What More Do You Need?

Hot TubThese cold, dark, damp Seattle winter days have me thinking about ways to keep warm. I love this elemental hot tub. The wood-fueled heat exchanger is a simple and obvious example of form following function. The tub is a half-sphere, with squat legs and a useful side shelf. Cold water, supplied with a garden hose, is mixed with steam-heated water to regulate the desired temperature. The couple looks like they are steeping in a colossal cup of tea!

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.

The photo was featured on a Metropolis Magazine cover, sometime before 2003. The Dutchtub Original was designed by Floris Schoonderbeek. The quote above is from Sweet Spot, posted in this blog in September 2012.

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I invite your comments.

Illusions, No. 1

This California garden looks like the sea floor.  The plants look like sea-dwelling creatures and plants. The imagination swims!

Beachside succulent garden; Sep'12; "underwater" plants

Beachside succulent garden; Sep'12; Tide pool beach garden n Corona Del MarSucculents expert and horticulturist Joe Stead says, “As a kid, I explored tide pools …I marveled at the starfish and sea anemones. I wanted to bring that sense of wonder to this garden.”

With great knowledge and skill, he has selected and arranged boldly colored, drought-tolerant plants to create charming and compelling illusions.

Beachside succulent garden; Sep'12; Tide Pool Beach Garden n Corona Del Mar, CA    The “sea anemones” are agaves, nestled among red mangaves.

Beachside succulent garden; Sep'12; Tide pool beach garden n Corona Del Mar  The “starfish” is Echeveria subrigida.

Beachside succulent garden; Sep'12; "underwater" plantsThe “kelp” is Senecio vitalis.

All photos courtesy of Bret Gum; written content is derived from the article “How to create a sea-creature succulent garden,” written by Debra Lee Baldwin, in Sunset Magazine.

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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.


 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.

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I invite your comments.

Bad, and Not in a Good Way

It’s easy to point out bad architecture.  There it is, in your face, and you simply know it’s wrong. We take a certain pleasure in “epic fails,” including failures of architectural design.

Just what makes a building bad?  The traditional 3 criteria for evaluating architecture are: “firmness, commodity, and delight,” (in other words, structural stability, appropriate functionality, and attractive appearance).  When some or all of these things are not achieved, it’s bad.

Bad-Architecture-009Bad because it lacks firmness.
It’s going to fall down.
Everyone can agree.


Bad because it lacks commodity.
It won’t work as it should.
Everyone can agree.

 ponte-johannesburg_2159772k Bad because of lack of delight.

It’s ugly.

That’s just my opinion; others may disagree.

This is the Ponte City Apartments in Johannesburg. I think it’s ugly for the following reasons:

  • It lacks rhythm and differentiation.
  • The pattern of windows and concrete is completely predictable all the way up.
  • The big sign on top is commercial and cheap-looking.
  • It’s massive and clumsy compared to everything around it.

There are many websites devoted to bad/ugly architecture.  Several are listed below.  You won’t be disappointed when you visit these sites!

Do you agree that all of the projects deserve scorn?  You may find that you like some of them.  What are the reasons you find them good or bad?

1st photo courtesy of Funzu.com; 2nd photo courtesy of International Assoc. of Home Inspectors; 3rd photo courtesy of Alamy.

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I invite your comments.

Architecture Whisperer, No. 3

Behold, the building speaks! It says, “We are great and powerful. You are small and meek. Any questions?


At the end of piazza Salimbeni in Sienna Italy, the bank Monte dei Paschi stands like a fortress.  In 1472, this palazzo was converted into a bank; it is the oldest bank in the world.  The institution relies on its reputation for stability and security, which are embodied by the building. The façade wall’s upper crenellated edge was designed for defense. The single doorway within a Gothic arch, placed off-center at street level, is intimidatingly enormous and exposed.

bank door

Upon closer observation, the large-scaled pair of bronze-bedecked doors contain a single human-scaled door.  The imposing building has made a concession to its users, allowing them passage, but at the same time reminding them that The Bank is formidable, and controls everything that comes and goes from its premises.

Architects manipulate scale to influence perception.

Edith Ann

In relation to large things, we feel small and powerless.

img_half_scale_cars In relation to small things, we feel big and powerful.

 Comfort-Chairs-Created-by-Cate-and-Nelson-Photos8In relation to human-scale things, we feel just right.

1st image courtesy of The Telegraph, 2nd image courtesy of Gimbo, 3rd Image courtesy of the Lily Tomlin & Jane Wagner Website, 4th image courtesy of Harrington Group, 5th image courtesy of Cate&Nelson.

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

I invite your comments.

Touch Points

There are a few places in a house where your hand frequently touches the architecture, and they deserve special attention. These custom-made cabinet handles by Seattle woodworker David M. Fen enhance the experience of use through carefully detailed visual and tactile qualities. I think of them as house jewelry.

Sometimes, a handle incorporates multiple wood species.  Some are  wrapped, and/or carved. The knob, at bottom of posting, includes a carved black onyx disk.

Fen says, “My work is inspired by the common-sense practicality of the West, the haiku simplicity of the East and the bold vigor of indigenous craft.”







Upper left image belongs to Laura Kraft-Architect. All others courtesy of David Fen Fine Woodworking.  Feel free to share any of these images, but please provide a link back to 2H Pencil. Thanks.

Clean and Simple

Design is a response to needs/wants. This backsplash design was generated in response to 5 things my client wanted:

  • a display shelf above the kitchen counter
  • a way to prevent various forms of kitchen crud from settling into seams
  • a cleanable surface behind all cooking activities
  • continuous, concealed power access under the upper cabinets, with no penetrations into the wall
  • concealed task lighting

Custom fabricated stainless-steel back splash with integrated shelf.

Continuous plug strip at wall, task lights forward. (One off and one on in this photo.)

Flush termination of steel at end of wall. Radiused transition between shelf and wall eliminates a seam.

Section Detail

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.

The Color of Light

Enjoying the good fortune to be in Vernazza, Italy a few years ago, on a May morning after breakfast,  I did this watercolor sketch of the waterfront. The early light had a blue tinge. I saw slightly gray colors. The forms were softened, as if by a haze.

Later that afternoon around three o’clock, I sat in the same spot and resumed painting the waterfront. The building at the far right of the first painting is more or less the same as that on the far left of the second one.

At this hour, the light had a warm cast.  The forms were sharp, colors saturated, contrasts high.

Light changes color and character continuously during the course of a day. One of the pleasures of painting outdoors is being mindful of the color of light, and capturing a moment in time.

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.

Architecture Whisperer, No. 2

Behold, the building speaks! This one says, “Take that, you stodgy old status quo.

The Experience Museum Project (EMP), also known as the Rock and Roll Museum, is a brash mashup of metallic forms, a one-of-a-kind building set in the predominantly mid-century architecture of the 1962 World’s Fair Grounds in Seattle, now known as Seattle Center.

Rock and roll, since its inception, has gone through continuous evolution of pushing the mainstream’s comfort envelope. When it first arrived on our shores, it was considered obnoxious, if not scandalous by adults, and seductive by the young.

The early Beatleshair was regarded as radical because, compared to the prevailing norm, it was long and tousled, though in today’s context it looks positively tame.

A generation gap ensued in part because adults recoiled as young people embraced the genre. Similarly, critics recoiled when the EMP was constructed. From the Wikipedia article on the EMP:

Frank Gehry,” remarked British-born, Seattle-based writer Jonathan Raban, “has created some wonderful buildings, like the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, but his Seattle effort, the Experience Music Project, is not one of them.” New York Times architecture critic Herbert Muschamp described it as “something that crawled out of the sea, rolled over, and died.” Forbes magazine called it one of the world’s 10 ugliest buildings.Others describe it as a “blob” or call it “The Hemorrhoids”.

The architect and builders went to great pains and great expense to make a building seemingly without straight lines, vertical planes, or neutral colors, subverting our understanding of what “normal” buildings are like.

The EMP is says “I was born to be wild.” Like rock and roll, it is loud and not easy to ignore. It is flamboyant. Its metallic surface has psychedelic shifting colors and reflections. It gets much of its power from its sheer novelty. Like rock and roll.

To this day, it is the only building of its kind in our city.  It’s no longer as shocking to us as it was at first, though it is hard to imagine a time in the future when this boisterous object will simply blend into the background. After a dozen years since it opened, it continues to attract attention with its tremendous energy and presence.

I think other buildings fantasize about letting it all hang out, and being the EMP.

First image courtesy of Zahner metal fabricators; second image courtesy of Wikipedia; third and fourth images courtesy of Zahner metal fabricators.

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Let Color Happen

My clients, Ed and Laurel were adamant: they wanted their house to have lot of color and as much handcraft as they could afford. They are great fans of the work of the Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi. They love the ad hoc nature of his tile installations where the workers, collaborating with Gaudi, made the mosaics come to life.

mosaic walls at Barcelona’s Parc Güell

Clearly, and excitingly, some elements of this work could not have been planned. They grew out of the process.

The social and economic conditions that made Gaudi’s work possible don’t exist here and now. And yet, within constraints of a modest budget and a remote rural location, my design directive from Ed and Laurel was, “Capture something of the spirit of Gaudi. Let color happen.”

This is the flooring in one room of Ed and Laurel’s house. Each room has its own color “personality.” For each room and the front foyer, four colors of standard vinyl tile were selected, and then cut (in the shop) on a diagonal. They were then installed in pattern that is random, except that no color may abut itself, so it’s “almost random.”

A conceptual floor plan sketch shows an early version of the color layout. The foyer has soothing water colors of blue, purple and green.

transition from Foyer to Multi-Purpose Room

Transition from Foyer to Kitchen

Ed and Laurel are happy with their house.

contented basking lizard at Parc Güell

First image courtesy of Bing Images, second image courtesy of traveladventures.org, last image courtesy of entertainmentdesigner.com.

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.