Who’s in front?

In the drawing class my first year of architecture school, our professor gave us an assignment to represent ambiguous depth cues, one of which is occlusion (or overlap)–the location of an object in front of another, which tells you it’s closer.

I remain fascinated with the idea that through manipulation of this particular depth cue, foreground and background can be made to switch places.

The quilter Michael James has crafted some amazing quilts, using parallel strips of hand-dyed cloth. At 90″x90″, it’s engulfing in scale, and perfectly gorgeous.

“Suspended Animation,” Michael James, 1992

I see brightly colored forms floating in front of dark, receding empty space. But then a moment later, the dark substantial forms are in front of a bright receding background. I love the way the figure and ground pop back and forth as my eye follows the edges of the forms. Though it is a fixed image, it is very active. It is like a puzzle and a riddle.

Here’s another with similarly reversing negative/positive space:

“Quilt No. 150: Rehoboth Meander,” Michael James, 1993, The Renwick Gallery of the National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC.

There is a long tradition of quilters’ exploration of figure and ground reversal.

In another medium altogether, this is an oil painting of mine in which I play with occlusion. It keeps my eyes and mind engaged.

Untitled, oil on canvas, Laura Kraft, 1978

First image courtesy of International Quilt Study Center and Museum, second image courtesy of Smithsonian American Art Museum

All other images belong to Laura Kraft-Architect. Feel free to share any of these images, but please provide a link back to 2H Pencil.  Thanks.

Uptick in Drop Off Zones

According to the AIA’s recent 2012 Home Design Trends Survey, as summarized in an online AIA article, Mud Rooms/Drop Off Zones stand out as the sole “special function” spaces that are increasing in popularity among the three most desirable spaces included in home remodels and additions.

Early in 2007, I named, defined, and described the Drop Off Zone in the Drawing Board column of Fine Homebuilding Magazine as “a front-room feature that caters to the gadgets and trappings that accompany you whenever you enter or leave the house.”   Here are a few examples I have designed:

features include a tile floor, built-in seating, mail sorting cabinet, and a coat closet

drop offelectrical connections are concealed in the cabinetry for charging a variety of devices

design sketch for Drop Off Zone shown below in photo

One hook, one large and one small drawer per family member

Along with Drop Off Zones, the survey cites home offices and outdoor living areas/outdoor rooms as the other two top choices for clients’ remodeling projects, though they are not currently growing in popularity.

As compared to new construction, “improvements to existing homes remain the strongest sector of the housing market…(encompassing) kitchen and bath remodels, as well as additions and alterations to existing homes.” In general, people are concerned with energy efficiency, and design for aging in place.

All of these types of improvements are key components of projects in my practice of architecture.

All images belong to Laura Kraft-Architect. Feel free to share any of these images, but please provide a link back to 2H Pencil.  Thanks.

Accentuate the Negative

I recently had a chance to teach a few classes about architecture and design to some bright 5th graders.  They were  excited by the following demonstration.  First, we looked at these yellow columns:

Then we looked again, with a hint:  LOOK AT THE SHAPES OF THE SPACES BETWEEN THE COLUMNS.  This brought on gasps of recognition and laughter. The negative space popped into the foreground and became the forms of people.

The moment when perception changes is jarring and provocative. The two different sets of information, once discerned, compete for foreground status.

Positive and negative space can provide an interesting lens with which to look at plans of buildings and towns. The gray shapes are the buildings in Martina Franca, an Italian town founded around 1300. Those with crosses drawn on them are churches. Interesting that there is barely a rectangular shape to be found.

To get a different perspective, reverse the positive and negative, and focus on the branching circulation paths. The wider parts are the gathering places. This image (below) showing  the twisting streets, the dead ends, and the irregularly shaped plazas, gives an insight into what it was like to get around this town.

When designing a building or group of them, it is useful and informative to “pop” the shape of the circulation space into the foreground and look at it as a thing in its own right.  It’s not just leftover square footage—it’s the connective tissue of the experience of the place.

First image courtesy of coolopticalillusions.com. Town plans adapted from “Streets for People,” by Bernard Rudofsky.

Feel free to share any of these images, but please provide a link back to 2H Pencil.  Thanks.

Too Much Information

Like many people, I am awash in a magazine tsunami. I subscribe to eleven magazines*, and several more come unbidden. This wouldn’t be a problem if I didn’t want to actually read through each one.  The small piles build up into large incriminating piles, an ever-present reminder that I have fallen behind. The magazines on my list frequently have great photos and interesting, informative articles, so once they are read, it seems just wrong to say goodbye and recycle them.  But archiving so many titles would fill every square inch of my space in no time.

Always a believer in systems, and a fan of order and simplicity, I started a system 13 years ago to deal with my magazines. I keep a pile of each title, with the oldest issue on top.  This way, I can read them in chronological order and get something out of the letters and responses to the previous issue.  I carve out 45 minutes to read each issue.  Longer, if it is interesting enough.

“Fine Homebuilding” and “Consumer Reports” are always archived because they are useful references; each is well-indexed and easy to search. For the other design magazines, any image, article, paragraph, poem, chart or advertisement that catches my attention, whether because it is great, awful, curious, odd, poignant, beautiful, or funny, gets clipped out and saved.

On a rainy day, (plentiful in Seattle), I go through the clippings. Those that still strike me as noteworthy are glued into blank spiral notebooks.  The clippings are arranged rather casually, and lightly annotated.** Here’s a peek at random selections from several notebooks:

the amazing work of  E. Fay Jones, architect of the Thorncrown Chapel

Carlo Bugatti Chair, c. 1900, woven chair, Reversatables,  “My Go” chair, cute lion

use of transparency at Liberal Arts and Science Center,  Quatar College, by Kazuhiro Kojima + Kazuko Akamatsu/C+A with Arata Isozaki & i-NET

a soaring flat roof can make a building—Indianapolis Motor Speedway Pagoda on left, Danforth Plant Science Center by Grimshaw and HOK

lyrical sky bridge by Wilkenson and Eyre Architects

red house by Jarmund/Vigsnaes, color inside cabinets and on door jambs

I’m now up to my seventh notebook.  Culled from a tsunami of magazines (13 years x 12 issues/year x 7 design titles = 1092 issues). Pleasingly distilled, fun to look through.

* My magazines: Architect,  Architectural RecordConsumer ReportsDwellFine HomebuildingThe Funny TimesMetropolisThe New YorkerPreservationThe Smithsonian, and Sunset. I got the following until they were discontinued: Nest, Progressive Architecture, and Architecture.

**My only regret, now that I have a blog, is that I didn’t write down complete attributions for the material, so that most of it can’t be directly reused. From now on, I will clip the author and/or photographer’s name with the material so that it can be properly credited.

All images belong to Laura Kraft-Architect. Feel free to share any of these images, but please provide a link back to 2H Pencil.  Thanks.

Sweet Spot

Once in a while, a designed object hits all the right notes.

It is only as complicated as it needs to be in order to work. It performs its job with elegant efficiency. Its material is well suited to the application and the material’s properties are appropriately exploited. The object’s use is obvious to the user.

Its form and function resonate with one another, clear as a bell.

This one-piece Lucite soap dish (circa 1975, designer unknown) is such an object:




Front Elevation

Side Elevation

All images belong to Laura Kraft-Architect. Feel free to share any of these images, but please provide a link back to 2H Pencil.  Thanks.