Perspectives: Knowledge vs. Wisdom Terroir and Architecture The Path to Health and Happiness
Perspectives: Knowledge vs. Wisdom
Architecture has the potential to be greatly enriched with an inclusive appreciation of both 'Western' ('European') and 'Eastern' ('Asian') perspectives. This is not to say that we favor Asian style, but rather, that we appreciate the contrasting character of Asian thought systems and what those outlooks can do to deepen and enrich the design sensibilities that, as children of Western culture, many of us have so Read More →
Terroir and Architecture
Our present position begins with the observation that people and cultures are defined by the balance they make between the general and the particular. We feel that in Western society this balance is in jeopardy. Mass culture is becoming so predominant that the local and the particular are becoming less and less evident. This is the 'McDonald's Theorem' - the proposition that international capitalism is creating a uni Read More →
The Path to Health and Happiness
Health and happiness cohabit in a powerful alliance. It is a close partnership; one does not fare well without the other. Neither just happens. Both require attention, both require work. To this simple rule, no exceptions are allowed, no excuses are granted. There are no shortcuts. Anything that presents as such is inevitably a Devil's deal - and of course, the Devil never loses on a deal. Wealth does not afford a Read More →
When Walls Meet
Corners are a design opportunity, potentially telling part of the story of a building through the material fabric of a buildings surface. Corners can be a tool for wayfinding, a way to change the visual size of an object or an opportunity to show off great design. Nothing stands out as inauthentic or insincere in a buildings story as a poorly designed corner. Why? Corners often tell us about a buildings cha Read More →
Proportions of the Particular
Questions of proportion span across philosophy, mathematics, science, history, and numerous aspects of art and architecture. Two opposing schools of thought about our understanding of reality recur in this context. One camp describes proportional systems as a means to better understand the harmonies of nature, where proportional relationships embodied in nature reveal a (divine) cosmological presence that orders the Read More →
Symbolism in Architecture
In a society that celebrates the inessential, architecture can put up a resistance, counteract the waste of forms and meanings, and speak its own language. ~ Peter Zumthor From a generalized societal perspective, we have for the most part been increasingly creating our buildings and communities with a preoccupation of immediacy - short term results - rather than with a sincere concern for long term appropriaten Read More →
Dwelling as Placemaking
"Only if we are capable of dwelling, only then can we build." ~ Martin Heidegger Our present position begins with the observation that people and cultures are defined by the balance they make between the general and the particular. We feel that in Western society this balance is in jeopardy. Mass culture is becoming so predominant that the local and the particular are becoming less and less evident. This is the Read More →
The Meaning of 'Professional'
The meanings of words shift over time. In the 13th century the word 'nice' meant foolish, or stupid. Today, the word 'professional' has been shifting to refer to pretty much anything done for money. But this erosion of meaning muddies the critical distinction embodied in the term. Professional specifically describes a highly qualified individual conscientiously delivering knowledgeable and skilled service to Read More →
Cakes Left Out in the Rain
That natural forces will act on, and ultimately destroy, any contribution we make to our built environment persists as one of the few things we can be sure of about the fate of any building. For architects, this presents a challenge somewhat analogous to that of medical professionals who, destined to ultimately surrender the battle associated with our desire for immortality, heroically strive to help u Read More →
Choices Reflect Values
"Simplicity, clarity, singleness; these are the attributes that give our lives power and vividness and joy." ~ Richard Halloway Imagine that in your left hand, you hold a bottle of very low cost wine... and in your right, something like a Willamette Valley Pinot or a Napa Valley Cabernet. The similarities are obvious enough; 750 ml of fermented grape juice, in glass containers. They have roughly equivalent alco Read More →
Rammed Earth: Deep Green by Design
A view of earth from space reveals a trace band of blue - our atmosphere - just visible across the sunlit edge of our planet. Below, eighty percent of the globe is coated by salt water but a fraction of the depth of that atmosphere. The remaining surface area rising just above the seas supports an exponentially thinner layer of organic soils. David Suzuki has offered the observation that if we accurately modeled th Read More →
Building Legacy Architecture
Building with durable, inorganic materials such as SIREWALL means spending more initially to create buildings that will not burn, rot, or otherwise decompose. What are the implications of designing buildings that will stand for generations rather than years?A brook trout swims freely... within the boundaries of the streambed. Both the stream and its inhabitants are constantly changing, but the stream structure change Read More →
The Adoration of the Joint
"I put the glass between the structural members and the members which are not of structure because the joint is the beginning of ornament. And that must be distinguished from decoration that is simply applied. Ornament is the adoration of the joint." ~ Louis I. Kahn How design elements and materials are brought together reflects the integrity of almost any material composition. Thoughtful selection and assembly Read More →
Getting to Simple
"Like all great performances, a great work of art makes complexity look simple. It is executed with style, skill, and grace. Any genuine work of art is created through tremendous discipline, not put together out of a grab bag of random references and trendy trim. Great art eliminates everything superfluous and nonessential to deliver a strong, clear message in the language of its time. It intensifies all of our res Read More →
Travel and Architecture
One of the most addictive aspects of a career in architecture is the level of ongoing learning that it engages one in throughout the entire arc of a career, of a lifetime. The sources of this 'continuing education' need not be distant or exotic travel. The insights offered by local interactions and every day life are generous indeed. But to expand ourselves beyond the boundaries of familiar contexts and references, Read More →
Signature Architecture
"Where there is style, there is no need for a style." ~ Frank Lloyd Wright Social networks provide opportunities to engage a diverse community of people in conversations to reveal a broad sampling of opinion on any topic. I have occasionally posed questions to fans of my Sam Rodell | Architect Facebook page, and have found many of the responses to be interesting. I appreciate the feedback, and often find it pro Read More →
Designing for Natural Light
One of the first things we do with a new project is build a detailed and accurate three dimensional computer model of the land and its physical features from a survey. The survey work is usually completed using both a laser theodolite and satellite GPS data. The topographic model created from this data is calibrated with the specific altitude, latitude, and longitude of its physical location on the planet. This co Read More →
Cultivation of Expression
Buildings are anthropomorphic interventions in the natural environment - in other words, we live in a built environment that we create largely in response to the way we live within our bodies. Architecture serves far more than physical needs, but the human body is a primary determinant of architectural form. Everything from the scale of enclosed volumes to elements like windows, cabinets, or doorknobs is a response t Read More →
What Plants Can Teach Us About Storing Energy
Biomimicry: What plants can teach us about storing energy... Good bye, fossil fuel dependency! The main challenge with sun and wind energy is storage. Because the sun isn't always shining, and the wind isn't always blowing, we need to be able to bank away renewable energy when it's available for times when it is not. A team from Harvard is learning how to do just that... from plants. They are looking to photosynth Read More →
Building with Organic Materials
All the rivers run into the sea, and yet the sea is not full.  Ecclesiastes 1:7 Waste does not exist in nature. In the natural world, everything is cyclical; everything happens in closed loops and dynamic systems of loops. One familiar example would be the hydrological cycle, in which energy from the sun charges the atmosphere with water vapor and moves it inland on thermal currents, where it falls to th Read More →
Choice and Cultivation
"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to confront only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived." ~ Henry David Thoreau To function, even at the most basic level, we must be selective in our interaction with our environment. We must filter the majority of the flood of potential information aro Read More →
My Mentor's Mentors
"There is one timeless way of building. It is a thousand years old, and the same today as it has ever been. The great traditional buildings of the past, the villages and tents and temples in which man feels at home, have always been made by people who were very close to the center of this way. It is not possible to make great buildings, or great towns, beautiful places, places where you feel yourself, places where yo Read More →
Layering Views
"If there is a beautiful view, do not spoil it by building huge windows that gape incessantly at it. Instead, put the windows which look onto the view at places of transition - along paths, in hallways, in entry ways on stairs, between rooms. If the view window is correctly placed, people will see a glimpse of the distant view as they come up to the window or pass it; but the view is never visible from the places w Read More →
Design for Future Abundance
The classical English pattern of using the village commons (that communally owned and used land which was available for pasturing private livestock) did not involve a conflict between public and private welfare as long as there was enough land. However, as herds increased, the over-grazed land became less productive so that the herdsmen had to increase their stocks in order to stay even, and thus the commons were des Read More →
Getting Off Oil - With Architecture
It is no secret that our dependence on oil reaches into every aspect of modern life. This must change - actually, will change, whether we like it or not. Not only are we wreaking environmental havoc burning fossil fuels, it is certain the costs will continue to dramatically rise, impacting every corner of our economy. Global demand is steadily increasing as supplies are steadily tapering. It is a problem of epic scal Read More →
Regional Authenticity and Architectural Sincerity
In virtually all our travels now, we see all manors of decorative devices employed in the built environment. Most represent, overtly or indirectly, intentions, aspirations, or values. Often, signage supplements or simply replaces architectural iconography.Regional authenticity is undermined by the forces of globalization and by the unbridled use of 'theme' centered imagery. Architectural 'style' is oft reduced in thi Read More →
Dualities in Design
Yang: The active, masculine cosmic principle in Chinese dualistic philosophy.Yin: The passive, female cosmic principle in Chinese dualistic philosophy. Differences may be experienced as complimentary attributes. It is not always necessary or desirable to resolve differences. It has often been the case, in my experience, that eliding them is likely to be a less potent or successful design strategy than celebrating Read More →
Restorative Intervention
We designed and built our home on a site in a small development enfronting wetlands. Rather than extending the ubiquitous domesticated landscape of American suburbia into the native landscape, we instead pulled the wetlands and native landscape back into the domesticated realm of the housing development, weaving our building into it.  The Mallard couple pictured here takes up residence every March on one of t Read More →
Waste is Food
A 'circular economy' is a term for an industrial economy that is, by design or intention, completely restorative.  In a circular economy, material flows are of two types: biological and technical. Biological nutrients are designed to reenter the biosphere safely, and technical nutrients are designed to circulate at high quality without entering the biosphere.  But everything is reused.   In a circular Read More →
Heirloom Architecture
"When you make things well, it's an ethical thing." ~ Stanley Tigerman Instant gratification in architecture is highly over-rated. As an architect, being published and winning prestigious design awards is validating and gratifying, but this kind of recognition also tends to be fleeting, capricious, and superficial.  I have arrived at the understanding that for me, the only meaningful goal related to profe Read More →
Details and Intention
When we experience good design - whether it is the design of a product, a service, or an environment - seemingly small, nuanced details we may well not even be conscious of will often exert a powerful influence on our perceptions. Even without knowing why, we are drawn toward the intentions of our benefactors. We like what they are up to. We appreciate what they provide without really needing to understand why or how Read More →
Art and Science of Architecture
In Western culture, science and art are often thought of as existing in separate worlds. Our higher educational institutions support this notion, for example - coursework is generally offered in the arts, or in the sciences. Yet we need look no further than the rise of Apple to recognize this is a false choice. In design, and in life, art and science are dance partners to the music of quality and innovation.Louis K Read More →
Designed to Fail
This sextant is an example of sophisticated navigation technology designed and built to reliably function over a hundred years ago. It is well designed, anticipating challenges of use in extreme conditions when accuracy could be a matter of life and death. It is well made, of materials selected to stand up to a harsh marine environment over time.In a sextant, there are no delicate parts that will break, no computer Read More →
Coaxing a Stone
"You say to brick, "What do you want, brick?" Brick says to you, "I like an arch." If you say to brick, "Arches are expensive, and I can use a concrete lintel over an opening. What do you think of that, brick?' Brick says, 'I like an arch.'It is important that you honor the material you use. You don't bandy it about as though to say, 'Well we have a lot of material, we can do it one way, we can do it another way Read More →
Preserving Darkness to Design With Light
Lighting architect Rogier van der Heide offers insights into how thoughtful architects and lighting designers pay attention to light (and to darkness) to design more healthy, delightful spaces and integrate the built environment into the world in more gracious ways. Read More →
Responsibility and Gratitude
"Our life work is built on a foundation of reverence, responsibility, and gratitude."  ~ Sam Rodell Imagine building a scale model of the earth 75 yards in diameter. The biosphere in this model would be roughly the thickness of the skin of a tomato. It is here, between earth and sky, where the story of each of our lives, and indeed the history and future of all terrestrial life is written. It's a dynamically Read More →
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