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More Than Another Prefab: Muji Prefab

Muji_concept

My values and beliefs were partially created through my experience living in Japan.  I like minimalist.  I like clean, sharp lines.  I like modern.  I like small, but functional.  I appreciate that a grain of rice means something, especially when times are tough.  And this is why I’m excited to hear the news of Muji coming to America.  Technically Mujirushi Ryohin, roughly translated as no-name quality goods, is the full name.  Muji is coming to the US to influence consumers that dig the no-brand, minimalist style sans in-your-face product identifiers.  I wear shirts inside out just so the brand doesn’t show sometimes, so I’m looking forward to seeing what they have to offer.   

Muji has 387 outlets in 15 countries, including 34 stores in Europe.  America is next on their expansion plans with a store starting in Manhattan, and the possibility of stores to follow in Boston, Chicago, and San Francisco.  Muji sells all sorts of stuff, such as socks, a front-loading washer/dryer combo, cardboard speakers, aluminum business card holders, and even a line of prefab homes (starting at $115,000).  Not all their products are green, but they are of the modern aesthetic.  Choose wisely, I say.  Also, we’ll have to wait and see, but I’ve heard rumors that their stuff isn’t cheap.  Some people compare them to IKEA, but with a Japanese flavor.  Let’s see how the Manhattan opening goes.  See BusinessWeek + Muji (Japanese). 

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Would You Buy a Home from IKEA? Payments Accepted at Front Register.

Boklok_uk_ceder__web Uk_terraced_house1_web

I’m asking because if you have an Ikea, you may be one of the next cities to have their prefab home product.  Maybe in 5, 10, 15 years, but it looks possible.  Over the past decade, Ikea has teamed up with Swedish construction company Skanska to build a home that was light, well-planned, functional, and furnished with natural materials.  That home, the BoKlok, which is Swedish for "smart living," has become Ikea’s big idea.  After building about 3,500 BoKlok homes across Scandinavia, Ikea has decided to expand and create a British BoKlok development with about 36 flats in St. James Village, Gateshead (UK).  After that, they’ll add another 60 homes. 

BoKlok Homes are timber-framed, almost entirely pre-fabricated, and brought onto the site in pre-assembled units on the back of a truck.  After transport, put on the roof + siding, install the plumbing + wiring, and that’s about it.  BoKloks usually come in a two-floor, L-shaped configuration with three apartments on each floor.  Early on, Ikea sold the BloKlok from the store, but they were so popular that people were camping out to get them.  Now, Ikea chooses residents using a random lottery.  Yes, I just wrote that.  Demand is so big, there’s a lottery to choose residents.  I can’t believe this, but it goes to show that there really is a problem with the lower portion of the economic pyramid being served with quality products.

Maybe I’ll get around to converting these figures, but for now, I’ll give you the original metrics so the data is accurate.  The houses planned for Gateshead cost about £120,000 – £150,000.  Ikea priced the units specifically to target households earning roughly £15,000 – £30,000 a year, and they’re excited to have a modern, environmentally-friendly, affordable living space.  One bedroom flats are about 46 square meters and two bedroom flats are 58 square meters.  Residents are expected to move in towards the end of 2007 or in early 2008.  I wonder when we’ll see these in the U.S.?  See also Guardian

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Skyscraper Sunday: 1180 Peachtree, One Symphony Center

Symphony_main_1 The subject of this week’s Skyscraper Sunday is the striking 1180 Peachtree in Atlanta, Georgia.  Designed by Pickard Chilton Architects, 1180 Peachtree rises 41-stories with a 119-foot lighted veil at the top.  It was also one of the first offices nationally to receive LEED-CS Silver pre-certification for its use of recycled materials, encouragement of alternative transportation, minimization of environmental impact by sourcing materials locally, and attention to using no- or low-VOC adhesives, sealants, and carpets.  Developed by Hines, the building has vegetation on the roof to absorb rainwater, store it in underground storage, and use for landscaping (eliminating the need for city water).  With about 670,000 sf of office + 35,000 sf of retail, this building is a gem in the Atlanta market.  In the middle of 2006, the local real estate community did a double take when 1180 Peachtree sold for $400 per sf.  Some people said this was part of a trend (good office market in Atlanta, lots of capital, etc.), but I think the selling price was a reflection of the excellence of the property.  It’s a flagship, a trophy property, a green property.  Green properties are (1) new, (2) well-designed, (3) easy to lease, and (4) fit well with all companies.  It’s not hard to sell an amazing, great-looking, stabilized asset with low vacancy. 

The Loftcube by Werner Aisslinger

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This is the Loftcube, which is designed and engineered in Germany.  Including the bathroom and kitchen, there are two models, one for $136,000 and the other for $180,000.  I love the look of it … if you had $180k and a vacant roof, would you put it up there?  Add some landscaping?

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Green Building = Buzz, but Localization = Key

Cameron_armstrong_metal_home_2 Green building articles abound, but it’s important to note the subtle differences in perspective, which may change depending on the writer’s geography.  An article may give green building advice that doesn’t make sense in your geography.  Take this Houston article for instance.  It’s a good read.  In Houston, the climate requires an innovative balance of green building techniques.  Houston is hot and humid.  I won’t say it’s the armpit of America, but it’s hard to keep dry in that place.  Here are a couple examples of localization in green building. 

  1. Passive Design – Houston architects suggest putting most of your windows in a north/south orientation because the east/west orientation draws too much heat into the home and doesn’t allow exposure to the cool breezes that blow from the southeast in the summer. 
  2. Materials – Houston architects will building with metal, as opposed to brick or stucco.  Metal reflects the sun, while brick holds in heat and stucco is prone to mold.  Unfortunately, metal doesn’t work for all applications, so you have to balance and make trade-offs. 

Rule:  Consult a knowledgeable professional to pick the optimal green building strategy that effectively considers the ramifications of the local geography and materials on your site.  It’ll pay dividends later when you actually start to occupy the building and use it.  Pictures via Cameron Armstrong Architects, a Houston architectural firm with several metal homes in their portfolio. 

LEED Platinum Sweetwater, A Model of Economics + Design

Sweetwater2  Sweetwater

Back in December, the USGBC awarded Sweetwater Creek State Visitors Center the coveted Platinum level LEED-NC, making it just the 20th building in the world to receive the USGBC’s highest certification.  Sweetwater was designed by Gerding Collaborative, an Atlanta-based architecture firm, to reduce the building’s potable water usage by 77% and energy usage by 51%.  At these numbers, when compared to a similar building, Sweetwater avoids about 27 tons of carbon emissions annually.  Plus, there’s the financial case for the building.  Sweetwater was completed at $175 per sf, which I understand is highly competitive for the area. 

In the words of Dan Gerding, AIA, Managing Principal of Gerding Collaborative, "The Sweetwater Project is a great example of how a new way of looking at design is good for the building’s owner, good for the people who use the building on a daily basis, and good for the environment."  His firm walks the talk.  About 70% of the firm’s technical staff is LEED Accredited (LEED-AP). 

The building has a slew of classic green features such as a 10.5 KW photovoltaic array, vegetated roof, composting toilet system, drip irrigation system, and rainwater collection system.  Also, for the architects out there, Sweetwater is one of the first LEED-Platinum buildings to be designed using 3D "virtual building" technology, Archicad 10.  I understand the technology allowed different members of the team to visualize the project in context to provide design and technology solutions more effectively than if the project were designed with the typical 2D approach. 

Extra Links:
Sweetwater Platinum LEED Design Press Release



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