Currently viewing the category: "ARCHITECTURE"


We recently read an article in the NY Times about designer’s frustrations with a lack of appreciation for good design. Its a common complaint by architects and designers that the subjective value of their work is overlooked. The risk and reward of design comes from its personal nature – taking a piece of your soul, putting it out there for the world and hoping it moves people. Architecture is about a creating an experience or emotion through the built environment. If you are a designer and need a reminder about why you got into this field read the full article.

Sometimes you stumble on a space that surprises you. We are notoriously addicted to boutique hotels. They offer cutting edge and modern design that you might not want to live with everyday (like a shower in your bedroom) but are fun experiments for a few days. At the Acta Mimic we came for the location and the playful architecture. What will brings us back though is little sunken courtyard at the back of the building, squished between its neighbours.

After sleeping in (as one does in Spain) or returning to rest your feet after a day of hiking the city, guests make their way to the basement for espresso. The heart of this space is the outdoor courtyard, tucked below ground, acting like a giant light well for the adjacent buildings. Perched in a simple chair in this space you are surrounded by Barcelona and not the built city but the people of Barcelona. The hotel side of the courtyard is shielded from view by a large graphic screen, with a pop-art, cartoon image reminiscent of a Gorillaz video. The other three sides of the courtyard surround you with the heart of the city, its people. From one balcony, the sounds and flashing lights of spanish cartoons flicker, a cat winds its way in and around the balcony rails. Overtop the white noise of whirring fans and rustling laundry, snippets of conversation, laughter and maybe even a morning disagreement echo into the courtyard. Windows are opened or closed depending on the time of day. Laundry is shaken and hung to dry from any surface available.

The smooth, almost sterile, simplicity of the modern architecture perfectly juxtaposes the pixelated fineness of real life. If you’re lucky, and we were, its sunny and warm. The mass of the buildings shield out most of the city sounds, creating a calm, serene space to do nothing but soak in the sights, sounds and smells of living in Barcelona.

Architect EQUIP Xavier Claramunt.

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Location: Spain – Laxe
Designer: Ensamble Studio
Completion: 2010

Sometimes you stumble on a piece of architecture that has a beautiful simplicity. The truffle house by Ensamble Studio is one of these. It has an organic feel that is perfectly at home in it’s surroundings. Using topsoil from the site combined with concrete the exterior ‘stone’ walls were mounded atop a pile of hay. A calf named Paulina was brought in to eat her way through the interior mass of hay and unveil the interior space. The building’s skin emulates mineral formations creating the illusion of a runaway boulder whose cave like hollow makes way for a rustic and simple abode. We love the whimsy of the singular highly stylized window.

To this hobbyist it looks like the perfect place to escape the city. Just cozy up and grab a book to read by the fire.

While last weekend was certainly one during which Laurenthehobbyist needed to be here in Austin, being the architect amongst the hobbyist family, you couldn’t miss the opportunity to see what people have done with amazing design-build projects around the gorgeous hills surrounding this lovely city. And so I set off, to take in as much of the Modern Home Tour Austin as I could…Without promising that my eyes picked up on all of the cantilevered details of the projects that I saw over the Modern Home Tour, the overall aesthetics of working with this paysage and the light that we experience daily in Austin definitely come through – not to mention the sheer pleasure of learning what people select for their art collections and getting a glimpse of they choose to live amongst these works.

The Modern Home Tour Austin is a remarkable feat when you think of the leap of faith that people take in opening up their doors simply for the sake of giving us a glimpse of what they have worked so hard to put together – but, which is, nonetheless, their home. Being someone who loves to host people yet, who is not incongruously someone who is nonetheless relatively private, and in particular, one who holds close her “preciouses” – those paintings, sculpture and books that have been painstakingly hoarded from around the world – I know this to be true: it would take a truly charming team to convince me to open my doors. Which is what I am sure the MHT ATX team must have in spades because these homes are truly stunning and something their owners must relish. To truly appreciate them, I didn’t do the whole list – but rather chose to do a few homes to do well and really get to know them.

First home up: 701 West Elizabeth

This house was such an interesting example of a way to build out privacy and light in a relatively close-knit neighbourhood. It also proved how it was possible to design a beautiful place to showcase art without much square footage – but by doing it right, with the right wallspace and light exposure, and of course proper lines from the critical points in the house.

Next up: 1119 Redbud Trail

What couldn’t you do with this house? Jay Hargrave designed and built this house from its initial bones of 900 sq feet and an existing pool. Built into the hills west of central Austin, this house is truly breathtaking. One of those structures where, even aside from its gorgeous location and Austin’s own spectacular lighting at the right times, the possibilities are endless…

As an example, what couldn’t you do from an office like this…? Exactly.

The infinity pool (shown in the first picture above) has been built in to really take the centre stage of the property on first glance – but on closer inspection, each room has been built and designed to truly speak for itself. The bones of the original 900 sq ft house still form a key part of the heart of the house – but it’s been built out to allow the couple who live here to really expand their lives within it.

Last home of the day: 4502 Balcones Drive

The front living room / library that you see jutting out from the photo below was a truly stunning room, situated to look out over the beautifully oaked, hilly countryside in front, while also providing the perfect canvas for a stunning metal bookshelf and some striking art set against well designed furniture pieces.

The architect of the Balcones Drive house, Elizabeth Alford, deserves all of the respect that she has received for this house. HerĀ Balcones house was featured on the 2011 AIA Austin Homes Tour and featured in Tribeza Magazine in October. Elizabeth is a principal in Pollen Architecture & Design with her husband, Michael Young, and partner, Dason Whitsett. Their 12th Street Studios’ project received the AIA Austin Honor Award in 2009, and the UT Austin 2007 Student Architecture Award. The project was published in Architectural Record Magazine in July 2007 and Detail Magazine in 2010.

This house was stunning, with such a beautiful integration of all of the elements around it. A large portion of the one side of the house was built out to use the outdoor space – the outdoor fireplace and yard – with the glass windows structured to slide back to enjoy the fresh air and open up the living space. One of the things that you can love most about a climate like this is precisely that: being able to enjoy your house with a full fresh flow of air in February while looking out onto your garden. Complimented only perhaps by the smell of the bbq in the early evening.

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This video has been floating around for a while and we’ve seen it numerous times. It never ceases to make this hobbyist smile. We always picture an intern architect slaving away for hours on this video and yet dream of making one ourselves. Special thanks to Swiss designers Herzog and de Meuron and their team for designing 56 Leonard Street and giving us this week’s ‘video fun’. This playful 56-storey tower in New York sits on the corner of Leonard Street and Church Street in Tribeca. A fantastically well integrated sculpture by Anish Kapoor sit at the corner of the building at street level.


The Alegna line of sinks and tubs is exactly what this column is about – over the top design objects you want and great hobbyist finds you really shouldn’t live without. Alegna is the former. Nobody needs an Alegna sink or tub, the ones we have at home work just fine. But wouldn’t a bath be better in one of these gorgeous wooden tubs?

We are huge fans of natural materials and we drool over meticulous craftsmanship. The Alegna tubs and sinks are both of these things. Using techniques perfected over time in yacht building, wood is manipulated into smooth organic shapes that echo the hull of a boat. The seamless joints form a monolithic surface. The natural grain of the wood is used like a paint brush for careful pattern making. We are particularly infatuated with the Laguna Pure tub and sink, the meticulous graining swirls water down the drain – and all your troubles with it.


We love Charles and Ray Eames and apparently so does Ice Cube – so much so that he made this great video for the Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A. 1945-1980 exhibit organized by the Getty Institute. Not many people know that Ice Cube trained in architectural drafting – watch his tour of LA and the Eames Case Study House circa 1949 (a personal faveorite). Enjoy…

For a little more info on this project check out this great article in the NY Times or via Pacific Standard Time.

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We have been in love with this chair for a very long time. We were very very close to buying a couple of the original vinyl versions for the patio this summer but the $400+ price tag made them a tough sell for a seasonal piece. With the introduction of the Leather Acapulco Chair version they have removed any reason not to invest this chair. We think this is the perfect chair for the home office or as additional seating in the living room. This timeless design of this 1950′s chair was inspired by a Mayan weaving technique and named after the famous pacific coast resort town. Its construction of powder coated iron frame and flexible leather make it durable while preserving its light, airy elegance. We love the contrast of the geometric frame and the soft, cozy woven seat. We have started saving for one (or two) of these chairs – for us it was love a first sight!


On a recent Friday evening walk through downtown Vancouver we stopped by Picnurbia – Vancouver’s newest inhabitable public art installation designed by our friends over at the Loose Affiliates. As any Vancouverite will attest, when the weather turns sunny and summery we flock outdoors to take advantage of this far too short lived season. The are few places better in the world than Vancouver in the summer. After what seems like months of rain and a very fashionably late summer season Picnurbia arrived at just the right time. It is the perfect place to sit and soak in a summer night with the energy of the city buzzing around you. One of the things we loved about this piece was its ability to engage all sorts of passerbys. We saw young children log rolling over the brightly coloured yellow waves, older couples sitting on one of the benches enjoying an evening tea and tourists wondering ‘what the heck is this thing?’. Our group nestled into a curve to lounge and soak up the last minutes of a beautiful summer evening. The curves, soft turf and umbrellas were a great contrast to the lights and hard surfaces of the city. As we chatted away the evening, wave after wave of people walked by and climbed on to interact with this new, giant piece of lawn furniture. This piece does exactly what a piece of public art should. It got neighbours and strangers chatting with each other and gave people a taste of what great design can do to make our cities better.

One of our favorite pastimes at the hobbyists is traveling. While we are in the process of developing the hobbyist travel guides for some of our favorite places – one of the things we rely on when planning a trip is the wallpaper guides. For art and design lovers they are a Cole’s Notes to a city’s must sees. They are particularly great for last minute trips or for hobbyists whose work/hobby balance doesn’t leave time for intensive trip planning. While they won’t cover everything, they give you the low-down on a city in a format you can quickly digest on the plane. They recently introduced apps for some of their most popular guides which are a great way to travel around the city with guide book in hand. If you get lost they have the added feature of a GPS system to map where you are and where you are trying to go. The apps also allow you to add the places you want to visit to your contacts so you have quick access to addresses and phone numbers. The guides provide overviews of neighbourhoods to help you plan your days of hobbying away from home and a 24 hour guide if your time is limited.

In addition to major arts, architecture and culture references they are a great place to start your search for hotels. We like that they provide a range of hotels from high-end, break the bank to low cost – all the while focusing their radar on unique, high design spaces. It turned us on to the great value Mama Shelter in Paris before it was named the 2nd best hotel in the world . We will be staying there next month so stay tuned for a more detailed review. If you are planning a summer vacation be sure to check out the wallpaper guides to see if they have your destination covered. You are sure to find a few tips for your favorite hobby that you didn’t know about!

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We love the softwalls created by Vancouver’s innovative design studio Molo – they are both beautiful and functional. This dynamic and free standing partition system can be compacted for ease of storage and when needed expanded to form a beautiful room divider or screens. The softwall is constructed using high quality Tyvek or Kraft paper. The magnetic ends of the softwall hold it together when compacted for storage but also allow pieces of the modular system to be connected together. When compressed the softwall is less than 50mm thick and can be hung on a wall for storage. It can be extended to a maximum of 4.5m in length and is available in heights up to 3m. These wall systems are great for dividing large open spaces.

The honeycomb design allows the wall to shift and create flexible shapes and its cellular structure works to absorb sound. The softwall is part of the permanent collection at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York.

The most recent additions to the softwall family are the softwall with LED lights which take advantage of the transparent qualities of the honeycomb structure to create a beautiful lit room divider. The creative team at molo have also taken advantage of their material innovation to create fun lights and seating systems. Check them out!

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