Archive for December, 2006

Research I

Sunday, December 31st, 2006

This spring semester, I’m beginning the work on my graduate thesis project. Because the project is a design research project, over the holiday break I’m reading several books on research to get a head start on what I’ll be doing over the next year. So far, it’s a bit overwhelming. The sort of research needed for a design project is quite different from the research needed for a law brief or a topical paper or article, the two types of research/writing with which I’m most familiar. Legal research involves reading laws, regulations, case law (written opinions handed down by courts on particular cases), and at times legislative history (committee reports and other documents that are part of the history of the writing and enactment of a law). It’s simply a matter of reading carefully and thoroughly to understand the salient points, then using those points to craft an argument. Research for a topical paper or article requires enough reading to learn about the topic in sufficient depth to discuss it intelligently. The extent of the research depends in large part on who will be reading the piece.

The research needed for this design project, however, is quite different. This type of research, known as behavioral-environmental research, requires a direct gathering of quantitative and qualitative data through field observation, questionnaires, experiments, or other empirical means. Data are organized and analyzed and the findings used to inform the design project. From the descriptions of these data-gathering processes, they appear to be quite time consuming. Now, if I could accomplish this as part of my everyday job, it would be a lot of fun, but I have no idea how I’ll manage it with only nights and weekends available. Hopefully, after I’ve plowed through a few books I’ll have a better idea of how to organize my time and structure my course of action.

Here are some of the how-to-research books I’m making my way through:

Revit, first take

Tuesday, December 26th, 2006

I have just downloaded a 30-day trial of Revit Building 9, the building information modeling software from Autodesk, and have set about learning it. So far, the tutorials are going well – it seems to be easier to use than AutoCAD. Like all tutorials, however, the instructions lead you thorough a series of steps that accomplish some task, but don’t bother to explain why you use a particular command or what that command is actually doing. I can follow the steps and create the great-looking house or office that the tutorial builds, but at the end I have only a cursory understanding of what I did. This method of teaching software doesn’t make a lot of sense to me – without knowing what each command is actually doing and why it is doing what it is doing, how can I learn what to do in other situations? I do better if I can access a manual that explains each command in depth.

Nevertheless, building information modeling seems to be the latest and greatest thing in the AEC industry. In a nutshell, this software keeps all building information in a single file – from structure to finishes to furnishings. Changes in any place in the file are instantly updated in all other places. For example, changing the placement and type of a window in an elevation causes the change to show up on the corresponding floor plan and in the window schedule. This helps prevent mistakes and speeds up the design process. The software contains pre-defined building elements and components too. For example, a door type can be selected from a list and simply clicked into the model. I’m looking forward to becoming expert at this program.

Students can get Revit at reasonable prices from educational software vendors such as Academic Superstore, Campus Tech, Journey Ed, Software Express, Studica, and others. Check all the sites because the prices vary.

Resources: Architectural glass

Sunday, December 24th, 2006

Vendors of architectural glass:

The blog experiment IV

Monday, December 18th, 2006

It’s been nearly a year since I started this blog. My initial objectives were to network with other designers and make contacts within the design world, create a place to amass resource links to make finding things easier, and showcase my work. Some of these things have materialized and others have not. First, the networking idea has been a total flop. I’ve written a boatload of blogs and gotten about 3 valid comments. I did have an interesting but short exchange with a couple of these commentors, but by and large, the only “comments” I get are from spammers (20-30 spams per day). Clearly, if this objective is to be met, I need a very different approach.

Collecting links to resources has worked fine, but I haven’t had a studio since I began the blog, so haven’t had a chance to see if these resource collections will make it easier to find products. I think they will, so I’ll continue to collect.

What has proven to be worth the price of the ticket, however, is providing a place to store and show my portfolio. I did some job hunting this fall and was able to point people to the website. I think many of them appreciated the chance to see all my work on their own time and in one place. It certainly enabled me to dispense with carrying huge satchels of drawings to job interviews.

An unexpected bonus is that managing the blog has connected me to information simply because I’m out there looking for ideas to write about. Something catches my eye or a thought occurs to me, I do an online search, follow a few links, and invariably I find lots of amazing stuff. The blog, therefore, opens up lines of thought and provides inspiration.

So after almost a year of blogging, I have to conclude that it’s a valuable exercise, though perhaps not for the reasons I originally envisioned. It remains an experiment!

Dimming ballasts

Monday, December 11th, 2006

In both my lighting classes in my interior design program, I learned that dimming lights saves energy. For fluorescents, dimmable ballasts were billed as the next great thing for realizing energy savings in large commercial projects because they offered an opportunity to reduce wattage use in response to daylight. More available daylight meant lamps could be dimmed and energy would be saved. Apparently LEED credits are available for installation of programmable DALI systems that incorporate dimming ballasts (Indoor Environmental Quality Credit #6.1 and 6.2, “Controllability of Systems — Lighting”), presenting an additional incentive.

However, Stan Walerczyk, writing in the December 2006 issue of LD+A: Lighting Design + Application, the IESNA‘s magazine, says fluorescent dimming ballasts and their associated control systems are not always the solution. In Dimming Ballasts: Let the Buyer Beware, Walerczyk runs some scenarios comparing high performance dimming ballasts to high performance non-dimming options and concludes that the dimming systems do not always result in the highest cost savings. The amount saved depends on many factors, including natural daylight conditions, siting, light needs, cost of equipment and energy, and types of lamps and luminaires used. He contends that many of the same savings can be realized with simple and less expensive switching controls.

The wild card, however, is how people actually use the systems. Walerczyk’s informal poll of facility managers revealed that they don’t like the hassle of maintaining dimming systems and sometimes end up bypassing the systems altogether. In addition, dimming systems that work beautifully when first commissioned may not yield the same savings after a few years if instructions on how to use the system aren’t passed from one manager or owner to the next or if physical changes are made to the structure or the interior layout that alter how effectively daylight penetrates into the space.

Walerczyk suggests doing some homework before deciding whether to use a dimmable fluorescent system – running some realistic cost comparisons, comparing alternatives, and researching current literature. He has a good point. While it is important to incorporate as many energy-saving technologies into a building, it’s often too easy to go with the latest technology without taking the time to really assess if, over the long run, the technology delivers on its promise.

Quilts

Friday, December 8th, 2006

Ok, show-and-tell time. Here are pictures of some of the quilts I’ve made over the years. The first one is still on the hoop and has been for a few years, but that’s the way these quilts all progress. I think I may actually have made one from start to finish within the span of a single year, but if so, it was a fluke.

The quilts are on-again, off-again, but I always seem to get back to them eventually.

A series of connected settings

Wednesday, December 6th, 2006

I recently read an article by Andrew Blum in Gensler‘s Dialogue discussing the workplace of 2006. Recognizing current competitive pressures on companies to innovate and collaborate both within and outside of their organizations, Blum explores the role of the workplace in supporting the free flow of ideas and information. He states:

Given the demands that are placed on it today, the workplace is becoming a series of connected settings that support each person’s workday while keeping him or her linked up with others across a larger social network.

To foster innovation, Blum argues, employees must have ready face-to-face access to other people. The ability to overhear each other so they can keep pace with what’s going on in the office and to see each other so they can spontaneously group together to discuss an idea or accomplish a task are key concepts in today’s workplace. Workplace design makes this happen.

The goal, then, is to create workplaces where employees feel energized, have access to the people they need, and feel free to generate ideas and initiate conversations. This might take the form of open settings, teaming areas, workbench desking, shared offices or neighborhoods, or home-like gathering places. Blum suggests that the most successful workplace design is taking its cue from retail, building culture by creating a “hospitable and engaging” experience for employees and a “‘buzz’ that helps foster a more dynamic office culture.”

This notion of the workplace as a “series of connected settings” is what I hope to explore in depth for my graduate thesis in Interior Design over the next year.

November ‘06 index

Sunday, December 3rd, 2006