Riley —  February 12, 2013 — Leave a comment

Okay, so this post isn’t about architecture or art or really about design in any way; it’s about physics. But bear with me, because there’s a good chance it will wind up being the coolest thing you’ve seen all year. In this video, Boas Almog – a professor of the school of physics and astronomy at Tel Aviv University – demonstrates superconductivity. Now may have heard of a “superconductor” before, but if you’re like me, you probably don’t know what exactly that means. The problem with superconductivity is that it’s a quantum effect, which means that it doesn’t obey Newtonian laws of physics. That makes it difficult for our minds to comprehend, but it also results in some absolutely astounding physical properties. That’s where this video comes in. Skip to 7:14 if you want to cut right to the chase.


Every so often, technology leapfrogs what we thought was possible and lands squarely in the realm of science fiction, and that’s clearly what’s going on here. Now I don’t know the practical limitations of superconductors at this time, so I can’t speak to their near-future feasibility as useful technology, but I’m not sure anyone could watch this video and fail to be stunned by the magnitude of that innovation.

That’s why I’m bringing it up actually, it’s not because I see specific applications to building or design, it’s because I see it influencing our lives in countless ways, many of which we can’t even imagine. I think that’s actually the most profound idea to take from this presentation: right now, all around the world, people are developing new technologies and ideas that will blow you away with their utility and creativity. Even in the worst of situations (especially in the worst of situations, actually) humans are the most innovative and dynamic creatures the world has ever seen, and we will continue to evolve our way of life. So no matter what profession you’re engaged in, keep an eye on what’s on the horizon, because sooner or later it will change everything.

Empty Seattle

Riley —  February 8, 2013 — 1 Comment

A couple of years ago, I wrote about a book of photographs by Matt Logue called Empty LA. He took photos of prominent LA intersections and edited all of the people out, which is significantly harder, and quite a bit more interesting than it sounds. The project turns well-known areas and turns them in to ghost towns. It calls special attention to the intertwined relationship between people and built environments; these environments don’t exist in a vacuum, they are intimately and always tied to the people who inhabit them. That’s what makes a project like Logue’s so interesting, it presents us with the built environment as we might design it: ideal and orderly, but the effect winds up being haunting. Places without people are awesome and peaceful, but they aren’t our places.

But if you didn’t identify particularly with Empty LA, I don’t blame you. Much of the effect is a product of seeing places you know turned upside down, and if you don’t live in LA…well, then they’re not really that interesting. But lucky for you, Thrash Lab has embarked on an epic project to bring that eerie feeling of emptiness to your town, not just in photographs but through time lapse video. In their Empty America series, they made it to the Northwest and produced an awesome little video called Empty Seattle. It features some of the most famous and well traveled areas of the city, only there isn’t a person or car in the video. It’s definitely worth a watch:



Pump up the Contrast!

studioatja —  January 21, 2013 — Leave a comment

Bland has been creeping in.  As a society, we’ve become so concerned about resale value, neutrality, political correctness, pleasing everyone, and dodging passing fads that we’ve engineered the spark straight out of our built environment.  So ubiquitous is bland that it has itself become a hallmark of the past few decades.





Squint hard enough at these images and the shapes disappear, melting into one another in a midtone abyss.  Eyes wide open and different colors are perceived, but they are all same tones.  No feature for the gaze to rest upon; so anonymous as to belong anywhere and to anyone.





 Yes, these looks can be “clean,” may be appealing in their simplicity, and do not cry out for an immediate remodel in the way that decades old wildly patterned wallpaper can, but as a society we are missing out on a greater potential.

We can do better.  We need to shift out of neutral.


Source: Cascadia Windows & Doors

 Dark windows pop the large window wall (and view); dark furniture highlights the seating areas.


Lake Washington Residence by Johnston Architects; photographed by Will Austin

 Dark and light play nice together, harmonized by complimentary linear textures.  Dark-toned floors ground the space and allow the architecture to stand out.


Source: Cathy Schwabe Architecture

 A classic and clean space, brightened and personalized with a graphic feature wall and contrasting pop of color on a sliding barn door.


Source: Pangaea Interior Design

 Clean modern lines contrast with wild natural wood elements.  The fabrics are tastefully neutral but the textures are anything but!  Deep charcoal and white are sprinkled in to make the ensemble truly shine.


Source: Searl Lamaster Howe Architects

 As with the previous example, contrast and neutral colors don’t have to be in opposition: the colors here are soft and classic, but squint your eyes and the bold tonal differences are prevalent and make this space pop.


Miner’s Refuge by Johnston Architects

 Dark floors and bold wood window give this light and airy white bathroom a pleasant spark.


Lake Washington Residence by Johnston Architects; photographed by Will Austin

 Bold fabrics are a tried and true (and noncommittal!) method to brighten a space, although the natural accents and dark architectural elements seen here can certainly stand on legs of their own.

In summary, we shouldn’t be afraid of a few bright or dark elements in our environment.  One can still maintain a truly classic and timeless look, even with neutral colors, as long as we pay attention to the tonal qualities of a space.  There needs to be a healthy mix of highlights, midtones, and darks.  A common thread woven through the inspirational examples above are areas of dark tones.  A friend of a friend—an interior designer—once said that every interior space should have some black in it.  I couldn’t agree more with the spirit of this advice.

Happy contrasting!

 North Bend Residence by Johnston Architects

North Bend Residence by Johnston Architects, photographed by Will Austin