Our office and factory renovation for Real Thread apparel company in Orlando is nearing the finish line!
Images via Real Thread.
Chris Johns, managing partner of our Boston office, was invited to lead a workshop on Architectural Diagramming at the Northeast Quad Conference held at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design last month. We decided this would be a great opportunity to share how we use diagramming to form concepts in our rigorous design process.
What is a diagram? The word “diagram” (literally “marked out by lines” in Greek) refers to any simplified visual explanation of an idea or how something works. Diagrams take advantage of the differences between how our minds process language and how they process images. Diagrams are reductive by nature and we are able to understand complex spatial and nonspatial ideas when distilled into a simple and powerful visual statement.
In architecture today, the simple formal diagram is circulated in the media as an iconic representation of a building because it is easy to imagine and aids in branding projects. This is however distorting the public’s understanding of architectural conception. An effective diagram doesn’t equal timeless Architecture. Great Architecture is created by a nuanced and collaborative design process informed by analyzing and re-analyzing relationships, program, client, context, environment, etc. Diagramming is the primary tool we use to drive this process.
For us at CUBE it is less about creating a singular iconic diagram that clearly represents an idea but more about making diagrams to generate ideas. Diagramming allows us to experiment and take imaginative leaps.
Simple sketches, photographs and also physical models can be diagrams to represent ideas.
We are in the business of problem-solving and selling those concepts that achieve solutions. These concepts have to be thoughtful and respond to many factors and are formed through an iterative process of exploration. Diagramming is the stimulant and catalyst for generating those concepts that help us solve the toughest design challenges. Critical to concept formation, diagramming also provides clarity, guidance and communication of our design process.
1. CLARIFICATION. The information gathering stage on most projects produces a substantial amount of data. City & state codes, covenants, site parameters, and understanding local culture, climate and context. Good diagrams clarify the hierarchy found in ordering this chaotic information. When analyzed with intention, the layering of various sets of information through diagramming can inform the formation of concepts. Even documenting existing information or experiences in an analytical way can also inform the design process as seen here in a variety of diagrams documenting our research for the Hayden Building.
2. GUIDANCE: As the process of design becomes more comprehensive, the amount of information can become overwhelming. The initial concept diagrams are always a good reference point of the most important aspects of the project that should be the focus for decision making. CUBE and the folks at Real Thread kept coming back to the concept diagram that represents the goal of improving interaction between the office and production personnel to guide our decisions.
3. COMMUNICATION: The process of design is intricate and multifaceted. Along the way, architects have to make a lot of decisions some of which are in their own heads. These decisions are for the benefit of the project, but the path of design still needs to be described and communicated to the client. We think of diagramming as a way to communicate the design thinking behind developing concepts and executing those ideas.
The organization of the main living level in this lakefront home was developed with the client to first connect to the lake; second, use the kitchen and flanking staircase as the activity hub; and lastly, extend the rear portion of the house to the more private wooded portion of the site.
We created a sense of openness and connection to nature while maintaining privacy for this small addition in a dense suburban neighborhood by thinking of the intervention as a viewfinder in a camera represented here.
With the rehabilitation and adaptive reuse of H. H. Richardson’s Hayden Building now complete, we would like to share more of what we learned through our research and how we exhibited the building’s storied past.
We set out with the premise that not only were we rehabilitating this historically significant structure but we were also preserving the ideas and time periods that shaped it. We began the project with extensive research on the evolution of the neighborhood over the last 140 years and even traced the building’s commercial occupants as seen here.
The character of a place is established by the people that inhabit it regardless of the building, which for the Hayden Building shifted radically. Because the neighborhood centered on the production of textiles during the end of the 19th century, its occupants were mostly clothing and hat shops. After a mixture of businesses during the 20th century, the Hayden Building became a focal point of adult entertainment in the 1960’s as the neighborhood turned into the Combat Zone, Boston’s red-light district. On the edge of Chinatown and the Theater district, this Nationally Registered Historic Landmark was gutted by fire in 1985 and remained vacant until its reuse today.
We endeavored to create a symbiotic relationship between new and old, telling the visual story of past and present at the same time. Contrasting old worn elements with layers of new refined elements heightens the awareness of both. It is in these relationships that emerges the richness of place and understanding of time. HBI afforded us the opportunity to visually tell this social history of the Hayden Building within its common spaces combining traces of history with modern living.
Entry / Lobby
The Hayden Building defines the beginning of Richardson’s exploration of how Read More…
We are often asked about our name. No, we don’t design cubes, but the cube is a basic unit of spatial measurement. Back in St. Petersburg Junior College our first design exercise was to draw 10 perfect cubes in perspective – freehand. Don’t even try to use a straight-edge to draw them; Professor Bergsma would call you right out. We did a lot in class that first semester, but every night we had to draw those damn cubes for months until they were perfect. Then we began carving them up to develop space. It was a form of architectural bootcamp. We learned how to draw with precision, we learned how to control proportion, we learned how to see. We are forever grateful to those two first professors, Don Bergsma and Robert Hudson, who taught us not only how to see, but instilled a drive to reach far beyond what our young minds had imagined. The name CUBE is a nod to our roots.
The above photo is reflective of our very different personalities and illustrates how we work together to create meaningful architecture. Now in our mid-30’s, we are fortunate to have known each other since the age of 18 as friends, roommates, work colleagues, and business partners. It’s this lineage that helps our partnership to operate as one.
We work collectively on each project. While we have similar backgrounds, our minds process information in often-opposite ways. It allows us to consider things we otherwise would not have seen. This diversity of thought is what keeps us fresh; without it we’d grow complacent and repetitive.
Outside our office we are normally very organized, but inside our office, design is a passionate and nonlinear process: we argue, we contradict, we reason, we take sides, and eventually we reach a consensus that aligns with a concept. When an idea comes to the table it goes through what we call the machine: it’s studied from all angles, transformed, built upon, and reemerges with new understanding. Each of our projects is grounded by a concept that drives the entire process. Without this goal we’d simply be decorating. The concept gives meaning and purpose to the design and helps inform all project decisions from budget to detail.
Our larger goal is to make environments that move the human spirit, and to have fun while doing it. This is why we became architects. We are curious people who want to have an impact on our world. We believe in the power of design to enrich life, and it is our collaborative approach that allows us to realize the full potential of each project.
For the Hayden project we studied the building’s functional evolution and overlaid the significant regional and architectural history. Our initial strategy was to gain a comprehensive understanding of the building and its architect so that we could reinterpret the project in a contemporary manner while sustaining its original qualities.
We helped our friends at Aspinwall Partners prepare a logo for the MIT Center for Real Estate Competition. Fairly self-explanatory, but for the sake of being post-worthy, the pixels stack to build the word ‘case’ alluding to the hand of the developer.
We’re developing a few branding sketches for a brew pub concept. Using beer as a social medium, the logos depict a ‘communal’ and celebratory theme.
As a part of of our ‘Rethinking Preservation’ project for Neutra’s Cyclorama in Gettysburg, we designed a graphic for our ‘Network’ scheme. The graphic has been used nationally by various organizations as rallying tool to gain supporters for the preservation of modern buildings.
Sometimes you create cool stuff that goes nowhere. It’s easy to get attached to a design, but it’s important to be able to let go of an idea in order to achieve the best solution. Below, you’ll see some ideas that we had for our RGB Branding project. Some successful and others not so much.