Sunday, May 31, 2009

Rural Studio_Alabama

April 10th-13th, 2009 [Rural Studio - Newbern, Alabama]

There is a saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words…”. With that thought in mind I set out to write a small novel through the helpful use of visual imagery. Some would call my lack of letters and spaces laziness, others sloth, but I am choosing to view it as prudent time management. The longer I wait, the more I forget about those days that pass, and fearful I might lose yet another sketchbook, I felt it wise to post on some of my past exploits before the second coming. Thank you again to all of the unforgettable people at Rural Studio who made our trip there such an adventure. Special thanks go to Miss Anne and Whitelaw for letting us camp in their yard, Gayle for getting us settled and feeling like home, and Jon for giving such a great tour on his precious day off. Without further ado, I give you… Rural Studio, Alabama style. Any and all questions should be sent directly to Matthew Fornaro at

The "Rural Studio HQ" - Morrisette House

Our campsite in the backyard of Miss Anne and Whitelaw

Cows watching our progress.

The Rural Studio Studio, aka "The Red Barn"

A lecture by Carme Pinos and budweiser in a can. Good combo.

The bathrooms and stairs to Sam Mockbee's old house.
Sock Hop Dance. Don't listen to anything people at Rural Studio tell you, they don't work.
See, what did I tell you?
Okay they do work. Really hard. Notice top left.
Construction rear shot. Courtesy of Matthew J. Fornaro.
Construction rear shot. Courtesy of Taylor G. Medlin.
I'm either helping frame this wall or lost, who knows at this point.
How Rural Studio does on-site presentations. I love the bench.
Carme understandably worn out after a few days of site visits.
Subrosa - memento to Mockbee.
Newbern Little League Baseball Field
Series of bathrooms at Perry Lakes Park. "Tall Toilet"
View upwards
"Mound Toilet"
"Long Toilet"
View from the can.
Perry Lakes Bridge
Perry Lakes Tower
Mason's Bend : Hay Bale House
Mason's Bend : Smokehouse
Mason's Bend : Glass Chapel
Jon showing us around Akron's Boys and Girls Club. Stellar guy.
Akron Boys and Girls Club [1st] being refurbished after vandalism.
Matt cooking our farewell dinner
Thoughts on Traveling #16 : Have you ever noticed how the name "Sinbad" is just a combination of two words that mean evil? Right? Isn't that crazy?

I'm sorry, I think I've had too much caffeine.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Fay Day

April 7th, 2009 [Gentry_AR_USA]
We wished Brad a fond farewell and started down the road to Gentry, Arkansas, home of Fay Jones' Thorncrown Chapel. Gentry is an incredibly small town and the chapel is constructed in the middle of the woods, though when it was built originally in 1980 it was even more isolated than it is today. As mentioned before, the town is incredibly small, the population was estimated around 2200 souls in the 2000 census. Matt and I pulled our car into the incredibly friendly information center in what I would assume is downtown and got the helpful advice to also visit the fire watching tower out in the parking lot. It would have been a good idea if the entry to the tower wasn't a fickle money stealing machine with bad intentions. Since it had taken our last quarter I had to hop the back of the fence and hope we weren't chased out of town for trespassing. About halfway up Matt mentioned he wasn't entirely over his fear of heights and as soon as we reached the top I realized I had now established a healthy fear of falling to my death as well. We only saw a few parts of the heavily wooded country on fire, and figuring that someone else would tell the Gentrians we climbed down and proceeded over to the Thorncrown.

Fay Jones designed the structure of Thorncrown in a way that two able bodied men could carry any necessary pieces into the forest. Therefore the building materials are composed of just pressure treated 2x4's, 2x6's, and 2x12's and able to be brought in without disturbing the pristine site. The philosophy of the construction had a direct impact on the design and was most likely the predominant reason that the chapel is able to achieve such a light and airy countenance. Since all of the structural members were small to begin with, strength was gained by building up wooden pieces in order to form larger beams and columns, though the largest used were still relatively minute. I've since left my sketchbook with notes on an airplane [curse you Taca Airlines!], but if I memory serves the main columns are only at the front and back of the chapel, with all of the infill columns being constructed of a sandwich system of 2x6's and 2x4's, also incorporating all of the minimal lighting and electrical elements into the cavity created by building up the wooden members. The sandwich system also allowed the spanning beams that held up the ceiling to join the columns on the inside, thereby creating a stronger structural system even though the vast majority was only wood with extremely long spans [The only steel used is in the diamond shaped connection pieces holding together the wooden beams].

After some sweet talking and petty bribery we were able to get the nice lady taking tickets to go to the front of the chapel and sing a few hymns. I can say without blushing that Clarice [I can't remember her real name, but Clarice is a beautiful name and should serve the purpose] was one of the finest singers I have ever heard, and shutting your eyes in that magical place to hear her sweet notes was something that will stay with me forever. Acoustically it is incredibly well defined, and the sound reverberates so much that you feel guilty shuffling in your seat if others are present. I was also surprised by the minimal way that the Christian religion was treated in the interior and exterior. The only noticeable cross to speak of is outside of the chapel at the far end, nestled in between a few moss covered boulders, and is very small and modest when compared to the size of the rest of the church. The real religion for me present was its connection with the surrounding forest, not being able to easily separate sacred space and nature. To the left of the church the hillside fled away to find a lower position while the right side continued to climb upwards, creating another wall of wood and underbrush when looking in that direction. I've heard since that the chapel is the highest sought after place to married, needing booking a year or more in advance, and its easy to see why.

April 7th-9th, 2009 [Austin_TX_USA]

One of our close friends, Jeff Watson, from back in the 205 Ashe Ave. days lives in Austin, so we were legally compelled to visit him on the way to our next stops. Jeff is attending UT right now for architecture and has picked up scrap-booking as a hobby. While we were in town an eerily creepy exhibition by the artist Arthur Ganson was going on in one of UT's buildings. Ganson is known for creating machines that intricately move, with countless gears, pistons, wires, and anything else he can get his hands on. They were incredibly complex and even staring at many of them for several minutes I still couldn't figure out how they were moving. Above are some shots from the exhibit for your viewing pleasure, as well as my personal favorite, a wishbone pulling a giant metal wheel.

Before leaving we took a few canoes out on the Colorado river with Jeff's girlfriend Sarah for a relaxing float and semi-competitive racing between boats. The trip was delightfully uneventful with no turn overs and Jeff only tried to scuttle us 2 or 3 times. Our visit was at an end however, so we jumped in Lucille and headed away to the next part of our journey, Pinecote Pavilion! [another Fay Jones project]

April 10th, 2009 [Picayune_MS_USA]

On our way to Rural Studio in Alabama we wanted to swing by and see another Fay Jones project in Mississippi near a town called Picayune. The project in question is the Pinecote Pavilion, an outside non-religious pavilion set in the middle of a deep marshland. To get to the pavilion you walk along a series of wooded trails for about 15 minutes before finally coming into a small clearing approaching the wooden structure. I have to say though, surprised as I was, I fell I was even more mesmerized by Pinecote than Thorncrown. Even though the building is not devoted to a religious purpose, you still get a feeling that it is a sacred space, talking in hushed tones and shuffling around instead of striding. Maybe its the lack of glass, I'm not sure, but it feels even more light and delicate, even though the roof is gigantic and comes down to the scale of a person in the eaves. There are many similar details and materials as Thorncrown, again using a combination of 2x's for most all of the structure.

Everything is based on a modular grid, and even the flooring material of brick and wood edging is used to panelize and further break down the space into smaller parcels. The scale of the human body is never made to feel overpowered, even though the structure itself is great in height and length. By bringing down the roof to almost eye level also serves to screen those inside and never make them feel small by comparison. The lattice work of joists, beams, and bracing members forms an intricate wooden spider web of structure, connecting pieces together with sometimes 6 or 7 joining together at one location. Another way the pavilion creates a sense of immateriality is by dissolving the edges of the roof at every chance. The center of the roof is split open by a skylight, only allowing the joists to connect for support. At the sides and ends, the many layered rood under structure begins to break up. First holding back wooden shingles, then sublayer, and finally only carrying out 1x3's further, creating a mix of shadows and opacity when looking on.

Matt and I couldn't stay long as we had to get back on the road to Alabama, but our next stop was Rural Studio, so we jumped in and hit the pavement.

Thoughts on Traveling #15 : Never store apple sauce in your bookbag, its sure to end in heartbreak and sticky fingers.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Homeward Bound [minus the cute talking animals]

April 2nd, 2009: [Raleigh,_NC_USA]
My time in Cappadocia had come to a close and I headed back to Istanbul, Turkey from Goreme by another cramped overnight bus. After one more night in a hostel I jumped the big flight home to Raleigh, North Carolina to see my family for a few all too short days. Being in one place for more than two nights and not having to fight a crowd of people for the shower was a welcome exchange from the frantic pace I'd been keeping up to date. Two Months+, 7 countries, and now back in the States until after Berkeley's Thesis Reviews on May 2nd and 3rd. While back in Raleigh my mom, dad, and myself went by my undergrad college of North Carolina State University to view their celebration of the 60th anniversary of the College of Design. Wandering the halls I ran into a few familiar faces, though I still felt like I was trespassing slightly for some reason. The normal response I get when seeing someone back home is usually "What the #@%$ are you doing here?", followed by "No, seriously, why the #@%$ are you here?". It was great to catch up but most of my time in NC was spent decompressing and buying jeans that didn't look like they had been cut from a burn victim. The next part of the journey was a two week US Road Trip tour de force with my veteran road tripper buddy Matt Fornaro. Matt and I did a three week road trip back in 2007 from the East coast to the West to move me out to California, and we were looking for a repeat with an architectural emphasis this time. We had upgraded from a cramped, smoking '88 Honda Accord to my sister's spiffy '95 Honda Accord, codenamed "Lucille". We packed a cooler half full with string cheese and beer and we were off headed east on a great black stretch of tar.

April 3rd, 2009: [Nashville_TN_USA]
Our plan was to head west all the way to Fayetville, Arkansas, and then cut down to Houston/Austin and back around through Louisiana and Alabama on the way home. Driving along, we saw the same series of tanks on trailers over the course of many days, and couldn't decide who was following whom. I tried to get them to deliver the tanks to P.O. Box Nick Sowers - Berkeley California, but I don't think they could understand me through the wind in between our cars. About an hour outside of Nashville I remembered my good friends Chase Holfelder & Co. were bunkered down recording for a new CD, so we gave them a call and lucked out by getting to come by the studio to see the magic in person. I can now happily say that I am a country fan, or at least one of theirs. I really hope they used the tracks I laid down, it was probably some of my better kazoo playing in the last 8 years or so.

April 4th-6th, 2009: [Fayetville_AR_USA]
Next stop: Fayetville, Arkansas to see the work of Marlon Blackwell and make sure our friend Brad Payne hadn't gotten arrested too many times. I am happy to say he is not even on parole and doing some phenomenal work at Marlon Blackwell Architects. Brad graciously showed us around the office and introduced us to the small, yet lively town of Fayetville and their extensive whiskey selection.

"Tower House"
The next night we grabbed some questionable Chinese food and headed up to the "Tower House", an amazing project in the middle of a dense forest overlooking the whole of downtown. The height of the tower was determined by the record height of the surrounding trees and is used as a vacation home for a family. The program is luckily very sparse and is comprised of an open living/eating area, a bathroom, and a sleeping deck. Since its used during the summer months mostly, the family sleeps on the upper deck where they are shielded from the wind but can still experience views across the entire forest. Structurally, the tower is one big gigantic steel truss, and I can say without hesitation that it can withstand some extremely high winds. While we were there the trees close by were leaning over at almost a 45 degree angle, presumably to get a closer look at the forest floor and pick out a place to lie down. The entry is through a raised steel portal and the ground inside of the tower is covered in pecan shells to give a satisfying audible crunch when you walk on them [Brad correct me if I screwed this part up]. The walk up is an open metal staircase that is screened by raw-cut wooden members used to shield you from the harshest of the elements and calls to mind the bark of a large oak tree, emphasizing the vertical nature of the project and relating it back to its surroundings. Almost all of the windows in the open living area are operable, allowing for cross ventilation if necessary, while still using a standard size, just repeating them the whole way around.

"Blessings Clubhouse"
Another stop on the list was the Blessings Golf Course, that Jon from the office was nice enough to take us by and show us around. One of the pieces of the project that struck me the most was the finishing of the interior of the spa/bathroom in the men's locker room. I can only hope that the women's was as nice, but understandably we didn't go poking our camera lenses in there. From floor to ceiling it is covered in different shades of long green hued tile that emphasizes movement to a large sky lit soaking tub at the end. Using only one material, but with different grades of color united the whole area while also making it extremely easy to maintain. Your eye therefore was free to concentrate on the actual volume of space and the light beaming in, warming up the ceramic tiles. Even the mechanical vents were recessed into the ceiling in a way to blend in with the over-riding mentality of the one material.

"Blackwell House"
One of our last stops with Brad was the house of Marlon Blackwell, completed in 2006. Its located in a relatively dense suburban area, and as such has to carefully screen views to the surrounding houses. The house is comprised of two long boxes stacked on top of each other. One spans across the restored stream on the site, while the other sits on top, cantilevering off of the front and hovering over the backyard to provide shade and protection for an outdoor sitting area. The whole house is wrapped in a delicate rain screen that compartmentalizes the exterior wall to protect the rubber coating from both sun and rain. Rain sits on the horizontal surface of the wood instead of the wall and theoretically allows for replacement of individual wooden slats instead of entire sections of siding. Marlon was nice enough to give us some sage advice about other places to visit on the next leg of our trip and we set off to see some Fay Jones on our way to Texas.

Thoughts on Traveling #14 : WARNING: over-caffination while close to funny hats can lead to ridiculous pictures being posted online.