few elevations and a plan. No physical model. No computer model. No renderings. I don’t know how they know what they are getting. Maybe they don’t care.
I put in hundreds of lights in every home I design, mostly in the kitchens to accentuate every glorious crumb on the counters, but sometimes in the dungeons, too (occasionally the homeowners want to clean out some of the dank or buff the chains). My go-to fixtures use halogen, MR16 bulbs because of their gorgeous light quality. But, LED’s are taking over the world, and while they are much more energy efficient, the light quality tends to bluish and sickly, even the supposedly “warm” bulbs. They sometimes make me long for fluorescent. A part of the light spectrum is missing.
I received a new bulb sample today, the Soraa. It set me back $20. But, finally! I have found the holy grail of lighting, an LED light bulb that not only doesn’t make me bilious, but that I can honestly say I like.
If you have any Low Voltage, MR16 light fixtures in your home, I recommend you give these a look (literally).
Floating on early morning powder, cutting the first tracks through the trees, my lungs scream for more of that damn, thin air. I stop to suck in a few cubic yards. Motionless, except for my pounding heart (which is attempting to break through my chest on its way to a nice, comfy sofa), I revel in the moment. All is still and quiet – not the quiet of an absence of sound, but of sound dampened by a thick blanket of snow. You can sense its muffled struggling, but it can’t quite escape.
It occurs to me that this is the antithesis of my daily life. I am alone in an alien world. Not physically, of course (pretty sure I’m still on Earth – plus, there are no slimy creatures trying to claw their way out of my chest… unless … that’s not my heart pounding after all?).
What’s different is the mindset. As an architect, I spend my life meticulously planning, and then meticulously planning what I previously meticulously planned. Here, there is no planning – every move is a reaction to what’s happening this very instant, and the instants pass quickly.
Here, you literally cannot see the forest for the trees, and those trees come at you awfully fast. You can see the trees immediately ahead, but what’s beyond them cannot be anticipated (except, maybe, by ESP – but I haven’t developed that particular skill beyond knowing who’s likely to steal my piece of cake from the fridge. I’ve got that down pat).
Here, each slight shifting of your skis commits you to an entirely new path with a different set of obstacles, all of them hard and immovable (except the occasional fluffy bunny, but you can’t feel them under your skis anyway). Often you fly around a pine tree, all the while praying there will be a gap large enough to fit through on the other side. Sometimes obstacles lurk beneath the snow [cue ominous music, like the theme from Jaws]. Once, my skis buried themselves under a hidden, snow-covered log. Unwillingly leaving them behind, I gracefully tumbled forward through the air, exactly unlike Baryshnikov. Think Tomahawk Missile. By the time I stopped rolling you could have stuck a top hat and carrot on me and no one would have looked twice.
The Secret Exposed
The powder doesn’t last long enough for us powder hounds. Over time, it morphs into moguls, with trees sprouting up between them. Here’s a little secret, even for non-skiers, because this post isn’t actually about skiing, it’s really about life. Shhhh, don’t tell anyone: Most people try to ski around the moguls and sometimes even attempt to follow a predetermined path between them. This rarely works out well. Moguls need to be tackled head on. Skied around, sometimes, but more often over and through, with the flexibility of a human shock absorber. To ski moguls, just like trees, you can’t plan ahead, you take what comes at you, roll with it and use it to your advantage.
Obstacles vs. Obstacles, What’s the Difference?
We come to a place like this, Steamboat, Colorado, specifically for the challenges, to conquer the obstacles. Sometimes that merely involves tipping a glass at the end of the day without spilling in the hot tub. Some challenges are more worthy than others.
In daily life, our natural tendency is to avoid obstacles. We avoid trees (for very good reason), and we also avoid moguls, without differentiating between the two. But they are very different. One will hurt or even kill you (that’d be the trees, for those of you not paying attention), but the other will add spice and even joy to your life, make you stronger and, hopefully, a better person. Yep, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Never thought much about that saying until now.
Obviously we want to steer clear of trees, but that doesn’t mean staying out of the woods. Embracing life’s challenges makes life worth living. Without challenge there is no failure. Without failure, there is no success. Without success (and the hip bone’s connected to the…). Well, you get the point.
You can’t really know the joy of success unless you personally know failure. Hence my loathing of participation trophies (read about that here).
Embracing obstacles is only half the battle. The other half is how we tackle them. I was once asked why I ski so fast through the trees yet am a veritable turtle on the groomed runs. Isn’t it dangerous? Shouldn’t you go slower? There are two reasons:
First, contrary to common sense, it’s safer. In order to maneuver effectively on skis, you need speed. Think about how hard it is to turn the steering wheel when your car is stopped or moving slowly. The same concept applies to both skiing and life. You either snowplow your way around every tree (what’s the point, really) or you push it to your limit. As long as you keep your wits and don’t panic, you’ll be fine (of course, you might want to master a few skills outside of the trees first. Just sayin’). Be loose and flexible. Tense up, and things go downhill quickly 😉 . If you hang in limbo, neither slow enough nor fast enough, you will likely become one with a tree, young grasshopper.
Second, and most important, once you have tasted the powder, trees and moguls (figuratively, I hope – or literally if that’s your thing. Hey, I’m not here to judge), groomed runs no longer excite. They have no obstacles.
Far better it is to dare many things to win glorious triumphs, even checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.
Inspired by the shortest novel ever written, a six word story attributed to Hemingway, I have finally penned the penultimate poem (say that three times fast). My magnum opus. A single-word poem encompassing life, the universe and everything [pan to Douglas Adams turning in his grave].
Having previously unraveled the sound of one hand clapping, my focus is now on solving the conundrum of a single word rhyming. Here’s my poem (and no, it’s not 41 or 43, because that would be silly):
O.k., It doesn’t rhyme and is a bit depressing, but it does convey life’s propensity to just… keep… pounding on us.
For those of you in need of closure, here’s Hemingway’s story (my poem is less depressing, btw):
I am currently designing an island home, so it only seems fitting to also create an architectural logic puzzle based on a classic conundrum:
An architect, engineer and contractor are constructing a home on an island. They are not getting along. As happens frequently on construction projects, the engineer is having an affair with the contractor’s wife. To add to the friction, the contractor has stated in no uncertain terms that his two-year old child could draw a better set of plans than the architect (this also happens frequently, but not to us 😉 ).
At the start of the workday, they arrive together at the shore. It’s a low budget project and the only way onto the island is via a small ferry that can hold two people (and one of the two must be the ferryman).
If the contractor and architect are left alone on either the island or the shore, the architect will pummel the contractor.
If the engineer and contractor are left alone, well, let’s just say the engineer will require additional structure for support.
The architect and the engineer, on the other hand, are BFF. They can safely be left alone together.
When the three are together, one of them always intervenes in the others’ dispute, thus avoiding calamity.
So, how can the ferryman bring everyone to the island without incident (alive and unbound), and save himself the extra trip of ferrying a medic across to clean up the mess?
Models have gone the way of the buggy whip, the Dodo bird, and my plaid bell-bottoms. No, I’m not talking about fashion models. They’re still around, just skinnier. I’m talking about physical, architectural models, crafted from cardboard, wood or even metal. They have all but vanished from the architectural world, supplanted by computer models like the one below.
Why? You might guess it’s because of the time and expense involved in building a physical model. And you would be correct – I have never built a physical model of one of my kitchen designs due to their limited budgets, but I always construct a computer model.
Yet, there are a myriad of other reasons. For example, with a computer model, the architect is not limited by the modeling materials. Further, it is quick and easy to digitally experiment with various ideas and to use the model as part of the design process rather than merely as a finished representation of the building. Limitations of shape and form are nonexistent. And, let’s not forget the ability to “walk” inside the model. Now, that’s cool!
Another limitation of physical models is their inability to accurately convey color and texture. Typically, additional renderings are also required incurring even more expense. The wood model below is excellent for describing form and massing, but is incomplete without the associated color renderings.
I’m not the least bit nostalgic over the loss of my drafting table, parallel bar, T-square and triangles… and if I had to choose between computer models and physical models, the computer wins hands down. But a piece of me still yearns for lovely physical models. Today, the only time we build them is for projects with large budgets or for clients to display.
Seems like only yesterday my son, Beck, and I spent an afternoon in the workshop making trains. He was five and still fascinated by Thomas the Tank Engine. The lesson we learned: you can take almost any old leftover scraps of wood, glue them together, and voila, you have a train.
Today he’s ten and needs to make room on his shelves for things less babyish (I’m a little nervous about what that means). Oh well, I’ll save the trains for his kids (or, maybe I’ll just play with them myself).
A trip to a local train yard confirmed how uncannily accurate our wooden trains were to the real thing (except, maybe, in size, shape, color, material, proportion, mass, and function – but we nailed viscosity).
When you build a home on a mountain, great views are par for the course. But on this mountain in Sonoma, California, you regularly find yourself on top of the world. This is a home I designed on the Gustafson Family Vineyards.