Thursday, November 12, 2009

Mercedes Kiosk Project

Almost ready for install...check out this photo of the new kiosk we are installing for Mercedes-Benz Research and Development.

The kiosk is the newest addition to the history museum we designed at the North American Headquarters for MBRDNA, and will be completed in the next two weeks.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Lease Negotiations

During the negotiation process of the lease of the property, the landlord is considering providing more money to make improvements if the tenant is willing to upgrade the exterior of the building.

Below is an elevation drawing of the improved exterior of the building.

The design was inspired by California-Mission style architecture. A false wall was created with a parapet extending above the roof to give more presence to the entry and also to create more room for the signage. We re-used the existing columns in the front to form and arbor and added exterior lighting along the walkway to the parking lot.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Dental Office Finish Board

This is the client approved finish board showing finishes for cabinetry, countertops, glazing and paint colors. Next we will be moving on to the dental equipment specifications.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Space Planning/Schematic Design

This is the architect's plan for the dental surgery. Several changes were made to the owner's original plan.
The entry door was moved from the side to the front of the building to face the street. This made the surgery more inviting and noticeable.

Five consultation rooms were placed around the central garden to give patients a calming, peaceful atmosphere.

A separate children's waiting room away from the adult waiting room was created for children to watch T.V and play computer games.

The reception area was relocated from the center right to the center left of the surgery in between the adult and the children's waiting rooms. A large window opposite the reception would provide plenty of natural light and again a view of the garden.

The restrooms were enlarged and modified to meet accessibility needs for disabled people.

A curved ceiling element running through the length of the surgery was introduced to define areas and circulation paths.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Programming and Pre-design

The next stage was to meet with the client and go through the programming to find the spacial relationship requirements. Included in our discussions were how many exam rooms were needed and what equipment would be going into them.

The owner's original drawings for the building showing survey dimensions. (Owner's drawings do not match existing conditions)

Pre-design bubble drawing showing early space planning.

With the programming information and the bubble drawing we could see how all the spaces could fit together with the existing building.

Case Study Of A Dental Office Remodel By CONima Architects

CONima Architects was recently contracted to remodel an existing building and transform it into a dental office.

Currently the building is in a poor state of repair and has been unoccupied for the last 4 years. We're using this as a case study of how to rehabilitate a commercial space and to address the challenges of a dental/medical facility within an existing building. Over the next coulpe of months we will be showing the progress of this project.

The existing waiting room.

A view of the dated existing bathroom.

A before picture of the reception area.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Art or Craft?

One of the great questions in architecture is whether architecture is an art or a craft. It is often posed to prospective architects in school as a way to make them question what they are looking for in the profession and how they perceive the role of their work in society. The common assumption being that by calling it "craft" it identifies a technical aspect to the creation of it requiring education and training in the engineering aspects that are needed to construct a building; whereas calling it "art" gives it an intellectual, philosophical, and spiritual significance that mere engineering does not possess.

To answer this question however is simple once a distinguishment is made between the two.

Art is defined as: the conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects

Craft is defined as: an occupation or trade requiring manual dexterity or artistic skill

When taking these definitions into account, architecture does use skill and creativity, but the objects that are created are not purely aesthetic. However, architecture does involve both artistic skill and manual dexterity (in the form of construction knowledge, drawing, and specifying) to create. This is not to say that by being a craft, that great architecture is not also capable of transcending to also be 'art', appreciated for aesthetics regardless of function. With that said though, great architecture is still a craft as well.

Much in the same way that all squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares; architecture is a craft, but on occasion is capable of being art as well.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Successful Environmental Inititiative

In Architecture, the push in the last decade towards sustainable design has been tremendous. However in the course of producing more efficient buildings, most firms still fall victim to an age old method of communication.

Printed Drawings:

Soon after it's inception, CONima adopted an electronic drawing delivery system. This may seem insignificant, but consider in the amount of drawing it takes for a small to mid-size project. Most drawing set are comprised of at least 50 sheets of large format paper, each sheet is close to 9sf in size. Each set is printed 5-10 times for each issuance, and is issued 4 or 5 times at various stages of a project. That can total over 20,000sf of drawings for one project.

Using the figure that 1 tree can make 16 reams of paper, which is just over 5,000sf, this means we are capable of saving an average of 4 trees for every project we do.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Midnight Oil

As I push my way through multiple 14 hour workdays, my mind has begun to stray from the task at hand. What seems more interesting to me now than coordinating a multifloor bathroom redesign and whether or not I will meet my deadline, is the role of stress in creativity, and the human capacity for motivation.

In architecture school I would often complain that programmatic and code requirements were totalitarian like obstacle in the path of great design. The truth however is that these obstacles are the only possible way to achieve great design. Not only do they provide purpose, whether filling the needs of a client or ensuring safety and accessibility to the occupants, they provide the basic challenge that must be struggle with and against in order to create something that is both beautiful and original.

What also strikes me is how significant the role of music is in creative enterprise. It allows your mind to be free from sensing all that present and around you. By engrossing your senses, it allows greater focus. The constancy of its rhythm allows you to charge through the night as if you were charging into battle.

However, this is not a thesis. The Stanford drawings are waiting for me…

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

EPRI selects CONima Architects

CONima has been selected to design safety improvements to the Electric Power Research Institute's Palo Alto campus. CONima will oversee multiple exterior and site related life safety and risk management projects to be completed in 2009.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Project Sequencing

The most common problem I run into in architecture and construction is that the scheduled duration of a project is inadequate. While experience has given me the ability to overcome this problem in most cases, saving a project schedule inevitably comes at the expense of either quality, creativity, or project cost.

The main aspects of quality that suffer when a project does not have adequate time are materials. Almost all common building materials, unless already in stock and available, take 4 to 6 weeks to make. If specialty finishes or items are needed for their fabrication, then it can take 8 to 12 weeks. To break this down, use carpet as an example:

If a construction schedule is less than 4 weeks, carpet selection is limited to in stock items only.
If the schedule is extended to 6 weeks, 'standard' and 'quick ship' items now become available, even possibly if they are not currently in stock because the manufacturer already has the necessary yarn
However any higher end carpet will require a minimum 8 to 12 weeks in order to aquire the yarn, ship it to the carpet factory, make the carpet, and ship it to the construction site.

Now consider in the carpet scenario that the same thing is occurring in regards to cabinets, doors, furniture, and a host of other items. These items cannot all be installed simultaneously. Once this is taken into consideration, it becomes clear that, unless finish materials are identified and order prior to the start of construction, most tenant improvement type projects will require a minimum 12 to 14 week schedule for construction.

The limiting factors for creativity are two-fold. An abbreviated construction schedule limits the material choices available to a project. Also, the sequence of events that are needed to design properly are often forced to be abbreviated or eliminated altogether. The following stages of events and rough time lines should be taken into account:

Programming - May be done in house prior to hiring an architect, or done over a period of several days or weeks (depending on size) with an architect
Field Survey - one to three days typically for projects that are limited to interior scope
Schematic Design - This phase is highly variable. Depending upon the ability to reconcile a clients programmatic and stylistic needs within the framework of the building that has been selected, it can vary from 1 week to 1-2 months. However, for most small to mid-size projects accomodating 2 weeks for the planning of this should be sufficient.
Design Development and Code Analysis - This phase is mostly determined by the size and age of a building, and should range from 2-4 weeks. However on smaller projects this can commonly be condensed to one week.
Contract Documents - The final phase of architectural work prior to permitting is the creation of all drawings, details, and specifications for construction, as well as all information related to accessibility and life safety necessary for permitting. This work requires several weeks in most cases.

With all of this work taken into account, the design phase of a tenant improvement project should include 4 weeks for small projects, and 12-16 weeks for larger and more complex ones. When this process is shortened, proper programming usually has not taken place and the project specifications are left more generalized. Under extreme shortening of the process, an initial set may be required for permitting purposes only, with the knowledge that some construction details are not fully resolved. This of course leads to the last area of sacrifice.

Cost gets impacted in three ways primarily.

Incomplete designs are bid to contractors, which result in modifications along the way that result in change orders to the construction contract.

The construction schedule does not have adequate time to allow for proper sequencing of events which results in overtime costs for construction labor

General Contractors are not given adequate time to investigate possible hidden deficiencies within a building, resulting in added costs to remedy those unforeseen conditions.

The variations of problems and requirements are endless, and ultimately every project must make sacrifices somewhere along the way. However having an experienced architect involved as early in the process as possible will help tremendously to navigate through these issues. A good architect can also overcome most of the scheduling hurdles thrown their way, but if the process is shortened, both the client and architect should discuss what sacrifices it will entail prior to starting work.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Picture of the Day

the ordinary is often interesting

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Architectural Styles Defined: Modern Architecture

Part 3 in our series of articles on the misuse of terms as they apply to the architectural style of a building, and how that misuse leads to poor communication between clients and professionals. Here’s an in-depth look at what defines “Modern Architecture:”

Mies Van Der Rohe's Farnsworth House:
image source

Let me start by saying "Modern Architecture" is a misnomer. The term modern simply represents the current style of the day that reflects society's impression of itself to the world. Modern architecture as we know it today however started with the International Style, Bauhaus, and the impact of cubist art on the form of a building. Like most styles, it began as a rejection of what was accepted and as an embrace of new technologies. In this case, the progression of steel as a building material allowed greater spans, previously impossible cantilevers, and minimized the ratio of thickness for vertical support. All of which meant that buildings could now be built proportionally in such a different way that they actually didn't even look as though they were capable of standing.

'International Style' Le Corbusier's Villa Savoye:
image source wikipedia

While these buildings are examples of classic modernism, the problematic term is 'classic'. Soon after, a new wave of architects began a new interpretation of how to reconcile the traditional forms of architecture with the new styles and technology in what they called 'Post Modernism'. At the same time, another movement began called 'Brutalism' which spiritually could even be considered a hybrid between modernism and the craftsman movement for truth in materials by leaving rough exposed concrete and using the wooden formwork in many cases to create the finish texture of the concrete.

'Postmodernism' Robert Venturi's House for his mother:
image source

'Brutalism' Paul Rudolph's Westport House (demolished):
image source

As technology advanced, the limits began to push further. Architects began a new style a 'Deconstruction' which was based on taking traditional geometry, breaking it apart, and then recombining it in different forms. Simple things such as the value of right angles finally came into question, as architects attempted to incorporate new ideas such as chaos theory into space and form.

'Deconstruction' Peter Eisenman's Casa Guardiola:

The question however is, "What is Modern Architecture?" Within the styles described above, the consistent threads are challenges to traditional forms, proportions, and materials; an openness of space, flexibility of arrangement. For the greater part, modern architecture displays a truth in materials and construction. The problem with modern architecture is in the term 'modern'. As time passes, others will decide if the architecture of modernity in the last century is unified as one style and what that style would be called. In the present, there is a strong departure from classic modernism / minimalism, and the deconstruction movement. Whether it remains a pure departure or experiment within 'modernism' such as post-modernism and brutalism remains to be seen.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Picture of the Day 2/20

CONima Jet Fuel:
My friends at Mercedes sent this photo after they moved into their new space and told me to use it in an advertisement one day.

I have now fulfilled my end of the bargain...Thanks for the photo!

Commercial Lease Negotiations

If there is one thing I wish all clients, brokers, and project managers could understand, it is the critical importance of involving an architect in site selection. During the five years that CONima has been in business, we have saved our clients hundreds of thousands of dollars in avoided costs by evaluating buildings prior to signing a lease.

Unfortunately, I've probably seen clients spend well over twice that amount trying to resolve fundamental problems with buildings that went unnoticed because they were not evaluated prior to leasing.

So numbers are easy to throw out and they sound impressive, but they mean very little without understand what an architect actually does during the site selection and lease negotiation phases of a project. For this article, I will focus on tenant improvement related work only, as core and shell construction has an entirely separate set of concerns.

So what are the tasks?

Programming and Fit Planning:
Every client knows how many people they have working for them, and most have an idea how many they want to plan for in the future. However working off of simple ratios of square footage per person ignores office standards, adjacency requirements, ancillary spaces, labs, data centers, etc...all of which are critical components to laying out a space successfully. Unfortunately, once a lease is signed, it is too late to make sure that the building suits your needs, and typically will result in making some level of sacrifice in programmatic functionality of a space.

Egress and Path of Travel:
Nobody would advertise a building that doesn't meet code, right? This is a much more frustrating problem for clients that I've had to resolve for both landlords' and tenants'. The problem is twofold.
  • Codes change every few years, and things that were legal when a building was built are no longer so. With the recent adoption of the International Building Code this problem has become so exaggerated that many buildings are no longer considered legal because the method of calculating allowable floor area has now changed. Modifications to the occupancy classification further complicate this, resulting in different exiting and fire rating requirements.
  • Subdividing floorspace for multiple tenants is the other major cause of headaches. Code requirements change significantly when trying to exit multiple companies from one building or floor as opposed to just one. In this case the distance between exits, overall exit travel distance, fire protection systems, and fire separations become critical. As a simple rule of thumb, one of my professors once told me,"Draw a fire in front of an exit, now see how many will die as a result. If the answer is more than zero it's your fault."
Accessibility (ADA / Title 24)
This category has unfortunately made a few landlords hate me. Accessibility is a very broad topic, but the priorities to negotiate into a lease are those deficiencies that are the most expensive to repair.
  • Bathrooms, not just having a 5ft wide stall, but making sure the toilet is spaced the correct amount from the adjacent wall, are grab bars present, how much clearance is in front of the toilet? How high are the counters? Is there adequate knee space below them? Do the shower dimension comply? Fixture mounting heights? etc... A single bathroom can quickly cost over $100,000 to bring into compliance
  • Building Entry, the accessibility requirement for most buildings is to have a fully accessible path to the public way. Most cities will bend this to just require it to the parking lot, but this is not much relief. In California especially, for years California's guidelines differed from federal in how to create a curb ramp to an accessible parking space, causing a great deal of commercial parking lots to currently be illegal. Additionally, the slope of the sidewalk to the building, irregularities in pavers, damaged or raised door tresholds, etc...can also lead to a great deal of remediation work. A recent client had to spend $40,000 repaving the entry plaza to their office because their lease did not include a provision for maintaining and accessible pathway into the building.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Picture of the Day - 2/18

If I'm being completely honest, I questioned whether I should post this photo. It has nothing really to do with architecture but has always been one of my favorites because the emotion on my son's face is just completely honest. We had just gone to the aquarium. He wanted to go play in the fountains and absolutely did not want to walk back to the car. I had to capture the moment, and needless to say took him to the fountains right after I put the camera up.

Picture of the Day - 2/17

Filament 2:
One photo I took in a series done for the Electric Power Research Institute in 2005. This photo seems to capture an almost dancing energy in the bulb by capturing the image with the least amount of current I could pass through the bulb while still activating the filament.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Do it yourself?

This blog has a tendency to praise all things architectural from, dare I say it, an arrogant perspective. This will probably be a continuing focus of what we write about because of the effort it takes in this country to actually become an architect. Even with this necessity of involvement in the process, even I have to admit that there is something immensely satisfying in doing a project yourself. As my wife will attest, I've built many failures with my own hands, and to this day my own brick laying wouldn't pass a punchlist inspection from a one-eyed drunken sea pirate. But every uneven wall I've ever bricked is both a source of pride in my efforts and a source of respect for quality craftsmanship.

I've told contractors that I will be the best friend they've ever had on a job because of the fact that I like to build projects on my own and know how hard it is to build buildings well. It requires an attention to the details of a wall before it is even built. Verifying layouts and making adjustments constantly while still keeping the exact detail dimensions of a piece of millwork in your head.

Every person should build something on their own as long as you can live with the failure of your own mistakes, or have the patience and money to correct them. It gives a satisfaction and respect for architecture and construction that no amount of writing can describe. My only bits advice are:

  1. Know your ability limits and tolerances for imperfection
  2. A good architect is there to facilitate your vision, not his/her own.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Picture of the day - 2/14

textural wave:
One of the gifts of photography is the macro lens. The ability to see the world from an extreme close up perspective informs the way we design, thinking of how things are seen through multiple scales and ensuring that a design reads well at a distance, yet also maintains visual interest when up close.

Picture of the day - 2/13

A picture I took on a recent trip camping in Idaho. I stopped at the riverbank and spent the late afternoon seeing how many rocks I could balance in the water. I love this shot because for me it became architecture when the bug decided that it looked like a nice place to rest.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

What is the difference between a residential building designer and an architect?

This is perhaps the most important question a person should ask before hiring someone to design their home. To be fair, I should preface that I am an architect, but there are substantial differences, as well as myths that should be dispelled. For the sake of this article, designers may go by many different designations (building designer, residential designer, home planner, etc...) I will use the title of 'designer' for simplicity.

So to begin, at the surface the difference is very simple:

1. Qualifications:
A designer can be anyone. A homeowner with an idea and a sketchbook, a contractor working at a drafting table to fix a problem, or a consultant hired to coordinate a project. A designer is any unlicensed person who designs buildings, and due to that lack of license are restricted by most states to a very limited number of building types that they are allow design.

An Architect is a state licensed professional in the design and construction of all buildings. The licensing process is for most a 10 or more year path that includes a university degree in architecture, and a multi-year internship, followed by 5 written examinations, 3 graphic examinations, and in California an additional oral examination. This process ensures that a licensed architect is knowledgeable in project planning; interior and exterior design; site planning and drainage; construction methods; mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems; construction management; construction contract and dispute resolution; mechanics liens...essentially all the tools needed to effectively manage any building project from house, to office, to university building, from start to finish.

2. Price:
A prevalent myth is that hiring a designer is less expensive than hiring an architect. In most cases, an architect's fees for basic services and those offered by a designer are actually quite similar. Most services typically range from 5-10% of construction costs depending on the level of complexity of a project and the amount of construction supervision an owner wants to leave to the consultant. If engineering is required in addition to the basic design, that may cost an additional 2-5%.

What the price myth also fails to take into account is the benefits of qualifications. An architects experience not only equips them with more knowledge in how to design a more cost effective construction project, it also includes many benefits in relating to contractors. A great deal of architectural training is in what are referred to as "CD's". Most people mistakenly refer to these as the 'construction documents' because they include the drawings that a general contractor will build from. The true meaning is 'contract documents', and drawings make up only one piece of them. A projects drawings, specifications, and written contract are all equal parts of the contract between and owner and a builder. The accuracy of these documents is the only real basis that an owner has to protect themselves from change orders in the construction process. Additionally, an architect will typically review all contractor payment request for accuracy to ensure that overbilling has not occured and that mechanics liens are released upon payment.

So the virtues of the architect have been extolled, even so there are projects where hiring an architect is excessive. If you want to replace cabinets, remodel a bathroom, or do a similar interior project that does not include the relocation of walls, it is typically safe to assume that a contractor can handle the needs of the project without involving an architect. Likewise, an designer can be incredibly valuable in helping you envision a particular layout, color scheme, or fabric and furniture coordination. However if a project involves adding space, raising ceilings, moving walls, or cutting large openings, an architect is the only professional specifically trained to manage all the disciplines of design, engineering, and construction necessary to make the project successful.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Picture of the Day - 2/11/09

San Mateo City Council Chambers remodel:
design by CONima Architects

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Picture of the Day

MBRDNA Fuel Cell and Telematics lab in Palo Alto:
designed by CONima Architects

One of those cases where a picture can only hint at the challenges that went into creating it. For this space, not only did we have the standard automobile lab challenges of getting cars into an office building and safely exhausting the engines outside of the building, we had the added challenge of monitoring and exhausting hydrogen in order to prevent any possible explosions. Lastly, the cars were required to be placed on portable lifts. This meant that not only did the building foundation have to be strengthened to handle the weight of several automobiles, the first floor slab of the building had to be lowered by one foot to allow enough clearance for raised vehicles.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Ring Central selects CONima Architects

Ring Central has selected CONima Architects for its new headquarters in San Mateo, CA. CONima will oversee design and construction for the new 13,000sf office space due for completion in Q2 2009.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Architectural Styles Defined: Ranch Style...

Part 2 in our unfortunately delayed series of articles on the misuse of terms as they apply to the architectural style of a building, and how that misuse leads to poor communication between clients and professionals. Here’s an in-depth look at what defines the “Ranch Style:”

The Ranch Style is considered one of the more varied and difficult styles to define. This is because it is one of the rare styles born out an socioeconomic shift more than an actual architectural movement. The roots of the ranch style were the tremendous housing and commercial construction needs of post World War 2 America and the Baby Boom. America's most renowned architect of the time was arguably Frank Lloyd Wright who's 'prairie style' had gained much popularity do to it's rejection of victorian box and its vertically accentuating aesthetic. Concurrent with the Crafstman Style, it featured long overhangs, but was driven primarily by an accentuation of the horizontal plane and the use of open spaces within the interior.
Frank Lloyd Wright's Robie House:
Post-War Ranch House:

The Ranch Style continues this stretching of the horizontal plan but, while still not formal in its spacial arrangments, is less open in plan in order to simplify the structural loading of the building. In addition, the common ranch will typically have more simplified detailing and smaller overhangs in its original condition in order to be produced more quickly and efficiently.

As a result of this lack of true stylistic origin, the Ranch Style has been adapted to many different types of homes and as a result is derided by many critics of architecture as not being a true style. However, with roots in the one of America's most celebrated styles and being perhaps the most widely implemented building type in this country, it would be a mistake to simply dismiss Ranch Style. It may lack the openness and sophistication of detailing that a Prairie home would have, but in doing so it created a vernacular for the middle class that is maleable to regional and individual tastes.

For Architects, this creates an unique remodeling situation where changes to the original structure can be driven by a client's personality as much as the original style of the home. Because of this, for better or worse, the Ranch Style should be considered a true style of american individualism and the middle class.