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The Sound of Architecture

October 19, 2012

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I previously posted a thought about the similarity between lighting design and sound design (Sound Design/Light Design, July 2011). Today I came across an excellent TED Talk by sound consultant Julian Treasure about the importance of designing architecture with and for our ears.

For the past few years I seem to notice how a room sounds as much as how it looks, curious since I’ve spent my career working on the visual side of building design.

As I’ve gotten older I’ve become particularly sensitive to how noise effects our aural environment. Just as glare makes it uncomfortable or even impossible to see, noise can greatly impact our ability to hear.

Aesthetically, even if the soundscape isn’t noisy it’s still providing our brains with information about the quality of the environment. Is it relaxing, stressful, exciting, confusing? Again, so many similarities to lighting.

What if we spent as much time designing for our ears as we do our eyes?

Here’s a link to that TED Talk. It’s worth watching:

http://www.ted.com/talks/julian_treasure_why_architects_need_to_use_their_ears.html

The Big Picture

July 14, 2011

I was recently asked by a casino client to help solve a lighting problem they were having at their table games.

A few months prior, they had succumbed to the claims of an LED lamp salesman and replaced all of the quartz halogen MR16 lamps in their pit with LED replacements. The pit boss was upset with the color and lack of brightness on the table, the surveillance team complained that the cameras could no longer see the faces of the cards or players, and management was concerned that players were spending a lot less time at the tables.

After a quick review of the situation I pointed out that the light levels were less than half of what they had been prior to the change, and the color being produced by the new lamps cast an ugly blue pal across the players and burgandy red table tops.

“But they save so much energy…” the maintenance supervisor replied.

Sure, but at what cost? Poor visibility? Uncomfortable guests? Reduced revenue?

This post isn’t a bash on LED’s (though many LED lamp replacements on the market today deserve it), but rather a comment that it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture by focusing on only one thing.

 

Losing Tools

July 8, 2011

Concerning the incandescent lamp ‘ban’ – the world-wide
movement to eliminate certain kinds of light sources in the name of energy efficiency
– taking away tools doesn’t necessarily drive innovation. Being dictated to by a government
rarely creates exciting new technological breakthroughs because the innovators
are too busy working between the given margins. What’s the minimum we have to
do to meet the code? Don’t do too much or that will set the bar even higher for
next time.

Once we start down the slippery slope of legislating away
products that don’t measure up to others based upon a single given metric – energy
efficiency in this case – where does it stop? If 60 lumens-per-watt is good
wouldn’t 120 be better?

Suddenly, the primary evaluation of a light source is how
many watts it uses versus the amount of light it produces, a valuable and
necessary consideration to be sure, but should it be the first one? Shouldn’t
we be looking at the efficiency of the system,
not just one part of it, the light source?

Legislation like this is often written for political
expediency. It makes us feel like we’re doing something valuable without
challenging people to think deeply on all sides of an issue. It makes it easy
to work to the minimum level; “hey, the lighting could’ve been better but
we had to meet code”.

The fact is, people are already demanding higher efficiency
in their buildings. Design teams and product manufacturers that are able to
deliver goods and services that provide the greatest energy efficiency for
their purpose are the ones that will grow and prosper. The ones that aren’t
pushing that envelope will flounder.

Instead of legislating away valuable tools, how about
an effort to educate people about the value of good design?

I’ve always held that good design is about using materials
wisely, being respectful of resources while satisfying the needs of the people who
will inhabit the project. These are not mutually exclusive goals; to the
contrary, they are tightly woven. Simply put, good design doesn’t waste. And good design doesn’t necessarily happen
because there are fewer tools in the toolbox.

Sound Design / Light Design

July 6, 2011

I became a fan of jazz music at a fairly young age, at least
in part by listening to the recordings of legendary trumpeter Miles Davis. After
discovering Birth of Cool and Kind of Blue, and trying to learn about what was going
on in music, New York and the world in general when those albums were recorded,
I stumbled upon an interview with Miles.

It was interesting to listen to Davis’s raspy whisper of a
voice, and I was stuck with something he said about the idea of ‘space’ in
music. He said something to the effect that it’s not as much about the notes
that are played, but the ones that aren’t. It’s the pauses – the space between the
notes – that gives a piece room to breathe. I began listening to music differently from
that day forward.

What creates dramatic effect in lighting is often what isn’t
intentionally illuminated. It’s the shadow or the gradient – the space in
between the brightness. Sometimes it’s the darkness or the grayness that’s
dominant in the scene, adding emphasis to what is receiving light. The impact can
be amplified with the careful use of color and pattern.

The parallels between sound and light are interesting. I guess
in the end it’s all about manipulating energy to our own, or our clients
delight.

BIM Software – Part II or, I Might’ve Been Hasty

July 20, 2010

About a year ago, I wrote about being unconvinced that BIM software was worth the trouble after struggling mightily through a project created with Revit but converted to AutoCad.  Let’s just say that the background architectural drawing files I subsequently had to work with were a disaster and required hours of work (that wasn’t built into the fee) to make them usable.

Now I wouldn’t want to suggest that AutoDesk deliberately made their conversion utility less than effective to encourage recipients of those converted files to just buy Revit, but as someone who has enjoyed a love/hate relationship with AutoCad since version 10, mainly due to the pricey but necessary upgrades that make me feel like a junkie returning to his supplier every year, the thought did cross my mind.

I am, however, more than willing to publicly admit that I might’ve come to the conclusion that BIM is too cumbersome, too costly and generally a giant pain in the butt…well, too hastily.

More and more of my clients are shifting to building information modeling tools for design and documentation of projects. After speaking with many of them over the past few weeks, its become pretty clear to me that this is the direction that architecture and engineering is moving, and the benefits of this technology are only realized if ALL the team members are using it – a familiar AutoCad refrain.

I downloaded Revit 2011 to get my feet wet and see what its all about, which I’ve been doing for several days now.

My first impression was one of surprise – Revit is quite intuitive to use. The work flow really does mirror the design process, and the user interface felt pretty natural right away. I’ve only scratched the surface, but I could immediately see how this could save a great deal of time just in drawing production, not to mention all the other benefits of coordination. Since you’re working in 3D, you immediately see where a conflict between systems exist without having to go through pages of details checking dimensions, etc. The program allows you to specify, annotate, locate and schedule equipment all at once, on the fly, while you’re working. This is something I’ve done inefficiently for years using multiple monitors, one with AutoCad, one with Word for doing schedules, and one running my calculation and modeling software. Revit should consolidate a lot of these separate functions into one cohesive process.

I am concerned about a couple of things. The way BIM works seems to force the design team to work in a serial fashion, in other words, each discipline must follow one another in order, ideally in the actual sequence that the real building will be constructed. This is much different than traditional AutoCad drawing preparation where the architect gets to a point of progress with his drawings and can send them out to the other consultants all at once with a single, common deadline at the end for document issue.

With BIM, no one can really start until the architects work is quite far along. The structural engineer does his thing, followed by mechanical, lighting, plumbing, electrical, etc., but each must be complete with their work before it can be passed along to the next. If I’m correct (and I may not be at this point in my understanding), this will cause a significant change in how projects are scheduled and delivered. My first thought is that lot of time will be added to the process, but since everyone essentially draws their stuff on one common document before passing it along, I could be wrong.

The second item is cost, both for the software and the investment in time to learn it. Revit isn’t cheap; combined with AutoCad (both on subscription of course) to service clients that aren’t changing the way they do things and software becomes an even larger item in the annual operating budget. As far as productivity, many of my clients that have taken the leap into BIM report that they aren’t yet profitable using it, even after doing several projects. They are likely more sensitive to this due to the tight economic conditions right now, but on the other hand now is probably the best time to learn a new way of working – while things are slow.

And BIM is a completely new way of working. Overall, I think it will be beneficial which is why Revit is being added to our computers soon.

I’d love to read your thoughts-

A New Old Name

July 7, 2010

Since 1993, Light Solutions was the name of my lighting design business in Las Vegas. That is, until we moved to Park City Utah eight years ago and discovered Light Solutions to be registered in Utah to a lighting retrofit company. I did some research and learned that Light Solutions/Utah had been inactive for a couple of years, so I called the owner and asked if he’d consider selling the name to me.

Nope. I explained that I had the URL “light-solutions.com” for the past few years and that if they weren’t using the name anyway I’d really like to have it. Again, the answer was no.

I had to pick something pretty quickly as I had new work coming, so I simply used Ken Reynar Architectural Lighting Design (whew). That’s a mouthful to say or write.

I waited until Light Solutions/Utah failed to renew their name registration, then Utah code required that I wait five years longer. Five years was up today, and now we are Light Solutions again. It’s not a big deal because we’re a small firm and everyone connects my personal name to the business anyway, but it feels right to have a simple, descriptive moniker again.

Light Solutions. That’s better.

BIM Software – I'm Not Convinced

August 4, 2009

Sure, I see the potential. What could be better than automating big parts of the construction document process and ending up with an active database of information that goes with the drawing? Creating a 3D model of the building as a part of DD’s/CD’s for visualization…I get it.

Unfortunately, my experience with all this wizzbangery is that the basic elements of the drawing database end up being a mess to work with. Lines that go nowhere into space, layers that make no sense, blocks that seem not to fit together quite right, etc., etc. As a designer that ends up using architects CAD drawings as backgrounds for my own work, ones created with BIM software generally tend to need a LOT more time just to be useable.

I don’t know if it’s the software or the execution, but so far I’m completely unimpressed with the end result of drawings created with this stuff.