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From stylish backyard dwellings to a sleek floating home

Whether it’s Kanye’s dome prototypes or Ikea’s plan to design residences for people with dementia, prefab housing of all stripes continued to make headlines in 2019. For our year-end roundup of the best prefabs, however, we’re highlighting the most impressive designs that are available to order.

You’ll notice that a few of these picks are intended as accessory dwelling units (ADUs), which have had quite a year, especially in California, where new laws are making it easier for single-family homes to add a backyard unit. As prefab construction is particularly well-suited for the job, we’ll surely be looking out for more sophisticated, ADU-friendly prefabs heading into 2020 and beyond.

A city-approved modern ADU

In an effort to incentivize more housing stock, the city of San Jose, California, recently pre-approved a backyard dwelling from Bay Area housing startup Abodu so that residents can buy and install one in as little as two weeks. The 500-square-foot house, designed by U.K. studio Koto, costs $199,000 and offers Scandinavian modern style with stark white walls, pale wood floors, and the option to add a curated furniture package.

A full-size algorithm-designed backyard dwelling

LA startup Cover first unveiled its tiny box of a prefab studio/office in 2017 with algorithm-driven design as its claim to fame. This year, the company made its offering more ADU-friendly by unveiling a full-on one-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment. The 436-square-foot, L-shaped design features an open-plan living and dining area, and a bedroom tucked into the back. The cost of design and build is $193,000.

A European hotel brand entering the South Florida market broke ground on one of its three forthcoming locations.

And more may be coming.

The Netherlands-based citizenM broke ground on Thursday at the Miami Worldcenter. The 128,000-square-foot hotel at 700 NE Second Ave. will rise up to 12 stories with 351 rooms. It will cost more than $100 million to build, said Craig Kinnon, citizenM project director.

The company will have two other hotels in the Magic City, one at the former Perricone’s restaurant in Brickell and another near the Lincoln Road Mall.

The hotel brand made its U.S. debut in New York in 2014.

“Who’s to say in time we won’t be in Wynwood?” Kinnon said about the possibility of future expansions in Miami.

The multiple spaces in Miami will allow guests to select a spot near the amenities they most want to visit, said Kinnon. “Do I want to go to the beach? Do I want to be near the buzz? Am I coming for business?”

The hotel has three other locations in New York and Boston. It will open another in Seattle in 2020, and break ground on other sites in Chicago and Washington, rounding out its U.S. locations to nine offerings.

The Miami Worldcenter location will be completed in mid-summer 2021, according to the project’s general contractor Suffolk Construction’s Project Executive Alex Suarez.

The other two citizenM projects will also be completed in 2021, said Kinnon.

citizenM is the first of three planned hotels to break ground at the $4 billion mixed-use project Miami Worldcenter spanning 27 acres. A 220-room hotel and 240 condo-hotel Legacy Hotel & Residences is in the pipeline, according to the Next Miami. A 1,700-room Marriott Marquis hotel is also planned.

The former will cater to the luxury market and the latter to the business traveler, said Miami Worldcenter Associates Managing Partner Nitin Motwani.

citizenM will cater to a wide demographic with more affordable pricing, said Motwani. The price range hasn’t been set, according to Kinnon, but prices at other citizenM locations range from the mid-$200s up to the mid-$400s.

Building a city within a city, said Motwani, it’s important to cater to as many demographics as possible.

And more lodges may be coming to Miami Worldcenter.

“Are more hotels in the pipeline? Time will tell,” he said.

Other hospitality brands are also entering or expanding in the market with spots near Downtown Miami, including Virgin Hotels and AC Hotel by Marriott alongside Element by Westin.

“It’s exciting the vibrancy in downtown with the Design District, Wynwood and Edgewater. I’m excited about the different hotel brands coming into Miami,” said Wendy Kallergis, president and CEO of the Greater Miami & the Beaches Hotel Association.
Marcos Guiponi
Designed to welcome the outdoors in, two modular and minimalist houses provide a blissful escape in the Uruguayan countryside.

A few years after VivoTripodi completed a prefabricated weekend home for a family in rural Uruguay, the clients called on the Montevideo-based architects once more to create two new residences for visiting friends and family. Like the main house, the minimalist dwellings keep the focus on the landscape.

The architects drew design inspiration from the main home’s boxy form and all-timber palette to create two modular additions strategically placed to maintain sight lines and minimize landscape impact. As with the main house, prefabricated construction provided numerous advantages given the remote location and the desire to minimize waste.

"The main design goal was to create complete immersion in nature," explain architects Bernardo Vivo and Guzmán Trípodi of VivoTripodi. "The interior feels as if you were outside. To wake up in the freezing winter and see the sun come out of the horizon, the fog dissipating in the cold grass, but to do it all in great comfort inside the shelter while drinking a hot coffee…it’s definitely a unique experience."

Each guest house spans 518 square feet and comprises three main spaces with an open-plan layout: a combined living/dining/kitchen area, a bathroom to the side, and two bedrooms on either end of the building.

"The ground had some variation, and we wanted that to remain," note the architects of their site-sensitive approach. "We didn’t touch the ground’s natural curve, to emphasize the fact that we like to respect the natural state of things."

The interiors are lined with pine planks, each of which is 13 centimeters wide—a measurement that determined the interior dimensions. "We had to give specific details so that when the carpenters started working on the interiors, the wood would barely have any modifications to its sizing," explain the architects. "Our precision determined the exact amount of wood needed to minimize waste and unused cuts."

"To create a project with nature as its main factor is amazing," say Vivo and Trípodi. The architects developed their site-specific designs over multiple visits to the site to study how the landscape changed throughout the seasons and time of day. "We hope to get more chances to show our outdoor fanaticism."

Kirkby Design

In 1923, the London Underground got a makeover. Ridding itself of hard wooden seats, the city’s train system started to cover its seating in tough but soft, wooly fabrics called moquettes.

The first fabric, called Lozenge, wrapped the seats in an elegant brown and black circular pattern. And they only got better from there. Throughout the years, the Underground has cycled through hundreds of patterns, many becoming iconic symbols of the transportation system.

Now, the designers at Kirkby Design are reviving seven of the Underground’s best patterns as luxe, velvety fabrics for a new line it showed off during London Design Week last month. Working with archivists at the London Transport Museum, the textile studio created modern takes on traditional moquettes, modifying their colors and shapes to fit today’s trends.

Take something like “Central” (named after the Central line), which draws from famed textile designer Enid Marx’s 1938 pattern. The fabric features rows of geometric herringbone patterns woven in subdued contrasting colors. Another design, “Piccadilly” (named after the Piccadilly line), takes its pattern from a 1994 refurbishment of the Underground trains.

All of Kirkby’s designs balance the patterns’ inherent vintage aesthetic with quieter color palettes that Kirkby’s brand director, Jordan Mould, described to Fast Company as “fashion-led color combinations and on-trend pastels.” You can check out all of the Underground textiles here.
Ruy Teixeira
Brazilian architect Marilia Pellegrini has unveiled Casa Container in São Paulo, a micro home inside two shipping containers filled with Nendo furniture.

Pellegrini designed the 18-square-metre show home to demonstrate that recycled shipping containers can be disguised and used for high-end housing.

The architect referenced modern, minimalist Japanese design with Casa Container's interiors, citing Muji art director Kenya Hara's style influence and including pieces of furniture designed by Nendo founder Oki Sato.

Casa Container was unveiled at the 2019 Casacor exhibition, an annual architecture and interiors show in São Paulo.

Two 12-metre-long containers have been laid next to each other, with their corrugated metal structures covered entirely in white Dekton.

This surface material by Cosentino is made from quartz, porcelain, and glass, fused together under high pressure to form a UV- and heat-resistant slab that is harder than granite.

Large glazed walls and doors on the front facade allow light in and can slide back to open out onto a landscaped patio planted with bamboo designed by Studio Clariça Lima.

Windows on the other side create a cross breeze, and slim white Dekton louvres shade the glass walls from direct sunlight. The floors, walls and all of the interior surfaces are also realised in white Dekton, along with marble-effect surfaces.

"Making it all white has the main purpose of giving it evenness, and enlightening the sense of space," said Pellegrini.

Casa Container is separated into two halves, with a living and dining space to one side and a bedroom with a private en-suite bathroom on the other.

The grey fabric sofa is by Sao Paulo design studio Estudiobola. Recessed strip-lighting emitting a soft glow runs through the rooms and over the bed.

Pellegrini is following in the footsteps of other architects who have repurposed shipping containers for housing.

Japanese architect Kengo Kuma used stacked white shipping containers for a Starbucks coffee shop in Taiwan, as did James Whitaker, who designed a house in the California desert made from white containers splayed at different angles like a star burst.
W Dubai-The Palm
“Textiles and color have formed the basis of our work since the very beginning.” So states Paola Lenti of her namesake company, which she founded in 1994 in Meda, Italy, and today produces fabrics, rugs, architectural structures, and furniture for indoor and outdoor use, employing a staff of 100.

Born in Piedmont in 1958, Lenti studied graphic design at the Scuola Politecnica di Design in Milan, and then went on to work as an art director for various fashion companies, where she would create displays and environments, designing rugs and such herself. Eventually, she went out on her own, making small glass and porcelain objects but switching to felt rugs, which she says represented the true start of her self-named brand.

Materials research and sustainability have been guiding forces since day one. In 1997, she began working with designer Francesco Rota, a collaboration that has produced some 70 collections and is still going strong. It was 2000 when they turned their focus to outdoor, aiming to create furnishings that are as attractive and comfortable as those for interiors. That same year was when her younger sister Anna came on as managing director, overseeing administrative and marketing aspects. Now celebrating its 25th anniversary, the company they’ve forged is synonymous with innovation but also with the handmade, global but also local (except for a few items, Paola Lenti products are all made in Italy). Here, Lenti the older expounds on inspirations, recent projects, and upcoming endeavors.

Interior Design: What inspires you?

Paola Lenti: Nature, for its simplicity, clarity, and unexpected texture and color combinations. I remember, as a child, my entrepreneur father would take me along when he went to the countryside to paint and teach me to appreciate all the surrounding beauty. My passion for color was born with me. Another childhood memory is receiving a book of colored collage paper and cutting up and combining the dark orange and dark turquoise pieces. Each time I start selecting colors for a collection, I recall cutting those pieces.

ID: How does color play through your col­lec­tions?

PL: We focus on it not only for individual fibers but also in the fabrics we weave from those fibers, and for the collections and the ways they work together. Even our solid fabrics often have more than one color of thread woven in.

ID: What are other constants?

PL: Research and development, finding increasingly better materials in terms of both ecological sustainability and durability. We have propriety materials that do both, such as Rope and Twiggy.

ID: Which designers have you collaborated with?

PL: At first, it was only Francesco. But now we work with a handful, such as Francesco Bettoni, Victor Carrasco, Claesson Koivisto Rune, Vincent Van Duysen, Marella Ferrera, Marco Merendi, Nicolò Morales, and Lina Obregón. I prefer to concentrate on just a few people for a closer collaboration. Marella and Nicolò had pieces debut at this year’s Salone Internazionale del Mobile in Milan.

ID: How long have you participated in that?

PL: From 1995 to 2002, we were at Salone. From 2003 on, we’ve been part of the Fuorisalone off-site. This year, we returned to Fabbrica Orobia, where, with Bestetti Associati, we created a series of modern environments to contrast with the enormous 1920s warehouse using partitions made from materials such as glass, ceramics, lava stone, and fabric pieces, all of which are now part of the collection. We also had indoor and outdoor furniture introductions this year by Bettoni, Van Duysen, Obregón, and Rota.

ID: Any projects abroad?

PL: Yes, Torno Subito at the W Dubai-The Palm hotel. The chef is Massimo Bottura of the famous Osteria Francescana in Modena. The mood there is completely different, more formal and serious, whereas the Dubai restaurant is playful and colorful, recalling the joyful Italian Riviera of the 1960s.
The first images of Kanye West's prototype housing for the homeless have been revealed, as the musician faces an order to tear down the structures following complaints over construction noise.

One photo, captured by tabloid news site TMZ, shows a series of incomplete structures at West's sprawling home in Calabasas Hills, California. Another set of aerial shots, published by Metro, captures structures of different sizes and shapes being built.

Comprising domes covered in a wooden lattice, the constructions are believed to be prototypes of the prefabricated, affordable Yeezy Home units, which mark West's first foray into architecture. TMZ added that a source close to West told the publication that the structures are temporary.

West ordered to take prototypes down

TMZ captured the housing as West has encountered some road blocks in the construction of the mock-ups on the site of the property he shares with reality star Kim Kardashian.

Attention was brought to the site when several of his neighbours complained to the Los Angeles County Department of Works about construction taking place late at night.

West has also claimed that the structures were temporary, however, inspectors reportedly found them built atop concrete foundations, which suggested otherwise.

This week, the musician was asked to apply for a building permit to allow him to legally construct the prototypes, or take down the domes, within 45 days.

Yeezy Homes take cues from Star Wars

The hip-hop artist and producer revealed that the units are intended as low-income housing or accommodation for homeless people in a cover interview with Forbes.

The domed structure takes cues from the houses on the fictional desert planet of Tatooine, the home of Luke and Anakin Skywalker in the Star Wars series.

The homes are also expected to be partially sunken, like the residences on the movie set, with a lightwell carved into the top to provide plenty of illumination. In the new photos, each of the structures features a large opening in the top.

Musician wants to use architecture to "make the world better"

The musician has been vocal about his passion for architecture for many years, telling students on a visit to Harvard Graduate School of Design in 2013 that "the world can be saved through design".

In 2018, he announced his plans to add the architecture arm, Yeezy Home, to his Yeezy label via Twitter in a bid to "make the world better".

Shortly afterwards, fashion designer Jalil Peraza revealed renders of prefabricated concrete affordable-housing for Yeezy Home on Instagram but the posts have since been deleted.

While some may be skeptical of Kanye's expertise in the architecture field, "hip-hop architect" Michael Ford spoke to Dezeen about the importance of black musicians like West and Pharrell Williams, who heavily promote their involvement in architecture, in improving diversity in the profession.
Architect Magazine
From 89 submissions, the jury picked eight entries that prove architects can be at the helm of innovation, technology, and craft.

Do we control technology or does technology control us? Never has that question seemed more apt than now. The use of computational design, digital manufacturing, and artificial intelligence, if mismanaged, can have frightening consequences, the implications of which society is just beginning to comprehend. But the jury for ARCHITECT’s 13th annual R+D Awards was determined to accentuate the positive side of these advancements, seeking the best examples that “melded technology, craft, and problem-solving,” says Craig Curtis, FAIA.

The eight winners selected by Curtis and fellow jurors James Garrett Jr., AIA, and Carrie Strickland, FAIA, prove that designers can remain solidly in the driver’s seat despite the frenetic pace of technological developments in the building industry and beyond. “Architects are anticipating the future, helping to shape it, and giving it form,” Garrett says. “Moving forward, we are not going to be left behind. We are going to be a part of the conversation.”


Craig Curtis, FAIA, is head of architecture and interior design at Katerra, where he helped launch the now 300-plus-person design division of the Menlo Park, Calif.–based technology company and oversees the development of its configurable, prefabricated building platforms. Previously, he was a senior design partner at the Miller Hull Partnership, in Seattle.

James Garrett Jr., AIA, is founding partner of 4RM+ULA, a full-service practice based in St. Paul, Minn., that focuses on transit design and transit-oriented development. A recipient of AIA’s 2019 Young Architects Award, he is also an adjunct professor at the University of Minnesota School of Architecture, a visual artist, a writer, and an advocate for increasing diversity in architecture.

Carrie Strickland, FAIA, is founding principal of Works Progress Architecture, in Portland, Ore., where she is an expert in the design of adaptive reuse and new construction projects and works predominantly in private development. She has also taught at Portland State University and the University of Oregon, and served on AIA Portland’s board of directors.
Skender believes it can shave time and costs off the standard construction process, resulting in more affordable housing.

Skender, an established, family-owned builder in Chicago, is making a serious play in a sector associated with young startups: modular construction. The company is building steel-structured three-flats, a quintessential Chicago housing type that consists of three apartments stacked on top of each other in the footprint of a large house. It believes it can deliver them faster and at lower cost at its new factory than by using standard methods of construction.

Skender’s 100,000-square-foot factory on the Southwest Side, which began production in late May, contains four bays with hulking gantry cranes overhead, as well as welding jig tables that are dozens of feet long. But don’t look to be wowed by sci-fi feats of robotic automation—there’s not a robot in sight (yet). Instead, the technology is aimed at seamless coordination.

Spaced at every few columns, the company will install media screens that workers will use to check off each step in the building process. “Every step and instruction in basically built into an app,” said Stacy Scopano, Skender’s chief technology officer. “If each crew gets off-sync, they can project [it] onto the TV, show the drawings, [and] float around the model. And over time, as we’re developing and modernizing these platforms, that’ll be how we’re watching the productivity of the install.”

Even with humans and not robots doing the work, the company is confident that continual refinement will yield efficiency. A three-flat apartment building can now go up in 90 days, Skender claims, instead of nine months. Swanson estimates that the three-flats will cost $335,000 per unit to build, not including land. In time, company leaders hope that economies of scale and increased efficiency will bring down that price.

The company has been investing in design talent as well, hiring Tim Swanson, formerly of the architecture firm Cannon Design, to be its chief design officer. That allows it to combine design, manufacturing, and construction within one vertically integrated system.

There’s an age-old tension between architects’ craving for creative freedom and the efficiencies of standardization, which Swanson greets with a taboo acknowledgement: “Eighty to 85 percent of our buildings should be the same.” Because codes dictate how many individual elements come together, buildings are well-suited to modular repetition, he says.

t Skender, this repetition begins once an order is placed, and staff begin identifying the relevant components and writing assembly-line schedules. When materials arrive, numbered and bundled with an instruction set, they’re laid out on massive welding frames that allow line workers to affix clamps that secure steel elements. It’s not super-high-tech, but it means that welds can be accurate to 1/1000 of an inch. (“If I’m out on the dirt at a site, I’m talking about 1/16 of an inch at best,” said Scopano.)

These elements are carried by gantry from station to station as fabricators log each step of the process in the system, via the media screen. “We can watch the efficiency of a specific task, for a specific weld, for a specific corner, and just keep going. The granularity of data we’ll be looking at and analyzing will be pretty fun,” Scopano said.

Company leaders expect to install some automated welding by the end of the year. They plan to use data they gather to isolate the “squeakiest wheel” and fix it with automation, “rather than carte-blanche throwing robots up and down the line,” according to Scopano.

Peter Murray, Skender’s president of manufacturing, anticipates a five-day construction cycle inside the factory before each unit is fitted together and loaded onto a truck. Units will leave the factory 95 percent complete. On site, the apartments will be stacked together with a bolt-and-pin system and some additional welding. Facades (stone accents and brick claddings) are clipped on, and the building is complete.

Recently, a few other companies have grabbed headlines for reviving the dream of omnipresent modular building. Unlike them, Skender is not a startup. As a legacy builder, it has long industry experience, and has staffed its factory with builders well-versed in its local market.

As well as economies of scale, proponents of modular architecture tout its freedom from weather-related delays, unpredictable site conditions
London-based Atmos Studio has designed a timber pavilion named Playascape, which aims to "synthesise the essence of Burning Man" by bringing people together at the festival.

The plywood pavilion will be made from a kit of CNC-cut parts that will be assembled on site during this year's desert festival in Nevada.

Atmos Studio designed the semi-circular structure be an extension of the landscape and echo the plan of Black Rock City, the temporary city where the festival takes place.

"Playascape is an undulating terrain that encourages people to perform and interact with each other," said Alex Haw, founder of Atmos Studio.

"Like Burning Man, it is a landscape populated by events and people – a version of the desert playa pulled up into the air for its community to witness each other and connect in new ways," he told Dezeen.

The structure will be created from timber steps arranged in a crescent, so that it can be clambered upon, but also can be used as amphitheatre-style seating for impromptu performances.

However, Atmos Studios hope that the visitors will explore Playscape and find their own ways to interact with it.

"Playascape aims to in some way synthesise the essence of Burning Man by being a space of open-ended opportunity; a place, like the playa, which is fulfilled and activated by its participants; a forum activated by its citizens," said Haw.

"Its multiple gradients of steepness offer everyone their own path of discovery and attainment – allowing some people to gently meander upwards, whilst others can climb up its almost vertical surfaces or climb up its rear shaded ribs."

According to Haw the pavilion will also explore the different atmospheres of the festival during daytime and night time.

"By day it encourages quieter contemplation; meditation; restfulness in the shade it casts; sedentary connectedness in its various nooks and valleys," added Haw.

"By night it encourages greater abandon as the horizon recedes and the local contours of each sinuous step burst alive with interactive lighting, and multiple monumental competitors to the sun roll in and out of its view and harbour."

sections will be prefabricated by Reno Generator in Reno before being shipped to the site and assembled by a team of volunteers like a "giant 3D jigsaw or urban piece of IKEA furniture".

On the final day of the festival the pavilion will be disassembled and shipped to a non-profit sculpture park in the Bay Area of California.

"Playascape will then explore ways in which its spirit of exploration and connectedness can be fulfilled beyond the microcosm of Burning Man, and the way in which an art project can help foster community, social connection and self development," added Haw.

Burning Man is a festival that takes place yearly in the Black Rock Desert in Nevada. During the event a temporary city called Black Rock City is erected alongside numerous temporary installations.

Last year's event, which was captured from the air by Alex Medina, featured a giant reflective orb designed by BIG.
FullStack Modular
When Jan Mischke speaks to industry leaders about the benefits of modular construction they usually respond in one of two ways, he said. “They are either optimistic about the future of modular or they are really worried that modular companies are going to eat their cake."

Their fears are for good reason, Mischke, a partner a McKinsey Global Institute, told Construction Dive. Even though modular construction has penetrated only about 3% of the U.S. construction market, recent projects have drawn attention to the efficiencies that it can offer for commercial projects, he said. These include new hotels from Marriott and Hilton, Skender's multifamily projects and several McDonald’s restaurants in the United Kingdom.

Mischke is one of the authors of a newly released McKinsey study that found that modular can deliver projects 20% to 50% faster than traditional methods and shave up to 20% off a project's costs. The method also makes sense for contractors in labor-constrained markets, the study said, and lends itself to structures like schools and health care facilities that have easily duplicated floor plans with similar fixtures and fittings.

"It's great for temporary structures, too, like a school that's in use while the main building is being refurbished," said Mischke.

The study predicts that construction firms that embrace modular construction will see their roles change, shifting from less on-site construction to more of a commoditized approach. The McKinsey official said savvy industry leaders will see modular as a growth opportunity, not a hazard.

“I would encourage the leaders of E&C firms to think about what could be their sweet spot 10 to 15 years out,” he said. “It’s time to get moving.”

The role of technology

The McKinsey researchers noted in the report several ways that technology is playing an increasingly important role in the shift to offsite construction. Robotics and other automation technologies are enhancing and speeding up the manufacturing process, making it more like automotive production. Many modular players utilize virtual and augmented reality programs, which create digital models that allow customers to visualize and tailor designs before they are built, the report said.

Technology also is helping facilitate digitally-enabled, "just-in-time" delivery to the jobsite, which is critical because it is not efficient to stack and store modules for later use, the report stated. For example, programs like RIB SAA provide planning and robotics software for modular construction manufacturers. Once modules arrive on the site, automated cranes lift and move them into the required position.

Meanwhile, Lindbacks, a modular construction firm in Sweden, uses Randek’s industrial construction machinery to automate a variety of construction tasks including nailing, milling of openings, sheet cutting, gluing, inkjet marking, and sheet addition and handling.
dixon jones
scottish artist david mach has unveiled designs for his first ever building – a new arts, events and conference venue made out of more than 30 shipping containers arranged in a sculptural form. the unique multi-purpose building named ‘mach 1’, will act as the marketing suite for the 43 acre edinburgh park development masterplanned by stirling prize-nominated architects dixon jones.

resembling a collapsed jenga set, the building’s dramatic shape will be 50ft tall at its highest point and was intended to make a statement that would to draw attention to the new quarter. the venue includes a large double height gallery space, which will exhibit a full site model, detailed building models, illustrations and information boards as well as audio-visual displays of edinburgh park itself.

edinburgh park is planned to be a 43-acre urban quarter west of the city of edinburgh, the largest single-site development currently underway in the city. it is currently in the planning stages, with mach 1 itself having recently been submitted for planning. the building, which will have around 3500 sq ft of floor space, could open by the spring of next year if planning permission is secured for a vacant site next to the edinburgh park central tram stop.

‘there is quite a dramatic shape to the building. it will be something that you really notice. it is a building that really makes a statement about itself. it will be painted one colour, possibly with a reference to that great forth bridge red,’ said david mach in an interview with the architects journal.

‘it is a building with a promise of a life in other ways – as a festival fringe venue, a great place for comedy, for music, for talks. the look of the building is the important thing to me as a sculptor and now as an accidental architect.’
Arion Doerr via TRI-LOX
A giant NEST has landed on the roof of the Brooklyn Children’s Museum (BCM) — and it’s not for the birds. Brooklyn-based design and fabrication practice TRI-LOX created NEST, the museum’s new interactive playscape built out of reclaimed timber from the city’s rooftop water towers. Designed with parametric tools, the sustainable installation takes inspiration from the unique nests of the baya weaver birds — their nests are featured in the museum’s educational collection — and comprises an organic woven landscape with 1,800 square feet of space for open and creative play.

Opened just in time for summer, the NEST playscape at the Brooklyn Children’s Museum (BCM) in Crown Heights caters to children ages 2 to 8. The woven wooden landscape is set on artificial turf and includes a climbable exterior and a series of ribbed tunnels and rooms that make up a permeable interior with entrances marked by bright blue paint. The reclaimed cedar slats not only make the structure easy to climb, but also partially obscure views for added playfulness. The top of the structure is crowned with a circular hammock area that directs views up toward the sky.

“In exploring the museum’s educational collection, we came upon a series of incredible bird nests and let them inspire our design,” said ​Alexander Bender​, co-founder and managing partner of TRI-LOX, which was commissioned by BCM through a request for proposals in mid-2017. “One nest in particular, made by the baya weaver bird, offers an intricately woven form with rooms, tunnels and multiple entries. This concept was then transformed into a climbable playscape that retains the natural materiality of the nest and tells a story of an iconic design within our vertical urban habitat — the NYC rooftop wood water tower. We quite literally brought the water tower back to the rooftop with this project … it just had to be turned into a giant nest first.”

NEST playscape is the newest focal point for the BCM, which consists of a series of architecturally significant designs befitting its title as the world’s first children’s museum. Rafael Viñoly designed the museum’s eye-catching yellow building in 2008. Seven years later, Toshiko Mori added a pavilion on the 20,000-square-foot rooftop that was complemented with lush planting plan and a boardwalk by Future Green Studio in 2017.

Drop Structures
Canadian company DROP Structures is on a mission to allow people to “drop” the company’s incredible cabins (almost) hassle-free in just about any location. One of the most versatile designs is the minimalist Mono, a tiny prefab cabin that runs on solar power and can be set up in just a few hours.

Although the minuscule 106-square-foot cabins take on a very minimalist appearance, the structures are the culmination of years of engineering and design savvy. According to Drop Structures, the cabins, which start at $24,500, typically require no permit. Thanks to their prefabricated assembly, they can be installed in a matter of hours.

Built to be tiny, but tough, the Mono tiny cabins are clad in a standing seam metal exterior, which was chosen because the material is resilient to most types of climates and is low-maintenance. The cabins also boast a tight thermal envelope thanks to a solid core insulation that keeps the interior temperatures stable year-round in most climates.

The Mono features a pitched roof with two floor-to-ceiling glazed walls at either side. This standard design enables natural light to flood the interior space and create a seamless connection between the cabin and its surroundings.

The interior space is quite compact but offers everything needed for a serene retreat away from the hustle and bustle of urban life. The walls and vaulted ceilings are made out of Baltic Birch panels that give the space a warm, cozy feel.

The biggest advantage of these tiny cabins is versatility. The structures can be customized with various add-ons including extra windows or skylights, a built-in loft, a Murphy bed and more. They can can also go off the grid with the addition of solar panels.

Mischa Keijser/Getty Images
To meet the goals of the resolution, the design and construction industries will retrofit millions of structures and build many more. In the process, they could create a more just and resilient country.

Whether or not the U.S. decides to take action on climate change, the shape of the country—its towns, offices, homes, schools, roads, farms, and more—is on the brink of a radical transformation. This transformation could be borne out in two ways. The first is external: Escalating storms, floods, droughts, mass migration, food scarcity, and economic instability could dramatically alter the physical landscape and economy. The other is internal: A national effort to retrofit millions of buildings and rethink the way communities are designed could help Americans withstand the ravages of climate change and make the country more equitable.

The resolution known as the Green New Deal, published by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey in February, wants to bring about the latter. The Green New Deal framework describes the monumental changes needed to decarbonize the American economy by meeting 100% of our energy demands with zero-emission sources in the next decade. It will require overhauling major industries like energy and agriculture, but also transforming America’s buildings and construction sector.

It’s easy to miss just how destructive and inefficient land development is, given its ubiquity. Existing buildings hoover up about 40% of energy consumed in the U.S. and emit about 29% of greenhouse gases. The Green New Deal calls for retrofitting all of them—every last skyscraper, McDonald’s, and suburban ranch home—for energy efficiency within the next 10 years. It also addresses the role of the construction industry, which accounts for about 11% of all emissions globally, by recommending investment in community-led building projects oriented around decarbonization issues like resiliency, transit, and land preservation. And crucially, it demands family-sustaining wages, the right to organize, and a “just transition” for everyone affected by the transition to this decarbonized world.

House Republicans quickly declared the resolution a “boondoggle” in an official statement. It was an ironic choice of words. Whether the GOP realized it or not, that term emerged in the 1930s, when critics of the New Deal used it to characterize the project of putting broke Americans to work on hundreds of thousands of projects. It’s true that the Green New Deal’s goals—to reshape the country’s homes, workplaces, and economy, and provide equity for all—sound radical in a country ravaged by the housing crisis, worker exploitation, and stagnating wages, but from a technical, structural, and architectural standpoint, they’re entirely feasible. Despite what politicians would have you believe, we’ve done it before, and we have the tools to do it again.

As Rhiana Gunn-Wright, who is leading the creation of policy around the resolution, says, reaching them will mean thinking about transit, land use, housing, building regulations, and more. In short: “What will our cities and towns look like, moving forward?”


According to the Energy Information Administration, there are roughly 5.6 million commercial buildings in the United States. Most of those are small; half are under 5,000 square feet—think of a fast food joint or a doctor’s office. There are also 138 million housing units, which includes both houses and apartment units. Reducing their carbon footprint will involve the crucial, economy-wide shift away from fossil fuels, but also tamping down the amount of energy buildings use in the first place.

Retrofitting tens of millions of houses and apartment buildings, which take lots of energy to heat, cool, and light, isn’t the Green New Deal’s most glamorous clause, but it’s one of its most pressing. As summers get hotter and the population (and thus the housing stock) grows, the urgency will only increase, as the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions reports. There will be trillions of lightbulbs to replace. Millions of HVAC units to upgrade, operable windows and automatic shades to install, rooftops to paint with heat-reflecting paint, shade-giving trees to plant and photovoltaics to hook up. Miles and miles of wiring and sensors and automation platforms to get online so it can all be monitored and controlled.

Who will do this work? Who will pay for it? How will it be regulated, in a country where building regulations are determined at local, rather than federal, l
Plus, Katerra offers an update on its K90 project in Las Vegas, Google pledges $1 billion toward affordable housing in the Bay Area, and more design-tech news from this week.

Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) and UNStudio are working with digital agency Squint/Opera on the development of Hyperform, a design platform that facilitates collaboration in 3D augmented reality. Initially prototyped last year, Hyperform allows multiple users to work in scale models as well as immersive 1:1 environments. Users can also create still renderings as well as video recordings. "In the future every physical object will be connected to one another, sensing each other and everything in between," BIG founder Bjarke Ingels said in a press release. "For every physical object there will be a digital twin. For every physical space a virtual space. Hyperform is the augmented creative collaborative environment of the future which will allow an instantaneous confluence of actual and imagined realities—the present and the future fusing in our augmented sense of reality." [Squint/Opera]

In its latest project, New York–based SoftLab has created a "circular constellation" in Manhattan’s Seaport District that features 100 sensor-enabled glowing poles that emit different colors and sounds based on visitors' touch. [ARCHITECT]

This week, tech giant Google pledged to invest $1 billion in land and money to construct houses to help ease the housing crisis in the Bay Area. Over the next 10 years, the company has promised to convert $750 million of its land that is currently zoned for commercial development into residential property for some 15,000 new houses. Additionally, Google will establish a $250 million investment fund to assist developers in creating 5,000 affordable housing units. "In the coming months, we’ll continue to work with local municipalities to support plans that allow residential developers to build quickly and economically," the company writes in a press release. "Our goal is to get housing construction started immediately, and for homes to be available in the next few years." [Google]

Menlo Park, Calif.–based technology and construction company Katerra has released an update on K90—its ambitious garden apartment project in Las Vegas that the company is aiming to complete in 90 days. While slab-up construction typically takes 120 to 150 days, Katerra is believes it can deliver in a little over half the time using proprietary tools such as a material auditing app that alerts construction teams to incoming materials—which are delivered directly to installation point rather than a general project-site drop-off—wall panels that have pre-installed electrical wiring, and its bath kit that includes carpet, tile, plumbing fixtures, hardware, wood trim, light fixtures, light sources, and mirrors. [Katerra]

Researcher from Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST) in Japan published findings that adding a "self healing" protective layer of epoxy resin to perovskite solar cells (PSC) helps reduce leakage of pollutants, helping to push the technology toward commercial viability. “Although PSCs are efficient at converting sunlight into electricity at an affordable cost, the fact that they contain lead raises considerable environmental concern,” said OIST professor Yabing Qi in a press release. “While so-called ‘lead-free’ technology is worth exploring, it has not yet achieved efficiency and stability comparable to lead-based approaches. Finding ways of using lead in PSCs while keeping it from leaking into the environment, therefore, is a crucial step for commercialization.” [OIST]
Dan Arnold
Complex and beautiful geometries take on sculptural form in the hands of Mario Romano. His particular brand of poetry is rooted in the language of construction. Specializing in digital fabrication yet heavily inspired by nature, Romano’s Santa Monica, California, art/design studio has pioneered architectural systems that combine parametric modeling software with CNC machining to create facades that undulate like ocean waves or emulate bird feathers.

His latest venture is M.R. Walls, large-scale interior surfaces developed in collaboration with Corian. Panels are carved with intricate and endlessly variable gradient patterns informed by a giraffe’s spots, wind-blown reeds, and other earthly touchstones. These monolithic pieces bond seamlessly and are impervious to water, bacteria, and mold. Better yet, walls can be fabricated locally from digital files, reducing lead times and transportation costs. Blending elaborate organic motifs and cutting-edge technology, Romano’s work demonstrates that the wonder of the natural world never goes out of style.

Interior Design: Your houses are known for their wild exterior shapes. Where do your ideas come from?

Mario Romano: They start from sketches and a very abstract inspiration. Then I flesh out the concept, working from the outside in. I think about creating a sculptural object that just happens to be habitable. A straight-up and boxlike structure can feel domineering, whereas organic shapes are more becoming, feminine, approachable, and inviting.

ID: How does technology affect the surfaces you create?

MR: Digital fabrication is an emergent discipline. I explore the bridge between design concept and manifestation: How do you realize a computational design in the physical world and ensure the result is reliable, functional, and priced accessibly? CNC machines are the core route, currently.

ID: What’s your process for designing and building?

MR: The digitally created house can be realized almost at the click of a button. Every piece is labeled, etched, marked, and thought out, and then gets produced on a machine. The pieces fit together puzzle-like using an assembly map, which renders the construction of these complex structures user-friendly. All the houses I designed were built by local carpenters and framers utilizing open-source construction.

ID: That seems at once extraordinarily complicated and very straightforward.

MR: There’s something beautiful about organized complexity that attracts us to incredible landmarks—whether a constellation, the Grand Canyon, or the way a tree grows. We used to think that nature was random and chaotic; now we know it’s driven by an incredible logic—one we can experience but are only just beginning to understand.

ID: Nature is obviously a big source of inspiration for you.

MR: I think it is for everyone. That’s where wonder comes from. It could be the color of someone’s eyes or the shape of a face or a body that gives us that first charge of attraction. Beauty is of incredible value; we’re driven by it, but it’s often underappreciated.

ID: What sparked M.R. Walls?

MR: I wanted to expand the design language of the wall surface. The only existing option was tile: the same shape repeated, with grout lines dictated by that form. You’re trapped by the shape of this one mass-produced object. In contrast, with M.R. Walls, unique pieces fit together to create an uninterrupted design experience that extends over a large area. People want something they haven’t seen before, that evokes mystery and intrigue. When you see a large-scale object, you wonder how it was created. No one thinks that when they see tile. This is what attracts people to marble slabs: They want a continuous slice of nature on the wall. Bookmatching stone is like putting the mountain back together—inside the house.

ID: What led to collaborating with Corian?

MR: Practice, experimentation, testing, and research. Ultimately, we developed a patent-pending software platform linked with low-level robotics; assembly is embedded into the design so there’s only one way to install the product. We then asked which material could perform the role. I also wanted to make the product accessible and affordable. With Corian solid surface, I could bond pieces to make one monolithic slab. Co
Jaime Navarro via Dellekamp Schleich
Mexico City-based architectural firm Dellekamp Schleich designed a modular timber home as an inspiring prototype for affordable and eco-friendly housing in Mexico. Originally created as one of 84 experimental proposals for the 2017 “From the Territory to the Dweller” showcase in Morelos, Dellekamp Schleich’s housing prototype is currently on show at INFONAVIT’s Laboratorio de Vivienda (Housing Laboratory) in Apan. The Laboratorio de Vivienda is an exhibition of 32 housing prototypes that sensitively rethinks low-income dwellings in Mexico. Created for self-construction, the low-cost housing prototype was built with a modular system of timber parts.

Both the “From the Territory to the Dweller” program and the Laboratorio de Vivienda exhibition are initiatives of Research Center for Sustainable Development, INFONAVIT, which invited national and international architecture firms to prototype affordable housing for different areas in Mexico.

At “From the Territory to the Dweller,” Dellekamp Schleich was asked to design a housing prototype for Nuevo San Juan Parangaricutiro, a small village in the Mexican state of Michoacán. The site-specific house is based on the local vernacular styles of the village. Because the timber industry is a major part of the town, Dellekamp Schleich’s housing prototype is built primarily of readily available pine and features construction techniques and styles traditional to that area.

Built atop a raised foundation, the modular housing prototype is lined with unfinished wood inside and out. The building is topped with a gable roof painted red and hemmed in by a small fenced-in yard. Operable folding doors open up to a small deck and yard to expand the living areas to the outdoors. Inside, the interiors are dressed with timber furnishings and bathed in natural light from large windows. A compact living area occupies the ground floor, while the bedroom is located in a lofted area.

In Laboratorio de Vivienda, Dellekamp Schleich’s housing prototype is one of 32 dwellings that incorporate traditional and locally sourced materials as well as concepts of scalability. The housing prototypes are located within a master plan designed by New York-based MOS Architects and include a Dellekamp Schleich-designed Materials Laboratory as well as a MOS Architects-designed Welcome Center. The exhibition is on show in Apan until June 23, 2019.

A huge converted grain silo in Shanghai was the setting for Prada's 2020 Spring Summer menswear show, designed by AMO as a hall of futuristic neon lights.

The show took place on 6 June at Silo Hall, Asia's largest silo building. A powerful reminder of Shanghai's industrial heritage, the building provided an appropriate backdrop for Prada's latest mens collection, described by the Italian fashion house as "a power of energy, provocation and freedom".

AMO, the research arm of Dutch firm OMA, transformed the industrial interior of the 80,000-tonne warehouse into an "illuminated vista" of bright blue lights.

A linear runway intersected the longitudinal axis of the monumental, labyrinth-like space, while guests were arranged in the central nave of the building in an amphitheater of circular seats that mirrored the shape of the silos.

Glowing neon lights complemented the hall's raw, industrial character and highlighted the geometry of the space, creating a "glowing enfilade" down the centre of the chamber.

"Mindful of its history, at intervals, the installation of the 2020 Spring Summer Prada Men’s show and events is disrupted by reminders of roughness and industry, embedded in the fabric of the building," said the brand.

"These retain the original character of the building, and the echoes of a past," it added.

The words "I am no longer an artist; I have become a work of art" and "I feel myself a god" were played out on a voiceover as models walked along an expansive runway dressed in oversized striped shirts, double-breasted blazers and colour-block windbreakers.

Colourful backpacks and knee-length shorts added a boyish aesthetic to the Optimistic Rhythm collection, which had retro-futurist overtones that could be seen on jackets and tees featuring vibrantly coloured prints of cassette tapes and video recorders.
Paul Riddle
The Victory Plaza build to rent development, comprising two 26 and 29-storey towers, is sited on the former London 2012 Athletes’ Village

The 482-home build for rent development consists of nine-storey podium buildings designed using heavy masonry construction and punched openings. The two towers rise above with façades composed of glazing and bronze-ribbed panels framed in a precast stone grid.

Together with contractor MACE, Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands developed an innovative construction method involving major prefabrication and a vertically rising four-level ‘jump factory’ able to complete a storey in under 55 hours, in order to save time and minimise disruption.

Amenity spaces include residential roof gardens on the podiums and a large roof garden facing on to the main road, as well as balconies and winter gardens.

At ground-floor level, aside from large entrance lobbies, shops and restaurants provide active frontages around the plot, with large overhanging canopies in precast concrete creating shelter from wind and rain.

The scheme is the first phase of an LDS masterplan for Qatari Diar/Delancey to develop 2,000 privately rented apartments.

Architect’s view

The greatest challenge with the project was to create a building that acted as a suitable backdrop to Victory Park. The towers certainly create a powerful sense of place and point of arrival in Victory Plaza, but we have anchored them to the site with robust, nine-storey podium buildings built from hand-laid brick. The towers are further integrated with public space between the building clusters, residential roof gardens on the podiums and the roof garden facing the main road.

Because the buildings are for private rental, they have to be flexible to accommodate changing living patterns, so have identical cores and floorplates, with ‘plug and play’ fittings that rationalise maintenance and replacement, which means the flats can be rented speedily and can change use or tenure over time. To improve quality and reduce delivery times and disruption to existing residents, we worked with MACE to come up with the ‘jump factory’ method of construction that involved significant prefabrication, which completed every storey within an incredible 55 hours.

Client’s view

Having completed two buildings in the London 2012 Athletes’ Village, we appointed Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands to undertake a review of the East Village masterplan, focused on the five undeveloped plots. This next phase, comprising a further 2,000 apartments, shops and leisure facilities, was to ensure the area’s legacy and transformation from the Olympic Games to an established London neighbourhood of 5,000 homes.

Our commitment that our homes be for the private rented sector meant the long-term stewardship of the area was critical to the success of the development. We worked closely with LDS to define a suitable typology for this emerging sector, increasing apartment sizes in response to sharers and families looking for spacious, long-term homes and prioritising designs that supported ongoing maintenance.

Seven years later the first plot, Victory Plaza, is complete and the architect’s commitment to quality materials and innovative, off-site construction has delivered two elegant and efficient towers with podiums that establish the emerging context of this new neighbourhood.

Peter Holroyd, construction director, Delancey
Opened late last month, Skender’s newest high-tech manufacturing facility gives the Chicago-based firm the capability to take many of its projects from concept to reality in a controlled, offsite setting.

The 130,000-square-foot plant located on the Southwest Side of Chicago uses BIM techniques, modular fabrication and lean manufacturing processes to minimize weather risks and scheduling issues while increasing quality and safety, Skender Chief Design Officer Timothy Swanson told Construction Dive.

“What we’re seeing now with the opening of our new facility is a full alignment of our design, engineering, manufacturing and construction abilities,” he said, adding that the factory represents a milestone for the firm. “We’re jumping from site-based construction with this leap into manufacturing,” Swanson said.

Using an assembly line system, skilled employees will build and assemble 95% of a project's modular components, including fixtures, finishes and most appliances. The modules are then shipped to the jobsite where they will be assembled and finished by Skender construction teams.

Expected to be at full capacity in about 18 months, the plant will employ 150 people, who will be eligible to be bargaining members of the local carpenters’ union.

The vertically integrated design, construction and manufacturing firm's first modular order is for 10 affordable-rate, three-flat apartment buildings for Chicago developer Sterling Bay. Based on a common architectural type in the city, each three-flat consists of 12 modules, totaling approximately 3,750 square feet per building, with three two-bedroom, one-bathroom units and modern, market-rate finishes, Swanson said.

The steel-frame units will be completed and ready for occupancy in the city's 27th Ward in a nine-week production schedule – 80% faster than conventional construction methods – and at a 5% to 20% lower project cost, depending on the delivery method, according to the firm.

Ideal for hotels and healthcare facilities

In addition, Sterling Bay and Skender plan to start a seven-story, 83-unit modular apartment building in Chicago during the first quarter of 2020. While Skender officials aren't ready to publicly announce other modular clients, the firm is in the design phase with other developers and end-users for a dozen other projects, including healthcare, hospitality and mid-rise market-rate multifamily units, according to Todd Andrlik, Skender vice president of marketing. Swanson said one of these projects is a 30,000-square-foot outpatient facility the company is building in a former retail store.

The modular process lends itself to structures like hotels and healthcare facilities that have easily duplicated floor plans with similar fixtures and fittings, Swanson added. “Where we’re most enthusiastic about the new facility is for the types of projects that have the expectation of high quality but with work that can be repeated,” he said.

Even though modular building is becoming more prevalent in U.S. construction, with companies like Marriott and Prefab Logic investing in it, Swanson said there are still many misconceptions about offsite construction.

“In North America, assumptions around modular and manufactured products are that they are of lesser quality,” he said. “We are making the only designed object in the world that carries that kind of baggage — it’s not like people say they only buy their cars from companies that build them in a garage. That logic is not sound."

To help dispel some of these myths, Skender unveiled a 650-square-foot luxury condo prototype last fall. “Visitors were surprised by how a modular building could be so high end,” Swanson recalled. “For example, they said they didn’t know a modular unit could have stainless steel appliances."

Filed Under: Commercial Building Residential Building Technology
Top image credit: Skender
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Thomas Mueller
Can digital fabrication unlock a new frontier in low-cost timber construction? All signs point to yes in the IBA Timber Prototype House, a micro-architecture project that’s been playfully described as “a log cabin turned on its side” by its designers at the Institute for Computational Design and Construction at the University of Stuttgart. Designed to meet PassivHaus standards, the airtight and highly sustainable building system was developed as part of the International Building Exhibition (IBA) Thueringen and is currently on show in Apolda until September 29.

The IBA Timber Prototype House shows how computational design and fabrication technologies can turn low-cost timber construction into an environmentally friendly, economical and architecturally expressive way to build. The mono-material building consists of a series of staggered upright spruce timber frames with thin slits that serve as stress-relief cuts to prevent splitting and dead-air chambers to increase insulation values without compromising structural capacity. Digital fabrication and five-axis CNC milling also allowed for the creation of precision-cut airtight joints for connecting the timber elements so that no metal fasteners or adhesives were needed in construction.

“Conventional building systems have a vast array of different materials embedded in them, which often have very high embedded energy costs and are difficult to separate for recycling,” explains the ICD team. “In contrast, this research draws on traditional joinery, and a system was developed that relies purely on wood elements for structural connections and airtight enclosure, minimizing system layers and ensuring easy disassembly for end-of-life recycling. Furthermore, the project sources all the wood from within the state of Thueringen, where the demonstrator was built, allowing the team to minimize the embodied energy costs associated with moving materials over transportation networks.”

The tiny building’s curving walls and roof are also a result of digital fabrication, while simulations of the home’s energy efficiency—the house achieves a U-value of 0.20 W/(m^2K) without additional insulation—have indicated that the prototype should perform up to PassivHaus standards even during cold German winters.

Benjamin Benschneider
The custom acoustical ceiling, derived with the help computer modeling, is LMN Architects' first foray into fabricating a final form.

Located along one of Seattle’s most prominent cultural corridors, Octave 9 is an intimate, 2,500-square-foot experimental performance space within Benaroya Hall, home to the Seattle Symphony. Designed by local firm LMN Architects—also the authors of the original 1998 building—the venue employs cutting-edge audiovisual technologies with custom-fabricated details to achieve what the firm calls “electronic architecture”: a programmable and fluid environment largely able to accommodate the particular needs of any performance uncoupled from the room’s dimensions and materiality.

“Part of the initial efforts of the project was to figure out what does it mean for the symphony to want to be the ‘orchestra of the future,’ and how are we going to design this space to help facilitate that?” says Scott Crawford, Assoc. AIA, a principal at LMN Architects and a founding member of LMNts, the firm’s technology studio.

As a result, the venue is equipped with a digital acoustic constellation sound system from Meyer Sound that can be reconfigured and tuned by moving any of the 13 curved screens suspended from a ceiling track. But the space also needed to feel distinct, to have a visual identity that complemented its mission.

Instead of having “all the guts hanging out on the ceiling” as is common in black box theaters, Crawford says, Octave 9 features a sculptural ceiling composed of hundreds of irregularly shaped “cells” that absorb sound and conceal many of the requisite systems. The cells are made out of digitally fabricated acoustical panels ranging in depth from 4 inches to 16 inches. (The ceiling is mostly between 8 feet and 9 feet high.) Felt-like in appearance and touch, the panels are actually PET plastic sourced from the local company Snap-Tex and contain up to 60 percent recycled content. The cells join together like puzzle pieces, forming approximately 6-foot-square modules that hang from a Unistrut system.

LMN’s design approach continues a line of inquiry involving parametric modeling that it first explored at the University of Iowa’s Voxman Music Building, in 2016. But the smaller Octave 9 project is far more complex due to its unique program and existing structural constraints; for example, a load-bearing column sits a few feet from the middle of the performance space.

The biomorphic form of Octave 9’s ceiling was also derived from the underlying grid of several audiovisual systems, such as lights and microphones, combined with the radial configuration of special projectors and a few hands-on designer tweaks. Using Grasshopper and the gist of a Voronoi diagram, the design team assigned every element in the audiovisual system a minimum amount of clearance and allowed those diametrical assignments to exert a certain amount of pressure. “The projectors put more ‘pressure’ on the area around them, which causes the cell to inflate and compress the ones around it,” says Crawford, who developed the algorithm. “The microphones exert very little pressure, because, in the end, they’re smaller in diameter than your pinkie.”

In this way, the ceiling’s 3D, cell-like shapes were not designed so much as generated. Its intricate pattern was never actually drawn. “The locations [of systems] and the geometry of the beams in the space directly influence the formation of the undulating surface on the underside of the ceiling,” Crawford says, and the final form “emerged out of the simulations that we were running.”

The project also offered another first for LMN: the opportunity to fabricate the final acoustical product. “[W]e decided that we were going to build it ourselves, not only because we thought it would help streamline the design-to-fabrication process, but also because it would be a good learning process for us,” Crawford says.

The team underestimated how much they would learn. The architects had created drawings of each individual cell in its “unfolded” state, creating long geometric panels that could be CNC-milled from Snap-Tex’s standard 4-foot-by-8-foot, 0.5-inch-thick sheets. The shortest panel was just 3.25 feet. The longest run, which ganged two sections, was 10.5 feet. Using Grasshopper, the team could fit up to seven panels per sheet.

During a six-week takeover of LMN’s in-house fabrication shop, the designers ran into innumerable challenges. For instance, the CNC machine
Francisco Nogueira
Dutch architecture firm GG Loop has wrapped an apartment building in Amsterdam with a beautiful facade of timber slats. According to the architects, the design for the Freebooter Apartments incorporates a number of biophilic design principals in an attempt to connect the building’s residents with nature. In addition to its light-filtering timber screen, the building also includes a number of materials that pay homage to the city’s maritime traditions.

The four-story apartment block is a prefabricated structure that was manufactured offsite using steel and cross-laminated timber. The prefabrication process not only reduced the cost and environmental footprint of the project but the construction time as well. In fact, the entire construction process only took six months from start to finish.

According to architect and founder of GG Loop Giacomo Garziano, the design for the Freebooter Apartments was inspired by the principles of biophilic design, which aims to connect architecture with natural elements. “We are part of nature in a deep and fundamental way, but in our modern lives, we’ve lost that connection,” Garziano said. “Freebooter is a response to that; as I see biophilic design as the key to truly innovative design, balancing the technical aspects of environmentally conscious construction with the qualitative, lived-in experience of an organic and natural space.”

The sustainable design was focused primarily on natural materials and natural light. Before the project broke ground, the architects conducted a study of the sun’s movement over the course of the year. This analysis was instrumental in the positioning the building and placing the timber louvers at certain angles so that the interior spaces were properly lit by diffused natural light. The long vertical planks of timber cover the entire building, including the terraces. Cutouts in the timber screen allow more light to stream into certain spots of the complex.

As a nod to the city’s long history of shipbuilding, the design also features various elements of marine architecture, such as the red cedar planks, pine wood, steel and glass. These aspects are found throughout the interior, where natural light, pine-clad walls and curved stairways and corridors create an atmosphere of being in a ship’s cabin. The two-story units all feature open-plan living spaces on the ground floor with the bedrooms on the second floor. Throughout the space, minimalist design features and large glass facades that open up to spacious terraces shaded by the tops of the louvers enhance the feeling of being close to nature.

C40 Cities
The Reinventing Cities competition asked architects to find new uses for vacant and abandoned spaces in cities around the world. The results are an extraordinary example of what future cities could look like.

As the world moves to a zero-carbon future, cities will be key places to transform–particularly buildings, which account for more than half of emissions in most cities. Reinventing Cities, a competition launched two years ago by C40 Cities, a network of mayors focused on finding solutions to climate change, asked architects to reimagine new uses for vacant and abandoned spaces in six cities: Chicago, Madrid, Milan, Paris, Oslo, and Reykjavík. These are the winning proposals; the winning teams now have the chance to buy or lease each site to develop the projects.

On two vacant lots in Chicago’s Garfield Park neighborhood, a new net-zero carbon housing development is designed to run on renewable energy, grow food on the roof, and process stormwater onsite. The ultra-efficient buildings, designed to “passive house” standards, would be built in a local modular factory.

An unused market building in Madrid would be renovated with recycled materials and certified wood and would produce its own power through solar panels on the roof and walls. Inside the market, the community would have access to local, organic produce and workshops about climate change.

On vacant land in a part of Madrid sandwiched between an industrial and residential area, a new development would include student housing, rehearsal spaces and an auditorium for musicians, an organic store, and space for urban farming. Nearly half of the surface area would be devoted to green space.

A new zero-emissions student hub at the Polytechnic University of Madrid–with housing, sport and art facilities, and a lab for sustainability research projects–would use a passive design to shrink energy use. Outside, the walls would be covered in holes to create habitats for plants and animals.

A new factory in Madrid would manufacture biodegradable zinc-air batteries and run on energy from a solar farm on the property, creating more than 100 local jobs. Regenerative agriculture techniques would rehabilitate the soil, and an onsite “Compostlab” would produce compost from local waste.

At a former freight terminal site in Milan, a new social housing project would be the first in Italy to be carbon neutral. The design limits space for personal cars and has extra space for bike parking, charging stations for electric cars, and a neighborhood car-sharing scheme. The buildings would be powered by onsite renewable energy and connected to district heating.

John Sutton
California firm CAW Architects used prefabricated elements and economical materials to create a series of light-filled buildings on an agricultural campus operated by Stanford University.

The structures are situated on the O'Donohue Family Stanford Educational Farm, located on the edge of the university's campus in Silicon Valley.

The Farm not only provides food for the university community, but also serves as an outdoor classroom where students can learn about farming practises. Over 200 varieties of vegetables, fruit, herbs, field crops and flowers are grown on the six-acre (2.4-hectare) site.

"The Farm serves as a working agricultural complex that provides over 15,000 pounds of produce each year to the campus – and a living laboratory where students, faculty and the community test ideas about social and environmental aspects of farming and urban agriculture," said CAW Architects, a firm based in the nearby town of Palo Alto.

CAW Architects was tasked with creating a cluster of buildings to serve different purposes. The structures were designed to minimise their impact on the site.

"The design tightly clusters farm structures to preserve the majority of the site for field crops and orchards," the team said in a project description.

The siting of the buildings was also driven by a desire to provide views and outdoor gathering areas, while also ensuring that daily work could be efficiently performed.

Wooden slats, corrugated metal and polycarbonate panels were among the materials used to create the structures, which were built on "a very modest budget". Prefabricated elements helped keep costs down.

The centrepiece of the complex is the Barn, a single-storey, 5,300-square-foot (492-square-metre) building with wooden walls and a gabled, metal roof. Clerestories rise up from the roof, ushering in daylight and facilitating natural ventilation.

The Barn houses a workshop, a seminar room, offices, storage space and restrooms. On the east side, a sheltered pavilion overlooking the fields serves as an area for demonstrations and gatherings.

Just south of the Barn is a trio of smaller, basic buildings – a greenhouse, a lath house and a wash-and-pack facility. The Farm also offers a barbecue area, where fresh meals can be cooked up and enjoyed during events.
The Container Cycle Hub is one solution to what is going to be a very big problem.

We are in the midst of a cycling revolution with the proliferation of electric bikes, which are often far more expensive that the regular bikes people ride in cities. But this creates a problem; nobody I know with a Cevelo road bike leaves it chained to a post in the middle of the city (they keep a junker bike for that), but lots of people have e-bikes now that cost as much.

That's why secure bike parking and storage is really going to be the third leg of the stool that will make the e-bike revolution happen: good bikes, good bike lanes, and a safe, secure place to park.

That's why the Container Cycle Hub from Cyclehoop is such a good idea; in the space of a single car parking space it provides parking for 24 bikes. It's made out of a recycled high cube shipping container.

"A key feature of this product is the high security gate. The original container has been modified to fit space saving secure sliding gates with perforated panels that allow natural light inside while reducing the visibility of the bicycles from the outside for security. The sliding gates are opened using a mechanical code lock, with electronic options available, facilitating keyless access."

They get so many bikes inside by parking them double high, with Cyclehoop's "gas assisted two tier racks." It has bright motion-sensor lights powered by solar panels and enough batteries to keep it going all year.

I do hope that there is enough power to run an alarm and video system as well, just in case someone breaks it open, as often happens in bike storage lockers. You still have to lock your bike, even in this.

As more and more people ride e-bikes instead of cars, more and more of them are going to cost as much as used cars, and security is going to become a very big problem, as critical a part of bike infrastructure as bike lanes.

I am facing this issue all the time now, as I am testing a Gazelle e-bike that is worth as much as a Cevelo road bike and 5 times as much as I got for my beloved Miata. I want to ride it to a lecture tomorrow, but do I dare leave it outside a theatre in the evening in Toronto? In a previous post, What's the best way to lock an e-bike, I quoted an Abus representative who follows a lock-per-hour rule: "If I go to a three-hour movie, I put three locks on the bike." I will be doing that, but I will still be nervous through the entire evening.

I am facing this issue all the time now, as I am testing a Gazelle e-bike that is worth as much as a Cevelo road bike and 5 times as much as I got for my beloved Miata. I want to ride it to a lecture tomorrow, but do I dare leave it outside a theatre in the evening in Toronto? In a previous post, What's the best way to lock an e-bike, I quoted an Abus representative who follows a lock-per-hour rule: "If I go to a three-hour movie, I put three locks on the bike." I will be doing that, but I will still be nervous through the entire evening.

I am facing this issue all the time now, as I am testing a Gazelle e-bike that is worth as much as a Cevelo road bike and 5 times as much as I got for my beloved Miata. I want to ride it to a lecture tomorrow, but do I dare leave it outside a theatre in the evening in Toronto? In a previous post, What's the best way to lock an e-bike, I quoted an Abus representative who follows a lock-per-hour rule: "If I go to a three-hour movie, I put three locks on the bike." I will be doing that, but I will still be nervous through the entire evening.

But cities now provide free or cheap storage for automobiles in public streets. They can get 24 bikes or e-bikes in the same space. If cities are serious about getting people out of cars and on to bikes, they should get serious about bike parking; it is a critical part of bike infrastructure. Dropping Container Cycle Hubs on every block would be a great way to do it.

With people riding $5,000 Terns and Surlys and $2500 Gazelles instead of cars, parking is going to become very, very important.
Bruno Zaitter
In the state of Paraná in the south of Brazil, architect Bruno Zaitter has created a contemporary and low-impact suite for the charming Hotel Fazenda Cainã in the countryside. Dubbed the Refúgio da Cainã, the building features walls of glass to take in sweeping views of the native forest, surrounding mountains and the city of Curitiba in the far distance. Elevated to reduce site impact, the prefab structure includes a repurposed container measuring nearly 40 feet in length.

Spanning an area of 538 square feet, the modern Refúgio da Cainã has been dubbed by Hotel Fazenda Cainã as their Hannah Arendt suite after the renowned American philosopher and political theorist. Included in their Villa do Bosque collection, the contemporary chalet is equipped with full-height windows for taking in views of the large native forest to the south, as well as city and valley views towards the east. The streamlined interiors are dressed with a natural materials palette that complements the outdoors.

“In this natural space marked by a wide green area and the characteristic geology of the site, the Refúgio da Cainã contemplates a simplistic structural concept that reveals the connection of the interior with the exterior by the minimal intervention in the natural environment,” explains the architect, who adds that the hotel is located in the area of a geological fault called the “Escarpa Devoniana.” “It has in its essence, the relation between the artificial structure and the natural universe, where the concept of the project is to harmonize with nature without trying to disguise it, revealing its straight lines as opposed the curved and organic lines of nature.”

To reduce environmental impact, the architect reused a nearly 40-foot-long metal container for the bulk of the building, which includes the bathroom on one end, the bedroom in the middle, along with a dining area and living room on the other end. A “glass box” was added to the container and houses a sitting area enclosed on three sides by floor-to-ceiling glazing. The building is elevated with pillars to preserve the natural terrain and minimize site impact.

Niles Bolton Associates
Using the Prescient design/build light-gauge steel structural system, a Florida-based developer is building a 336-unit apartment tower in downtown Atlanta that will rise to a height of 12 steel-framed stories above a five-level concrete parking structure. The system allowed an extra four floors of height over competing structural systems, says Nathan Kaplan, partner at Atlanta-based Kaplan Residential.

The project, Generation Atlanta, achieved a density of 217 units per acre (536 units per ha) using a technology that will reduce total development costs enough to make the downtown project feasible, enabling developers to comply with Atlanta’s initiative to provide more affordable housing and competitive market-rate high-rise units. Fifteen percent of the project’s units are intended to be affordable to residents with incomes at 80 percent of area median income (AMI). Completion is expected in 2020.

The Atlanta site is 1.6 acres (0.6 ha) with a considerable slope across its nearly 400-foot (122 m) length. That meant five levels of parking, containing 380 spaces for vehicles and 51 for bicycles, could most efficiently be placed in a concrete parking structure under the light-gauge steel structure, with only four parking levels exposed above grade being counted toward the height limit.

The lighter weight of the metal structure decreased the engineered load requirements versus traditional steel or concrete construction. Architect Ray Kimsey, president of Atlanta-based project designer Niles Bolton, says foundation costs were reduced about 15 percent due to a reduction in the number of pilings required by the significantly lighter structural loading.

Market Conditions

Kaplan notes that the site is attractive for housing. “We felt the downtown submarket was very job heavy and lacking apartments,” he says. “There are some 140,000 jobs in the downtown [central business district] and less than 2,000 new apartments delivered in the last 10 years, predominantly in higher-priced concrete buildings.”

Generation Atlanta units range in size from 459 to 1,512 square feet (43 to 140 sq m) with an average size of 832 square feet (77 sq m). The unit mix is about 25 percent studios at rents from $1,400 to $1,550 per month, 50 percent one-bedroom units at $1,650 to $1,850 per month, and about 25 percent two-bedroom units at $1,900 to $2,300 per month.

To meet the city’s affordability goals, Generation Atlanta will offer 15 percent of its units at rents from $1,300 to $1,500, depending on unit type, targeted to those with incomes at 80 percent of AMI. “We strongly believe the combination of a good land price and a cost-effective design will allow Generation Atlanta to be more competitive,” Kaplan says.

Though the site is at the Spring Street ramp of Interstate 85, it rates high on three 100-point scales—an 88 Walk Score, a 76 Transit Score, and a 75 Bike Score. Its 380 parking spaces supply a 1.13:1 parking ratio for its 336 units. “The location is very walkable to many job centers and also very close to Atlanta’s public transportation system,” the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA), Kaplan says.
Now you can add a tiny home or cabin kit to your cart.

You can buy just about anything on Amazon these days, from mundane household necessities to garish novelty items—and now, there are even DIY kits to help you construct your own tiny guest house, shed, office, or lounge. Take a look at the prefabricated units Amazon has to offer below, and get ready to upgrade your backyard.

Allwood Arlanda XXL
Ideal as a detached office, garden shed, or yoga studio, this 273-square-foot kit unit from Allwood will run you $10,695. The structure has large windows, a small porch, and a simple, clean design.

The Arlanda XXL from Allwood is available on Amazon for $10,695.

Ecohousemart Laminated Log House Kit
Made out of glulam—an engineered wood product made out of glued, laminated timber—this house kit has a gross area of 1,290 square feet. The home is designed to have three bedrooms and one bathroom, but note that additional materials not included in the kit are required.

Allwood Solvalla
This studio cabin kit from Allwood provides 172 square feet of outdoor and indoor space. The indoor space is well-lit from large windows on two sides, while the partially enclosed portion is covered with a shed roof and has vertical battens on one side to provide shade. The kit sells for $7,250.

Weizhengheng Expandable Container House
Geared toward those with an interest in sustainable design and lowering their carbon footprint, this expandable container house is made out of a galvanized, light steel frame and runs on a solar power system. The home is made in Germany and is available for $24,800.

Timber Frame House Lounge Kit by Ecohousemart
This prefabricated, cabin-like building is made out of a glulam and clad in northern spruce wood. The 1,000-square-foot structure can be customized depending on the type of foundation, windows and doors, or other requirements you might have, but does not come with these items: the kit mainly includes framing elements.

Allwood Getaway Cabin Kit by Lillevilla
Priced at $18,800, this cabin kit features 292 square feet of space, including a sleeping loft in the taller portion of the gable roof. Because the home has minimal insulation, it would ideally serve as a summer house, home office, or even a stand-alone retail building, but could easily be used as a residence or in colder climates with utility hookups and extra insulation.

Sunray by Allwood
This 162-square-foot cabin kit is available for $8,690 and is typically available to ship within three to five weeks. The kit is ideal for a lake or beach house, with large windows and shading on a deep front porch.
Zhu Enlong via Yiduan Shanghai Interior Design
Yiduan Shanghai Interior Design has transformed 10 shipping containers into a striking mixed-use structure on Shanghai’s Chongming Island in China. Located on an open grass field, the building has been named “The Solid and Void” after the staggered arrangement of the shipping containers, which seamlessly connect to outdoor spaces framed by angular timber elements. To further tie the building to the outdoors, the architects used a predominately natural materials palette and white-painted walls to blend the structure into the landscape.

Challenged by the site’s remote location and constrained by the narrow interiors of the shipping containers, Yiduan Shanghai Interior Design decided to think outside the box — literally. The designers expanded the project’s usable floor area to 19,375 square feet by adding “void boxes”: outdoor platforms framed by timber elements that extend the interiors of the containers to the outdoors.

“The added boxes, framed by grilles, increased usable area, met the functional demands and formed a contrast of solidness and void with the containers,” the designers explained. “Natural light can be filtered through grilles, generating a poetic view of light and shadows. The containers, and the new boxes generated from them, together produce staggered and overlapping architectural form, making the building look modern and futuristic.”

The three-story building consists of a reception and display area on the first floor, a cafe and restaurant on the second floor and office space with meeting rooms on the third floor. Large windows pull the outdoors in; the thoughtfully designed indoor circulation guides users to different views of the landscape as they move through the building. The modern and minimalist appearance of the building helps keep the focus on the natural surroundings. Elements of nature also punctuate the building, from artfully placed rocks that line the walkways to the winding stream that runs through the middle of the building.

Faulders Studio
Despite rising fears of a diminished role for architecture in new construction, Faulders Studio principal Thom Faulders embraces his role as a building envelope specialist.

As the AEC industry increasingly moves toward specialization and compartmentalization of building design, many fear for architecture’s diminishing role in the built environment. “The multiple foci at the core of specialization have given rise to a world that is advancing while fragmenting,” wrote architects Stephen Kieran, FAIA, and James Timberlake, FAIA, in Refabricating Architecture (McGraw-Hill, 2004). “We applaud the advancement, but deplore a fragmentation that is no longer unavoidable and so needlessly diminishes architecture.”

A common complaint among architects involved in speculative developments, for example, is that their creativity is often relegated to the façade while other stakeholders design the building structure, services, and interiors. This restrained scope contrasts sharply with the responsibilities of the premodern master builder, who directed all aspects of a building’s design and construction. While the sense of loss due to diminished agency is understandable, architects’ apprehension in this case also suggests a disdain for building envelope design as a self-contained practice, or as a purely ornamental form of design.

Thom Faulders, principal of Oakland, Calif.–based Faulders Studio, offers an alternative perspective. Rather than viewing envelope design as a limitation, he sees it as an opportunity. Over the studio’s 22-plus year tenure, Faulders has amassed a notable collection of façade-dominant projects, including the multilayered skin of the Airspace Tokyo multifamily building and the mineral-accreting Geotube Tower proposal in Dubai. “It stands to reason that a higher percentage of an urban population will have some kind of experience or engagement with a building's façade, much greater than the percentage of those occupying a building's spaces contained within,” Faulders notes. “In this framework, I don't see being relegated to working on the outside of a building as being a limiting factor for the architect."

Although Faulders Studio is not a façade consultancy in the traditional sense, the office continues to push the expressive potential of the building envelope, most recently with Wynwood Garage façade in Miami. Designed by local firm Wolfberg Alvarez & Partners Architecture, the 250,000-square-foot, eight-story parking garage includes ground-level retail and a single level of commercial offices at top. Located within Miami’s Wynwood Arts District, a creative destination known for its street art collection, the Wynwood Garage possesses ample surface area for making a dramatic statement in dialogue with its context. Given the commission to design the building’s façade, Faulders created a visually striking urban canvas with perforated aluminum panels. A high-contrast pattern vaguely reminiscent of soap bubbles contained within a box (although more angular and distorted) connects the building’s many floors while obscuring the individual parking levels from the outside. Thin aluminum panels protrude from the seams between the “bubbles,” adding visual depth to the surface.

“Here, surface touches space in all directions, and like the shared membranes of foams and bubbles, the building skin is in direct contact to the proximities of interior and exterior spaces,” Faulders says. The lack of repetition and multiscalar qualities of the pattern distort the viewer’s comprehension of the building program and size. The pattern also adjusts with the height above ground: “Delineated outlines are more expansive higher up, and address visual registration from a distance,” Faulders explains. "At closer proximities the façade’s pattern blends with the urban texture of the neighborhood; and nearer to street level, focused areas of articulation guide the eye downward to pedestrian street activities.” The envelope design intentionally lacks a sense of closure; it is what Faulders describes as “an open-ended condition that is never at rest.”

In a metropolitan setting like Miami, Faulders considers the cladding to be an urban project first and an architectural project second. This approach was promoted in the 1960s by late British architect Cedric Price, who recognized the inherent uncertainty of the built environment—and its relationship to its original programs—over time. “Inbuilt flexibility or its alternative, planned obsolescence, can be satisfactorily achieved only if the time factor is incl
Tom Ferguson
Transported in a single shipping container and raised in two weeks, this clam-shaped cabin nestles against a rocky outcrop outside Sydney.

The idea of a prefabricated cabin, with components light enough to carry and assemble without heavy machinery, had long had a siren call for owner and architect Mark Fullagar. After many nights sketching and dreaming of the perfect solution, Fullagar came up with the Fabshack—a 540-square-foot cabin with 90 percent of its structure built off-site.

Designed and built by Fullagar, the compact, comfortable cabin has a queen-size Murphy bed, seating area, storage, open kitchen and dining room, bathroom, laundry room, and deck from which to enjoy mountain views on his 26-acre property in Cattai, a suburb of Sydney, Australia.

The cabin is constructed of cost-effective, non-combustible materials in 8-foot-wide bays. Each bay consists of hollow-insulated plywood panels nestled within a steel frame, elevated on piers that lift the structure above the ground. Insulated plywood forms the continuous ceiling and curved wall of the cabin, creating a soft interior while facilitating necessary rainwater drainage on the outside.

Corrugated steel, aluminum window frames, and strengthened glass create an industrial exterior. By contrast, the plywood-wrapped interior adds warmth and texture to complement the natural setting. Green linoleum countertops and black millwork enliven the muted palette. Large windows face west to take in the mountain views, with sliding shutters that protect against the afternoon sun.

Ninety percent of the work was completed in a workshop, meaning minimal labor time was spent on site. All components were packed in one shipping container, and each component was carried by one or two people to the site.

The Fabshack demonstrates the flexibility and adaptability of prefab construction. Since the cabin is comprised of modular bays, it can be modified for different purposes or sites, its components easily dismantled and recycled, and its materials upgraded depending on preferences and budget.

Paul Seletsky, AIA, an independent Digital Design consultant who was one of the pioneers in the application of AEC technology in architectural practice, shares his experiences and insights in this Profile.

"...it's human nature to want to choose the winning horse when selecting tools as critical as BIM, but without competition, new software that could truly impact our practice simply won't see the light of day."

What is your educational and professional background?
I graduated with a B.Arch. from Cooper Union in 1982 and then went to Italy, working for two years as a designer for Vittorio Gregotti Associati in Milan. Our documentation back then was done in pencil and ink.

Returning to New York in 1984, I joined Emery Roth & Sons to learn construction drawings. Documentation was produced in ink on mylar, with notational errors corrected using a chemical eradicator. Roth had one of the first CAD systems, McDonnell Douglas GDS, the precursor to Revit. In my role there, however, I did not get to work with it.

In 1987, I joined the Port Authority of NY/NJ, spending ten years in the public sector. In 1990, I did receive the opportunity to work in CAD and learned Architrion, MicroStation and AutoCAD; eventually being named their first CAD Manager. I also began setting up PCs, Mac, Windows and CAD, a small network and a pen plotter—learning "in the trenches." After seven years there, I returned to the private sector.

HLW Architects hired me in 1997 as their IT director. I built a staff of eight people and installed a network of servers and routers across four offices globally. I gradually came to regard this work as too laborious and costly, and falling outside the core competency of an architecture firm. In 1998, Revit came out and they demonstrated their software to us. BIM had arrived and I immediately saw it as a game-changer.

In early 2001, I joined my cousin's startup company to develop an early iteration of the smartphone. Nine months later, I was hired as Director of Technology by Davis Brody Bond Architects. There, I decided to outsource IT, leasing a new phone system, all printers and plotters, and eventually MS Office (but not AutoCAD). My colleagues gently teased me as "Mr. Outsource." In 2003, we began using BIM, trying ArchiCAD on one project, followed by another in what was now Autodesk Revit.

I began to write and lecture about BIM, describing what I foresaw as its impact on architecture and construction. In late 2001, I became chair of the AIANY Technology Committee, and for the next 14 years curated a monthly lecture series about AEC Technology's impact on practice, culminating in a symposium held in October 2012 called Bits+Mortar. The event featured a two hour conversation between Frank Gehry and Nicholas Negroponte, founder of the MIT Media Lab.

In 2005, SOM New York sought to fill a new position, Digital Design Director, and hired me. A senior partner and I created a new department called the Digital Design Group, recruiting 25 architects as AEC technology gurus and BIM mentors. Over the next five years, we created two student research programs, tested environmental analysis software, created our own massing study tool, and held in-house lectures with AEC Tech luminaries. It was an exciting time.

In late 2010, I journeyed outside New York to work for KieranTimberlake in Philadelphia, then spent a few years selling online AEC software and BIM training. In 2017, I happily moved back to New York. I spent 2018 focused inward, exploring what I wanted the last thirty years of my career to look like, since I don't intend to ever retire.

What is your current role? What are the main projects you are involved with?

I'm currently an independent Digital Design consultant in New York, seeking new clients. I greatly enjoy the environment and interaction of working in an architecture office, so if anyone out there is interested, feel free to contact me at pseletsky@gmail.com.

When and how did you get interested in AEC technology?

In 1983, I was sitting at my desk in Milan, drawing the seating floor plan for a redesign of Barcelona's Olympic Stadium. I was using a beam compass that must have been at least 3 feet long. It was at that moment that I said to myself, "Someday I'm going to be doing this on a computer so I can focus more of my time on design versus the mechanics."

How much of what you do today is related to AEC technology in some form?

Ninety-five percent analyzing client needs and deploying solutions, and five percent lamenting BIM software churning
Edward Williams Architects
The zero-carbon emitting office allows for versatility in layout while retaining its intimate domestic atmosphere

Edward Williams Architects has refurbished a house within a picturesque mixed-use mews in London’s Bayswater & Paddington Conservation Area, transforming it into a sustainable office for an investment company focused on sustainable agriculture. The existing building consisted of a brick shell with an internal steel and timber frame structure.

Externally, the architects have responded sensitively to the existing building features with roofing and windows matching the rest of the mews. New structural elements were designed to be fabricated offsite and then bolted together on site to maximise efficiency, reduce installation period and reduce construction waste and noise.

The office layout responds to the client’s brief for a modern aesthetic with in-built flexibility, with spaces ranging from an informal gathering area for the whole team, smaller spaces for private working and large meeting rooms. The architect has planned the spaces to allow for versatility without detracting from an intimate atmosphere of the former mews house – future proofing with the use of moveable office partitions but retaining a high level of acoustic privacy.

The mews entrance opens straight into a ground-floor reception which also doubles up as a conference room and dining room for employees. A set of folding, garage-style doors allows natural light to flood into the interior, while also creating a connection to the mews outside.

Inspired by exposed brickwork of the existing building, oak panels line the walls inside with exposed oak joists creating a sculptural element to the interior. A bespoke oak staircase connects the ground floor to the first. Cellular offices are divided by moveable glass partitions, allowing different internal configurations. The timber has been pressure-impregnated to achieve a Class 0 fire rating, while negating the need for intrusive fire systems.

The annual predicted carbon emissions for the building are zero as the whole building relies on electricity that the client has committed to source from a sustainable electricity supplier. The scheme incorporates an electric boiler for underfloor heating, no mechanical cooling and natural daylighting on top of other passive sustainable design interventions.

Architect’s view

When we saw the existing neglected shell among a picturesque mews terrace, we jumped at the chance to rekindle the building’s charm and give it a new lease of life for our sustainability-conscious client.

The challenge was to redevelop the existing double-fronted mews building without losing any of its character, but adding additional character where possible. Our design draws out the warm red hues of the existing Victorian brickwork and uses it as a counterpoint to the new structural frame of grey-painted steel supports and solid oak beams, also echoed in wall panelling throughout the scheme.

We restored the building’s characteristic dormer windows and installed glass partition walls, creating an additional storey of bright, useable, flexible office space. For the ground floor spaces, a wood-heavy interior gives an intimate, homely atmosphere to the open plan space which can be used for all occasions – from team lunches to board meetings.

Edward Williams, founding director, Edward Williams Architects
A new program in Los Angeles seeks to finance and build accessory dwellings for homeowners who agree to rent them to Section 8 voucher-holders.

Looking at the pressing shortages of low-income housing in each and every state in the country, it’s hard not to come to the conclusion that NIMBY homeowners are winning the fight against new housing, and especially against affordable housing. But there’s one potential foe that reactionary homeowners are ill-equipped to dominate: their own neighbors. Other homeowners, that is, who have elected to house Section 8 voucher-holders in their backyards.

That’s the proposal by LA-Más, an urban-design nonprofit in Los Angeles, and other organizations involved in The Backyard Homes Project. Led by designer Elizabeth Timme and public-policy expert Helen Leung, LA-Más has previously worked on placemaking projects and convenience-store redesigns that highlight healthy food options. Now, Timme, Leung, and their partners hope to finance and build backyard homes, or accessory dwelling units (ADUs), for homeowners who agree to rent them initially to Section 8 voucher-holders for a minimum of five years.

The plan would leverage the prerogatives of private homeownership to the public end of increasing the affordable-housing supply. LA-Más is looking to begin with 10 pilot units (some of which would receive financing), and Leung and Timme say they are in the final stages of getting loans underwritten.

The project is enabled by recent regulatory changes in Los Angeles. By starting with single-family homes, it meets L.A. where it’s at—a sprawling city with nearly half a million single-family lots. “There’s just a lot of space in Los Angeles,” as Timme says. Homeowners get access to loan capital to finance construction, an opportunity to add significant equity to their home, a potential stream of rental income, and administratively, a single point of contact to help navigate a network of city agencies and nonprofits. (The first round of applications for the program closes today, and interest has been high.)

The one-stop-shop idea began with the explicit desire to use backyards homes for affordable housing. Two years ago, LA-Más cobbled together some grant money toward this end and began assembling a panel of expert advisors—developers, housing-policy wonks, builders. Timme and Leung also talked to focus groups of homeowners, asking them, “What would it take for a homeowner to house a Section 8 tenant?” according to Leung.

They learned that homeowners didn’t how to find Section 8 tenants and thought the process of dealing with local housing agencies was too complex. Homeowners said they also needed financing and a better idea of their responsibilities as landlords. Finally, these potential landlords didn’t know how to hire an architect or deal with contractors. LA-Más could certainly help with the last problem, and local housing nonprofits and the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles (HACLA) could guide them through the bureaucratic maze.
JCB Architects
Jackson Clements Burrows Architects has designed two student accommodation buildings for La Trobe University in Melbourne that will be made of mass timber.

The two buildings, to be constructed at a cost of $100 million, will hold 624 beds in one, four, five and six bed apartments, with common spaces joining the two buildings together.

The project is thought to be the largest mass timber project in Victoria.

Graham Burrows, JCB Architects director, said, “The design of the new buildings is very much inspired by the extraordinary landscape in which they sit.

“As the largest mass timber project in Victoria, the buildings will not only offer huge environmental benefits, but they will also provide calm and beautiful spaces in and around which both resident students and the wider La Trobe community can interact.”

Ross Snowball, director of developer Multiplex, said the project would make use of a number of emerging sustainable design and construction techniques, including the prefabrication of most of the structure.

“We are particularly passionate about emerging design technologies which respond to environmental and sustainability needs, and we love working with universities – so this project perfectly marries the two and I’m really looking forward to seeing the outcome next year.”

The building is part of La Trobe University’s 10-year, $5 billion “University City of the Future” campus redevelopment plan.