Sunday, November 27, 2011


One of the truly elegant things about the National Gallery is the way I. M. Pei uses movement through the building. The structure makes reference to the city plan of Washington in several ways, beginning with a series of diagonal rifts that split the solid block of the building into triangular prisms, echoing the Baroque geometry of the streets outside. Inside, the theme of diagonal circulation reappears in the cascading stairs and escalators of the main atrium. Diagonal movement gets translated into the vertical dimension. It produces a beautiful space which offers just the right amount of room for the small number of extraordinary works on display.

The National Gallery is a good example of how poetic circulation can be. Besides referring to the city's streets - the horizontal circulation of the metropolis - the stairs and escalators generate shifting views of the art displayed, allowing multiple perspectives onto each work
Here's what the stairs and escalator look like in motion, as recorded on an iPhone.

Friday, November 25, 2011


Walking to the National Mall in Washington today, I remembered how hard it is to pass by the East Wing of the National Gallery without stopping in. It's like visiting an old friend. And while pausing to say hello to the sculpture by Richard Serra and the painting by Robert Motherwell, we were struck by that other famous quality of the building - the way it invites the visitor's touch.

I. M. Pei's building has always compelled people to touch it, and I'm not sure why. It makes sense in the parts where the whole building comes to a sharp point - you just want to touch that prow, or whatever it is - but throughout the building there are stains on the walls right at the height of a visitor's hand, where countless museum-goers have left a little oily trace of their visit. It's the remarkable gift of this richly complex building that it engages people in such a warmly physical way.

You've got to love a building that makes you want to touch it:

Monday, November 21, 2011


We've designed the house to avoid using softwood lumber as much as possible. This is the kind of wood that's typically used for framing (as 2x4s and 2x6s) or furring (the thin pieces of wood used to attach gypsum drywall to concrete block walls) in conventional construction. The two major problems with using softwood lumber in Miami are termites and mold.

However, it turns out we need to use a few 2x4s in the house...

Sunday, November 20, 2011


Our mechanical contractor began installing ductwork this week. The segment in the living and dining rooms (pictured here) is the most prominent piece in the house, and it was the first to go up. It will remain exposed, along with the structure and the electrical conduit.

The ductwork has a layer of insulation between two walls of metal to keep the air as cool or hot as possible between the air handler and the register. This kind of ductwork is more expensive, but the insulation makes the system more energy efficient and prevents condensation building up on the ductwork, and the metal lining inside helps keep the air free of dust and mold.

The ductwork also responds beautifully to the changing light conditions inside the house:

Saturday, November 19, 2011

roof panels

Our steel erector began putting the insulated roof panels up this week. Together with the insulated wall panels and the metal trim, this comprises the final layer in the prefabricated shell of the house. The panels themselves are pretty impressive:

Friday, November 18, 2011

tagged, again

At some point in the last 24 hours, we got some new graffiti at tin box. Somebody made a spray paint stencil and tried it out on our construction fence (left, and after the break), and on the electric pole next to our house. Cool tag. The art is definitely improving around the house.

Day job, lectures and exhibition edition

Last night, my friend Aziza Chaouni spoke at FIU about the work her firm, Bureau E.A.S.T., has done in Morocco. She also gave our students a preview of the exhibition that will open this evening, Salon de B.E.A.S.T., as part of the Humanities Afternoon organized by FIU's African and African Diaspora Studies program.

satellites and camera cars

Cartography might once have been understood as the documentation of an unchanging earth, whose coasts and continents needed only to be discovered and charted a single time. Now, cartography seems more like an act of constant surveillance of a world in a constant and unending act of transformation. The Google street view photos of the neighborhood around tin box have been updated to show the site as it was back in April, when rough plumbing was going in under the slab. The satellite view is unchanged since July, when Google showed the site as had been since excavation in March:

Sunday, November 13, 2011

site visit with Kaelsie

We met on site with Kaelsie Saravia, our cabinet maker, yesterday. We came out to finalize the layout of the cabinets in the kitchen and to verify the dimensions of the walls, since the walls have moved a little in response to where the plumbing ended up. Kaelsie is also an architect - you can tell by the way she and Holly are talking with their hands in the photo - which gives her a keener understanding of the details, proportions, finishes and alignments we're trying to achieve.

After the break, a video panorama of the house, so far:

Friday, November 11, 2011

thinking of Nigel Tufnel

Well, if you're going to crank your amps to 11, you're going to need some electricity. Our electrician, Celestino, has started roughing in the flexible blue conduit (Electrical Nonmetallic Tubing, or ENT) that will carry the power and control lines through the interior partitions. We've been reviewing the locations of the outlets and tweaking the electrical plan to make sure our outlets are located where they're most needed - near dressers or tables, for example - while also meeting the code requirements that there always be an outlet within six feet of a door, and then spaced no more than twelve feet apart after that.

Thursday, November 10, 2011


An exciting moment at the site today. The subcontractor responsible for putting up the roof and wall panels took down the construction fence to give their forklift better access around the house. For the first time, we got to see the park from the house, without the green vinyl fencing in the way. It was spectacular.

Since we started planning the house, we've been anticipating that the living and dining room windows would frame a view of the park, with the street edited out by the low wall beneath the window sills. Today, we got to see this relationship for the first time. We also got to see the house from the park...


One of the reasons we chose South Miami - and this particular corner of South Miami - to build our home was the sense of community in the area. We liked the neighbors we'd already met, and we felt that the house could contribute - even if just in a small way - to strengthening the neighborhood's sense of community.

At the same time, we know the house is not going to earn universal acclaim. One woman who drove by the other day seemed particularly disturbed to find out this was a house. She assumed it was some kind of support structure for the park across the street.

But then there's the teenagers who rode their bikes by yesterday. One yelled to the others, "that's a [expletive deleted] cool house!"

We agree.

[pictured: our new steel erector completing the frame on Tuesday.]

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

partitions, p.2

In the week since we wrote about laying out the interior partitions, Pedro and his crew have completed most of the framing. The light gauge studs and track, which were supplied as part of the prefabricated system (along with the heavy steel frame and the insulated exterior panels), go up pretty quickly. The studs are easy to cut, carry and fasten, and they have holes in them to allow plumbing and electrical lines to be laid easily. The metal studs also have the environmental advantage of being made largely from recycled steel.

day job, Casablanca edition

I spent last week at the 5th African Perspectives Conference in Casablanca. The conference organizers included ArchiAfrika, whose 2007 conference in Kumasi, Ghana, gave me my first opportunity to discuss Italian colonial architecture and urbanism in a public forum. This conference focused on the issues confronting African mega-cities, which isn't yet a part of my research. However, I was able to present a poster outlining my ongoing work in the Horn of Africa (and which I've expanded into a forthcoming article), and I was honored to be invited to participate in a roundtable discussion on education (my presentation is linked here).