Tile Mosaics–expand your horizons

June 28th, 2006 by Mary Schmelzer

mercury mosaics.jpg

If you think tile is only for the area between your kitchen cabinets and countertops, you need to see the innovative work being produced by Mercury Mosaics in Minneapolis. They use handmade tiles and can do custom textures and colors. If the common ivory plastic switchplates don’t excite you, you can now order their handmade switch plates off their website (rectangular and wow! they also do circular).

And innovative doesn’t have to be resource-intensive. Tracy says, “We also pride ourselves in material usage – having almost no waste since we can use tiles left over from a project for other mosaics. We don’t throw away clay, but continually rework it until it is used up.”

Consider a tile mosaic as a signature element for your next project–and move beyond the predictable.

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Existing Art

June 20th, 2006 by Peter Schmelzer

Found Art in Existing Construction

Once in a while, something ordinary grabs you.

Here is an uncropped photo of the ceiling of an existing basement we are currently working on. I laid our camera with the wide angle adapter on the floor to document the array of wires, pipes and joists. The lighting was poor in the basement, so I didn’t expect much from the photo.

Like analog photographic development of old, I was surprized by how engaging the photo is when I pulled it onto the big screen at the office. The exaggerated perspective, variety of materials, composition of lines, and even the light splotches created a photo that really drew me in.

Thought you might like it, too. An unexpected treasure found in everyday life.

It may also be an example of the challenges faced in remodeling historic homes!

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Church Construction Progressing Nicely

June 20th, 2006 by Peter Schmelzer

Ascension Lutheran Church, Brookings SD

Beth Guenther of Koch Hazard Architects (Sioux Falls, SD) reports that construction is moving along smoothly at Ascension Lutheran Church.

The project consisted of two parts: remodeling the Fellowship Hall and adding a new worship space (with related remodeling). To date, the Fellowship Hall has been completed and the congregation has moved their worship services there so remodeling can be done in the existing worship space and construction of the new worship space can begin in earnest.

This photo shows the footings and foundations in place for the new worship space, where it will join the existing worship space, which will be remodeling into a gathering space.

The congregation is pleased with the process and product of our design efforts, and looks forward to their new worship space.

VIVUS served as design architect for this project, working with Koch Hazard as architect of record. For more on this project, see these previous posts:

News Release: Ascension Lutheran Church

Addition: Ascension Lutheran Church

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Another Design Research Resource

June 8th, 2006 by Peter Schmelzer

I’ve been reading research summaries for many months now, and I thought I’d share the resource.

InformeDesign is the name of the source, generated by the University of Minnesota. It’s free to everyone.

Basics: InformeDesign collects and summarizes design-related research and makes those summaries available. Links are then provided to the research papers for those interested in more depth. Summaries are categorized for easy reference, and a weekly e-mail message lists new additions to the database.

I really like this service. It helps keep me informed about the latest research in a quick and convenient format, and I can speedily peruse areas of interest and pertinence.

Here are links to two recent summaries that caught my eye:
Built Environment, Walkability, and Neighborhood Selection
Neighborhood Design and Physical Activity

Why did they grab me? The way we shape our neighborhoods, sidewalks, and streets affects our lives in many ways. The recent obesity epidemic may, in part, be due to our dependence on automobiles, for which we have designed our cities. Research is beginning to show that neighborhood design for pedestrian activity can result in higher levels of physical activity (walking in particular).

Walking has individual health benefits and can improve the sense of comunity. It can also make our neighborhoods safer. What exactly this means in terms of insurance rates, reduced crime, citizen satisfaction and quality of life is tough to measure, but they can only improve as I see it. Design plays a key role in the big picture.

Anyway, if you are interested in design, check out InformeDesign.

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Denial of Global Warming

June 6th, 2006 by Peter Schmelzer

Probably a Contributor to Global Warming, but it looks great!

When I see great design, like this car I saw in Montreal over the weekend, I could almost forget about global warming.

But yesterday I read a rather angry post from Shea Gunther about a group of politically-oriented college students offering free snow cones as a way to refute global warming.

Here’s a link I would hope they would all read, since it presents a concise summary of science’s concensus on global warming, presented in a way meaningful for “disbelievers”.

Thanks, Paul, for the link.

Don’t forget: great design does address global warming!

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A Call to Integrative Thinking

June 5th, 2006 by Peter Schmelzer

I’ve blogged in the past about integrative thinking as applied to architecture. In summary, we are trained to consider multiple parameters as we bring them together into cohesive design. This stands in contrast to reductive thinking, in which parameters are consciously limited to test an outcome or in which an overall hypothetical model is applied to a complex problem, making it easier to solve.

In today’s complicated world, we have found integrative processes more successful than reductive processes. An example might be the “tabula rasa” approach to urban renewal in the ’60’s and ’70’s. Demolition of old buildings and reconstruction from a “clean slate” was a preferred approach, which I would call reductionist. Take a big problem and solve it according a simple concept: cheaper to start over. But was it? Not if costs not considered by the “rules” are incorporated, such as homelessness, landfill waste, destruction of historic fabric, political wake zones, and energy waste. A better integrative approach is on display at the Canadian Center for Architecture in Montreal: Green Energy Benny Farm.

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