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June 24, 2011

Cool Colorado Buildings
Filed under: Cool Projects — nedpelger

Sorry for the lack of posts lately, we’re roadtripping in a 95 Dodge Van through the American northwest. Just to make it interesting, we decided to take six people, including 14 month old grandson #2, and to camp along the way. YeeHaw.

Actually we’re having a wonderful time, the kids are great and the adults all appreciate the beauty of this amazing country. We stopped at a wonderful Indian store along Rt 70 in Missouri and I picked up a video about Native Americans titled More than Bows and Arrows. A clip is shown below:


One of the interesting ideas in the movie concerned the strong Indian design influence on Western building design. As I looked around, I saw it everywhere. Here are a few photos.

Can you pick out the various Native American design elements? This new flex-space building below (near Denver) illustrates several of the elements. The horizontal parapets, the squares for decoration, the starburst entrance header and the natural colors all derive from the Indian designs.

Seeing this pad next door to the completed building reminds me of the things I think about during building design: where does the sprinkler riser go and how is it installed, where does the sanitary sewer and the electrical come in, how are the walls coming through the slabs? The folks building these spaces seem to have a good handle on the efficiency, which translates into successful projects in the present and the future.

Since we were staying near Red Rocks State Park, I wanted to visit to re-experience a profound impression from my youth. When I was a roadie on the 1978 Springsteen Darkness on the Edge of Town tour, we played the Red Rocks Amphitheater. I was overwhelmed by the beauty, even as we struggled to get the sound right. I remember the high frequencies refracted (remember high school physics class when waves from two sources sometimes doubled up and gained tremendous amplitude?) and sounded way too piercing some spots and dead a few feet over. We played around with speaker directions and got it better, but it was a tough place to be a sound puke.

I laughed as I watched the video with rock stars saying the place had magical acoustics…the best in the world. Note from Ned: never believe celebrities, they rarely involve themselves in the details that get to the truth. The beauty of the place still moved me, though.


I’ll give more updates as I can.


June 13, 2011

What to Do with an Extra Sheet of Plywood (and some time)
Filed under: Cool Projects — Tags: — nedpelger

Many times on the jobsite, an extra sheet of plywood gets tossed in the dumpster. It’s just not worth paying employees to deal with these strays. Here’s a few home project ideas for that free (remember to ask, first) plywood sheet. I love this self-standing stair from a single sheet of plywood. Though the lateral stability looks a bit suspect, so remember to stand in the middle if you don’t want to learn a hard gravity lesson.

Here’s a site with lots of other furniture that can be built from one sheet of plywood.

The plans for these designs are available at the PlayaTech site for whatever you wish to donate. The site grew from The Burning Man movement. Thanks to Lex for shooting it to me.

Use those building skills youi’ve developed over the years to work with family and friends to create some cool projects. Relationships and projects: two of my favorite things in life.


May 16, 2011

A New “Starchitect” Who Actually Loves Construction
Filed under: Cool Projects — Tags: — nedpelger

Nadine Post wrote another wonderful article in ENR this week about Jeanne Gang, an architect doing some of the best work I’ve seen. The article begins this way:

Unlike many architects, Jeanne Gang, designer of Chicago’s mesmerizing Aqua Tower, respects builders and lives for construction.

Gang combines a wonderful imagination with a love of construction methods/details. Her civil engineer father drove the family to see fascinating bridges on many vacations (my kids relate). As she designed and built the 87 story Aqua Tower,  she worked closely with the foreman to get the undulating concrete details right. The photos show the success:

A mechanical engineers notes that Gang calls him into the project in the earliest stages, the only architect he knows that does that. I’ve told owners for years that one of the keys to cost effective and sustainable building design is to have the structural engineer and the HVAC engineer involved from the very early concept design.

Many folks in the article imply the lack of ego in Gang projects. She seems to strive to listen, think and move toward the best solution for the project, not just for her reputation. That’s the kind of architect I’d love to see move into this “Starchetect” role. Our industry needs more architects living those attributes.

Here’s another great photo showing creative material use and workmanship, with some beautiful design.

If you have a few minutes, I encourage you to read the ENR article. You’ll be glad you did.


May 5, 2011

Xanadu: 2.4 Million SF of Ugly
Filed under: Cool Projects — Tags: — nedpelger

The North Jersey shopping mall Xanadu got caught in the Great Recession. As the whimsically designed Meadowlands mall was being built in 2008, the economy sputtered. The project developers got worried and cut costs, producing what Gov. Chris Christie called, “the ugliest damn building in New Jersey and maybe America.”

David Jansen, the architect of record, took the abuse for a few years as the project sat empty, waiting for a rescuer. Now he’s broken his silence. Jansen noted that the color grid was supposed to be a background only, mostly covered by digital display screens, cascading lights, pulsating helixes over entrances and extensive landscaping. When the developers cut all the cool and expensive foreground, the design was fundamentally altered.

In an important sign of confidence in the economic recovery, the project now has new owners, a new name and will have a new look. Triple 5, the new owner, also owns the Mall of America in MN and the 5.3 Million SF West Edmonton Mall in Alberta, Canada (the largest mall in North America). They’ve changed the name from Xanadu to The American Dream @ Meadowlands and plan to spend another $1.5B, expanding the mall to 3 Million SF. They plan to add a water park, amusement park, skating rink and rooftop outdoor movie theater. Here’s an interior view.

I think this project provides another sign that the recession has bottomed out and the time to buy and build is now.


April 26, 2011

China’s Not-So-High-Speed Rail System Lacks Riders
Filed under: Cool Projects — Tags: — nedpelger

In the 1960’s I remember a famous poster with the caption, “What if they gave a war and nobody showed up?” Human nature being what it is, that scenario hasn’t seemed to happen. There never seems to be a shortage of young men willing to fight. My son Lex learned that lesson the hard way this past weekend as he objected to some guys driving around Brussels and yelling rude comments to the girls he was with. He quickly found himself fighting 2 or 3 of those fine fellows. He learned a practical lesson in probability and statistics, while getting his ass whipped.

That same lesson occasionally gets learned the hard way on big construction projects. Sometimes huge projects get built and simply don’t get used. Think about the $8B Las Vegas City Center project that mostly sits empty. Or much of Dubai.  On the other hand, when President Eisenhower pushed the US Interstate Highway system, the use was strong and has forever continued to grow.

Since China’s leaders don’t have to worry about pesky annoyances like voters, one would think they could make rather rational decisions about asset allocation. The Chinese not-so-high-speed rail system indicates otherwise. The ENR article Defects Appear in China’s High-Speed Rail System describes how the speed has been dropped from a world’s fastest 218 mph to a more normal (for Europe and Japan) 186 mph. Of course, since it’s China, this sort of thing can be done without much public comment or embarrassment.

An even more troubling aspect of the huge high-speed rail project (undertaken in 2008 as financial stimulus during the global downturn) is that the construction costs seem to be coming in way over budget and the ridership is extremely low. Those are not two trends that make a project look successful.

It’s impossible to get real costs for construction spending in China, but the 295 train stations, with glass and marble facades, certainly came at a high price. As did all the track construction and train equipment.

It seems the pride of riding on China’s new jewel doesn’t outweigh the reality of poverty that most Chinese endure. One could undertake a fascinating study comparing huge construction projects that provided great rewards (US trans-continental railway or dredging the bay at Miami Beach) vs. the flops. For any students out there, I quote the always wise Foghorn Leghorn, “Pay attention, boy, I’m throwing you pearls here.”


April 9, 2011

Guangzhou Opera House by Zaha Hadid Architects
Filed under: Cool Projects — Tags: — nedpelger

The Guangzhou Opera House by Zaha Hadid Architects impresses on many levels. Isn’t it beautiful?

The complexity of the organic architecture was certainly a challenge to conceive and execute. Several commentators noted that the Chinese tradesmen didn’t handle the details too well, noting unequal gaps, broken edges and cracks. Though I don’t consider that a damning criticism, since a project of this complexity must have areas where everything didn’t quite work. I’d love to see it myself to evaluate the construction quality.

These four photos only give a brief sense of the opera house. For lots more photos, go to the Dezeen blog and have a gander. The comments at the bottom of the photos are especially fun. Lots of sour graping and whining going on. As for me, I’m just mostly impressed.


March 3, 2011

BART Leads
Filed under: Cool Projects — Tags: — nedpelger

I remember riding the subway in San Francisco in the mid 1970s. BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) had just built lots of track and stations. Their system was so automated, they claimed to not even need drivers. Since I was traveling from city to city as a rock and roll roadie, I had opportunity to ride most of the subways in the country. BART was the best.

So when my buddy Jim Gravesand, an engineer I worked with in the early days of civilization, went to work for BART in the 1990s, it was fun to keep track of what BART was doing. Jim just sent me this video of their latest station, built without Federal money. The public/private partnership executed a difficult project, building over an operating subway line and between a divided highway.


The video shows some great construction footage as well as a cameo appearance by my old buddy Gravey. He comments on the importance of getting this project done without federal funding. As the USA moves into the new reality, projects like this should be studied and understood.

As I often opine, think deeply about the future and how it’s likely to look. You will be much better positioned to prosper if you have a sense of where to stand.


February 22, 2011

Splendid Savannah
Filed under: Cool Projects — Tags: — nedpelger

Your roving correspondent and The Beautiful Wife (TBW) are motoring towards warmer weather. As we drove south on Rt 95, we decided to have a walk around in Savannah, GA. The world famous urban plan used in Savannah makes for delightful strolls.

Native American Tomochichi and British General Oglethorpe founded and laid out the city in the 1730s. The over 20 squares make the plan so innovative. Each square (sized about 1/2 block by 1/2 block) functions as a park/gathering area with lots of grass and trees. Homes, churches and businesses surround each square, creating a series of unique neighborhoods in a grid.

The varied architecture is beautiful and the Spanish moss draped trees adds to the charm (as does TBW). This photo of the first square we entered gives a feel.

While these brick details provide a sense of the rich architectural variety.

As does this functional yet funky entrance.

We sat outside and ate, while listening to a folk singer strumming his guitar. Of course, any self-respecting tourist destination has lots of food, music and shopping.

Our favorite activity, though, was touring the Flannery O’Connor Childhood Home Museum. Our tour guide’s enthusiasm made the tour. Flannery O’Connor wrote some of the best short stories ever and lived an odd life, even by writer’s standards. She seemed to experience little in relationships or travel, yet wrote with ferocious insight. Perhaps this childhood photo of the Flannery scowl provides a clue.

All told, a wonderful city and an informative and fun tour. It’s good to get away from the daily grind sometimes and think about much different things.


February 14, 2011

Mama Knows Best
Filed under: Cool Projects — Tags: — nedpelger

TBW bought me a Frank Lloyd Wright book for Valentine’s Day. She probably picked it up at the Salvation Army or Goodwill, but it’s the thought that counts, right? Considering that I filled the bird-feeders at her kitchen window with sunflower seed for her Valentine’s Day present, I really am going with that thought counting thing. Since her Love Language is Acts of Service, she did appreciate my little gift.

And I am enjoying the Wright book. In 1896, he designed the Romeo and Juliet Windmill Tower for a site in Spring Green, Wisconsin. The tower consists of an octagon (with a single 4×4 on each corner) penetrated by a diamond.

Apparently Wright’s mother, Anna, had decided he would be an architect before he was born. She directed his early child education in the Friedrich Froebel method, which involved presenting the child a sequence of gifts. These gifts were geometric shapes that helped the child see and appreciate the many geometries in nature. The octagon and the diamond were two of the shapes given. Froebel also developed the concept of Kindergarten and gave it the distinctly German name.

Wright apparently appreciated this method of learning and continued to use these simple geometries throughout his career. For example, his high rise Price Tower Building was based on this little Romeo and Juliet Windmill Tower. On this Valentine’s Day, it’s good to remember that Mama really does know best.


January 25, 2011

Snow Rollers
Filed under: Cool Projects — Tags: — nedpelger

Ever heard of snow rollers? Neither had I till I saw the photo below in a Dark Roasted Blend post about environmental art. It’s beautiful to see the snow roll down the Victorian building detail.

I blogged about beauty yesterday, then went out to a job site and saw some lights installed in what appeared to be a haphazard fashion that just looked wrong. As I put together the process of how they got located there, I realized it made perfect sense to the lighting designer, but just looked terribly out of place. Andy Hess, a construction superintendent with a great artistic eye, suggested we paint a stripe in the wall that would pull the whole design together. I loved the idea. We went from an obvious mistake to a cool design feature.

That’s one of the reasons I love this industry. We have so much room for creativity at all levels.

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