Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Alternative Building Method: Cob Construction

By Michelle Harris

Gasoline is a limited energy resource. Further consideration of alternative building means is necessary in a industry, specifically construction, fueled by gasoline. Relying on gasoline as an energy source is also part of a vicious cycle that pollutes water. If you are interested in learning more about the issue of fracking for gasoline, Gasland by Josh Fox is an informative documentary. There are many alternative building options to consider. Cob is one of them.

Cob is an ancient building method. It is a natural construction material made from sand, clay, water, and straw. There are often other materials available to add to the cob mixture such as animal dung or fur. The placidity of the material allows sculptural possibilities. Another great thing about cob construction is that is fireproof and inexpensive. An example of a home made of cob is one by Michael Buck.

Michael Buck's current home is traditional construction. He built another home by his garden in his spare time that is used for a woofer, a working tenant. The cob structure is framed from lumber hewn from the trees on Buck's property. The house is 300 square feet and cost 300 dollars to build. Most everything was salvaged and only one power tool was used in the construction. Cob makes financial sense but has some comfort drawbacks.
The comfort issues are tied to the material composition. In technical documents cob is considered an "organic aggregate," where the cob is an insulating. Cob insulates in the winter and cools the residence in the summer. However, cob as a perpetual wet mixture is always drying out. This leaves the structure damp. Without proper lighting there is also an issue of a gloomy interior. In some ways even with the practicality of the environmental economics, a cob house is not much different than a cave interior.
Even though cob construction may not be practical for the Midwest climate or rainy areas there is potential in warmer arid climates. Driving through the southeastern portion of the United States, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona I saw quite a few examples of cob construction. It makes sense that Paul Serilio, the founder of Earthships, which often utilizes cob, is in Taos , New Mexico. For now in the Midwest it’s about making the best of what you have with where you are.


Design-Build Lessons

By Isaac Grayson

I have had the opportunity to take part in a design build project for ARC 242. In years past the class has constructed full size wall sections in the courtyard of Quigley Hall. But this year Chad Schwartz and his students are trying something different. This year the project is to overhaul the amphitheater out at Touch of Nature.
                My role in this project is just to help during the construction process, and attempt to foresee problems and help the students solve them. We have several problems pop-up but thankfully they have all been solvable with some field sketching and on site problem solving. I will be the first admit that I do not know everything  that is going on, nor do I know how to solve every problem that arises, but as a group we have been able to accomplish a lot. And I have learned a lot from this experience.
                Getting the opportunity to build, at full scale, is a rare opportunity during school. Often we draw, play on the computer, and build some scaled models. These things help solidify our ideas but they don’t teach like full construction can. For example there are several structures being built along with the amphitheater. The one I have had the most involvement with is the pathway bench. When we were constructing this bench we were referring to drawings produced in class. We quickly learned that the dimensions on the drawing were not sufficient to properly build the bench. Or rather the dimensions were there but to get the numbers needed we had to do a fair amount of fractional inch math, which always has a tendency to lead to errors.
                Probably the most comical dimension string was one that called out bottom of footing to top of beam. It may look fine on the paper but it’s a comical process to see people’s faces realize that you cannot measure from the bottom of footing. Especially now that they are all full of concrete and surrounded by dirt. It’s these kind of lessons that can be rigorously repeated in a classroom setting but they don’t really click until an individual is faced with the situation in real life. Now this group of students will be able to properly dimension to inform the builders of their future projects.

                We are coming up to our third scheduled build day. The goal was to be putting the finishing touches on the structure now. We are nowhere near that. Granted as usual it took a large amount of time to place the footings correctly. But now we are getting framing in place so we should begin to see the designs manifest themselves before our eyes. 

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Building Daze

By Randy Thoms

The ridge is 8000 feet into the sky and in relative terms it is a razor's edge, yet the Incas still wanted to build a palace here for some reason.   So during the 15th century a king-warrior named Pachacuti started to layout plans for a royal estate.   As Ken Wright states, one of the many problems to overcome and the biggest, would have been landslides and so stabilizing the slopes was priority one (2009).   As studied the site work and foundations seem to take up 50% to 60% of all work completed at the site over the 90 year build time.   Due to heavy rains and steep slopes this was a necessary evil to spend such an exorbitant amount of time and money.
            Through more investigations the site work and drainage composed of three material choices;  topsoil, sandy gravel and white granite.   This vast system of underground work for drainage was needed to keep Machu Picchu on the hillside otherwise it would not be there today.    This is because the average rainfall in this area is 76 inches and during the wet season mostly which last seven months.   By compassion, that is almost three times as much rain as Chicago sees in a year.   One interesting find to go along with the drainage system was the white granite, which seemed to be the waste ruble of the buildings which sit on top.  So Wright (2009) surmises that the original Inca buildings would have been white and not the Grey weathered stone color we see today.  
            The next would have been the terraces and lots of them.   Over 700 follow gracefully along the topographic elevation lines with curves and straights.   The water is allowed to drain deep below into the ground and safely away from the hillside as not to wash the entire structure down with it into the river below.   They not only serve as foundations for the various building and plazas of the site, but also soil stabilization  for the plant growing fields  for their agricultural needs (Wright 2009) and walking paths along the hillside.  These are the fundamental building blocks for the longevity of Machu Picchu.

            Unfortunately, this sounds all to familiar to one Architecture class on SIU campus and that would be ArC 242 Building Tech I: Wood.  We are building a new stage, amphitheater seating and entrance benches out at the Touch of Nature campus near Giant City State Park.  Nonetheless, weather has not been our best friend out there with all the rain and cold.  The students are in the process of trenching, cutting, digging, draining and back filling 9 terraces, much like the Incas (in a somewhat smaller scale, but do not mention that to the ones digging) with gravel, sand, soil and railroad ties.  We are also using string lines, water levels and "eyeballs" to get everything plumb, level and straight, much like the Incas.

Bredar, J. (Interviewer) & Wright, K. (Interviewee). (2009). A Marvel of Inca Engineering [Interview transcript]. Retrived from NOVAbeta Ancients Worlds website:

Designing a Mosque

By Sufiyanu Momoh

The mosque serves as a great part of Muslim architecture. Mosques serve as landmarks in many Muslim societies as you see the minarets standing high in the skyline, and also the call for prayers five times a day can also serve as a point of direction and location. The architecture of mosques all around the world vary immensely even though they all have some similar element like the mihrab facing Mecca, courtyards and minarets but these are just minor differences in the various styles of mosques. In the early days mosques borrowed architecture elements from its surrounding before they established their architecture
     Every major mosques had certain elements before the modern movements in the twentieth century, elements such as the hypostyle hall which usually has a flat roof above it and possibly a small dome, large openings in the center of the building covered by a massive dome or pyramidal pitched roofs vaulted halls on both sides of a bi axially divided rectangular court yard. Triple domed mosque with large court yards or pavilions enclosed by landscape spaces.
   In the earlier days monotheistic religions were opposed to the use of buildings as a house for their faith as they would have preferred staying out in the open or the natural caves. they were strong on these believes until their leaders thought that any faith without followers would die out quick and a means of keeping these followers is by having a symbol such as a building. Even though there are no surviving buildings from the first two years of the Islamic religion. There are various literature that described what these types of buildings might have looked like. At the beginning during the Umayyad period the architecture of the mosque was based on the prophets Muhammad’s house in medina. Because we do not have any surviving structures from the earlier time of Islam no particular type of structure can standard to represent the mosque. Even little components that have strong meaning such as the cross in the case of Christianity and seems to exist in almost every church is absent in the mosque. Components such as the minarets and mihrabs serve functional purposes in the mosques and are not necessarily a symbol for them. As a matter of fact, the religion Islam does not really have a main symbol except for the ka’aba in Mecca
   There are various components that serve as part of a mosque that can be seen in various parts of the world and these may vary in looks in different places. Most mosques have a demarcated space for prayers which could be completely closed or partly open or completely open. In every mosque there most be a wall facing Mecca. At the center of the wall  is the mihrab which is the most decorated part of the mosque. It is like a recessed or niche but not a sacred place like in the case of Christianity. The mihrab is usually semicircular in plan just like the roman niche. The wall facing Mecca is also known as the qibla. Because everyone has to face Mecca during prayers, they all line up perpendicular to the mihrab while they pray

    Another part of the mosque is the minbar or the pulpit; it is always placed at the right of the mihrab, consisting of a staircase that leads to a small platform which is open crowned by a cupola shaped roof. It is usually used to deliver messages to the followers in the mosques. The mosque also contains other elements such as the dikka which is positioned in line with the mihrab. It serves as a reference of what the imam would be like at the front of the mosque. Another major component of the mosque used in the earlier centuries was the maqsura used to protect the imams of the mosque. Most mosques if not all have what is called the pool. This is basically a place for Muslims to perform their ablution for prayers. The minaret of course is a major part of the most mosques as these may be built in different designs. These towers like structures usually stands as a landmark for the mosque but the main purpose of the minaret is to ensure the voice of the person calling the prayer travels its furthest distance.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Raising the Dome

By Kayla Fuller

               As I was wandering the internet for the inspiration for today’s blog piece, I decided to check for things that effected SIU. Why not incorporate some history… So who or what I something that has effected not only SIU but the world? Buckminster Fuller and his Bucky Dome! Maybe the “Raising of the Dome” event this weekend had some inspiration for my topic.
                During my first few years at SIU, people would ask me if we were related. As exciting as it would be to have such an influential relative, unfortunately we are not related…. But how cool would that be?!?
A little history of the renowned inventor and visionary R. Buckminster Fuller, born in Milton, Massachusetts on July 12, 1895. His family was known for producing individuals with strong potential and determination of providing public service. Shortly after entering Harvard University in 1913, Fuller was expelled for missing midterm exams and excessive socializing. This was not unusual for many successful individuals, interesting huh? After his expulsion, he went to Canada to begin working in a mill, where his interest grew in machinery and manufacturing equipment.
                Fuller began inventing a winch for rescue boats to save downed airplanes during his time in the U.S. Navy from 1917 until 1919. His invention resulted in his nomination to receive officer training at the Naval Academy. With the help of his father-in-law, Fuller helped to patent the invention of a new method of producing reinforced concrete buildings. This was the first of his soon to be 25 patents that Fuller would earn.
                Improving human housing through technology and revolutionized construction was a lifelong interest of Fuller. After completing his invention of an air-delivered, apartment building, he designed his Dymaxion House. Based on the words “ion,” “dynamic,” and “maximum, the use of “Dymaxion” would become part of his subsequent works. His design philosophy of “doing more with less,” reflected his growing recognition of the accelerating global trend to improve development through efficient technology.
                The geodesic home was the dominating invention of Fuller during his life and career. The easy to assemble, cost-effective, lightweight geodesic dome can be seen in many locations around the world. Fortunately for those of us at Southern Illinois University we take a short ride to visit the former home of Buckminster Fuller.
                There are many instances that I have been traveling and have seen the influence Fuller has had on the world. As unusual as the shape of a dome home may be, it provides structural integrity through the triangles in the frame as well as protection from harsh weather. Areas with high winds and severe weather could benefit the most from a geodesic dome home.
                There are many more inventions of the famous R. Buckminster Fuller that could have been included. With the “Raising of the Dome” and personal influence Fuller had from working at the university, influenced the focus on the geodesic dome home. Although this may not reach you before the event this Saturday, hopefully you will have the opportunity to visit the dome.

                There are only a few more weeks of the semester… I would like to wish you all good luck and to those who are graduating this year, congratulations! 

Angkor Wat

By Kristopher Teubel

                        Throughout the semester, my classmates and myself have been working on a research paper involving an example of non-western architecture of our choosing.  The architectural work that I selected is Angkor Wat.  I would like to share some interesting information that I've found.  Though the name and general information about this temple in Cambodia is well known, the magnitude and beauty of Angkor Wat may be lost on even the most astute architectural scholars.
                        The Buddhist temple known as Angkor Wat began its long history in northern Cambodia in the early 12th century.  It is a product of the ancient Khmer Empire.  As interesting as the temple is itself, it serves to tell the stories of the people involved in its distant past.  It has survived the ever-changing political and natural landscape it has found itself in with great poise.  Though it is partly succumbing to the landscape around it, it is still serves as a testament to the resourcefulness of the people who built it. (Fujioka, Tsunenari & Mori, 1972)
                        Suryavarman, the Khmer king who commissioned the construction, broke with the tradition of his ancestors and dedicated the temple to the god Vishnu instead of the more common Shiva.  Purportedly for this reason, the temple faces the west.  The west was considered to be the domain of the god Vishnu.  The people of Khmer toiled away at the construction of the moat and temple for approximately thirty to thirty-five years before they finally finished.  From the excavation of the moat to the skilled carving of the bas-reliefs, it took nearly the whole reserve of man-power to complete Angkor Wat in time for Suryavarman's death.  (Mannikka, 1996)
            The word “angkor” translates to English as “town”, “thom” translates to “town”, and “wat” literally translates to a pagoda.  Therefore, Angkor Wat can be characterized as the royal temple of its host city, Angkor Thom. (Fujioka, Tsunenari & Mori, 1972) The influence of the pagoda upon ancient Khmer architecture can be traced from farther east in China.  The tiered form of the pagoda is representative of an religious ascension.  As a visitor climbs the levels of the building, they also embark upon an upward journey of the soul.  The pagoda itself is, just as many other elements of the Khmer civilization, was an interpretation of the Indian stupa.  A stupa is a domed structure representative of the Great Buddha himself. (Stratton, 2000)
            Few descriptions of Angkor Wat are as poetic as that of the architect from the eleventh century, Ramacandra Kaulacara.  About it, he stated:

He, the creator (Visvakarman), lays out the plan of the universe according to measure and number. This small universe (the temple) has to be situated with respect to the vaster universe, of which it forms a part. It has to fall into line with the position of the earth in relation to the course of the sun, and also the movement of the planets. The layout of a temple is based on fundamental cosmic and metaphysical conceptions that govern the whole structure. The situation of the temple must, in its space directions, be established in relation to the motion of the heavenly bodies. But inasmuch as it incorporates in a single synthesis, the unequal courses of the sun, the moon, and the planets, it also symbolizes all recurrent time sequences: the day, the month, the year.
            (Mannikka, 1996)

            Angkor Wat  has served the local people in so many different ways throughout the years.  It is an awe inspiring religious monument for Hindus and Buddhists alike.  It has relatively recently become a tourist draw.  Without fail, since antiquity, it has given the people of Cambodia more than they gave to create it.  In any creative practice, whether architecture or any other artistic expression is examined, that is a true testament to the success of one's efforts.  Does it give back? Angkor Wat has for centuries and continues to today.
Fujioka, M., Tsunenari, K., & Mori, C. (1972). Angkor wat. Tokyo: Kodansha International.

Mannikka, E. (1996). Angkor wat: Time, space, and kingship. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.

            Stratton, E. (2000). The evolution of indian stupa architecture in east asia. New Delhi: Vedams ebooks     Pvt Ltd.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Architectural Charrette

By Lani Walker

Recently in our Architectural History class, we did a charrette – just some quick hand sketches on trace paper – for a Chinese Buddhist temple.  We were given a location high up in the Nyenchen Tanglha Mountains, about 100m north from the city of Lhasa in Tibet.  This became a very interesting, fast-paced project to design for because this area of Tibet is not very developed.  Up in the mountains, there is only a railroad, but not other roads.  There is also no running water or access to reliable electricity.  Therefore, my first decisions were to design the temple without any water usage, electricity usage, and only building with local materials.  However, most temples I had researched in Tibet only used local stone and timber anyway so that was the norm in this area of the world.  As for the electricity – many temples only used candles or oil lamps so that seemed like a viable solution for this temple as well.  Not having any plumbing was fine since this particular temple didn’t need any, but the temple complex [Wat] that this temple was a part of would definitely need a well or utilize the stream nearby.  So, the next few decisions revolved around what type of temple this would be. 
I decided to mimic a large Buddhist temple complex called the Lingyin Temple complex which is near the city of Hangzhou in China.  The Lingyin Temple complex has several different parts to it.  The Hall of the Heavenly Kings is the entrance to the temple complex.  The principal statue in this hall is the Laughing Buddha, located in the center of the hallThen, the Grand Hall of the Great Sage is separated from the Hall of the Heavenly Kings by a large courtyard.  The Grand Hall houses the historical Buddah and carved images of some 150 Buddhist personalities.  After the Grand Hall, one would enter the Hall of the Medicine Buddah, which holds the statue of the Medicine Buddah.  Uphill is the Sutra Library, which is not open for worship.  Following the Sutra Library is the Huayan Hall, which houses statues of the three sages of the Avatamsaka Sutraand.  The sixth and final building on the main axis is the Hall of Five Hundred Arhats.  This building has a floor plan shaped like a Buddhist swastika and has five hundred arhats as slightly larger-than-life bronze statues.

Since this charrette is a quick project, I decided to design only one of the buildings listed above, although it would be located within a larger temple complex for our given location in the Nyenchen Tanglha Mountains.  I began designing my “Hall of the Heavenly Kings” based on research I had done and the lessons I have learned in class.  Staying within the local customs, I sketched out the building to have double-eaves with a timber frame.  Then, the exterior needed ornate geometric painting and the front of the building traditionally carries a plaque with the temple’s name.  I will admit that I do not read or speak Chinese, so the symbols on the plaque of my temple are just created, not actual symbols.  Then, the interior of the hall has a very specific statue layout based on research that I did.  The center has a statue of the Laughing Buddah, on a raised altar.  Arranged along the left and right sides are the statues of the Four Heavenly Kings.  In the Buddhist faith, the Four Heavenly Kings are four gods, each of whom watches over one cardinal direction.  At the northernmost part of the hall is the Wei Tuo, who is like a guardian Buddha who guards the Buddhist teachings.  After I had the floor plan, section, and elevation of my design sketched out, it was time to put on the finishing touches.  I used colored pencils to quickly express the color scheme, utilizing the traditional red and blue color schemes I had seen on other Buddhist temples in China.  So, here is a picture of my design below.  From this project I learned quite a bit about Buddhist temples and the Buddhist faith.  Given the time restrictions on the project and the fact that our teacher asked us to hand sketch our designs on trace paper, we didn’t go very much in depth on this project.  But, nevertheless, it was fun and well worth the time put into it.         
 ‘Hall of the Heavenly Kings’ Design Charrette.  Image by Lani Walker.