Thesis Travel

Next week I've scheduled time to go to Buffalo, NY and visit some grain elevators there and chat with designers from +FARM Studio who are working for three weeks on fabricating a pavilion along the Buffalo River funded by Rigidized Metals, a company invested in the grain elevators.   


Here are some things I've been producing from industrial building photographers Bernd and Hilla Becher's body of work on grain elevators:


Summer Work Update

This week I staffed MIT's Open House at the Stata Center for the Grand Junction.  MIT Office and Campus Planning is currently working on a Feasibility Study to see if the Grand Junction, the railroad on campus, can be converted to a mixed-use bicycle/pedestrian/train path that could safely connect Cambridge over the BU bridge to Allston and to the future Somerville Community Path.   

We had about 50 people show up to learn about the study and voice opinions.  Lots of people are invested in making this happen.  Meanwhile, there are a lot of logistics to work out--fitting in dimensions of paths at narrow points and negotiating the travel of hazardous chemical-carrying vehicles in that service alley.  

I'm looking forward to contributing to its progress this summer.

Learn more: 


On Friday I accepted an internship this summer in Cambridge working for MIT Office of Campus Planning in Technology Square.  I'm excited for the summer and to start working with this group!

Mastering Masonry

This past Tuesday, my studio was treated to a workshop at the Boston International Masonry Institute to learn more about brick laying.  This was a really great opportunity to work next to the experts and understanding the characteristics of bricks and mortar at 1:1 scale.  It's also always great to venture off campus and hear some real Boston accents.

Interestingly, one union mason defended bricks by saying bricks are so fundamentally sustainable because the Earth produces clay at a faster rate than we create bricks  and that bricks have such a long lifespan and can be repaired upon decay or destruction.

Just as in architecture, the mason life is thick with jargon or hyper-specified common words.  The vocabulary they generate is indicative of the many issues they are working with.  My favorite was when a mason offhandedly referenced an apparently common saying in the industry, "on the hang you gotta bang. If you're on the batter it don' matter."  This referred to checking yourself for being plumb and which way your wall leans and strategy for correcting this.  

Architects as a whole seem to have a problem of designing for a state of perfection with the presumed tolerance of zero.  In contrast, when one is building, everything is assumed to be imperfect-the skill comes from understanding what type of imperfections are tolerated, how to keep them from accumulating and how to make decisions of choosing one imperfection over the other.  There are ways to hide the imperfections and ways to capitalize on them.  For example, building with a stack bond will undoubtedly highlight the fact that each brick's length is different as a result of method of production.  Each brick can be as much as 1/4" different in length from each other making for irregular mortar joint widths.  Offsetting the mortar joint each course masks this reality.  But these imperfections can be highlighted as well.  Bricks can be fired to chemically take on new and somewhat uncontrollable hues which increases visual variation over the entire building. 

I think more interactions like this one, from school throughout a career, would improve relationships between architects and collaborators-especially those whose skills account for the realization of our paper thoughts.

The Brick Vault Completed

We just had our "Open Studio" on Thursday this week, which is a new thing at MIT this semester where we all get to check out what we are doing in different studios.  A problem in the school is that everyone is so busy doing their own work that we don't really get to witness the work happening around us.  Even during final reviews, everyone is scheduled at the same time and aren't able to see others present their projects.  So each studio takes a turn throughout the semester to have an open house and show off.

Our studio talked about our finished brick models.  In addition to putting in a bunch of hours (days) laying a bunch of bricks, my group also composed a paper documenting the research which we intend to submit to a Masonry Conference in the next year.

Click through the final photos and some of the documentation:

The Masonry Studio

Check out this brick vault I'm building!

In this semester's studio we are starting our masonry research by studying the brick work in the 1966 Church of St Peter in Klippan, Sweden by architect Sigurd Lewerentz.  We are modeling a possible construction method of a portion of the roof based on what we know from photos and drawings.  The vault is  a series of intersecting extrusions of one radius along a beam.  Because the vault is an extrusion and not a cone, one could use a reusable formwork with a constant radius to build each arch. We are modeling how a mason might place these bricks on a removable wooden rib of that radius that notches into two temporary beams supported from the ground. Lewerentz never cut any bricks for this, but does turn the brick on its end for the effect of a "half brick." The adjustments are made in the mortar joints.  There will be two layers of brick modeled here.  It took us about 20 minutes to lay each course of in approximately 26 hours of work it will be "finished."  Each bay will be an experiment of different building techniques, and will be in various stages of completeness to reveal the process.

It's amazing to me that such technology of construction method can be lost in history.  Older buildings that do not have documentation on the details of formwork and construction leave us guessing and interpreting clues as to their method.

It's exciting to be building! This is what ultimately attracted me to MIT. We learn by making here.  After all, our motto is Mens et Manus: Mind and Hand.


Bricks are at 1:4 scale, cast from Quikrete in rubber smooth-on molds.  For mortar we are using joint compound.  Base is constructed of milled MDF and plywood "I-beams." The blue foam is a stand in for a piece of acrylic to act as our cut plane.  This is a 3-person group effort with David Miranowski and Elizabeth Galvez.


Click through the gallery below:


The semester begins...

This semester I will be a Research Assistant to Professor Brent Ryan in DUSP (Department of Urban Studies and Planning) working on generating images for his upcoming publication.   More updates to come.

Back to Class

I flew back from Taos this weekend  to some rainy January weather.  I'm happy to be back on my bike riding around Cambridge.  This week I start a week long TA training class for Art Culture and Technology at MIT.  The spring semester starts February 3rd!