Friday, July 29, 2011

light and color

Most days in Miami end with a spectacular sunset. The combination of landscape, atmosphere, climate and sunlight makes for stunning evening skies. Crepuscule redeems even the strip mall streetscape of South Florida.

One point that came up in response to one of my students' questions during our last site visit was how the house responds to the changing light conditions. The interior finishes (white walls, gray steel structure and light gray floors) are intended to reflect the ambient light throughout the day. The large expanses of glass, especially around the living and dining room, the kitchen and the family room, are designed to fill the house with indirect light. The inside walls of the mechanical lofts should catch direct sunlight during sunrise and sunset after the spring equinox and before the autumnal equinox.

We first appreciated the ability of architecture to respond to atmosphere and light in Agra, back in 1991, when we ended up at the Taj Mahal at sunrise:

Sunday, July 24, 2011


An old photo from the archives for a lazy Sunday: stalking wildlife in the subtropical foliage at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, one of Miami's real treasures.

Saturday, July 23, 2011


Not much to report over the weekend, just miscellaneous photos of bolted connections from the first week of steel erection.

Friday, July 22, 2011

what you don’t see

Notice the conspicuous absence of a dumpster.

One big advantage to prefabrication is that it significantly reduces construction waste. The primary structure is nearly complete, and so far the crew has only had to dispose of a few tiny pieces of scrap steel. The foundation and slab were poured with a minimum of waste (most of the wood forms were taken away to be reused) and the utilities were roughed in with only a couple of cardboard boxes worth of scrap pipe needing to be carted away.

about that tree

Daniel Macias stopped by the site today to supervise the trimming of our sapadillo (or sapote) tree. Danny owns The Billy Goat, and has been maintaining the grass around our site during construction (they also maintained the yard around the previous house on the site before we started construction). They’re helping us preserve as much of the sapadillo as possible. This tree, along with the big avocado in the back yard, were part of the plan of tin box from the beginning. The sapadillo works with the cantilevered roof to frame the patio space facing the park across the street, and also helps hide the big electric pole just outside our living room. It’s a beautiful tree, and, if we’re lucky, it might start producing fruit.

site visits

One thing we like about the LEED process is its emphasis on education. The USGBC knows as well as anyone that sustainable building practices need to be widely known in order to be widely used. Clients, designers and builders need to know about alternatives in order for us to change decades of habits, customs and traditions. And thus was born this blog.

But we also see tin box as an opportunity to exceed LEED’s education requirements.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

field modifications

Some of the steel members need modification. A few have been sent back to the fabricator, but others can be adjusted in situ with welding, cutting or drilling. These are common practices on other job sites, but we've mostly eliminated them - especially the field welding - by having the structure fabricated off site. The adjustments seem relatively easy for the steel workers. You can see some arresting video of welding on our YouTube channel.

going diagonal

The steel erection is in its fourth day, and it is going quickly. With most of the primary framing in place, we’re getting a good sense of the scale and proportions of the house. We’re also getting a sense of how the house reacts to the changing light conditions throughout the day, as well as how the different space relate to the landscape.

subtropical climate

Summer is the wet season in south Florida. Every day around 3pm, we get a storm - one of those build-an-ark-and-gather-animals storms - that lasts about 30 minutes and dumps an amazing amount of rain on us. Often, the rain is accompanied by Jove-is-displeased-and-will-smite-us-all levels of thunder and lightning. And then it's gone. Just bright sunshine bouncing off the pools of water slowly seeping into the soil and limestone. Consider this photo a "before" image.

Why, then, did I decide to schedule a field visit with FIU students at 3 this afternoon?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

going horizontal

The erection crew from Litecrete has started installing the horizontal members, including both beams and wind girts. The beams are pretty big – some are over 30 feet long. So far, they’ve fit into place pretty precisely, and they appear to be pretty plumb, level and square. This means that the coordination between two engineers (the foundation and the steel structure) and three subcontractors (the foundation, the steel fabricator and the steel erector) is working. So far.

They have installed a lot of steel since they started putting up the columns on Monday.

Monday, July 18, 2011

a more sustainable alternative to electric-powered paper shredding

We've stopped burning fossil fuels to generate electricity to run the machine that shreds our important documents. Introducing Marco and Polo, the official gerbils of tin box.

going vertical

An exciting topic for our 100th blog entry: the first columns went up today. Seventeen of the 23 columns are in place, and much of the primary frame should follow this week. Check out the video of the site on our YouTube channel.

The steel erector (Litecrete) used their crane to lift the columns into place (check out the video). Each column was drilled to fit over the anchor bolts by a fabricator (Mo Steel) who also welded various tabs and plate to the columns according to drawings by our prefabricators (EcoSteel). Over the next few days, the erectors hope to bolt together the rest of the primary structure. If we're lucky, they'll also set up enough of the secondary structure so that our window supplier can measure the rough window and door openings and verify the sizes of the fenestration before they order them from the factory. Cross your fingers.

Friday, July 15, 2011

steel on site

Structural steel started arriving on site today. The local steel fabricator, who has drilled and welded the steel members according to our prefabricator's digital fabrication drawings, delivered about a third of the steel this morning (the rest should follow on Monday). Our steel erector offloaded the steel columns with a huge crane. Ecosteel's Sam Cubis flew in from Utah to check on the delivery.

The large pieces of steel are sitting on wood sleepers to keep them off the ground. The smaller pieces are locked away in a storage container. On Monday, we're hoping the erector will start setting the columns in place, at which point we'll find out if the anchor bolts are where they ought to be.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

steel on the way

The structural steel starts arriving tomorrow, and erection should begin early next week.

In the meantime, check out the solar decathlon project at FIU. It's got a steel frame and a roof full of solar panels... it's just gorgeous.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

bouncing off the satellites

It's not quite the Great Wall of China, but you can see tin box from outer space. Or at least you can with Google Maps. The latest updated satellite image shows the excavated pits for the foundation, before we filled them full of concrete. Interestingly, the street view still shows the now-demolished existing house.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

rethinking information infrastructure

Inspired by a conversation with Malik Benjamin at last night's South Miami Taste of the Town, a quick note about information technology in Riga, the capital of Latvia. Like Tallinn (both former Hanseatic League cities and capitals of Soviet Republics) Riga is deeply invested in information technology. Both Estonia and Latvia have cultivated the cosmopolitan quality of being connected to a broader world through travel and trade, and the internet is a big part of that transformation.

Saturday, July 9, 2011


Today we welcomed a new business to our neighborhood, Miami Recycle Bike Shop. Andres Barreda held an opening at his new shop located at 5885 Commerce Lane, which is about 4 blocks from our house in the light industrial area of South Miami. Andres builds and rebuilds bikes out of old frames and parts. Some of them are rare classics, including a double jointed bike style we'd never seen before called a swing bike. The others are just general used bike parts that he can reconstitute into tailor fit designs according to the desires of his customers.

Andres loves all kinds of bikes and wants to share and foster that love in other people. He fixed a flat for free for a neighborhood kid and found used pedals for someone else. In our brief meeting (it was a party after all), he talked about the bike culture in Colorado with the coop bike shops he had seen there. He also mentioned his trip to Amsterdam which according to a quick Google searched statistic claims that there are 600,000 bikes for a population of 750,000.

Andres has also found that he can draw on the talents and resources from the neighborhood. He is in the process of working something out with the auto body shop across the street so that he can use their paint spray booth. He also buys his leather seats for some of his bikes from another local guy. The ostrich ones were sweet!

Welcome, Miami Recycle Bike Shop, we are so glad to have you!

Friday, July 8, 2011

wind turbines

We'll post at greater length about the awesomeness of Danish wind turbines, about how they generate between a fifth and a quarter of the nation's electricity, about how Denmark became the world leader in wind turbine manufacturing, about how the island of Samsø used wind and biomass to become carbon negative for an investment of around 10,000 euros per resident... but for now, we just want to revel in how pretty they look since, unlike photovoltaics (the pandas of the sustainability world), they move:


Check out our other videos on the new tin box channel at YouTube.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

the most sincere form of flattery

Some multinational conglomerate based in the United Arab Emirates was so taken with our artfully composed photograph of steel rebar that they've used it in their web site. The best part is that the text that accompanies this little unauthorized cut-and-paste job includes the phrase "[w]e adhere to international standards of operation..."

Except, of course, for copyright infringement.

You can see the original photo here.

choking on growth

Chinese cargo ships are everywhere. In Miami, we're used to seeing large container ships coming into port loaded with finished goods headed for American warehouses and big box stores. But in the Baltic, we saw a lot of bulk cargo ships carrying coal, scrap steel and other raw materials. This ship in Riga seemed to be taking on the mountains of Estonian coal piled on the docks (though we're not sure what the rail cars with the Russian writing were doing there). At the same time, we saw Chinese ships offloading coal at the Polish port of Gdynia. That's a whole lot of fossil fuels moving around there. Are we sure there isn't a healthier way to power our iPods?

Two articles in today's New York Times relate to this cycle of unsustainable energy generation.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

the Baltic

Friend of tin box and pithy blogger Ricardo Padron asks, why the Baltic?

We spent ten days on a cruise thanks to the generosity of the FIU Alumni Association, who invited me along as an "enrichment lecturer" to give a series of talks on the urbanism and architecture of some of the ports of call we'd visit. It was a great opportunity to think in greater depth about a lot of the things that fascinate us - design, cultural exchange, trade, travel - and to explore places we only knew through books and Wikipedia.

The fascinating thing about cruises is the way they bring into sharp relief the importance of maritime commerce and transportation before the invention of the railroad.


Just confirmed that we'll receive the primary structural steel for the house (columns, beams and girders) on July 15, our anniversary. The secondary steel for the house (girts and purlins) will arrive the following week.

At left, a picture of big piles of scrap steel in the Polish port of Gdynia, where we docked about a week ago. Most of the structural steel in our house is recycled from scrap like this.

Here's what the cranes look like in action:

Saturday, July 2, 2011


It's been a quiet couple of weeks at tin box, but busy ones. While we wait for our structural steel to arrive in mid-July, we've been on a "research" trip in the Baltic. In the coming weeks, we'll write a little about design in Helsinki, public works in St. Petersburg, biking in Tallinn, architecture tourism in Riga, vegetarian food in Gdansk, and wind power in Copenhagen, where our temporary office overlooks (yes, overlooks) a big Vestas wind turbine.

But for now, enjoy a happy Fourth of July!