Monday, September 2, 2013

Life after grad school

Now that my M.Arch degree is finished I've been switching gears.  Instead of long hours in front of the computer or at the desk sketching, I'm spending most of my time in my shop.  I'm building 13 doors right now.  Of course I'm also sending out job applications here and there, but I had this contract lined up before school was even over so I haven't been rushing around looking for other work.

The doors I'm building at the moment are made of beautiful, vertical grain Doug Fir.  It's great stuff and has very tight rings if a bit chippy.  I've also had the chance to design a house (it's in the permitting process now) and get back to fly fishing some.

While this isn't a terribly informative update I thought I'd post anyway just to keep the blog going and to share some pictures.

The mortise and tenon joint from the doors I'm building.

Sometimes you just need a big saw.  This is my 18" Rockler radial arm crosscutting a 30" panel.

My Wadkin shaper sporting an Amana insert cutter to give a nice clean 1/2" groove for the panels.

My Millbury tenoner in action.  It beats setting up a table saw tenoning jig.


Stile, rail and panel assembly system showing the full 2 1/2" tenon.

A 36" door easily fits through my 43" Powermatic wide belt sander!

A nice pile of doors ready to have the edges sanded and then hung in jambs.

I need to do more of this.  Priorities!

Monday, August 5, 2013

PhytoGenesis - CGArchitect nomination and an Autodesk award

I thought I'd post a bit of information regarding my thesis project.  I've been really honored to have some of the work relating to the project get some recognition.  Even if you are hoping to receive an award it's always a bit of a shock to realize you just got it.  I must be a secret pessimist.

Anyway, in a nutshell, my 'final graduate project' was a design for a mixed-use structure (apartments, restaurant, farmers market, cafe, etc.) that met the Living Building Challenge and is located in Lake City, Seattle.  If you are unfamiliar with the LBC you should check it out.  It's a very cool idea and is more qualitative than some standards out there for sustainability.  There are only a few buildings in existence that meet the requirements so I thought graduate school would be a great way for me to push the boundaries of building performance.  Basically, to meet the LBC a building has to generate its own energy, deal with its own wastewater, etc.  It also has other standards such as it must be educational and, best of all, it must be beautiful.

I called the project 'PhytoGenesis' and it culminated in a video, some presentation boards, an hour long critique session as well as an in depth slideshow showing my calculations and whatnot.  I used Ecotect to demonstrate that the building could indeed support itself and used specs from solar and wind companies for the 'In' side of the energy balance.

The video I made was recently nominated for the 'Student Film' category of the international awards of 2013.  This is a huge honor since previous winners and nominees in other categories have included the likes of Alex Roman, Peter Guthrie and Betrand Benoit.  So that was very exciting!

The project also received an award for 'Excellence in Analysis' from Autodesk.  This was a huge honor as well and I'm very grateful to Autodesk for the recognition.  It's a new award so I'll be eager to see future recipients.

Check out the film here as well as the other winners\nominees of the CGArchitect awards.

Here are some images from the project itself:

South Elevation - A night time view showing the vertical gardens.  The stores below are the cafe and the farmers market.

The Green Ramps - The tenants would help tend this but they also have their own gardens.  Most of this produce would go to the farmer's market.  Any work done here would help offset rent, etc.

Restaurant and Personal Gardens - The Eco Machine is just visible at the top layer.  The roof includes a large PV array and turbines above.  The restaurant seen below would also be partially supplied by the green ramps.

Restaurant and Personal Gardens - Night

The Main Entrance

The Atrium - The cisterns are visible, increasing the educational aspect of the building.  If tenants see the water they might be more apt to use it sparingly and responsibly.

Living Machine - The Lagoons (visible here) help process waste water.  Water hyacinths, water lilies, snails, etc. all help in the process.

Hydroponic Planters - This is a great way to grow plants and can produce faster and healthier sprouts.

Curtain Wall Detail - The curtain wall is supported by spider clips attached to struts.  The shear for the main columns comes from steel cables.

Entrance at night

Systems Section

Vertical Garden Section

Monday, May 13, 2013

'Best Use of Idaho Wood' Competition

Now that school is finally over and I've got a bit of time to catch up on things, I thought I'd do a quick couple of posts to this blog.  I have quite a bit of new work to show, but the main two things are my graduate 553 studio work and my thesis.

The 553 studio culminated in a little in-school competition.  It was oriented around using Idaho wood products in a beautiful and unique way.  A member of Olson Kundig Architect's came to judge as well as a local Idaho architect and a representative from the Forest Products Commission.

Anyway, long story short I was lucky enough to place 1st in the comp!  There were lots of great entries, so it was a lot of fun to see the judges give feedback and critique.

Here are the boards.  They were printed as (2) 24x36 units, landscape and mounted one on top of the other.  I reduced the DPI for uploading.

Final competition boards

This project was actually before my render farm (last Fall.)  It would have been nice to have had it.  Even though I wasn't doing a movie (maybe I would have?), I find that the iterative process is much quicker and agile when you have 32 high speed processor threads at your disposal.  So, in other words, rendering power doesn't just help the images, it helps the design!

North side at night

As far as rendering goes, it was Max + Vray + GrowFX etc.  All the plants, gravel, etc are 3d.  It ended up being a fairly heft scene, largely thanks to the conifer needs etc.  I can't remember the scene size but I think it was in the 18gb range when it came to render time.  I really enjoyed this project since it was a whole semester.  Also I have a love-hate relationship with competitions.  I love to win and hate to lose, so the whole semester I had a certain tension hanging over me.  I think everyone feels that, though.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Deluxe Ikea Helmer Render Farm

I love to render both by hand and by computer.  The main constraint with my computer rendering lately has been speed.  I am pushing towards an animation on my thesis project and any time I do side projects I find that there literally are not enough hours in the day to do all the rendering required of me.  Therefore I decided to build a render farm....basically a box with lots of computers inside of it.

This has been done before.  You can build a render farm the expensive way by buying a 'rack' system.  But that adds up.  Or you can do it the crazy way where you make a home made render farm.  That's the path I chose.  It's cheap and it's got style!

So a friend of mine tipped me off to this idea.  Basically you get a cool little Ikea drawer cabinet called the Helmer and you stick sheets of cardboard or whatever at the base of the drawers and you put your motherboard on top of it with all its components.  It's a genius idea and people have been doing iterations of this for a while.  The problem I was running into, though, was that unlike the other Helmer builds I had seen, I wanted to overclock mine.  This meant more space was required for the cooler.  Also I had trouble finding a 7.6" wide MicroATX motherboard that could overclock well.

I currently run a home built desktop that sports a 2600k and an EVGA 580, both watercooled.  I thought about doing that but the logistics of pulling drawers in and out with that stiff, 3/4" tubing nixed it for me.  Also there was the cost of the waterblocks, the radiator, etc.  I wanted to keep this cheap!

To start out with, let me show you a picture of the Helmer in it's stock, unmodified condition:

Ikea Helmer

Fortunately for me my dad is an amateur machinist.  Over Christmas break I mentioned to him that I was trying to resolve some issues with how I was going to fit all my nodes in the cabinet and get all the parts and pieces to fit.  I also mentioned that I wanted to overclock and was thinking of reducing the density from 6 nodes per cabinet to 3.  My thought was since the cabinets are so cheap, better to increase the value of your nodes by overclocking even if it means losing space.  So we settled on 2 drawers per node giving us 3 nodes per cabinet.

Here are some pictures showing the process:

Drilling the holes for the shelf rails

Making sure the spacers are all the same length

The beginnings of a node.

The power supply goes on that plate and the hard drive is mounted on its side from columns.

A node on its side showing horizontal rails and the angle iron used to stiffen it.

All the pieces needed for one node 'shelf'

We took out half the rails and lined the remaining ones with wood

They are dense little suckers!

We used these buttons for the power switch.  For a connector we spliced into the fan connector from the stock intel cooler.  It was able to slide over the front panel pins.  It's 4 pin and the power switch on the motherboard is only two but it overhung the edge so all was well.

It's a tight fit!

The beginning of something good!  But we needed air movement and filtration.  What to do??

On one of our many late night excursions to Home Depot for supplies we spotted this.  The idea was to slice and dice it and turn it into filters for every other drawer front.  Then the fans could go in the back of the cabinet.
Web Absorber:

 So we had to cut out the front of the drawer fronts.  An easy job with a vertical mill and an 1/8" endmill bit.

After some bandsawing and trimming this is the basic idea.  The aluminum rails not only hold in the  filter material but attach the lower draw front to the upper (we're doing two drawers per node, remember.)

The air filter and the button.

The top shelf.  We included a power strip and network switch both mounted with industrial strength velcro.

Milling the hole pattern in the back.

The back almost looks better than the front!

The finished product in place and rendering!

So that's it!  That's the Helmer as a ridiculously deluxe render farm.  It was a three week process, but a lot of that was the 'invention' of this beast.  There are a huge number of problems to be resolved when you actually start the project.  Also both my dad and I got colds during that time, did holiday related activities, built furniture, chopped firewood, etc.  So it wasn't our full time job in other words.  Feel free to post comments with questions or feedback.  My render time now has dropped to 1/3 of what it was.  I expect it to drop to 1/4 when the third node is complete.  If you feel like donating the CPU, HDD and Ram for the last node don't hesitate to let me know....

And for your convenience, here is a list of typical hardware per node:

Hardware List:

Asrock Z77 Pro3 Motherboard
Intel 2600k oc\ed to 4.5ghz
Intel 330 60gb hard drive
32gb Ripjaw Ram
Cooler Master 212 Plus CPU cooler
Lots of Cooler Master Case Fans
A basic Gigabit Switch
A basic 550watt power supply

Saturday, October 13, 2012


First of all I really can't claim credit for this technique.  I got the idea from Bertrand Benoit's post on Two-Tone Trees (link).  More specifically I got the idea of using VRayDistanceTex to drive two-tone from a comment on BB's page by Mark Whelan.  Pure genius, thank you Mark and BB!

So basically what VRayDistanceTex does is say your have a 'Far Texture' and a 'Near Texture.'  Then you choose what object(s) you want to drive this distance and set a distance parameter (4' for example.)  So what I did is use a giant invisible (non-rendering but visible in viewport) sphere as my 'object.'  Then I assigned the VRay2Sided mat to my tree.  The diffuse was what is driven by VRayDistanceTex.  I've attached a material screenshot below along with some quick, sample renders.  Not the best tree but you get the idea.  It's based off a GrowFX sample with my own custom leaf material.

One nice thing about this technique is that its a super smooth gradient, so you actually get like 3 tones or more, depending on how different your two defined tones are.  I'm just struggling to define the falloff from the object, though.  There aren't that many parameters with VRayDistanceTex (just 'Distance' which is a number, not a map or anything) and I would have expected to see some kind of a graph or gradient to control the strength of the object as you get further away.  If you have ideas on this please comment!

Anyway, definitely check out BB's blog post on this, though, because he shows a totally different, more precise way of controlling color tone using the Vertexpaint modifier.

I could see using this in lots of ways...leafless branches, dead pine needles, things like that.  Fun!

Nice red's and yellows

Different lighting and tones...getting some green

Also this isn't using VRayDistanceTex, but its a closeup of the material that I thought I'd share:

Monday, August 13, 2012


Here are some pictures of the built project shown in the last set of renderings.  I'm also including an image of it just rendered out with VRay RT (a GPU based rendering side of VRay...meaning it uses your video card, not your CPU.)

I've actually been really pleased with how the rendering\architecture\viz side of my life is complementing my life as a furniture\cabinet maker now that I've spent a summer back in my shop.  VRay RT really, really speeds up the workflow too.  Unfortunately it doesn't support VRay Dirt, color corrections, etc. so you don't really get as nice a result as you might otherwise.  Oh well.


The legs protrude through the top

Board-and-batten back

An early render, pre-build for the client