What’s a Building 4?

Posted in architecture by johnsnavely on November 1, 2011

A couple months ago I finished work on the new offices for team RED (Research Experimentation Design). The extended team is about 170 people… my team is a tiny 7 of that.

As part of the Workplace Advantage Program, Microsoft Real Estate and Facilities funded a project to refresh the interior of the building. O+A was the architect. It’s a nice building with lots of unexpected places to work.

There’s a somewhat embarrassing video of me walking through the building and highlighting some of its features. I’m not good on camera, but you can see what it’s like.

Here’s a few pictures.

More here



Posted in architecture, art, culture by johnsnavely on January 10, 2011

A friend of mine asked me to come and guest lecture at a class he’s teaching at UW. It’s a graduate seminar in design– a theory course. There’s a fairly dense reading list already in the syllabus for each week, but for my guest lecture/discussion, I get to choose the readings.

There is a little irony in this task, since I’m pretty skeptical of theory and criticisms role in the design process. I often think of theory and criticism, especially as it is presented in the pedagogy, as working against the creation of good designers, as it diverts attention from the art making things to the art of talking about them.

As the syllabus has a decidedly modernist bent to it, I’ve decided to inject some pomo into the precedings. Here’s my draft list of readings (and a few comments):

Fredric Jameson
“Postmodernism, or The Logic of Late Capitalism”, New Left Review I/146, July-August 1984

Jameson is the bomb. He pretty much identifies most of the major problem areas within post modernism’s uneasy co-dependence on (Late Capitalist) culture. I’ve chosen the article instead of his book, because the article is a much easier read, the philosophical thought is much less dense, but the banter and critique situate his writing better historically.

Jameson comes down pretty hard on pomo stuff– his description of pastiche being the zenith of the attitude. Jameson is the foundation of the lecture; the rest of the articles are a slush of ideas that put his writing into tighter focus.

Yves Behar
Review of TechnoCraft Exhibition at Yerba Beuna Center for the Arts

They haven’t finished the catalog for this show, so we’ll have to read a review of it first. I’m not Behar’s biggest fan, but this show was quite good and very well curated. It presented a nice summary of a certain set of design trends that have taken root as a response to the same cultural forces of capitalism with which Jameson wrestles. (There’s also an uncomfortable naivete to the show and its design principles that is difficult to stomach.)

Andy Warhol
Final Interview

Jameson holds Warhol up to the fire a bit and it’s only fair to let Warhol defend himself. Warhol’s last living interview does so, in Warhol’s traditional laconic style. The artist’s remarks on The Last Supper and the price of Jasper John’s paintings are to be noted.

Ryan Trecartin
Shades of Notware
Ryan’s Web 1.0

While not entirely criticism, Trecartin’s work hints at much different processes and mental states for designers and artists to inhabit, with new tools and new ways of thinking. Web 1.0’s behind the scenes unveils what a designer’s thought process could look like, if they were as amazing as Mr. Trecartin. The idea that what Jameson calls design/art making might have little in common with the practice we give that name should be in question.

Keehnan Konyha, 2TheWalls
In Praise of Expedit
Dark-est Nostalgia
Lady Fag
Vader Barton
Michael Graves

Keehnan Konyha is an architectural and cultural critic who focuses mainly on interior design. Posts on his blog, 2TheWalls, consist of tightly curated mashups of text and image. Most entries tend to show their postmodern roots and yet, there are often carefully injected contemporary moments that bring the result outside of mere historicism and into current discourse. 2TheWalls might be what Jameson’s work might have looked like if he had been working 30 years later.

Who didn’t make the cut?

Tao Lin
Tao Lin is this decade’s Andy Warhol. A chapter of Richard Yates would have been enough to show some subtleties that Jameson did not see in Warhol. But there’s something to be said for the man himself. Interviews with Warhol read like Tao Lin novels. And so, Warhol stayed and Tao Lin left.

Sylvia Lavin
Sylvia Lavin says some beautiful things:

“[T]o be contemporary- to be on time, to move with time and the times, subject to its losses, entropies, provisionalities, obsolescences, currencies, intensities, fads, and flourishes is a possibility that architecture assiduously avoids.”

– From Lavin’s book Crib Sheets

But ultimately, her focus is much too architectural and her call to action, although compelling, lacks some substance. (Read my friends Stephanie Teurk’s review of Crib Sheets for more.) 2thewalls does more, better and can speak to an audience that Lavin cannot.

Wes Jones
Wes Jones’ article PostCool is pretty great. They should probably read it. Unfortunately, Jones is already in the syllabus and I didn’t want to repeat.

Quentin Tarantino
He’s too good for this lecture.

So that’s what I’m having people read. I’m not sure if I have to give a presentation or what. Are there any texts that you would include? I also don’t have a title for the set of readings…. suggestions?

Fog of More

Posted in architecture, technology by johnsnavely on August 24, 2010

Keiichi Matsuda, a student at Bartlett School of Architecture, has produced a set of slick visuals.

The in-air displays and gestures reminded me of this video, which is an interesting study of what your hands are doing when you read a book, minus the book:

This stuff seems a little far-fetched, but with a small, portable Kinect and some display glasses or contact lenses, it’s not that far off.

Heck, Pranav Minstry is doing it right now with a webcam and a pico-projector:

The strange part about these scenarios is the disappearance of physical objects, which I question. What would we covet and conspicuously consume? User Interface Designs? That doesn’t quite make sense.

All that Glittered

Posted in architecture by johnsnavely on July 30, 2010

Envisioning Lab

Posted in architecture, work by johnsnavely on July 15, 2010

A project I’ve worked on, The Envisioning Lab, opened a few months ago. We finally brought in a professional photographer (Paul Warchol) to take some pictures.

Here’s a couple:

More here.

Inside Out

Posted in architecture by johnsnavely on July 13, 2010

I’d like to make a building which does this:

I could spend all my time designing a crazy interior. And still tap the zeitgeist of funky envelopes. Sweet!

A Pool of Oil

Posted in architecture by johnsnavely on February 25, 2010

MIT Media Labs Firefly project has gotten a lot of press lately.

I read about the project on BLDBLG, where Geoff was cutting loose, imagining a world where screens were floating in air and cinema, like the weather, sweeps over our landscapes.

It made me wonder, however, what it we be like if we could create something a little more physical using similar principles. What if, instead of tiny helicopters, we had small robotically controlled globs of ferrofluid?

You’d have what looks to be a pool of oil, form itself into the shape of a room or a cave. Basically, you’d be building an architectural version of T-1000 from James Cameron’s Terminator 2.

It reminded me a bit of all those fluid simulations that take place in invisible boxes…maybe there is no box, the fluid just knows where the edges are.

All that Glitters is Good

Posted in architecture, art, friends, hobbies by johnsnavely on February 12, 2010

I just started my first architecture competition:

The rules are simple:

1.) Make an architectural drawing.

2.) Use glitter.

3.) Upload and win $500

Students of architecture, let’s make it impossible to walk through the country’s architecture studios without coming away with glitter on your soles (for at least a month).

Please share and participate!

ps David Lynch, I’d like you to be a judge. Please.


Posted in architecture, personal by johnsnavely on September 22, 2009

It’s been a while since I posted anything here. Instead of talking about my work, I thought I’d give a little shout out to all my friends who are making interesting things happening.

A friend of mine from MIT, Sarah Dunbar, is showing a piece at the biennial in Korea. She’s posted a few in progress photos of the installation to flickr. It looks amazing!

Image:Sarah Dunbar

Image:Sarah Dunbar

Bryan Boyer, who works for Sitra these days,  just finished running creating the website for a Low2No a sustainable design competition. Arup was the winner in a field that included REX and BIG. The designs were “sketchy”, but I thought the design brief itself put some stakes into the ground at the appropriate scale– somewhere in-between an urban and architectural project. I’m excited to see what comes out of it!

In the spirit of green, my friends over at Howeler Yoon have posted a couple of rad looking renders of a new project they’re working on. I wonder if those pods are truncated octahedrons.

Image: Howeler Yoon

Image: Howeler Yoon

Image: Howeler Yoon

Image: Howeler Yoon

Last but not least, Stephen Perdue, one of my close friends from MIT is recently underemployed thanks to the construction recession in Boston. I’ve worked with him on a number of projects and he makes beautiful work. The upside of this is that you can hire him. He’s quietly updating his portfolio here. (Expect more great stuff in the next couple days.)

Some of my favorites are “Malibu Nights” and Stephen’s thesis “MegaShed”

Image:Stephen Perdue

Image:Stephen Perdue

Miner, Bronc Rider, Friend

Posted in architecture, books by johnsnavely on August 2, 2009


I went to the thrift store the other day to pick up a baking pan. While I was there I decided to get an inexpensive refill on Louis L’Amour paperbacks. At 65 cents a piece, these little books are meant to be consumed by the stack, but I am really enjoying these low budget Westerns.

After reading Chabon’s Yiddish Policeman’s Union, and a review of Pynchon’s new book in the New Yorker (and another review in The Stranger) I get the feeling that noir is back to being a stylish repository for real intellect. (Whoo!)

Seriously, from the review it sounded like Pynchon (Pynchon!) has written a novel that’s like The Long Goodbye, The Big Lebowski, and a little Easton Ellis (the west coast Ellis) all rolled into one. I’m pretty excited to read it.


Maybe the Western has already been played, but somehow I see it making a similar stand. There are characters, tropes, and story lines which could play nicely when modernized. (I wish the guy who made Brick would make a Western…) And I wonder, if I decided to make a building that was in the style of one of these Louis L’Amour books, what it might look like.