7/23/2020 Notes

Japanese student serving lunch. Picture by AHLN licensed CC BY 2.0

Chad Kohalyk made a stressful move to Japan this spring which means we now get some cool insights into the Canadian experience with Japanese daily life. Recently he wrote about his children’s school and how they establish ownership of the school environment among both the students and the student’s parents. He also links to this short video on the subject.

Unity Homes has posted a new video tour of their Zum model home. It’s more of a sales pitch than a detailed discussion of design and construction elements, but it’s still a nice video for those of us who aren’t in the Northeast and can’t make a visit. The audio on the interior shots has a lot of echo despite all rooms being completely furnished – I hope that’s just a recording artifact.

Painted bicycle lanes always seemed like a municipal sisyphean task – the rate of wear is just so high that it never stays in good condition. I was really impressed by this look at colored concrete color stability, almost a decade and it still looks great.

When I was planning to install an area of fenced yard for the dogs to run around in, I had to decide whether to put it in the backyard or front yard of my home – both areas being similar in size. I ended up putting it in the front yard, since I figured that would give me an excuse to be out front where I can interact with neighbors and people-watch. I see a lot of like-minded spirits in this Curbed article on ‘porch culture’.

Stones of the Week: The Dinnie Stones are two lifting stones that live in Potarch, Aberdeenshire, Scotland. Originally installed in the 1830’s as counterweights for bridge maintenance with a combined weight of more than 700 pounds. Looking at the official website, attempts to lift them really took off starting in the 1970’s. They are featured in the documentary Stoneland.

6/11/2020 Notes

One of the buildings that make up The Fuggerei. Picture by Allie_Caulfield licensed CC BY 2.0

The Fuggerei is the world’s oldest social housing complex still in use, serving a community of “needy Catholic Augsburgers” since the 1500’s. It is located in Augsburg, Germany and there is a museum onsite. The best overview I found is this Smithsonian Magazine article from last year.

Back in late April Fine Homebuilding hosted a webinar on double-stud walls featuring Dan Kolbert and Ben Bogie of Kolbert Building out of Southern Maine. The recording is available to watch here. Video quality is a little rough, but stick it on in the background – it’s always helpful to hear from the people who actually have to build the assemblies.

A short GIF of an old wood veneer cutting machine.

A brick wall rippling effect is achieved using augmented vision software to allow the precise placement of each individual brick.

Forced Landing of the Week: Engine failure leads to a forced landing of an antique P-51 in this video. What’s fantastic is the analysis of the forced landing that is included in a separate interview segment between the pilot Mark Levy and Richard McSpadden of the AOPA Air Safety Institute. There is a lot to glean from the analysis regarding how to manage your own head space while evaluating and reacting to difficult situations.

6/4/2020 Notes

Western Trailer Company of Los Angeles has also undertaken the construction of prefabricated houses (1942). Known as the “Westcraft home,” it is the conception of James H. Thomas Richards, designer. From the Library of Congress

I’m all for prefab construction elements, but often find that prefab houses are a poor fit for many applications – too rigid in their limitations relating to module size and finishes. A great exception are prefabricated Accessory Dwelling Units – they largely can fit into the size constrains of one transportable prefabricated module and the finishes are driven (in many cases) by affordability/relation to a rental balance sheet so light-weight, flexible finishes are more acceptable. Here’s a good article on Roger and Martha’s prefabricated ADU as well as an architect’s approach to the space. Here is Wolf Industries working in the niche up in the Pacific Northwest.

Charles Buell digs into the Western States Roofing Contractors Association‘s view on dimensional asphalt shingles on roof slopes below 3.5/12. In brief – allowed by code and manufacturers but not recommended by (at least one) industry association. Here is their technical bulletin on the subject which I have rehosted.

You know, I’ve never thought about the sex of the trees around my house, but now I’m going to start thinking about it.

Allison Bailes once again knocking it out of the park with an introduction to understanding filter ratings. The lesson: it’s all about the MERV rating.

Club of the Week: To become a member of the Caterpillar Club you need to (successfully) use a parachute to bail out of a disabled aircraft. Related clubs: The Goldfish Club for disable aircraft survivors who survive exposure at sea and the Martin-Baker Ejection Tie Club for those who survive an ejector seat launch (not sure the aircraft has to be disabled for this one, ejection sheets are enough of a gamble already). I first heard of the Martin-Baker club in relation to whether the tourist in this story would receive one.

5/28/2020 Notes

parking ticket machine covered in delft tiles
Unusual application of Delft Tiles. Photo by Metro Centric CC BY 2.0

Put the Royal Delft Museum on your travel wishlist. Here’s an article on the history of this particular tile craft.

Lost Art profiled Freddy Roman this week, his personal blog can be found here. To my surprise, the most recent entry was a review of a weatherizing tool that I’ve been wondering about, great to see he has had good results with it! You can find the tool for sale through Conservation Technologies (they call it their ‘Cornerseal System’).

A video on How the Staircase Made the Victorians Suffer. Not the fastest paced exploration, but worth it for the visual demonstration in the second half of how precarious a poorly designed staircase can be – one slip and you’re falling quite a ways.

Structure Tech released their internal training video on water intrusion. Looks, it’s an hour and a half which is a stretch, but if you can stick it in the background it’s an incredible montage of poor exterior overhang/valley/trim details. Coming from New England, home of the zero overhang cape, it shines a searing light on what a bad design detail that is.

Steam Engine of the Week: A 1915 Erie Steam Shovel Type A demonstration – I’m sure I’m not the only one with childhood memories of Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel. In retrospect, reads a bit odd once you realize the steam shovel is a sentient creature trapped for eternity in a basement.

5/21/2020 Notes

The Interior of Orbelian’s Caravanserai. CC BY-SA 3.0 WOWARMENIA

Orbelian’s Caravanserai is a highway rest area from the 1332 that you can still visit today just off the M10 in Armenia.

Over at Instagram, a curated gallery of the best property photos from The Netherlands.

I meant to post a link to this in January when it went into effect – but better late than never. Reuben Saltzman over at Structure Tech gives the details on the new Truth in Sale of Housing Energy Disclosure Report in Minneapolis – it involves popping a hole to check installed insulation in homes built before 1980.

The BBC has collected a gallery/set of story vinettes about residents of Trellick Tower, an infamous housing tower designed by Erno Goldfinger (yes, that Goldfinger).

Oscar Winning Short Film of the Week: The Neighbor’s Window – just a tight 20 minutes strongly carried by Maria Dizzia and Greg Keller.

5/14/2020 Notes

Dumbarton Court from the Tower Block Database. Image licensed CC Attribution by Professor Miles Glendinning

Tower Block at The University of Edinburgh is a database “emphasis[ing] the social and architectural importance of tower blocks, and to frame multi-storey social housing as a coherent and accessible nationwide heritage”. Looks like the easiest way to browse is to navigate to the search page and scroll down for a full list. Digging into the website you’ll also find a PDF of Tower Block by Miles Glendinning and Stefan Muthesius available for download.

Reuben Saltzman writing on Stucco-Covered Chimneys over at Structure Tech. Chimneys with multiple construction layers (brick and stucco, veneer stone over framing) are a source of headaches – difficult to diagnose and yet a real threat to life and property.

RetroRenovation clued us in that the Daltile Mosaic Designer is back up and running. It’s a need web tool for the layout of mosaic details – I’m curious what the process looks like once you ‘submit’. It looks like perhaps it loops in a local Daltile distributor at that point.

Nancy Hiller has been running a series of interviews over at Lost Art Press (all excellent!), with the most unique being an interview with the creator of Barbie Woodshop, an incredible miniature woodshop project you can follow on instagram.

Radiation Source of the Week: Rolling Stone published America’s Radioactive Secret documenting the growing radiation hazard presented by an oil and gas waste product called ‘brine’ which can be contaminated with radium radionuclides. An incredible health and safety risk and, like most health and safety risks, one borne by the lower paid workers in the industry and downplayed by the highest paid.

Radium in [marcellus shale] brine can average around 9,300 picocuries per liter, but has been recorded as high as 28,500. “If I had a beaker of that on my desk and accidentally dropped it on the floor, they would shut the place down,” says Yuri Gorby, a microbiologist who spent 15 years studying radioactivity with the Department of Energy. “And if I dumped it down the sink, I could go to jail.”

1/23/2020 Notes

Wireless collisions cause struggle over fan operation in a multi-unit apartment building. Wireless switching for lights and devices seems like an easy way to give clients exactly what they want without having to tear open the walls (in my region Caseta has been the drumbeat on this issue), but what a hassle when it goes wrong.

USModernist manages an archive of more than a century’s worth of architectural magazines (many even have been run through OCR!). If you have an archive, they’ll digitize them for you. I stumbled on this when someone linked to USModernist’s digitized copy of Christopher Alexander’s A City is Not A Tree published in The Architectural Forum (part 1 and part 2).

Paul Theroux’s The Kingdom by the Sea published in the 1980’s mentions a resort company called Butlin’s which is still in business today. It’s a package vacation company that, uh, doesn’t get a lot of respect in Theroux’s travelogue. The geography of their facilities is fascinating – they’re described as being located in “traditional seaside towns” but the nearby town is more marketing than reality, with no true connection to the resort compound. The most charitable metaphor I can come up with is “beached cruise ships.”

Zero road deaths in Oslo, Norway in 2019. Public safety is truly a matter of political will.

Lighting Vendor of the Week: I had a client looking for display lighting that will fluoresce some minerals he wants to display and had a difficult time finding a vendor for UV display lighting. Waveform Lighting looks like the pretty good solution, reach out if you have a better one!

1/2/2020 Notes

Check out the video for Weval – Someday put together by Páraic Mc Gloughlin. The lightning fast rate of imagery, each set based around a common characteristic, is a neat look at the built environment. Patterns Patterns Patterns.

Christopher Samuel designed a hotel room built to frustrate to highlight the accessibility issues inherent in the private built environment. Available for rental at the Art B&B in Blackpool, England.

This work reminds me a bit of a house built to the specifications of Madeline Gins and Arakawa profiled in this 2008 New York Times article. In this case the goal was to make the occupant uncomfortable to ward off aging and death. There is a thin line between a challenging environment and an inaccessible environment.

69 Bravo is a privately owned helicopter service station located in the Santa Monica Mountains built to support fire fighting activities. I don’t think you’ll find infrastructure like this in city simulators or planning textbooks.

Deep Dive Article of the Week: Bloomberg profiles Star Wipers, a recycling success story. As the tariffs between the USA and China have developed over the past few years, it’s been interesting to see how many building products were impacted especially in the hardware and lighting space.

12/5/2019 Notes

pencils from CW Pencil photo by Carl Mikoy
Photo by Carl Mikoy

The New York Times took a look at niche stores in NYC back in November, profiling stores that only sells pencils, rubber stamps, antique cash registers, and vintage video games. What struck me from the pictures is how small these spaces are – enough room for stock, a couple of customers, and the proprietor. You see spaces like these pop up in development pitches all the time, a set of micro store fronts or a ‘food mall’ or a ‘craft market’, but there always seems to be trouble filling them consistently. One of my favorites was a small storefront Grillo’s Pickles ran in Inman Square, Cambridge for a couple of years.

In These Times spends some time discussing the slow but inexorable rate of rural hospital closures with a focus on Appalachia. Coming from Maine, the issue there was less acute – most of the closures were related to advanced treatment centers and maternity services. As parts of the country become more divorced from convenient medical care, how does this impact work injury treatment? Thinking about the remote construction teams I’ve worked with, some hours from a hospital, the first aid kit wasn’t better stocked or the team trained in emergency medicine. At what distance from a hospital should you start training your team in wilderness first aid?

They’ve been around for a long time, but just in case you’re looking for a leather-free steel/comp toe muck boot check out Bog’s line of slip on boots. Currently all of the lace up versions have leather ever since the Turf Stomper line was discontinued a few years ago.

I’m not sure where I saw the question (perhaps in the Lost Art comments?), but someone was looking for a metric tape measure and was linked to FastCap’s ProCarpenter line. I’ve got to admire the specificity involved in having a tape measure line with six different tape types.

Music Video of the Week: Raconteurs – Somedays (I Don’t Feel Like Trying). Released last month and filmed at House on the Rock, the product of a one collector/builders signature vision. Totally worth a visit, you may also remember it from Neil Gaiman’s American Gods.

7/18/2019 Notes

Douglass Row in Baltimore., built by Frederick Douglass in 1890s Listed on the NRHP

I came across a small aside in an article about Frederick Douglass about his short history as a real estate developer, responsible for building a short stretch of row homes known as Douglass Place in 1892. The homes were built on the site of the Methodist Episcopal Church which Douglass attended in his younger years, and which had become dilapidated by the time he acquired the property for redevelopment. A 2015 Baltimore Sun article has some pictures from inside one of the homes, all of which still stand today.

Stranger Thing’s third season landmark set, Starcourt Mall, was more than a typical soundstage production. Built into a struggling mall in Georgia, the set featured both original and period store reproductions.

Matthias is an oddball with evergreen appeal, I was recently re-linked to his personal study on wood joint strength.

Places published a piece in April about shade as a civic resource and, as the wet heat bears down in the Midwest, it’s clear how easy it is to make the urban environment bearable or unbearable for pedestrians. I bike to work mostly under a leafy canopy except for one glaring asphalt six-lane intersection. A noise and heat mini-hell. One business along that street recently removed their awning and now the sidewalk feels less like a protected space and more like an extension of the gutter. I’ve been privileged to live my entire life in a Tree City.

Charity of the Week: Miles4Migrants funds plane tickets used to re-unite the families of refugees and asylum seekers using donated airline miles and cash. A wonderful person I grew up with really cared about their program and volunteered a lot of time (and miles), based on his own family’s experiences escaping poor circumstances. He recently passed away at a young age, so now seems like the right time to help fill his shoes.