Amiens Cathedral – Sketches of Our First

Tim Bjella Sketches - Amiens, France

It’s date night with my wife, Robyn, out for sushi and a movie. So, I asked her if she remembered the first cathedral we ever visited together in our travels over the years, because that is what architects talk about. That, and curling (the sport, not the irons).

For those of you on the edge of your seats, the cathedral in the small town of Amiens, France was our first. Not the biggest, not the best, but it holds a special place in our hearts. Why? Because the hotel in which we stayed that night had its very own shower in the room! We still had to walk down the corridor to use the toilet and sink, but who cares when you have your own shower.

“Say Robyn, do you remember the cathedral in Amiens?”


“You know, the one where our hotel room had a shower?”

“Oh yeah, that one. I’ll never forget that.”

Memories are funny. They often piggyback on one another and you cannot separate them.

not simply a church,
but a pathway to heaven,
God? This thing is big!

Amiens Cathedral, France

Tim Bjella Sketches - Amiens Cathedral

Tim Bjella Sketches - Amiens Cathedral

Tim Bjella Sketches - Amiens, France

Amiens Canal

Amiens, France - Tim and Robyn Bjella
Isn’t it romantic? Two young kids, Robyn and Tim Bjella, backpacking through Europe – 1990.



Peekaboos between spaces make for interesting homes, creating an alluring tease which gradually reveals what lies beyond. Trust me, it’s much more fun than showing it all at once. Yes, this applies to architecture, too. In this example, a curved wall separates the foyer from the living room, and another separates the living from the dining. Combine this idea with the concept of layering spaces (a topic for another post), and you really have something.

Peekaboo Living Room

Modern House Living Room by Tim Bjella Arteriors Architects

Window-Dressing – A Modern Home Window Primer

Modern House Window Detail Arteriors Architects-1

This little corner of a modern house is a veritable laboratory of ways to incorporate windows in a home. It wasn’t my intent when I designed the home. It just worked out that way.

  1. Standard punched window, inset in the stone wall (this is the only type of window found in most homes)
  2. Projected window, at copper wall
  3. Frameless glass, above the stone wall
  4. Floor to ceiling “storefront” window, turns the corner

Modern House Window Detail Arteriors Architects-2

Extreme Air 5k – A Creative Run

Extreme Air 5k-9

A four-family 5k run with bouncy houses

Just another race for team “Ice Cream Truck Chasers.”

I lobbied for the name “Team Bad Ass,” but nobody wanted to be half or dumb (I called dibs on smart). Yet, we snarfed down ice cream afterwards, so everything worked out.

Extreme Air 5k-2

What made this run extreme wasn’t so much the huge bouncy obstacles (12 of them interspersed along the route), but the terrain and the 90 degree temps. Rather than a nice flat park, the organizers chose a ski hill (at least it was summer and hills in Minnesota aren’t exactly a mecca for mountain climbers – I didn’t see a single mountain goat). It would have been too easy to run along the contours so… you can see where this is going. Just picture that guy in hell, Sisyphus, who has to push a boulder for eternity up a steep hill, only to have it roll down before he gets to the top. Except, there’s no boulder, only endless hill and bouncy houses – whee!

Despite this, or because of it, it was the most fun we’ve had at any run, including those with “mud” in their names. I attribute it to our exhaustive and exhausting pre-run training regimen. I personally napped the day before and trimmed my toenails on race day.

Extreme Air 5k-1Plus, I think we won. There were no timing clocks, but we got these nice medals, so there you go!


I’m sad to report we had one casualty. Bob (pictured below in the middle, standing instead of running), helped the youngsters over some of the obstacles and did not eat ice cream after the run. He’s been banned from the team for not living up to its ideals. [Update: after much discussion with Robyn, Bob has been reinstated. Apparently his ideals of kindness, generosity and healthy eating are precisely what the team should aspire to, not the opposite (plus he’s our ringer). It’s a topsy turvy world.]

Extreme Air 5k-3

Color vs. Monochrome – Sketching the Desert Southwest

Occasionally I’ll dab some color on a monochrome sketch. I’m not sure which I prefer, the integrity of a raw sketch, or the vibrancy of added color. Any opinions? These are sketches from Arizona and southern California.

Tim Bjella Sketches - Desert Southwest

Tim Bjella Sketches - Desert Southwest

Tim Bjella Sketches - Desert Southwest

Arizona Shack

Tim Bjella Sketches - Serra Museum, San Diego
Serra Museum, San Diego


Solution: Light Switch Logic Puzzle

Light Bulb

Solution to the light switch puzzle:

Flip the first switch and leave it on for a minute, then switch it off.
Ignore the second switch.
Flip the third switch and leave it on.

Hoof your way, painfully gasping, up the many flights of stairs to your apartment.

Examine the lamp.

If the bulb is off, and warm, then the first switch controls the lamp.
If the bulb is off, and cold, then the second switch controls it.
If the bulb is on, do I have to tell you…?

A Box with a Secret – See, Mom, Physics can be Fun!

Puzzle Box-1Beck wanted to build a locking box to keep safe the valuable things 9 year old boys collect (most of them are dead). A quick accounting revealed we had the required stuff:

Old cedar from a recently demolished closet… Check.

Tools… Check.

Can-do spirit… Check.

Twenty fingers… Check (I like to count them before and after. I find if you wait too long, it is harder to clean out the sticky pieces lodged in the machinery).

Instead of a typical box with a padlock, we went minimal. Aesthetically it’s just a box, nothing special, but what makes it cool is its locking mechanism. Everything is flush except for a single, solitary knob on top. The knob doesn’t appear to do anything. It doesn’t turn (much), or lift up, and cannot be pushed in any direction. While you can hear things sliding around inside the box, no matter what you do, opening it appears impossible. Unless you know the secret.

The secret is centrifugal force. You probably guessed that.

Puzzle Box-7

The box’s top is secured in place by six sliding pins (nails, actually). The box remains locked no matter how it is tilted because when some of the pins slide to the open position, others slide closed. In order to open the box, you must place it on a flat surface, knob on top, and spin it. Centrifugal force slides all of the pins to the outer edges of the box allowing the top to be lifted off.

Puzzle Box-3

Yet, even the wonders of physics won’t open the box unless you first orient the seemingly useless knob so a pin can slide through a slot under the knob, all the way out, when the box is spun. Nobody has ever figured out the secret on their own.

Here’s what the inside looks like (dead things not shown for clarity). It’s not elegant, but hey, it was our first try!

Puzzle Box-8

We didn’t build from plans because Beck likes to “Free-build,” or as I call it, “Wing-it and rebuild it ’til mom makes you practice piano.” Thankfully the box was simple and the mechanism easy to “wing.” Someday, though, I’ll chain Beck to his desk for 5 minutes of pre-planning work, just to teach him the “right way” to design. I’m not sure if the chains they use to anchor battleships are strong enough. Might need to add some super-glue and barbed wire, too.

Puzzle Box-9

Bathing in Water and Light – A Contemporary Bathroom

Contemporary Glass Bathroom by Tim Bjella - Arteriors Architects

This contemporary bathroom illustrates a guiding principal behind much of my work: windows should be more than mere holes punched through walls with a bit of glass thrown in to keep the bugs out.

  • Windows make great walls of their own, transparently filling the space between solid masses.
  • When placed on multiple sides of a room, they allow sunlight to bounce off and around the space’s surfaces, eliminating glare and headache inducing extremes of light and dark.
  • They may be used exclusively for natural daylight, omitting the view. These concealed windows wash walls with light and add drama to a space (notice the daylight behind the tile-clad pier below).

Contemporary Glass Bathroom by Tim Bjella - Arteriors Architects

Contemporary Glass Bathroom by Tim Bjella - Arteriors Architects

Contemporary Glass Bathroom by Tim Bjella - Arteriors Architects