Wednesday, October 24, 2007


Last week, our very own National Mall was overtaken by foreign, green pod-like objects. Aliens were not the ones responsible for this landing, but twenty groups of architecture and engineering students from around the country and world.

This years Solar Decathlon showcased the very best in solar and sustainable design innovation in each of the twenty houses. Each house had to be designed, funded, constructed, transported, assembled and operated to specific restrictions and methods regarding energy efficiency utilizing solar power and green sustainability. The website will give you a very comprehensive look into how each of the teams factored in these requirements. Not only were energy efficiency and sustainability priorities, but great and innovative design also was an important focus. These students proved that solar panels, "living" plant walls, recycled materials, and bulky mechanical room requirements can become design features that visually create some pretty cool architecture. One house utilized its solar panels in the form of a glossy wall system on the front elevation. The wall didn't even appear as solar power until you were standing directly in front. The use of the solar system as a prominent design feature was an innovative way to disguise the fact that it was actually a mechanical system for the house. Another design used a large shipping container as a "core". This element, painted bright orange, was exposed both on the interior and exterior. It allowed for a cohesive design by connecting the other uniquely textured elements in the architecture. A third example of great design through sustainability, was the use of a "living" plant wall. this entire wall system gave the facade a beautiful texture and color, while at the same time acting as a nice contrast to the more manufactured structural systems of refined wood and steel. A favorite design innovation of mine was the house that actually celebrated the fact that all of these solar systems occupy a lot of space in a mechanical room. Here rather than masking the mechanical space, it is celebrated by housing it in a bright yellow cube that is exposed on the exterior and penetrates through to the interior spaces. Great modern design should be innovative. Sustainable and green innovation is exactly the kind of great modern design culture that catches our attention.

Read more!

A Week in the Sun: The Solar Decathlon

The National Mall was
recently transformed into a solar village during the 3rd Annual Solar Decathlon, where structures from 20 Universities from the US, Canada, and abroad were judged on a series of criteria, including Architecture, Engineering, Market Viability, and Communication, as well as more technical demands, such as Hot Water, Lighting, and Energy Balance.

The beauty of the solar decathlon is that it is an opportunity for us all to see that energy efficient and sustainable environments are not only a real possibility for the future, but that they can be attractive and comfortable as well. The location could not be better: As the nucleus of the DC tourist scene, it allows a great number of individuals from a diverse background to tour the homes, learn about sustainable initiatives, and challenge students' perceptions of what makes a solar house a desirable solar home.

Perhaps most impressive were the innovative uses of material and the small details that teams had incorporated into the various homes. Plant walls were used in several homes to soften the hard lines of the design, including
the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid and Team Montréal. The incorporation of semi-transparent and translucent materials was a common element, from Plexiglas doors with frosted patterns to polycarbonate walls. Wood and metal panels were features of many homes as well, and slate was even used on Penn State's entry.

The use of solar cells was also an a
rea of innovation, from their use in translucent panels on the building envelope, as demonstrated by Georgia Tech and Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, to the ingenious incorporation of solar cells on wood louvers on the Technische Universität Darmstadt entry (the decathlon's first place finisher). An 'architecturally integrated heat exchanger' was a creative and sculptural element in the University of Colorado house, which also featured a reused container, painted bright orange, as a central component of their design. Super-graphics behind polycarbonate panels added a fresh, energetic vibe to the exterior of the University of Texas at Austin house, and the Georgia Tech entry was jazzed up by sweeping translucent panels that arc up to create sun louvers on the front façade. Louvers on the faces of entry were an almost prerequisite element, such as those on the exterior of Penn State's house, which could be raised or lowered to alter light levels, respond to varied sun angles at various times of year, and ultimately crate a more dynamic façade. Louver were also a prominent feature of the University of Maryland entry, which won the People's Choice Award.

The simplicity of
the design of the Technische Universität Darmstadt made this entry a personal favorite, and demonstrated that an energy efficient home didn't have to be overtly solar with a large array stuck prominently on the roof. Overall, the homes were inspiring, and offered many unique design elements for consideration. I'm looking forward to the next event, to be held in 2009.

Read more!

Monday, October 22, 2007

Men's Fashion Gets the Boot!

Yes, I admit it. I'm a closet boot wearer. But any two-stepper will tell you that a pair of boots is a must if you expect to Tush Push, Boot Scoot, or whatever else you might find playing at the neighborhood CW bar. But unless you are a cowboy, on the rodeo circuit, or ride a Harley, the boot has limited appeal, so the layman's boots seldom work their way into the everyday wardrobe. At least until now. Heralding in a new generation of boot wearers, perhaps, is Mark Nason, a brand with a rock-and-roll soul and great looks. Featuring a variety of leather options and colors, unique stitching, various sole options (including leather), sculptural metal details, such as buckles and zipper pulls, and fantastic graphics (much like those currently being screen printed across trendy tees), these kicks are quite stylish.

Are you ready boots? Start walkin'!
Read more!

Sunday, October 14, 2007


All that glimmers is not gold, and all that is gold doesn't necessarily glimmer. A pair of 24K gold dipped Nike hightops do not usually appear under a spotlight in the middle of a vacant brake repair garage, but this past weekend this unsuspecting combination became a centerpiece for an event that should not have been missed. Yet again the blossoming DC modern art scene created an exhibit via installation of "luxury items" amidst old tire parts and greasy concrete walls. LUSTER, sponsored by Project 4 Gallery and The Pink Line Project, is the type of happening in the city that gets our creative inspirations re-energized. To display re-interpreted "luxury" items in a decrepit and unexpected location and throw a chic party around the installation is exactly the kind of modern urban irony that reminds us why living in the city is so wonderful.
Read more!


DC has recently become a hot spot for excitingly chic new stores. Storefronts are popping up with everything from Nom de Guerre jackets to vintage Saarinen sidetables. A new contender in this arena of super-chic and in-the-know boutiques is RCKNDY at 1515 U Street. DC design-a-holics now do not have to travel all the way to Manhattan to get their fill at Moss in SoHo, they just have to pay a visit to this trend-setting storefront that is inspired by a candy store of times long past. Enter the store, walk past modern sofas and chairs that should be found in any urban loft, and you see the bubble gum pink candy counter complete with glass candy jars filled with all of your childhood favourites. Designers and mass production artists have their sweet goods all over this place. Everything from ceramic pistol vases to vintage inspired wall clocks to super graphic textiles and ghost acrylic candelabras can be found here. Almost any piece of vintage inspired ironic modernist decor can be seen. The experience can at first can be overwhelming due to the vast amount of "eye" candy on display, so make sure you have some time to browse, or just plan on making several visits. We thank David Dennis, owner and visionary, for the opportunity to incorporate highly intelligent and ironically modern design into our DC lifestyles.
Read more!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

City Living; Streamlined

Living in an urban area always will have its positives and negatives, and it will also have more ironic moments than anyone could possibly ever imagine. This is a great reason for walking around the city. You never know what you may stumble upon. Housing options in DC have become much more plentiful with the condo boom as of late, with more condos and houses on the market than ever. Finding a home to fit your needs is not as difficult as it used to be in the District, but finding a home to fit your budget is excessively more difficult than it used to be. Finding a small a space in the neighborhood of choice on a tight budget can be difficult, and many times finding that rent controlled apartment in your neighborhood of choice seems next to impossible. A rather unusual solution to this problem (even if it isn't a solution in reality, it still was a fun thought) popped up on the streets of Dupont circle these last few weeks. A 1980's Vintage 345 Airstream Motorhome has been taking up no less than three on-street parking spaces where it chooses to "dock". This relic of streamlined high tech design is definitely out of place on the typical DC streetscape. Whether it is being used as a super vintage-modern chic pad for a desperate urbanite, or is just a lux set of wheels for travels to other locales, it stands out on its own as a piece of history that is still an excellent example of modern design. Great design can be appreciated when it is new, and cherished when it has aged. The Airstream trailer has become an interesting example of a modern intervention within an existing classic. The designer George Nelson has taken a historic Airstream trailer, and retro-fitted a more modern interior, utilizing today's materials and technologies. This modern interior intervention fits almost seamlessly with the decades old exterior shell. Great Design is everywhere, and can appear in the most ironic situations, if you just keep your eyes open to what surrounds you.
Read more!

In: Vino: Veritas

We are always delighted to see new life breathed into an old space. And while it is always wonderful to see this happen to an empty, highly visible storefront on a well-traveled street, it is somewhat more exciting when it happens to a space that we never even really noticed before. This is the case with the recently opened Veritas Wine Bar at 2031 Florida Avenue NW (at the intersection of Connecticut Ave.) While certainly located in a great, old building in the Dupont Circle neighborhood, the tenant space here, adjacent to Georgetown Valet, had always escaped our view, until now.

Veritas boasts a range of wine that any enthusiast would applaud. (And with the opportunity for patrons to suggest additions to their wine list, the options will only get better.)

Meanwhile, we applaud the design of the space. With exposed brick and clean, simple finishes and furnishing, the feel is understated - chic, yet decidedly not pretentious. There is an energetic vibe which makes this an appealing place to unwind after a day at the office. This is a welcome addition to Dupont.

Read more!

Friday, October 5, 2007

Oh Gehry, Where Is Thy Victory?

On Wednesday, October 3rd, the National Building Museum honored Gehry Partners and Gehry Technologies by presenting them with the Henry C. Turner Prize for Innovation in Construction Technology. According to the NBM website, over 1000 people turned out to hear award recipients Frank O. Gehry and Dennis Shelden discuss their projects, as well as the use of the technologies that they have produced and employed.

Regrettably, much of the event's focus was more on the technical processes and developments that each project has required, more so than an explanation of Gehry’s intellectual process. At times Gehry was even apologetic about his designs, such as his new Lou Ruvo Alzheimer's Institute in Las Vegas, Nevada, of which he said, “It’s really hard to do something in Vegas and get attention for it, so forgive me for this.” (When Gehry first identified the project as a center for Alzheimer’s patience, audience members thought that Gehry was making a joke about the seemingly schizophrenic assemblage. He was not.) While undoubtedly Gehry’s success has been due largely to the highly original and instantly recognizable nature of his work, one must ask how successful a project is if it does not first aim to satisfy the basic needs of the project, and in a pleasing way. This is unfortunately an instance where the form seems to be wagging the function.

Gehry’s work has always left me personally with mixed emotions. In architecture school I learned the importance of designing in such a way that every line drawn, every gesture made, and ultimately every element of a project was done with meaning or purpose; Gehry’s work, by comparison, has always just seemed so spontaneous and cavalier. While his work is monumental, and can redefine and recreate the image of a place, such as is the case of his Guggenheim Bilbao, it has always begged the question of what Gehry's contribution is to the service of architecture. I’ve always regarded his works as sculptures, which are placed, with little exception, without regard for context. His designs, though certainly pushing the limits of creativity and design, do not offer us a language per se which a generation of architects can really employ (such as, in contrast, the language of modern architecture developed through the works of Mies van der Rohe, Le Courbusier, and their contemporaries.) However, as I’ve now begun to acknowledge, Gehry’s contribution is perhaps as significant a paradigm in the world of design: that of the digital interface and the increasing level of freedom allowed through the advancement of design technologies. In that regard, much like his predecessors, Gehry is pushing the limits of design technology, which, along with the construction industry, must adapt and evolve to met the demands of the architecture.

The work of Frank Gehry has in many ways flown in the face of convention (as well as what many of us were repeatedly told in architecture school about the proper organization and hierarchies of masses, the grounding of a building element to the site, the honesty of a building’s exterior form relative to the structure and interior spaces, and the response of a building to its context.) However, through these works, Gehry has established a unique voice in the realm of architecture, and has served to push the limits of architectural design and building technology. (Gehry stated that architects such as Zaha Hadid are now using software developed by Gehry Technologies.)

“Getting these damn things built has been a lot of fun…and a struggle,” quipped Gehry. While the world of architecture may not universally accept the work of Frank Gehry, we are all the benefactors of his struggle.

Read more!