Saturday, April 30, 2011

day job, continued

Photo of the American Academy library by Georgina Masson.
tin box is going global. Starting Monday, I'll be blogging from Italy, where I will spend a month at the American Academy in Rome as the Wolfsonian Affiliated Fellow. Holly will continue to blog from South Miami, with updates on construction that'll include the completion of the foundations and the steel frame erection. It should be an exciting few weeks.

But why Italy, you say?

Friday, April 29, 2011

osha moment

We like our construction team a lot, but sometimes they don't follow strict federal safety guidelines.


We're getting close to the big concrete pour. Now that the utilities are all in place and have been inspected and approved by the city, the concrete subcontractor can finish setting the steel rebar in place. Sort of.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011


Ok, so this is clearly not the tail end of the Prius. One advantage to also having an SUV is being able to raid the neighbor's dumpster for coral rock to add to our landscape. This may end up being the solution to our ongoing dilemma of just how to finish the raised planting beds. We've dug up a fair amount of coral rock from our site, too. It's ubiquitous, and it makes for some very fertile soil.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

formwork, p.2

Two weeks ago, our team started putting up wood formwork for the concrete slab and grade beam. The first round of formwork was necessary for the plumber, electrician and air conditioning contractor to use as a point of reference when laying the underslab utilities. This week, they've been completing the formwork in preparation for the big concrete pour next week.

unintended irony

Miami has some quirky habits. One is parking on the lawn (or at least the strip of grass between street and sidewalk referred to as "parkway" on site surveys). Another is dumping big piles of trash and yard waste along the side of the road.

Our house used to have a big trash pile in front of it, but the neighbors have stopped using our lot as a dumping ground since we started construction. And to a large extent the construction has minimized the amount of dog poop accumulating in front of the house. But these ever-present dumping piles raise a good question: how much stuff do we throw away?

Is it necessary to generate so much refuse in the course of everyday life? What techniques can we use to stop bringing stuff into our homes just so we can dump it out front a few hours later? What does it say about our regard for public space that we don't hesitate to dump trash out on the street?

update: tin box just recorded its 2,500th page view. Thanks for your input so far. Let us know what topics you'd like us to cover in future posts.

Monday, April 25, 2011

best practices

A very helpful document from the Department of Energy (who also sponsor the Solar Decathlon competition) which we've been consulting is Building America Best Practices Series: Volume 1. Builders and Buyers Handbook for Improving New Home Efficiency, Comfort, and Durability in the Hot and Humid Climate. It is available online as a free PDF file.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

shop drawings

Ecosteel sent us 359 sheets of shop drawings on Friday. These are drawings that will be used to fabricate the steel framing members for the house. They are intricately detailed, and are based on a detailed three-dimensional model.

There are ten sheets of plans and elevations (showing the house as a whole), which are keyed to 233 sheets of details (which show the complex steel structural members built up out of smaller pieces), which refer to 116 sheets showing those smaller pieces. It is like looking at the directions for the world's biggest model airplane kit.

Thursday, April 21, 2011


Two subcontractors were at the site today. Our HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) contractor had a crew at the site digging trenches for the refrigerant lines that run from the air handlers inside the house to the condensers outside (image at left and following). The electrical contractor had his guys digging trenches to run conduit under the slab to each of the rooms in the house, at which point the electrical wire will branch out through the walls. The last picture shows the conduit passing through the space where the concrete contractor will pour the edge beam.


Our design for tin box always considered the house and its site as habitat for wildlife. As these photographs from today show, the site is home to numerous species, even during construction. The big polychromatic bugs are Eastern Lubber Grasshoppers. The ones shown here are young nymphs, and they'll grow to the size of your palm. There were scores of them on the fence this morning. Yes, they'll eat our vegetables, but they're just too cool to get rid of.

And they are not alone...

noted at the basketball playoffs

Clearly influenced by our work here at tin box, the American Airlines Arena is proclaiming its LEED certification from the rafters. Literally.

This is particularly impressive for a venue that shoots flames into the air during player introductions.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

deepwater horizon and us

Tomorrow marks the first anniversary of the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig. This disaster - which took 11 lives and started a five-month-long oil spill - should have triggered more serious discussions of energy and transportation policy. The sixty-year process of crafting a car-dependent society has left us with a well-known litany of problems: social isolation and segregation, climate change, health problems ranging from asthma to obesity, environmental degradation and resource depletion. Let's take a moment to reflect on what we're doing to address these issues at tin box, and what we still need to do better.

the third shoe falls

Big plumbing stuff keeps arriving, unexpectedly. This time, it is the graywater filtration tank, which is made by Brac Systems, in Montréal. The tank wasn't supposed to get here until the garage was ready. But then again, the same was true of our rainwater filtration equipment. Our living room is getting crowded.

The item we needed from Brac, was the sump pump (see photo after the break).

red, white, blue and purple (plumbing, p.4)

A closer look at the rough plumbing. A normal house would have one set of big PVC pipes for waste, and two sets of smaller copper pipes for hot and cold water. What's different here? A few things...

plumbing in

We have passed the rough plumbing inspection this morning and will start backfilling with clean fill tomorrow. Next, HVAC and electrical will lay their under slab conduits and hopefully we will have a concrete slab next week.

Friday, April 15, 2011

purple (plumbing, p.2)

As we noted the other day, there are two sets of drain lines in the house. The regular waste lines leading to the septic system are white PVC. The drain lines leading from the bathtubs and showers to the graywater tank are PVC painted purple, which, apparently, is now the international color code for graywater.


The map function that Blogger offers to help us track the blog's readership just turned Miami into a big orange (dot), which indicates 1,000 page views from computers, iPads, cell phones and coconuts strung together in the Miami area.

Blogger also tells us that tin box has been accessed from IP addresses in Vietnam (hi, Eytan), Finland ('sup, Tony), Cape Verde (xox, Patti), Australia (Lucy and her whole family, it seems), Lebanon (Elie), Germany (Kirsten), Indonesia, Singapore, the UK, Iran, Nigeria, Chile, Russia, Italy, France, Spain (ciao, Ricardo!) and Canada. Let us know where you are, and what you'd like to discuss at tin box!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

mango season

Pictured: mangoes ripening on neighbor's tree, hanging right over where our rainwater cistern is going to sit. In the distance, the large avocado tree we're preserving, and which will act as a focus of the courtyard.

Not pictured: four hungry peeps. If the mango tree is always going to produce fruit around Passover, we may have to alter our traditional menu of affliction.

the other shoe falls

Ok, so remember back 24 hours ago when we came home to a pile of boxes we weren't expecting, and were glad that nothing bigger arrived...?

Well, something bigger arrived. Fortunately, it wasn't the 3,000 gallon cistern, which is slightly larger than our car. Today's arrival is a pre-assembled purification skid. It's got a pump and three filters - a string filter, an ultraviolet light and a charcoal filter. The rainwater will enter through the pump (lower right) and exit after passing through the carbon filter (to the left).


Our plumber has started laying the waste lines that will sit under the floor slab. The photo to the left shows the main waste line running across the house, from east to west, then passing under the wood formwork (at which point it will connect to the new septic system). Like all the waste and gray water lines in the house, this one has to slope downward so that gravity and water can do their thing. The PVC pipe will be surrounded with clean fill (sand without rocks in it) so that there aren't any sharp or hard objects that can pierce the pipe after the weight of the slab starts sitting on it.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

that was unexpected

We came home last night to a pile of large boxes in front of our door. The company supplying the filtration equipment that we'll use to make our rainwater potable was supposed to hold onto, rather than ship, said equipment. Now we've got some awesome plumbing sitting in our living room.

It's a good thing we haven't ordered the 3,000 gallon cistern, yet.

update: the other shoe falls.

Monday, April 11, 2011

successful failure

One of the recycled materials we wanted to use in tin box was shredded tire. Used tires are a nasty waste product, but in recent years Florida and a few other states approved the use of shredded tires as a replacement for gravel in places like septic drain fields. We wanted to do just that, but after a little research, we found that waste tires are getting snatched up for more lucrative uses: playground mulch and cement plant fuel. This, of course, is disturbing to us at one level - we won't get to use tires, dagnabit! - but deeply satisfying at another - recycling tires has become profitable, with several industries competing to purchase what was once a semi-toxic landfill material.

another benchmark

We'll know we've finally made it big time when tin box appears in Unhappy Hipsters.

Sunday, April 10, 2011


For forty-four years, the future has been defined by a word: plastics. Our buildings are full of plastic materials, and tin box makes use of three in particular: polyethylene, polypropylene and polyvinyl chloride. Two of these materials have serious environmental benefits. One is a known killer. All three have their plusses and minuses.

Friday, April 8, 2011


Kinko's was having a sale on banners this week.


Our contractor's concrete guys are setting up the formwork for the concrete slab (the floor for the whole house) and the reinforced edge beam around the perimeter of the house. They won't pour the slab until the week after next, but they needed to set up the formwork in order for the plumber, electrician and air conditioning contractor to lay their conduit and pipes under the slab next week.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


tin box has an official vineyard: tin roof cellars. Much thanks to Robert Gonzalez, author of a wonderful new work on Panamericanism, for the gracious gift!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

day job, continued

Academic life is filled with thought-provoking events. Tomorrow, I'll be one of three faculty discussants following a lecture by designer and author Samina Quraeshi at FIU. It is part of the university's Life of the Mind lecture series. If you're in the area, stop by for the lecture at 2.

What'll I talk about? I might mention something about the persistence of spatial and physical metaphors drawn from architecture (we "post" on "walls," we "open windows," we access the internet through "portals") in the otherwise inchoate world of digital communication. Or I could say something about globalization’s greatest benefit to us coming possibly from observing and listening to the “other” – not with a missionary’s sense of how to help the less prosperous, but rather to learn from their resilience and innovation in order to improve our own built environment. Since Ms. Quraeshi is going to mention the revolutions in Libya, Tunisia, Egypt and other countries, I might ask whether universal access to information is necessarily an unalloyed good, and ponder what we might risk by attributing the recent anti-government movements around the Mediterranean and Persian Gulf to the digital free speech of Twitter.

Saturday, April 2, 2011


Miami occupies a thin strip of land between two great aqueous reserves, the Everglades National Park and the Biscayne National Park, and its subtropical climate ensures us about five feet of rainfall annually. That's more than Seattle (though ours tends to fall in torrential, fifteen-minute afternoon bursts in the summer). And yet, we don't have enough water.