Archive for February, 2007

Studio 508 – week 5

Thursday, February 22nd, 2007

For my current studio in my graduate interior design program, I’ve been asked to design a restaurant. Although I struggled with developing a concept for this project (see previous posts about the beginning and third week of the studio), I’ve finally settled on something and am now on to design development. Whether it’s a concept that would hold up under professional scrutiny, I don’t know, but it seems to be reasonable and workable. Here is the gist of the story I developed.

My hypothetical client is a classically-trained chef who wants to open a restaurant on San Antonio’s River Walk that will create an interactive experience for her patrons – both among patrons and between patrons and the work staff. She wants patrons to participate in the food preparation process in some way. The concept for the project, then, is to create an interactive environment where the boundaries between patron and work staff are blurred. Here’s a concept diagram:

The concept was informed in part by an article by David A. Hollinger, called From identity to solidarity, in the Fall 2006 issue of Daedalus, the American Academy of Arts and Science’s journal. Hollinger’s inquiry is into why and how people form affiliations in the 21st century. He is especially interested in willful affiliations, which he refers to as “solidarity”, and asserts that the “accelerating integration of the global capitalist economy and its accompanying communications systems” is making solidarity the “problem of the twenty-first century.” He states that “to come to grips with one’s true identity is to ground, on a presumptively primordial basis, vital connections to other people beyond the family.” My idea, then is to explore Hollinger’s notion of solidarity in my restaurant design – to encourage patrons to form “willful affiliations” with each other and with staff.

The building we were given to work with is rather strange, but I’m beginning to make some sense of it. I did some research on San Antonio history and created a story for the building (not actually in San Antonio so far as I know). I named it the Dwyer Building after a mayor of the city who lived in the 19th century. In my story, the building undergoes a number of additions over the years, shown on the following plan:

So, now I’m putting this project into Revit (which I’m learning) and am beginning to develop some ideas about the space. My first idea was to have chefs bring cooking carts out into the dining room (where patrons would be seated at sofas, chairs, and communal tables in addition to the traditional private tables) and negotiate what they’d prepare directly with clients. No menu. After hearing my professor’s comments, I am now thinking of having the patron-staff interaction occur in a more controlled setting at demonstration tables where seated patrons would watch the chef work, help out with the prep, and eat the results – much like a cooking academy. The menu might be a take-home recipe.

Now to translate this story into a designed space. More later.

Water hyacinth

Sunday, February 18th, 2007

Water hyacinth I started a new job three weeks ago and that, along with six credits of grad school, leaves me with little time to blog. Yesterday, however, I received the March 2007 issue of Fast Company, a magazine that rarely fails to inspire. I opened to page 28 and read a short piece about CA Boom, a design trade show in Santa Monica, California that runs from March 30 to April 1. Along with the usual cast of design-show characters, CA Boom makes a special effort to introduce “envelope-pushing independent designers”.

Pictured in the article was the Sushi Daybed, designed by Project Import Export‘s (PIE) Bannavis Andrew Sribyatta using the water hyacinth plant. The daybed is available directly from PIE or from Vivavi, InMod, and other vendors and was named one of Architectural Record‘s Product Reports 2006 winners. The daybed is gorgeous – sensuous, tactile, and soothing. That it is made from water hyacinth makes it especially intriguing.
Sushi daybed

Though it’s a pretty little plant, water hyacinth is billed as “one of the worst weeds in the world.” (See the US Department of Agriculture’s site for additional information and numerous links.) Here’s what the Western Aquatic Plant Management Society has to say about it:

Water hyacinth is listed as one of the most productive plants on earth and is considered one of the world’s worst aquatic plants. It forms dense mats that interfere with navigation, recreation, irrigation, and power generation. These mats competitively exclude native submersed and floating-leaved plants. Low oxygen conditions develop beneath water hyacinth mats and the dense floating mats impede water flow and create good breeding conditions for mosquitoes.

This weed has a dreadful reputation, so clearly any commercial use of the plant is an environmental plus. A quick Google search revealed several other manufacturers of water hyacinth furniture – some quite nice and others run-of-the-mill. What distinguishes PIE’s product, however, is its unabashed modernity. Besides furniture, the plant can be converted into the enzyme cellulase and is used in coffee processing, textile manufacturing, laundry detergents, the paper industry, for pharmaceutical and medical applications, and biofuels.

Kudos to PIE for making something beautiful from this noxious plant. As designers, we need to make a special effort to support sustainable efforts like these.


Sunday, February 4th, 2007

On an intellectual level, I understand the notion of concept in design, but when it comes to applying a concept to an actual project, I just don’t get it. I can read a text and write about the topic like a champ and I can learn how to do something by watching and trying it out, but if I’m asked to translate between verbal thinking and visual/kinesthetic thinking, I run up against a blank wall. But this translation – between words and images – seems to be exactly what’s required with applying a concept to a project and I’m struggling to make sense of it.

My current studio teacher’s design education was more grounded in theory and, as a result, she does get it. She can start with an intellectual notion and create the loveliest diagrams expressing her ideas, then seemingly effortlessly turn these ideas into an architectural design. Now she is trying to lead us through this theoretical process of translating ideas into images. I still haven’t gotten it, but I am beginning to feel a glimmer of understanding.

Our project is a restaurant and here is the process so far. First translation: looking at drawings from the Imaginary Prison series by Giovanni Batista Piranesi, we developed a list of words. Second translation: we associated architectural terms with these words. Third translation: from these words and architectural terms, we are developing diagrams that show our concept. Fourth translation: use our concept to develop the restaurant’s design.

Ok. First, I took a stab at the drawings and came up with a list of words. They were generic and insipid. I worked on them some more and began to see some patterns, but nothing emerged that felt like a concept. Second, I took the words and associated them with design principles and elements. Not so hard, but each word could reasonably be associated with a lot of elements and principles so the whole exercise felt overly broad and undefined and got me no closer to feeling that I was approaching a concept. Third, I started in on the most literal type of diagram, the adjacency diagram, and at least came up with a sense of the functional needs in a restaurant, but still had little sense of what my concept might be.

So I went back to the drawings and the words and let my thoughts free-flow through them, purposefully abandoning anything literal, just to see what would happen. What happened is that ideas started to flow. Not images of what my restaurant project might look like, but what could perhaps be the beginnings of a concept. A concept still expressed in words, but at least it is bordering on being a real concept.

Now I have to turn this notion into something visual, and this is probably where I will have the most difficulty. How do you make words into forms, shapes, volumes? My guess is that I can’t reason through this exercise in my usual problem-solving mathematical way. So I’m sketching and reading and sketching some more and it is starting to make some sense. I still don’t have a fully-developed concept, but at least I may be on the right track.

Academic software

Friday, February 2nd, 2007

My free 30-day trial of Autodesk Revit ran out before I got through the training book, so I put it aside and didn’t think much about it for a couple of weeks. But today I was given a task in Revit in my new job and discovered, after meeting for an hour with the Revit trainer, that I actually know quite a bit about the program from those few weeks of fiddling with the training manual and the trial version. Hooray! That, of course, inspired me to purchase a one-year student license so I can finish up the training book.

For those of you who are students or educators, you can get the academic version of Revit at a number of on-line academic software vendors. This is the full legitimate program – not a “light” program and not bootlegged. With Autodesk, the only difference between the student version and the full version is that the student version prints “produced by an Autodesk educational product” around the perimeter of drawings.

The academic software vendors sell all sorts of programs at great discounts. The Autodesk programs, for example, are about 1/10th the price of the regular versions for a perpetual student license and about half that for a one-year license. I got my student one-year license for about $160; I’ve heard that the non-student program costs around $4,000. I bought a perpetual license for Adobe Creative Suite last year for $300 something (contains full versions of Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Acrobat, Go-Live, and Image Ready).

Here are some vendors of academic software. I have used some, but not all of them. Search for the program you need and you may find more vendors.

January ‘07 index

Thursday, February 1st, 2007