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.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Earth Bag House

By Michelle Harris

This semester has been one of exploring alternative building types.  I have had the privilege of observing the construction of an earth bag house and assisting with a cobb house. I am currently drafting a finished pole framed house. In each incidence, the natural resources and means of construction were easily accessible. However, the technique and construction management is lacking. While this may seem a harsh judgment, the amount of preparation to effectively build is why you have a contractor, architect and engineer. The accessibility to design and construction professionals who are adept in alternative construction is rarer than not. After studying the alternatives, I am not sure if they are what I want to do professionally. I love the concept: a building made from local supplies that ideally will be inexpensive to construct, own and operate.
Even though I am not a hundred percent sold on these methods as feasible for mainstream construction, I’d like to recommend what I have learned to you!
This week, I’d like to talk about my observation of earth bag construction. The example I studied is of a house on a local farm. In this example seed bags were filled with earth dug from a hillside. The bags are stapled shut. Then these filled bags were laid end to end in a circle to be tamped. Tamping is done with a heavy solid object, ideally a tamping rod. This particular building is one that has structural issues due to the imbalance of the bags. If the bags are not solidly tamped they can shift due to the weight distribution. In this case, the forces push the bags inwards. The exterior has buttressing to relieve some of this stress. However, all in all, it is not enough to sustain the amount of force distributed vertically from the building materials.

The reason for the issues with weight distribution is that this earth bag house is a dome. Domes and arches require special attention to vector forces. If the forces are not properly directed into the buttressing the dome will begin to collapse as you see here.
This is mendable. More buttressing and support can be provided. However, the structure is intrinsically flawed and will continue to need maintenance for the rest of its life.  This isn’t to say that earthbag construction is not a good technique. If properly managed there are phenomenal opportunities for this method.
I was not an active participant in this construction however I thoroughly appreciate the work contributed to the creation of this earth bag house. Each layer has hand filled bags. These bags are then ‘velcroed’ to the next layer with barbed wire. Incorporating the two by four framing needed for windows and doors does not appear easy. The exterior of an earth bag house is covered in adobe. This hides much of the work that goes into the construction. Adobe is an excellent material for cooling in the summer and heating in the winter. However due to Southern Illinois’ climate, the amount of rain, adobe is not an ideal building material for this region.
Earth bag construction has flourished in dryer Southern Climates as have other alternative construction practices that rely on adobe as an exterior finish.
If you are interested in learning more an excellent resource of which I am willing to loan is ‘Earth Bag Building’. You can browse the book here through Google Books:

The Mile High Illinois

By Kristopher Teubel

            With the upcoming construction of the Kingdom Tower just north of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, the world has another opportunity to witness another marvel of construction engineering.  The tower was designed by Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture based out of Chicago, IL.  It is projected to trump the Burj Khalifa as it stands over 1,000 meters (3,280 feet).  Construction is expected to be completed in 2017. (Rosenfield, 2014)
            As I review the information about Kingdom Tower, and look at various renderings I can't help but be inspired to look back at a remarkably similar looking project designed by Frank Lloyd Wright to be built in Smith + Gill's hometown of Chicago.  The beauty and majesty of such a large project of this nature can easily be found in both designs. (Rosenfield, 2014)
            Wright's work on the Mile High Illinois skyscraper was originally published in his 1956 book,  A Testament.  It was projected to have 528 floors including extensive automotive parking as well as helicopter parking.  Wright produced various drawings of the building including floor plans for the “base”, 320th, and 528th levels.
            What sets both the Burj Khalifa, and soon to be the Kingdom Tower, apart from Mile High Illinois is that the technologies of today much more readily afford us the ability to construct such large buildings.  Wright designed the Illinois with steel construction in mind.  Though this may have been possible at the time, there are serious drawbacks of steel construction at the proposed height of one mile.  If not coupled with the use of concrete, serious swaying from wind loads could greatly undermine the useability of the building.  Tuned mass dampening would have been implemented for approximately fifteen more years. ("The illinois," 2014)
            Also, in the aforementioned floor plans, Wright designed the building with a severe lack of vertical circulation compared to the standards of today.  On the 320th floor plan, there is shown only one staircase that is open to the rest of the building.  Today, multiple fire-rated stairs would be required by code.  Just as interesting, the 528th floor has one elevator serving it with no stair access.  Wright stated the lack of proper vertical circulation was attributed to the idea that the building was designed to be fire-proof. ("The illinois," 2014)

            Despite its shortcomings, the Mile high Illinois is a work of beauty in an already very illustrious and influential career.  The silhouette of the buildings exemplifies a slender beauty that can be rarely found outside of a project of this nature.  The elevator banks of the lower levels extend beyond the sloping exterior facade.  This imbues the building with the appearance of a triangular pyramid with several parapets rising from the facade. ("The illinois," 2014)

            Sadly, the building was designed before its time.  Just as many other visionaries have done before, Wright had to leave his creation to posterity to decide its value.  It has influenced Skidmore, Owings & Merill's design for the Burj Khalifa and Smith + Gill's design for Kingdom Tower.  Perhaps if the Mile High Illinois is never built closely to its original design, it may still live on in the influences it casts upon the people who have been caught in its awe.

Rosenfield, Karissa. "Construction Slated to Begin on 1km Kingdom Tower" 27 Mar 2014. ArchDaily.             Accessed 02 Apr 2014. <>
The illinois. (2014, April 02). Retrieved from
Photo Reference 
Solt, I. (Photographer). (2014). The Illinois and Burj Dubai comparison [Web Photo]. Retrieved from 

Monday, April 14, 2014

North American Steel Construction Conference

By Ryan Kinports

I was able to attend the NASCC hosted by the American Institute of Steel Construction in Toronto last week.  It was a 14 hour drive each way but the chance to see how modern technology is being applied to steel manufacturing was a positive learning experience, and Toronto is a modern city that seems to be expanding rapidly. In November of 2013 they had 181+ active construction cranes. In addition to the conference we explored the city using their subway system that could get us basically anywhere we wanted to go in a few minutes.
There were over 100 vendors ranging from steel manufacturers to ballistic rated tire protection for construction vehicles. The most impressive areas were the fabrication “booths” that Peddinghaus Corporation, Ocean Machinery, and Kinetic Cutting Systems had. They were automated steel work machines that could manipulate beams up to 44” deep, cut through steel 10” thick, and produce fine detail work in minutes. I watch a w-series beam be cut like butter in a few seconds. On the software side we learned about a program for calculating steel connections called Tekla that does all of the work for you and produces a file that can be manipulated with Revit. I was also able to try welding on a virtual machine that is used to train welders. The conference, while meant for engineers, was well worth the trip. There were 200+ registered students with only three from architecture. We attended a lecture on how to communicate with architects that was somewhat humorous. It seems we aren’t thought to be smart enough to understand their math wizardry.

The real highlight though was seeing Toronto. The University of Toronto was outstanding. It is a sprawling city campus with examples of architecture ranging from gothic to modern glass curtain walls. They rest of the city is blanketed by construction of new buildings, renovations and additions to the subway system, and new attractions like the Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada. You can always tell when you’re in a good area by how many Starbucks there are – I don’t think you could walk more than 10 minutes in any direction without seeing at least one. I felt like Canada is the 51st state as the only visual difference was that speed limits were in KPH. The dollar was accepted anywhere although we used Canadian currency whenever we had it due to the favorable exchange rate.

Thinking of Bad Design as an Invasive Species

By Tim Shotts

During my recent trip to the Dominican Republic I helped remove invasive species from the Escuela Ambiental Recinto #2.  Elvis, a staff member in charge of removing invasives, taught us why and how to remove two invasives on the property.  The invasive species were introduced for food for cattle and wood to burn as fuel, but they have become out of control.  They take up water and nutrients that the indigenous plants that they are trying to cultivate.  There are a couple ways to combat invasives.  The first is to spray pesticides on the area, but that method is not usually organic and it will also kill indigenous plants.  The second is to painstakingly pull and dig plants out and get as much of the roots as possible.  The plants are then laid in the sun to kill the roots. 

Similarly, we have bad design both in architecture and in the products we use.  We have developed fast and efficient solutions to a problem and they have spread rapidly.  One of those is the pole-barn.  They’re pre-engineered, low-cost, and have a really low price per square foot.  However, they’re being converted into offices, and used as homes.  This really isn’t a problem, but these structures are making architects irrelevant but are using the same materials and resources but not producing a building as good as it could be. 

So how do we fix this?  We make good design more accessible!   I’ve recently watched Objectified (you should all watch it too), and Paola Antonelli, Design Curator for MOMA said that she grew up with good design not because her family was wealthy, but because that’s what you could find on the corner.

“We are surrounded by arbitrariness and thoughtlessness in our designed world and it’s unnecessary. “
“We have too many unnecessary things”
“Good design should be innovative.”
“Good design should make a product useful”
“Good design is aesthetic design”
“Good design will make a product understandable”
“Good design is honest”
“Good design is unobtrusive”
“Good design is long-lived”
“Good design is consistent in every detail”
“Good design is environmentally friendly”
“Good design is as little design as possible”

                -Dieter Rams, former design director for Braun, Kronberg, Germany