|May 16, 2013|
KSS Gets Pedaling in PrincetonToday marked the inaugural ride and official launch of the KSS Bike Program in our Princeton office. With such beautiful weather, Ben Poulin, Justin Bienvenue, and I each rode one of the firm's three "new" vintage bikes downtown for lunch. Afterwards, we walked through the Princeton Farmers Market at Hinds Plaza and to our surprise we were stopped by a representative from Whole Earth Center. As part of their "Random Acts of Community" project, each of us received a care package thanking us for riding our bikes. Inside there were gift cards and vouchers for local businesses including: The Bent Spoon, Blue Point Grill, Yankee Doodle Tap Room, The Princeton Record Exchange and more. It just goes to show there are many benefits to riding a bike, and not just the obvious ones.
By: Ben Buglovsky
The KSS Bike Program consists of three vintage bikes which were purchased from the Visiting Nurses Association of Somerset Hills' biannual Rummage Sale. It's a small way for each of us to be more sustainable, reducing greenhouse gas emissions if we have to run out for lunch or make an errand (not to mention a great way to get active during the workday!). They are available to all employees for recreational use and I look forward to riding to lunch with everyone.
|May 9, 2013|
Going Up? A Look at StairsStairs - whether you love trekking a few flights, or run right for the elevator, as designers we can't ignore the significant impact stairs have in our buildings. Building upon previous KSS University sessions, KSS Associate Mayva Donnon, AIA, LEED AP led an inter-office discussion on stairs. The group began with a look at code requirements and methods for effectively documenting stairs in drawings - allowing the office to take a closer look at areas recently covered in lessons on building code and construction documents.
By: Jordan M. Mrazik
From there the discussion shifted towards understanding stairs in Revit - how they're built, manipulated and errors that commonly occur in the process. Mayva pointed out how this knowledge helps us to preemptively identify problem areas in the field. It is a great example of the awareness KSS has for its working methods and their implications in the built environment. Finally, the group viewed specifics of how the stair tool in Revit has changed in the latest versions of the software - highlighting new approaches for building and editing stairs.
|April 29, 2013|
20/20: Money – Art and DesignOne of societies' most desired things also is one of its most commonplace things. Money is used every day by almost everyone in the world. It is an important medium of exchange, and its design is most often taken for granted in lieu of the value that it represents. But when examined with no other agenda, physical money is revealed as a work of art itself.
By: Becker Raab
In our Philadelphia office my 20/20 discussion centered on the graphic design of different types of money across the world, specifically the banknotes used by countries as their currency. We examined how countries use the design of their bills to represent themselves – objects, places, and people of national significance shown on the bills offer a glimpse of the cultural and social values shared by that country. The designs are often very complex, in part to deter counterfeiters but also to impart a sense of legitimacy and authority to the user.
While we started out primarily focusing on aesthetic qualities, our discussion soon migrated to other topics such as the social implications of those designs. It was interesting to see how a country chooses to represent itself with the various images on its banknotes. We also discussed recent proposals to redesign the United States' banknotes and the challenges associated with trying to represent our own country in such a medium. If we ever see this change, it will certainly be a difficult task for a talented designer.
|April 26, 2013|
20/20: (Re)DesignWhat could or should we be doing to repurpose pallets, cargo containers, and other shipping/building materials? That was the focus of Alicia Weaver's "20/20" lunch discussion this week. The regular lunchtime series asks each of us here at KSS to take a turn presenting 20 slides in 20 minutes to spark lively discussion amongst the staff.
By: Gwen McNamara, LEED AP
Inspired by her own love of finding new uses for old things, Alicia shared a series of slides showcasing innovative design ideas and solutions using pallets, as well as shipping containers, dumpsters, and even doors. Every year more than 20 million pallets alone end up in U.S. landfills. From temporary structures meant to be easily set up and taken down, to more permanent fixtures, the pallet projects Alicia showcased showed that pallets can do way more than move goods from one place to another.
For example, the University of Colorado's Learning Cube creates a moveable open air structure for the community to use as an agricultural market. Prototype at the Prince Charles Royal Gardens uses pallets to make easily constructable structures for refugee situations. A very permanent fixture, L'Opera Palette in Quebec creates an acoustically sound theater out of pallets.
I know I'll never look at a pallet the same way again!
|April 16, 2013|
Sowing the Seeds of Sustainable DesignHow can two retail storefronts in downtown East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania be transformed into an eco-friendly children's museum? Sounds like a tough design challenge for even the seasoned design professional. But that's just the task being tackled by high school architecture students around the country through the Synergis Architecture Design Competition.
By: Gwen McNamara, LEED AP
Here in New Jersey, two seniors from Montgomery High School in Montgomery, NJ have created an innovative three-phase entry to the competition. Last week Tom Johnson and I lent our sustainable perspective and expertise to the team in advance of their submission.
Students Jeremy Bilotti and Sean O'Mara have put together a cost-conscious, flexible and sustainable concept for the children's museum. With no budget identified, Jeremy and Sean decided to provide the museum with three options for adaptive reuse of the former restaurant and storefront. Option 1 is the most basic including bathroom updates, Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accessibility and the opening of a few walls. It leaves the floor plan open to interpretation by the children's museum.
Option 2 builds on the structural enhancements from Option 1 and adds exhibits, as well as a small office and storage. The exhibits, aimed for families and schoolchildren in preschool through high school, take visitors on a journey through Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) featuring interactive activities based on the history of the East Stroudsburg area – the Life of Coal, Mining, Trains, and Computer Science. Option 3 adds a sizeable addition to the back of the museum featuring flexible tiered classroom space and a lecture hall as well as two offices.
Restoration and reconfiguration of the exterior is included in all three options to unify the two buildings and better orient visitors. While not formally pursuing LEED, the project incorporates sustainable technologies and strategies throughout, including solar on the roof, gray water recycling, low-VOC paints and materials, low-flow fixtures, and LED lighting.
Tom and I offered a few suggestions to build upon Jeremy and Sean's amazing entry, such as using the LEED checklist to get a sense of how many points could be achieved, incorporating daylight and occupancy sensors to save additional energy, adding bike racks for patrons, and thinking about whether the design would give the children's museum enough room for staff, volunteers, or fundraising events.
First place winners receive a $1,000 prize to split amongst the team and the opportunity to present their project at Synergis University on June 6. Voting begins through Synergis' Facebook on May 1.
|April 12, 2013|
3D Max and Photoshop – Oh my!Following a discussion on Revit, KSS continued its design-savvy discussion at KSS University with two sessions – one on 3D Studio Max and another on Photoshop.
By: Joann Lui and Jordan Mrazik
Intern architect Jerrome Elder led the discussion on 3D Studio Max, giving a brief introduction on how to transition from Revit modeling to 3DS Max rendering. Photorealistic renderings have been a big trend in our profession for many years. But producing this "money shot" is not an easy process. Generating a rendering alone could take up to hours, sometimes even days; let alone the time we spent adjusting the light settings, camera angles, and Photoshopping afterwards. The lunchtime conversation aimed to ease our rendering process while achieving the same high quality result we all strive for.
This week, Marketing Coorindator Alexis Baran and Interior Designer Doug Woodworth guided attendees through a presentation on Photoshop. Split into two sections, it started from a broad perspective. We first looked at understanding best practices in file setup and clean workflow management; addressing ways to approach a program that is not always used with a given set of standards. From there the conversation shifted to a more detailed look at specifics – pointing out new features in the latest version, highlighting differences between like tools and walking through a process of consideration when composing renderings.
Like the Revit roundtable, the discussion clarified Photoshop's relationship to other programs and noted where its strengths lie. The leaders of the group not only showcased Photoshop's immediate relevance but also related the program's language to that of other media used in the office; utilizing already developed concepts to help further explain the tool at hand.
|March 22, 2013|
Revit – A Tool in Framing ExpectationsKSS University – KSS' continuing education program – convened this week for a roundtable discussion of the office's utilization of Revit. Led by Nicole Hollenbeck, the lunchtime forum focused on understanding the role of BIM technology in the architect's ever expanding toolset; framing its strengths as a primary means of design and production as well as its implementation in conjunction with other methods of working.
By: Joann Lui and Jordan Mrazik
The cross disciplinary conversation, spanning both offices and all market sectors, allowed us to talk about how Revit can be used in different stages of design. It also provided us with an opportunity to ask questions of our peers and suggest ways of approaching the program in the future.
Overall the group felt that with the help of BIM we can spend less time drafting and more time designing. Some describe Revit as a magic tool, but a different type of draftsmanship is then needed to achieve visual clarity. Nicole proposed a series of questions on how to establish expectations while using Revit in a project. How do we communicate with clients on what we can deliver? Do we rely on Revit for its accuracy or do we keep the same rigorous design process? What are the graphic expectations associated with each project phase and what can the technology provide to reach them? The conclusion: Not only should we have design discussions on project by project bases, but teams should always have Revit conversations on how it could benefit our daily practice.
|March 15, 2013|
20 / 20: Post-what?Katherine Weaver kicked off KSS' new "20/20" lunch series with a bang. The weekly series asks each of us here at KSS to take a turn presenting 20 slides in 20 minutes to inspire and spark discussion over lunch. Katherine gathered a thought-provoking collection of images representing architecture's evolution and posed the question: what's next?
By: Gwen McNamara, LEED AP
As the profession has evolved and movements shifted – from classical, to modern, to post-modern (and others in between) – are we in danger of a loss of craft? Do some of the latest trends in design come down to taste? Where do the rules still apply, and should they? The consensus: advances in technology – design programs, 3D printing – are changing the way we think about buildings, but often in a good way. Reflections of the past continue to echo in today's design solutions and as we move forward craft isn't lost, just different.
Can't wait to see what's next!
|February 25, 2013|
Architecture GothicGrant Wood's portrait of a farmer and his daughter standing in front of a Carpenter Gothic is an American classic. It is revered not only because of its accurate portrayal of a distinct period in time but also because it accomplishes what I believe any great work of art strives to be: a well articulated creation that lends itself to a number of interpretations; one that offers few explanations but instead proposes endless amounts of questions.
By: Jordan Mrazik
In reality Wood had a simple desire to paint the house together with the people he imagined might live there. What strikes me most about the painting is that Wood made a conscious decision to place the people in the foreground rather than the object which sparked his initial creative inquiry.
I let out an excited laugh when I received an email the other day whose subject line read "What are you guys doing in this picture?" The email included a picture of Mounir Tawadrous and myself (shown to the left). On a basic level, the picture does indeed bear a structured resemblance to Wood's 1930 painting. Instead of a farmer and his daughter, we have the project architect and the intern by his side. All classic tools of the trade are present: pens, tape measures, clip boards, drawings, cameras and ventilation masks. Despite the context clues, the picture tells very little about what Mounir and I were actually doing that day.
For starters, we were standing in front of that deteriorating door as part of a day-long site survey of the Rudolph Walton Elementary School situated in the Strawberry Mansion neighborhood of North Philadelphia. Stepping through the door felt like crossing a gateway into some sort of post-apocalyptic alternate reality instead of the environment for learning it once served. The strangest thing about my experience that day was that as the survey wore on, I couldn't help but feel a growing attachment to the building. Instead of the confined wasteland I initially mistook it for, the humble structure now felt much more like a sanctuary from the neighborhood that awaited us outside.
It later struck me that this is exactly why we are rehabilitating this historic structure. We are trying provide a tattered community with a safe haven from the uncertainty beyond the school walls. We are seeking to create a new identity for the future of this neighborhood: a more accurate connection between people and place. This school building serves as a beacon of potential. Although our primary focus as architects is to design, we cannot lose sight of the figures standing in the foreground. However unlike Grant Wood, we must not only be able to imagine to type of people who will live there, but also the type of people they will become as a result.
|February 6, 2013|
The Comfortable LearnerTwo recent publications speak to the lack of understanding we continue to perpetuate. Julian Treasure in "Why Architects Need to use Their Ears" on Ted.com speaks passionately about how poor acoustical environments negatively impact learning. A recent article in The New York Times highlights the organizational inertia that promulgates poor learning environments in "Ergonomic Seats? Most Pupils Squirm in a Classroom Classic." Both publications highlight two important issues in the design of learning environments:
By: David Zaiser, AIA
1) Past and current educational environment design strategies do not focus on human learning.
2) Though environmental effects on human learning are generally well-understood among researchers and many design professionals, school administrations and higher education institutions behave as if they do not.
Chairs are symbolic of the disparity between the environment that we know learners should have, and the environment that administrators feel they deserve. Issues of durability, maintainability and price outweigh other more mission-centric concerns like comfort, because our overall attitude about school environments is that good students aren't the products of a good learning environment, they are good students because they win over their poor learning environment. They are successful in no small part because of their ability to endure. We have a survival of the fittest attitude about school design that hearkens back to the production models of the one room schoolhouse.
Comfort is important to human learning. We learn better when we are in an environment that is comfortable (free of stress, ergonomic, visually interesting). The very best description of a good learning environment came out of a study of mice only a few years ago. The results of that study concluded that mice learned best when they were in an environment that was highly interactive and encouraged risk-taking. Other studies focused specifically on comfortable seating (Georgia Tech) concluded that the more comfortable the learner (i.e., the less stressed) the better the learning outcomes. When Julian Treasure highlights the effects of uncomfortable noise on learning environments, he makes a clear case for how student comfort can have enormous benefits for learning.
School administrators would do a great service to all students if they were to assess their schools from the standpoint of student comfort, eliminating those architectural amenities and administrative procedures that create stress and frustrate learning. Reducing unwanted noise would be a worthy outgrowth of this process, but I would be happy if they started with finding a better chair.
|February 1, 2013|
Speculative Industrial Is BackVacancy rates are dropping across New Jersey as a thirst for modern, higher-quality buildings is starting to drive new office and industrial construction in the Garden State – and that activity includes a return to speculative development, which real estate professionals and business reporters say is positive step for the future.
By: Alicia Weaver
At KSS, the 200 Milik New Distribution Center for Hampshire Real Estate Companies in Carteret, NJ, is a shining example of this trend. One of the first speculative industrial projects to come to fruition following the economic downturn, construction is progressing nicely and the project is a strong indicator of the market's recovery.
Near Interstate 95 in an industrial zone, 200 Milik's simple design maximizes the potential to attract tenants. In accordance with what is becoming an industry standard, the distribution center incorporates strategies to provide significant daylight and views for users. Anticipated to achieve a LEED Certified rating from the U.S. Green Building Council, the building's energy efficiency is another attractor for potential tenants.
The distribution center's design uses a curtainwall system and iconic patchwork window to create a unique brand for Hampshire that is translating across additional buildings for the company. KSS' new design for 50 Bryla, also a speculative distribution center, on an adjacent property incorporates the same principals at the entrance. Construction for 200 Milik is expected to be complete in March, with work at 50 Bryla expected to begin at that time.
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