Best Tool for the Job

In the 21 months since I posted ”Why I Prefer Using a Pencil” on 2H Pencil, technology has marched on. We’ve been through slightly more than one cycle of the phenomenon described by Moore’s Law, that integrated circuits double in performance every 18 months. Devices have gotten smarter and smaller and more connected. BIM, 3-D modeling, 3-D printing and the Cloud are the current darlings of architectural office technology.

In this time period, I’ve continued to think about my relationship to technology. Rather than classify myself as a “tech geek” or a “non-tech geek”, I am, simply, VERY selective about the technology I adopt and use regularly. I prefer a car with a stick shift, because I like to feel the workings of the engine. I prefer not to have a phone on my person at all times, because it feels intrusive and distracting. I prefer to have GPS available when I am on the road. I still prefer using a pencil when it comes to drafting.

For a while in my career, I was in sync with my professional peers with regard to architectural office technology. And when offices began to replace manual drafting with CAD, I learned the fundamentals along with everyone else. But by then, I was more involved in the management than the production side of projects; at that time, CAD was used strictly for production of construction documents. So I used a red pencil on printouts more than I sat at the Microstation.

I was not in the habit of using CAD when I started my own firm twenty years ago. Laura Kraft  Architect is intentionally a one-person firm, structured so that can follow my preferences as I see fit.   As a solo practitioner, I have no need for in-house team coordination/collaboration/sharing. Processes and findings are all stored in my head or on paper, or as digital files in Word, Excel, WordPress or ArchiOffice. In addition to these technologies I do use, I’ve got an iPad on which the mail, web and portfolio apps are the most useful for my architecture practice. However, I find that in the course of a day, I still prefer a notebook to a note-recording app.

I’ve got Vectorworks and Sketchup on my office computer, and can get around both programs. I use them on rare occasions when they can do something that the combination of a pencil, an enlarging & reducing copier, a scanner, a digital camera, and/or a quick chipboard model can’t do.

As mentioned in my first post, for the scale and one-off character of custom residential design, the focus of my practice, I believe manual drawing is a viable and appropriate tool. Hand drawn/drafted Pre-design and Schematic drawings are perfectly expressive, informative, loose and evocative for clients’ needs. Custom residential construction documents do not necessarily require the extreme precision available and inherent in CAD.

For me, some significant points against CAD are these: in my office, there is no IT department except for a portion of my own left-brain. When glitches occur, as they do according to Murphy’s Law, it’s incumbent on me to figure them out and fix them. Problems are eventually solved, but at often at too high a cost of time and aggravation. Add to this the necessary, frequent, and expensive upgrades to keep the system viable. Sometimes, advanced technology can take more than it gives.

However, when an un-filled need arises, I can enthusiastically embrace a high-tech approach, if it holds a workable solution. As an example, in the past 7-8 months, I have given free rein to a strong artistic impulse, which has expressed itself as digital art, created with Photoshop Elements, and then printed on a high quality printer. The process I have chosen to work with would seem to fly in the face of my hands-on proclivity.

This is a primary reason I currently make use of a digital process: the first image below is an oil painting I started over 30 years ago, reworked numerous times, and never finished. Re-working the gradients led to a loss of freshness and luminosity, which I desired. You can see that the multiple layers of paint have begun to slough off. I never gave up on wanting to resolve this image. There was something about the rotation of forms, the gradients, and the ambiguous relationship of foreground to background that intrigued me.

 painting _edited-1Hand painted with oils on canvas

Rotation test_edited-1Digitally created

The second image is a recently created digital version. With the computer, I was able to try many versions of the composition, adjusting the characteristics of the gradients, the colors, and the forms in a relatively short time interval. The Elements program allowed a range of explorations that were not within my grasp with the paintbrush. After 30+/- iterations, I came to a resolution that feels right to me. I don’t think that the manual process would have ever been the way to work out the problems in this painting.

I discovered an ironic reversal of the architectural “tech geek” ethos. In architecture, technology such as CAD, BIM, and 3-D modeling are embraced and preferred as predominant tools, whereas hand-drawing and manual processes are seen as oddities/novelties (though much appreciated by contractors, I find). However, in the art world, digital art is often stigmatized as less authentic than, and inferior to “hand-made” art.   As a category, it is commonly excluded from calls for work in competitions, awards, shows, etc.

Now I’m in the position of, on one hand, extolling use of the pencil for my technical drawing (no longer a conventional method), and on the other hand, extolling use of the computer for creation of my art images (also a non-conventional option). This apparent contradiction is, in fact, consistent because these choices, and all of my technology choices, are based on evaluation of how the pros and cons of each tool adds up for me. I hold that technology is best when it serves unobtrusively as a means to an end. When I find a tool that improves my process, I embrace it. When I find a need that can best be met by some new form of technology, I use it. If a tool impedes my process, I reject it. If some new gadget or program fills a need that I don’t have, I pause and reflect; adoption of such things can create a need where there was none before, and then there is no going back. So in these instances, my tendency is to resist the seduction of “the next new thing,” in order to keep life, architecture and art as simple and uncluttered as they can be.

All Images courtesy of Laura Kraft.

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

What do you think? I invite your comments.

 

Best iPad and Tablet Apps for Architects

In the 13 months since this iPad app review was originally posted, use of tablets has grown to be nearly ubiquitous. The number of apps directed at architects has exploded!  I’m an iPad user, so this review features apps I have tried on my iPad. 

Most apps are, or will soon be available on the Android platform as well.  In cases where the identical app is available for both iPad and Android, I have included a green link to the Android app in parentheses. If there’s not an identical app by the same provider, there is likely to be something similar out there. For more on Android apps, please refer to articles Top Android Apps for Architects and Designers and  10 Most Interesting Free Android Apps.

There seems to be an app for everything!  Not all are created equal. I found that many apps offer “free” versions, but they are often barely functional. In order to be truly worthwhile, many require “in-app purchases,” (I’ll call these IAPs). I have made a note of the actual cost of the software with the addition of these.

This post will really benefit from readers’ experiences and opinions.  Please share what you know in the Comments section! stylus

Architects’ tasks fall into predictable phases. First, I’ll look at apps that are useful for tasks in the Pre-Design and Schematic Design phases.

DRAWING / DESIGN

I compared freehand drawing apps by doing a timed 15-minute drawing of a toaster (why not?) with several highly rated apps, enabling me to compare features and results. I used my finger, not a stylus. I had not used any of these apps before this experiment; my learning curve is built into the 15-minute time limit. 3 apps stood out favorably.

Sketchbook Pro,” an Autodesk product ($3) (Android, $3) is versatile for drawing and graphics.  It has many tool and line weight choices, infinite color choices, layers, and numerous ways to save and share. The zoom feature enabled a degree of precision.  I would like to spend more time learning this app, which is not all that intuitive, but not difficult to learn.

sketchbook toasterPaper,” by Fifty Three, (free, but $10 with highly recommended in-app purchases: Mixer $2,  Color $2, Sketch $2, Write $2, and Outline $2), has 5 drawing tools with limited line weight control, and infinite colors. The lack of a zoom feature limits precision. It is very intuitive, and nicely emulates drawing and applying washes.  Good for loose sketches and diagrams when connectivity is of the essence.

paper sketch

Morpholio Trace” (free, and $1 each for IAPs, which include among others, Grids, Scale Grids, Architecture, Diagrams, Perspectival Grids, Figures: Female or Male, Axonometric Grids, Landscape, 3D Grids, and Interior Design).  Trace enables you to start from scratch or take a photo or drawing from your files and overlay it with layers of virtual tracing paper.  They have added an additional fine line weight, and a zoom feature. This app allows you to instantly upload your sketch to Facebook, Twitter, email, or the Morpholio cloud.

IMG_0552 DOCUMENTING EXISTING CONDITIONS

MagicPlan, (free, needs IAPs to be of any use. The options are: 1 Plan (PDF, JPG, DXF, HTML) $3, Unlimited (PDF, JPG, HTML, DXF) $20, 10 Plans (PDF, JPG, DXF, HTML) $20, and 40 Plan (JPG/PDF/DXF/HTML) $60, (Android, pricing structure the same).  This app uses photos from which it creates measured floor plans in PDF, JPG or DXF format.

screen568x568My Measures Pro,”($8) (Android, $5), is useful for documentation, either during the design process or during construction.  One can photograph from within the app or open an existing photo, and add dimensions, angle readings, and notes to it. The resulting image can be sent to the cloud or through email.

my measures “Total for iPad,” (free) which is designed for real estate appraisers, is simple and versatile enough to get me to a measured floor plan in a reasonable amount of time.  In “Total,” project folders can contain drawings, photos (taken within the app, or brought in from elsewhere), voice recordings, and written notes. There is a detailed form for project information that might be useful. The compiled documentation can be emailed as a PDF.

Toast Room

The interface is easy to learn and use. Dimensions and room areas toggle on and off. Notes can easily be added, as can furniture, windows, doors, (pianos!) and other common plan elements. In my first use of the app, this drawing, in keeping with the toaster theme, took about 14 minutes, including my learning curve.

 “Snapseed“ (free) (Android, free), corrects, crops, and adjusts your photos.

360 Panorama ($2) (Android $1), stitches together photos to make a complete panorama.

 See article on Site Survey, Analysis & Visualization for Architects.

 referencE  

One day soon, I think Architectural Graphic Standards will be an app.  For now, some of its components are separately available from various sources.

Design Dimensions,” (apparently free) (Android, free), is an Android-only app.

“Steel Shapes” ($5) (Android $3), is similar to the big ol’ Steel Manual, which we called the Steel Bible back in the day.

Architect’s Formulator” ($10), is a growing storehouse of formulas related to electrical, carpentry, plumbing, concrete, excavation, steel design, parking areas, swimming pool design, as well as basic formulas for wind load and wind overturning force.

Big Calculator,  (free).

Pocket Light Meter,” ($1). 

Noise Sniffer,” (free).

Pitch Gauge, (free) (Android, free).

Clinometer HD” (free) (Android, $1).

Colorsnap,” (free) (Android, free), for matching in situ colors to actual Sherwin Williams’ paint colors.  Other paint companies offer similar apps.

stylus copyNext are additional apps that architects can use during the Design Development and Construction Documents phases.

 Drafting

Autodesk AutoCAD 360, (free with IAP necessary upgrades to Pro $50/year, and Pro Plus with 4x the storage capacity, $100/year) (Android, same pricing structure).  This is a highly rated drafting program. Allows you to share, view, and comment on 2D and 3D DWG, DWF™, Autodesk® Navisworks®, and Autodesk® Revit® software files from your mobile device.

 I have not rated the following drafting apps: “GraphPadPro R3,” ($20), “CadTouch,” ($20) (Android, free limited trial version), “PadCAD,” ($15) (Android, $15), “iDesign,” ($8).  Comments,  pro and con, from users?

BIM

Most CAD systems have available proprietary BIM apps.  Some apps work across several CAD platforms. ITunes currently shows no less than 85 apps for BIM. Have you used one that you think is really good?

 “Formit,” by Autodesk (free) (Android, free), allows you to create and alter BIM models on mobile devices.

 See article on BIM Apps for Architects for Architects

 3D MODEL CREATION AND VIEWING

Again, have you used a 3D app that you think is really good? These following ones are highly rated.

Verto Studio,” ($14).

Sketchup Viewer,” (free).

iRhino 3D Viewer, ($4).

TurboViewer,” (free, with IAPs TurboViewer X $7 and  TurboViewer Pro $20) (Android, $20).

See article on Mobile CAD Viewers and Collaboration.

specifications

It’s not an app, but the Arcat website is a great starting place for specs.

stylus copyMy last addition to the architect’s app toolbox is those that are particularly useful during the Construction Administration phase.

project management

Autodesk “BIM 360 Field Mobile,” (free). Create ad update issues, reference project documents, and run QA/QC checklists on the job site, offline or online.

Autodesk “Bluestreak Mobile,” (free). Track architecture, engineering, and construction project activities and collaborate.

PunchList,” ($10).

See article on 50+ Best Apps for Punchlist.

 OFFICE FUNCTIONS

Dragon Dictation,” (free), for miraculous voice to text dictation.

 Dropbox,” (free) (Android, free), for document sharing.

See article on 10 best iPad apps for office productivity.

Docscan HD,” (free) produces clear, straightened-out, cropped black and white PDF, .JPEG, or ZIP images of paper documents that can be annotated, shared and/or saved.  Will send multi-page scans.

Instapaper,” ($1 with IAPs for $1 per-month subscription) (Android, same pricing structure) (Android, $3), can be used to search the web and save articles offline in an attractive text format for future reference.

File App Pro,” ($5), is a file manager and viewer.  A variety of documents can be organized according to size, date, or name, and then opened, viewed, edited, moved and/or shared. This solves the mystery of “Where’s my stuff?” on my iPad, and makes it a far better tool as far as I’m concerned.

Office2 HD” ($8) emulates limited versions of Microsoft Office programs.  With it, I can store, open, view, edit, and share documents, including Excel spread sheets, Word documents, and Power Point presentations. They can be emailed, shared in the cloud and printed. They can cross over to the desktop.

Please Note:

1.    App prices shown are valid for today’s date, December 24, 2013, and will probably change.

2.     App developers revise, update and expand their wares, so please consider this information current as of the date of this posting.

 All images by Laura Kraft and app developers’ websites.

Feel free to share the content of this posting, but please provide a link back to 2H Pencil.

I invite your comments.

Asymmetry

450px-Chartres_1

Chartres Cathedral

Asymmetry is literally a lack of symmetry. It is usually defined in negative terms such as “objects that are not identical on both sides of a central line,” or those having a “failure of parts to correspond to one another in shape, size, or arrangement.“  It has been described as distorted, disquieting, out of place, hyperactive, tiresome, and threatening.

This blog post is a consideration of asymmetry in positive terms.

1.  Asymmetrical objects cause our eyes to actively scan, and our minds to actively evaluate the unequal parts of the form, seeking balance.  I feel this active engagement as stimulation, engagement, and fascination. Sometimes, a dynamic balance is achieved in an object; sometimes it is not.

2.  In addition to being a source of formal interest, asymmetry can deliver vital information. There are examples of extreme asymmetry in living things, such as this type of flounder, which has both eyes on the right side of its body. Other species of flounder are known to have both eyes on the left side of their bodies.  This is functional for them because they live at the bottom of the sea with enormous pressures causing them to lie flat.
Kuvalähde: Wilhelm vonWright: Pohjolan kalat.
CrabGross asymmetry such as that of the fiddler crab above can tell a story about a creature’s role, functioning, or habitat.  It raises the question, “What are the functional reasons for this particular form?”

3. There are degrees of symmetry. The human face is generally symmetrical, with 2 eyes, 2 nostrils, 2 cheeks, and 2 eyebrows. Yet on closer inspection of almost every face, inequality of the parts is obvious. Asymmetry is the source of interest, beauty, ugliness, and expression.

b849cc4f3f3cbfd185a6d84c47da75c6_6

Marilyn Monroe’s iconic and memorable face (top center) is admired. By mirroring just the left side (lower left), and comparing that to a mirroring of only the right side (lower right), we can see that it is far from symmetrical in structure and detail. Her facial imbalance gives her vulnerability and compelling beauty. She even darkened her beauty mark to enhance the irregular composition.

4. For human-made things, composition is a result of choices. What is the meaning or message in the choice to “go crooked?” In the early 1900s, Kazimir Malevich, a Russian Suprematist artist, created elemental, abstract art, which was shocking and radical in its time.

 malevich.black-red-square
malevich.petersburg
Here are some famous examples of architecture in which, as described in the four points above, asymmetry :
1. stimulates active engagement opening the possibility of stimulation and fascination.
2. raises questions about the functional reasons for its particular form.
3. is the source of interest, beauty, ugliness, and expression.
4. raises questions about the meaning or message in the choice to “go crooked”

800px-Thomas_Crane_Public_Library,_Quincy,_Massachusetts_(Front_view)

Thomas Crane Public Library by H.H. Richardson, 1882.

asymmetry-architecture-beauty

Auditorio de Tenerife by Santiago Calatrava, 2003

fallingwater

Fallingwater by Frank Lloyd Wright, 1939

lotheringen_12

Coetzee House by Emilio Eftychis, 2005(?)

Niterói_Contemporary_Art_Museum

Niteroi Contemporary Art Museum by Oscar Niemeyer, 1996.

Miyakonojo 2

Miyakonojo Civic Center in Miyakonojo, by Kiyonori Kikutake, 1966, Metabolist Architecture

Chartres Cathedral image courtesy of Wikipedia.

First photo of a flounder courtesy of TBD; second image of a fiddler crab courtesy of Google Images; third image of Marilyn Monroe courtesy of upscale; images of Malevich paintings courtesy of Web Museum.

First architectural example courtesy of Wikipedia, second courtesy of  Wikipedia; third courtesy of fallingwater.org; fourth courtesy of designboom; fifth courtesy of Wikepedia; sixth courtesy of Panaramio.

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

I invite your comments.

The Camera as an Artist’s Tool

I am taking a drawing class in which we sometimes work from photos, which by their nature, capture 2-dimensional records of 3-dimensional things, fixing a composition, and in so doing, eliminate several fundamental challenges of drawing.  I have long believed that it is preferable to draw directly from life, and to wrestle with the illusive third dimension, than to draw from photos.

But I am learning that there are opportunities in letting a camera do some of the work.  Compositions can be tested, cropped and re-cropped with ease, enabling quick explorations and unexpected discoveries.  A universe of subject matter can be accessed from the comfort of the studio.

Here is a painting by Charles Sheeler that I love for its stillness, sense of space, composition, color and subject matter.

Image

 American Interior, 1934

From the website of the Yale Art Gallery where this painting resides, “American Interior is the last and most complex of Sheeler’s paintings of interiors. A master photographer, Sheeler used his own photographs as the basis for many of his paintings. He modeled this composition on one of a group of photographs he had made in 1929 documenting the living room of his former home in South Salem, New York. He photographed the space from above to create a steeply rising floor. In the painting, the cropped composition, oblique view, tilted perspective, and distilled contrasts of light and dark that flatten the forms and emphasize their geometry reveal the artist’s eye as a photographer. His modernist vision responded to the purity of forms and patterns found in American crafts, shown here in the Shaker box, textiles, and chair. In American Interior, Sheeler celebrates both the clarity and precision of the camera and his love for simple, handmade American objects.”

The camera can be an artist’s best friend.

In researching this blog post, I found that Yale Art Gallery’s website, in addition to access to its collection, includes an intriguing online magazine called “What is Art and Why Does it Matter?  I am reminded that computer is a great tool for virtually visiting museums and galleries around the world.

Architecture Whisperer, No. 4

Behold, the building speaks!  This one says, “The Law of the State is ironclad. Judgment is exacting. Crime does not pay.”

Law Court Offices 1

The Law Court Offices in Venice, Italy consist of a tall, dark and narrow, nearly windowless monolith that connects, at the ground level, to buildings of a re-purposed 19th century factory complex. The varied components of the court system all exist or can be accessed from somewhere within this “black box.”

Law COurt Offices 6The dark form is clad in oxidized copper panels punctuated by narrow windows. The entry is recessed under a 15 foot overhang. The Law Court Offices’ light-absorbing, geometrically simplified presence would be remarkable in any setting.  It stands apart, attracts attention for being different, and strikes a degree of trepidation into the viewer.

In the context of Venice, the City of Water and Light, it is the antithesis of most Venetian buildings, especially those along the Grand Canal, that fairly glitter with surface pattern and ornament.

Ca'd'OroTypically, they meet the ground or water with colonnades, behind which are layered the cool recesses of shadowed loggias. Above is the Ca’ D’Oro.

The historical center of state justice in Venice was the Doge’s Palace, on St. Marks Square. It has fabric-inspired brickwork, pedestrian-friendly Venetian Gothic colonnades, and lacy terra-cotta ornament. This lovely exterior’s grandeur does not, however, correlate with the harsh judgments and punishments that were imposed from within.

Doge's PalaceContrast the Doge’s Palace wall with the Law Court Offices’ wall:

Law Court WallThe architect C+S contends that this simple, archetypical, compact shape and the choice of materials constitute a metaphor representing “institution,” in all of its connotations of tradition, organization, and ritual. In addition to this, I think it symbolizes power, severity, and a general unsympathetic authority.  The State will not be moved. No one can escape justice. This is the message about the Law revealed by Venice in its choice of this design.

As an interesting contrast, the new Law Courts of Bordeaux, France, deliver an entirely different message about the Law.

richard-rogers-law-courts-bordeauxIn the words of its architect Richard Rogers, “This form with its enclosing roof creates a legible container of parts.” The cone-shaped masses are courtrooms. Circulation paths and connections can be seen.

Rogers says that the building intentionally “emphasizes, through a feeling of transparency and openness, a positive perception of the accessibility of the French justice system.“

Whether or not French and Italian legal systems are exceptionally different from one another, these two municipalities have built architecture that speaks of two very different things.

Photo No. 1 courtesy of Pietro Savorelli; Photo No. 2 courtesy of  Alessandra Bello; Photo No. 3 courtesy of Pietro Savorelli; Photo No. 4 courtesy of Wikipedia; Photo No. 5 courtesy of John Hopewell’s blog Italy 2010; Photo No. 6 courtesy of Pietro Savorelli; Photo No. 7 courtesy of Peter Augustin.

Feel free to share the content of this blog, but please provide a link back to 2H Pencil.

I invite your comments.

Symmetry

Like butterflies, most other animals, and some plants,

we humans possess bilateral symmetry. We have a center line, with basically the same stuff on the right and the left.

Researchers of social psychology essentially agree that the faces we find most alluring are also the most symmetrical ones. To be physically balanced on either side of a center line is considered a primal hallmark of health and, therefore, beauty.

Just as we viscerally relate to symmetrical living beings, we relate to symmetrical objects.  We can discern a center line, and in general, we expect to see the same stuff on the right as on the left. There is a “rightness” to well-designed symmetrical architecture.

Symmetry is apt for expressing structural forces.

It imparts gravitas and elegance when used to mark transitions.

1940-packard-160-front

 It can give objects a human aspect.

 Sometimes, for better or worse, the quest for symmetry can cause a building’s exterior appearance to take precedence over what the interior spaces need or want to be.

metro paris

A design needn’t be an exact mirror image to be symmetrical.

Symmetry can be as simple and serene as a blanket folded in two over a pole.

First photo of a Monarch butterfly courtesy of Karenswhimsy.com ; second image of Cattleya walkeriana orchid courtesy of Greg Allikas; third image of Vitruvian Man courtesy of Leonardo DaVinci; fourth image of the Eiffel Tower courtesy of Wikepedia; fifth image of a Torii Gate courtesy of Kate Comings; sixth image of The Dime Savings Bank of Brooklyn courtesy of My Bank Tracker; seventh image of 1940 Packard 160 courtesy of Hyman Ltd.; eighth image of Parisian Art Nouveau entrance courtesy of Traveling Squire; ninth image of pup tent courtesy of Imgfave.

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

I invite your comments.

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.