Daily Dose: Dynamic Exteriors

Add to TwitterInterestingly, in context of yesterday’s post which dealt with a new form of LED lighting, I came across an article today regarding the use of LED screens in building design. In “When all the walls talk, what does it mean for architecture?” LA Times’ Christopher Hawthorne explores the world’s changing skylines. It boils down to this question: when does decoration enhance and when does it take away from the fundamental design of a building?

Brightly-lit Times Square in NYC

Dubai's building plan for the tallest LED screen in the world

Dubai's building plan for the tallest LED screen in the world

LED screens are becoming more and more popular in downtown areas of even rural communities. The sometimes garish colors and flashing images are certainly more attention-demanding than the surrounding brick or steel or glass. Take the ultimate example, Times Square in New York City: with all those competing screens, Hawthorne asserts that “we look at the cityscape not just with divided but with fully fractured attention.” LEDs have become the “super ornament,” adorning office buildings, churches, schools and shops. They’re often not included in the building plans, but added later by the owners of the building. But what if we take it one step further (and this is indeed the case), designing and building structures that are essentially one big screen?

The image on the left is of Dubai’s plans for a skyscraper that sports the largest LED screen in the world. What does that say about buildings’ histories, about their inherent qualities? Are there any? With constantly changing, ever-contemporary façades, what happens to “historical districts?” As the architectural past of a city grows dimmer, it will have to find other ways to connect to its history, and that loss may not be one we’re willing to sustain.

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Daily Dose: LED Glowing Walls

Add to TwitterIn 2012, how many members of your household will it take to change a light bulb? Perhaps none. Lomox, the Welsh company responsible for developing an LED technology that allows interior walls to emit a soft glow, predicts that their innovation could render light bulbs obsolete.

Light-emitting wallpaper design by Jonas Samson; Image courtesy of Nuno Michael Ferreira on sbkinc.com

Lomox’s glowing walls are achieved through use of a chemical coating that is triggered by a small electrical current. Since only 3-5 volts of electricity are required to power the product, the walls remain safe to touch and can even be powered by solar panels or batteries. The company claims that this technology is 2.5 times more efficient than energy-saving light bulbs. Consumers can buy pre-treated wallpaper or paint the chemical directly on the walls. Regular dimmer switches control the level of light produced. A natural sunlit glow fills the room, providing a full range of color and eliminating the shadow and glare associated with traditional forms of lighting.

There have been mixed responses to this news release. Some potential consumers are worried about the toxicity of the chemical and how concerned they should be about crumbling paint. Others are less-than-enthusiastic about the prospect of no shadows, citing fear of a sterile, cold atmosphere. Technophiles, on the other hand, see only bigger and better possibilities for the lighting. Think of the patterns you could create in your homes! Jonas Samson, designer, has already released light-emitting wallpaper, demonstrating just a small spectrum of possibilities. One commentator even suggested glow-in-the-dark pages for books. Good luck getting the kids to sleep when “lights out” isn’t as easy as it sounds!

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Daily Dose: Nest Homes

Add to TwitterPatrick Dougherty’s site-specific “twig art” installations can be found all over the world. He’s constructed over 200 of these swirling, organic works since the early 1980s. Many of them take on forms of buildings and resemble homes – with a bit of a twist. Each of his structures use hundreds of saplings and are constructed using primitive methods of building. Dougherty has taken his talents to various universities as well, conducting workshops with students and faculty. Below are images from his website:

"Around the Corner"; University of Southern Indiana, 2003; Image courtesy of Doyle Dean

"Paradise Gate"; Smith College Museum of Art, 2001; Image courtesy of Stephen Petegorsky

"Close Ties"; Brahan Estate, Scottish Highlands, 2006; Image courtesy of Fin Macrae

"The Summer Palace"; University of Pennsylvania, 2009; Image courtesy of Rob Cardillo

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Daily Dose: Build With Fossils?

Add to TwitterIf you’ve never been to the Porter House Museum in Decorah, IA (and I’m guessing that many of you have not), it’s worth the trip. I can’t speak for the museum’s actual collection, since I myself haven’t gone inside, but the wall that surrounds the entrance is uniquely captivating. Constructed from rocks, minerals and fossils that were collected by the owner during his years of travel, the wall is an organic, vibrant piece of architectural artistry. I’ve included some “fun facts” about and images of additional rocks/minerals that I think architects should consider either as building materials or inspirations!

Porter House Museum Wall

Gypsum Desert Rose

First off, let’s look at desert rose. Formed from the minerals gypsum or barite together with sand, this geometric, angular rock suggests maze-like ultra-modern construction. Think staircases and skywalks – now that would be fun building to explore.




Pyrite Sun

Next up: pyrite suns. Pyrite, as you may well know, is commonly referred to as “fool’s gold,” but I bet you haven’t seen it in this radial formation before. Pyrite suns are found in shale near Sparta, IL. One theory holds that they’re actually formed when the pyrite replaces the fossilized remains of a yet un-identified organism. I’d love to see these used in an exterior veneer! Unfortunately, they’re extremely fragile and would be nearly impossible to keep intact.

Petoskey Stone

Finally, I suggest Petoskey stones. The unusual pattern on these rocks is actually revealing of the stone’s prior form as coral. When glaciers came through the area, they broke off and smoothed pieces of the bedrock – the petoskey stones. They’d be great material for buildings in rainy climates. Why? These chameleon rocks resemble chalky, dull limestone until wet – that’s when their intricate designs are made evident.

I’ve voiced the need for brilliancy of color in new architectural creations, and now I’m suggesting texture and pattern as well. I look forward to the new buildings!

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Daily Dose: Translucent Concrete

Add to TwitterConcrete innovations are coming fast and furious now, it seems. At least, recognition of them is becoming more widespread. Besides the self-healing concrete I wrote about in October 2009, translucent concrete or “light-transmitting” concrete could be the next big thing in masonry structures.

Litracube, translucent concrete; Image courtesy of Blaine Brownell on core77.com

Developed in 2001 by a Hungarian architect, translucent concrete has taken its time hitting the press. However, it deserves all the accolades it’s now garnering, and more. The optical fibres that run parallel to one another throughout the material allow light and color to pass through walls of concrete up to 20 meters thick! The fibers’ thicknesses can also range from 2μm (micrometers) to 2mm, depending on how much light the consumer wants to allow through. It may be some time before translucent concrete is perfected (modifications to speed the production process have already begun), but once it hits the popular market, I predict it’ll be in a big way.

Trees seen through translucent concrete; Image courtesy of cmuarch2013.wordpress.com

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Daily Dose: Pumice Stones

Add to TwitterWhat do you know about pumice stones, other than they’re awfully useful for ridding your feet of calluses? Probably not much (no offense, neither did I). Unusual mixtures of lava and water, these volcanic rocks are not only visually and texturally interesting – they’re also used in a variety of common products including lightweight concrete.

Pumice Stone

Pumice is a volcanic rock whose variably sized holes are formed by escaping bubbles. The fast cooling and depressurization of the lava/water combination traps the bubbles as they move through the material, leaving permanent voids in the hardened rock. Pumice is a relatively soft, light stone that has been used to make lightweight concrete since antiquity. A finer grain of the rock called pozzolan is mixed with lime to create a workable substance similar to plaster. The Romans used this form of concrete for the Pantheon’s dome and many aqueducts. Pumice stones’ abrasive qualities make them useful for pencil erasers, exfoliants and making stone-washed jeans. Ancient Greek and Roman citizens also used pumice stones to remove unwanted hair.

I don’t know that I’d recommend trading in your shaving implements for a rock, but maybe the next time your teenager begs for new jeans that are strategically “worn,” you can hand them a pumice stone instead… hey, it’s worth a try.

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Daily Dose: Philadelphia City Hall

Add to TwitterDid you know that the tallest weight-bearing masonry building in the world resides in Pennsylvania? Philadelphia City Hall’s tower is an impressive 511 feet and supports a 27 ton statue of William Penn. Not surprisingly, the building needs strong supports: the walls of the first floor are 22 feet thick!

Philadelphia City Hall; Image courtesy of city-data.com

Looks like Philly has more claims to fame than just cheesesteak!

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