Liberated Architecture
February 15, 2009, 11:58 pm
Filed under: Architecture, Rural Architecture, Travel

Recently on a trip to South America we visited Tigre, a community about an hour north of Buenos Aires by train. Also known as the archipelago of Argentina, the area is a web of inter-connecting rivers and streams. Within the labyrinth of waterways were hundreds of homes and cabins representing the full spectrum of form, size and design philosphy. There didn’t seem to be any master-plan, development or overall scheme.  Aesthetic covenants seemed to be excluded from the community and, judging from some of the structures, it didn’t even seem like a permit process or building department was involved. It appeared to be a community of liberated architecture. Some projects were clearly built from an architect’s drawings; others could have been crafted on site without a single piece of documentation. Needless to say, we were fascinated.

[Photo by Andrea CB]

[Photo by Magdo-50]

[Photo by BUILD LLC]

[Photo by Gabriel Robledo]

[Photo by BUILD LLC]

[Photo by BUILD LLC]

[Photo by BUILD LLC]

[Photo by BUILD LLC]

[Photo by Hanneorla]

[Photo by Hanneorla]

[Photo by BUILD LLC]

[Photo by BUILD LLC]

[Photo by BUILD LLC]

[Photo by bdnegin]

[Photo by Bloggingsouls]

It’s easy to imagine that an environment like this is the product of a community that solves differences through communication rather than filing lawsuits.  A population of individuals who maintain an open mind about appearances and design rather than trying to control and manipulate the built environment through review boards and covenants.  A society that designs and builds responsibly because it’s the right thing to do, not because a building department required them to do so.

The diversity of architecture and construction in Tigre was refreshing and it seems like there are some fundamental lessons to learn here about society and behavior.


Structures of the Andes: Architecture without Architects
February 5, 2009, 10:13 am
Filed under: Architecture, Industrial Architecture, Rural Architecture, Travel


On a recent trip to South America we took the opportunity to cross the Andes Mountain range.  Los Libertadores Pass reaches an elevation of 11,483 feet and connects Argentina’s wine country, to Santiago, Chile.  The 8 hour bus trip was fascinating and we were stuck to the glass like paparazzi for most of the journey.  Of particular interest were the abandoned structures once used to protect outdated train tracks from the snow, ice and wind.  Odd as it may be, these dilapidated structures seemed to belong within this pristine environment.  There is an uncanny harmony that exists between these modest, horizontal skeletons and the dramatic backdrop of the mountains.


No architect was involved with these structures – they’re too straight-forward and functional.  An architect would have adulterated them by over-designing them.  Ironically, despite the design efforts of architects, it is often the brutally pragmatic, utilitarian structures devised by engineers that fit in most harmoniously with nature.

In order to better communicate the scale and grandeur of these scenes, today’s photos can be enlarged by clicking on them.










[All photos by BUILD LLC]

The Architecture of Significance
January 30, 2009, 9:34 am
Filed under: Architecture, Rural Architecture, Travel


Today’s post is not so much about architecture as it is about what it takes to create a significant place.  Recently on a trip to Argentina’s wine country, we came across Casa Glebinias, a rural bed and breakfast at the foot of the Andes Mountains.  This wonder of a place is extraordinary because of the patience, thoughtfulness and intentionality that went into it.  No amount of money or architectural glamor alone could achieve this level of quality and substance.



The main house is approached via a dirt road lined with gorgeous lush trees.  Until you actually reach the steps to the home, it’s not clear where the house ends and the landscape begins.


This assimilation between built-form and vegetation has been a delicate 25 year process for owners Alberto and Maria Gracia.  Setting out on a labor of love, the grounds became a laboratory for exploring the harmony of form, color and aroma.  Each tree and flower has been carefully selected and placed over the years, additional cabins for their guests have been delicately worked into the setting.


The guest houses, spread out around the grounds, are small heavy structures which shield from sunlight during the day and radiate heat throughout the night.  They are not sleek and modern yet they don’t attempt to reference design styles from the past.  The structures do not subscribe to any notion of today’s fashionable “green architecture” practices, yet they will be standing long after most homes clad with solar panels and boasting greywater tanks have been demolished.  Doors open up to veiled sitting areas carved out of the landscape.  Handwoven shades cover the windows during the hot afternoons.


In speaking with the owners, the architect didn’t even come up.  I’m sure they have great respect for the architect, and the architecture is an important ingredient to the eventual outcome of the grounds, but this place just isn’t about the architecture.  It’s about going out each day and getting your hands dirty.  It’s about taking care of something you’re dedicated to. It’s about life and friends and plants and gardens.  It’s about cultivation and the process of life.  At the same time there is a tremendous amount for us architects to learn from situations like this.



There is such a harmony reached by this setting that it may in fact be one of the best examples of minimalism we’ve seen.  Over time, the trees and vegetation grow and flourish until one day the house disappears in the landscape.  The house is just as functional and enjoyable as ever – it’s just become part of the environment.  Something we struggle our entire careers to create.


Bringing some thoughts back home; there seem to be some lessons that we could greatly benefit from here in the Northwest.

Staying in one place and cultivating a sense of “home” makes for better environments. In our transient society of constantly moving up the real-estate ladder, staying in a home for 25 years must seem absurd.  But it is this dedication to place that creates significance.

Allow living things and the process of weathering to play a role.
We’re not saying that you should leave that moss growing on the north side of your cedar shingled roof, but the culmination of a home should be a process that unfolds over time in conjunction with nature.

Some of the best work never gets published because it’s too mindful.
The Casa Glebinias will never get published in an architectural book or magazine.  It’s too reasonable, to modest and too difficult to encapsulate in a sound-bite.  The architectural press often focuses on drama and fashion, leaving truly significant works by the wayside.  While publications are important, such direct correlation between publication and the success of a project seems unhealthy.

[All photos by BUILD LLC]

If you’re planning on spending any time in the Mendoza region of Argentina we highly recommend staying at Casa Glebinias outside of Chacras de Coria.  For more information click here or drop us a line, we’d be more than happy to keep blabbering on about how wonderful it is.

The Wineries of Mendoza
January 22, 2009, 2:21 am
Filed under: Architecture, Industrial Architecture, Rural Architecture, Travel


Recently we spent some time down in South America, a successful maneuver to avoid the snowstorm, the rain storm and the other snowstorm here in the northwest. We had the opportunity to visit Mendoza Province, Argentina’s highly acclaimed wine country. In so doing we documented the wineries, the dramatic backdrop of the Andes Mountains and, of course, the wine itself. The architecture of the wineries and the surrounding landscapes are extraordinary in Mendoza. While we only photographed a few for today’s post, there are several other modern wineries in the area.


Bodega Septima
Architecture: the long, low structure draws influence from Mayan ruins and the massive form feels like part of the earth. Stairways climb the rough stone walls and lead to a roof terrace overlooking the vineyards and providing a spectacular view of the Andes. The interiors are organized in a simple, straight forward logic; the process of winemaking starts at one end of the building, each sequence of the process following the other.  The construction suggests that labor is cheaper than materials in Argentina.



Wines: Syrah, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec – Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay Semillon
Their Chardonnay is aged 40% in oak barrels and 60% in stainless steel tanks producing a light, dry, crisp chardonnay (no buttery, oaky flavors).


Because of violent hail storms, Septima has installed nets on each side of the vines running the full length of the rows. Apparently the hail has become so intense in years past that entire harvests have been ruined. While the black nets reduce the amount of light to the vines, they provide insurance of keeping the grapes on the vines in the event of a hail storm.


Interesting design note: Septima uses a different name (Maraso) and makes a different label which is more colorful for the United States; apparently the more colorful labels sell better in the U.S.

[Photos by BUILD llc]

Architecture: an interesting hybrid of heavy brick walls and light steel frames, the winery is smaller than most in the area. The concept is similar to a large barn with appendages for the various functions located on the sides. Keep in mind that Mendoza is a seismic zone – while there is a tremendous amount of brick utilized, it’s actually just infill between a reinforced concrete frame.



Vaulted brick ceilings inside add to the character and provide some natural cooling during the warm days.


Wines: Malbec and Quimera
The small winery prides itself on low yields and high quality. They do not use the vine nets, common at most of the vineyards. The occasional loss of a years harvest, due to the hail storms, may explain the high prices of the wines here (~100 USD per bottle). Tasting a flight of reds at Archaval-Ferrer is wonderful, the incremental qualities of their wines are apparent (even for us amateurs).

[Photos by BUILD llc]

A typical lunch can be overwhelming in Mendoza. The photo below shows 1 of 4 delicious courses at a roadside restaurant.


Belasco de Baquedano
Architecture: One of the more dramatic wineries, the architecture draws from a strange combination of traditional architectures. We’re not typically fans of re-interpreted traditional styles but the building seems to pull it off (or did we just have too much to drink).



Once inside the spaces become stark and almost monastic in their simplicity and minimalism. When not in use, the immense empty rooms are cleaned to perfection.




The highlight is the smelling chamber, an entire room dedicated to the smells relevant to the design and production of wines. The red tones and glowing perimeter lamps are straight out of a Stanley Kubrick film.

[Photos by BUILD llc]

Wines: Baquedano only produces Malbecs: the 4 different labels are Swinto, AR Guentota, Llama and Rosa. The wines here seemed to be the best value per dollar of the wineries we tasted at.

Wine tasting in Napa, the Willamette Valley and Walla Walla we’ve found that hitting 6 or 8 wineries in a day is reasonable. In Argentina, however, you’ll be lucky to conquer 3 tastings. The distances are greater between wineries; most of the tours tend to be private and therefore pre-arranged reservations are required. There’s more discussion and hand waving and you’d be delinquent not to take a nice long lunch. Here are a couple of wineries that, regretfully, we didn’t make it to.

O. Fournier

[Photos by A Texan in Argentina]


[Photo courtesy of Salentein]

As always, don’t be shy with the comment button, we love to hear your thoughts. Cheers

4 Cities in South America
January 13, 2009, 6:07 pm
Filed under: Architecture, The Modern List, Travel


After sneaking off to South America over the holidays we’re back in the saddle here at the BUILDblog.  Our travels were brief and the cities we visited are immense, so we figured we’d post quick impressions of each along with a few images, rather than comprehensive modern lists like we’ve done for other cities.  To bring the discussion back around to the northwest, we think there are elements from each South American city that Seattle can learn from.


Buenos Aires, Argentina
Population: City = 3 Million, Metro = 13 Million

Apparently, it is every citizen’s God-given right to have a terrace in the city of Buenos Aires.  And cheers to that – flourishing vegetation drapes from the buildings over tree lined avenues and creates a lush urbanism.  Buenos Aires is bold with new architecture situated directly alongside the traditional.  Overall it creates an environment that is both authentic and fascinating.



A few recommendations:

The Recoleta and Palermo neighborhoods


MALBA museum

Recoleta Cemetery

Puente de la Mujer Bridge by Santiago Calatrava

Banco Hipotecario Nacional

Biblioteca Nacional

A good source for apartment rentals is apartmentsba , we recommend the SAN1 apartment at Defensa 1035 unit 5
[photos by BUILD LLC)

Santiago, Chile
Population: City = 5 Million, Metro = 7 Million

Santiago is a good town to be a tourist in for a bit.  The funicular and gondola, which take you up and back down Cerro San Cristobal hill, are a great way to get the lay of the land and also see the spectacular backdrop of the Andes mountain range behind the city.

[photo by Trip Advisor)

A few recommendations:

Avenue Nueva Costanera has it all, modern shops, furniture showrooms and incredible restaurants like La Mar and Sole


The food market in the historical downtown

Amoria restaurant at the base of the funicular

Some modern work downtown

A modern addition to a traditional school near the base of the gondola

[photos by BUILD LLC)

Sao Paulo, Brazil
Population: City = 11 Million, Metro = 22 Million

Our theory is that at some point in the 80’s or 90’s they were giving concrete away for free in Sao Paulo.  The massive amount of concrete in the city is staggering, as are the ambitious forms and bold geometries.  Even as modernists, Sao Paulo struck us as brutally modern.  Walking the city is fascinating but it can also be grim and dismal, we recommend selecting key destinations and cabbing it or taking the subway between.  While the individual pieces of architecture are worth seeing, the landscape and space in between seems neglected and left to chance.



A few recommendations:

Hotel Unique and its restaurant + bar provides spectacular view of the city

Museu de Arte de Sao Paulo

Praca do Patriarca

Avenida Paulista


[photos by BUILD LLC)

Also check out Pinacoteca do Estado Gallery and Spot restaurant for dinner

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Population: City = 7 Million, Metro = 14 Million

Rio is the perfect balance between urbanism and natural beauty.  The neighborhoods are big enough and dense enough to keep the design-minded fulfilled in exploration.  At the end of the day the pristine beaches are just a walk away, all with stunning mountain backdrops.  Gathering at the shore is a religious experience in Brazil and the beach seems to be the common denominator of culture.  It’s free, everyone is welcome and everyone strips down to as little as possible regardless of what they look like.



We didn’t take many photos in Rio because we were too busy doing nothing at the beach, but here are a few recommendations: Portinari Design Hotel, Fasano Hotel, Santa Teresa Hotel, Second World War Memorial, Palacio Gustavo Capanema, Museu de Arte Moderna, Forneria Rio restaurant, Frederico + Alessandro restaurant, Bar Luiz Beach Kiosk on Copacabana beach, Zaza restaurant, Londa bar at the Fasano Hotel

Fasano Hotel and Londa bar

Travelers waiting for the clouds to clear around Christo Redentor
[photos by BUILD LLC)

So to bring the discussion back home, here are 4 key elements from these South American cities that we think Seattle could use a little more of:

1. Mix the old with the new. Take good care of the older architecture and build new architecture using current materials and methods.  A city like Buenos Aires has retained its authenticity by doing so; at the same the layering of the different architectural styles is pleasant and interesting.

2.  If you’re going to build tourist transportation, do it well.  Santiago has a train with a cool name that goes straight up the side of a mountain and a gondola that takes you to terrifying heights.  Both means of transportation take you somewhere that you want to be and offer views of the city and mountains along the way.  Seattle has a waterfront streetcar (ding ding) and a 47 year old monorail.  Neither take you anywhere you couldn’t get by walking in the same amount of time you’ll spend waiting in line.

3. While we have our criticisms with Sao Paulo we like that they push the envelope of materials and design.  Concrete is great stuff and has potential to do amazing things.  Seattle could use a bit of that ambitious, bold design intention.

4. Seattle needs a place to do nothing.  We’re so geared to multi-task all the time that most of us Seattleites would probably bring a laptop to the beach.  Like the Brazilians, we need to establish a place in the city and a ritual of relaxing.  The Olympic Sculpture Park is on the right course if we can just keep the Master of Fine Arts students from blathering on about the theory of three dimensional form.

Cheers and let us know your thoughts…

On the Radar
November 20, 2008, 4:17 pm
Filed under: Architecture, Design, On the Radar, Seattle, Travel, Urban Architecture

On the Radar is BUILD’s every-couple-of-weeks synopsis of what we’re up to up.

Lately our favorite gratuitous image site is suckerPUNCHdaily which asks: “when was the last time you got punched by design?”
-thanks to Ryan


If you’re looking for more data to sink your teeth into head on over to Greenlineblog, it’s full of juicy information on design, technology and sustainability.
-thanks to Brian


The A-Cero website was new to us and the BUILD jury is still out.  Sexy architectural experience or overdesigned and complicated, you be the judge.
-either way, thanks to Josiah


A couple of weeks ago we started the Northwest Architecture Meetup group and rounded up the troops at Picnic for our first event.  If you live in or around Seattle and enjoy meeting design-minded peeps get yourself signed up for future soirees.  Check it out here.

We’ve got a new favorite drink.  A St. Germain is 1 shot gin, 1/2 shot St. Germain, 3 shots tonic water, throw a lime in there.


Porcelanosa out of Spain is manufacturing large porcelain tiles textured and graphically matched with a specific wood species.  The flooring material is said to be cost-effective,  maintenance free and extremely durable.  Typically we like materials to look like what they are but for some reason the images of Porcelanosa’s Woodtec line caught our eye.  It seems like this product line could have a wide range of uses like walls, backsplashes, indoor-outdoor surfaces… Find out more here.
-thanks to Ken


If you have not yet watched Annie Leonard’s Story of Stuff close down our silly little blog immediately and watch it here.  Then email it to people you like.  Solutions can be found here.


Have we been drinking too much again or did this last election exhibit better communication graphics than all other elections combined?  Check out the dynamic maps, cartograms dingbats, icons and yes.. cupcakes.






For a very thorough study in brand logo identity over time check this out.
-thanks to Angela


For a hilarious study of personal identity guidelines give Tank Studio’s Christopher Doyle a visit.
-thanks to Angela


The California Academy of Sciences designed by Architecture God Renzo Piano opened up last month and our BUILD senior field correspondent sent us photos hot off the press.
-thanks to Alex for the photos


JetBlue’s Terminal 5 at JFK re-opened on October 22nd.  The original TWA terminal by Eero Saarinen was given a $743M addition and update by Gensler and finally the elegant lines and cool lounges regain the lost romance of travel.  Get yourself on a flight to Manhattan and we’ll see you in the Deep Blue Bar for St. Germains.


There’s a new player in the modern lodging game.  i-escape’s website is a bit cluttered but it offers some hip hideaways and boutique hotels.  Afterall, you’ve got to compare the prices on tablethotels with something.

Modern cottages and cabins are a tough find but if you’re in need of lodging in Northern California look into the Healdsburg Cottages.  They’re website needs a nice modern update but the grounds look inspiring and the cottages, appropriately named Charles, Ray, George and Eileen, are little modern gems.
-thanks to ken

As far as non-fiction goes around here, Malcolm Gladwell is the bomb.  He just released Outliers, his latest book, on Tuesday November 18th and BUILD got a hot little copy in our hands.  “An ‘Outlier’ is a scientific term to describe things or phenomena that lie outside normal experience.”


Although Andrea Zittel has been producing art since the early 90’s we were only recently introduced to her work at MOMA.  Her recent projects look at our living spaces, functional household objects and daily behaviors.  She boils these items down to caricatures of habitation creating final pieces that are simple, humorous and refreshingly playful.  It’s nice to check in with her work after designing big houses all day.


The Bellevue Art Museum is at the tail end of John Grade’s: Disintegration Sculpture through Landscape; a phenomenal body of work that deserves some attention.  Get over to BAM, one of the few Steven Holl projects in the northwest, and check it out before the show closes on November 30th.


You most likely remember the provocative images from Chris Jordan’s “Running the Numbers” series which looks behind the curtain of our collective behavior in the U.S.  His photo montages are fascinating, haunting and infectious.  He recently spoke at the TED conference and if you’re a Seattle-ite get on over to Grey Gallery & Lounge on the Pike-Pine corridor and join us for the ARCADE release party on Wednesday, December 3rd which features Jordan’s “The Art of Waste”.


Despite the terrible market, nice projects continue to spring up in the northwest.  Portland’s newest addition, the Clinton Condominiums, relies on close collaboration between developer, architect and builder.  Hat’s off to developer Randy Rapaport who supported great design in a time when the path of least resistance is anything but.  The building is filling up with great homeowners, a bakery and a yoga studio.  Seattle take note – when you build sensible, timeless architecture, good peeps show up.
-thanks to Brian




Mini-malls, parking lots and big box stores seem to be the new focus of society-conscious architects willing to throw schematic ideas at real problems.  Recently, “The Washington Post assembled a team of artists, architects, engineers and developers to think creatively about what to do with spaces once occupied by big box stores”… Kudos to The Washington Post.  Read more about the second lives of big box stores here.

…that oughta keep you busy over the weekend

The Work of Gert Wingårdh
November 10, 2008, 12:30 am
Filed under: Architecture, Rural Architecture, Suburban Architecture, Travel

While traveling through Scandinavia last summer we came across the work of Gert Wingårdh.  We’re ashamed to admit it but, up until that point, we were not familiar with his work.  His show at the Swedish Museum of Architecture in Stockholm thoroughly reviewed a handful of his projects, both built and proposed.  Three of these projects struck us as not only significant, but critical works of architecture.  The works embody an elegant balance between poetic concept and a plainness of form.

The exhibit was accompanied by a small book titled “Eleven Houses, Reflexions over the Architecture”.  The explanations of each project are written like poems – the text below are excerpts from these poems.

Glaskasten Skulpture Museum, Marl Germany, 2005
By Gert Wingardh with Lars Bergström

Magnificent trees grow in the grounds
Some have to be felled to make room for the building
[the sculptor Lars Bergström] creates silicone shapes over these very trees
and allows their features to emerge as negative death masks
The memory of the trees appears as photorealistic,
Three dimensional cavities in the now extremely thick concrete wall


[Drawings courtesy of Gert Wingardh, Eleven Houses, Reflections over the Architecture]


Housing at Arabia Beach, Helsinki Finland, 2005

Pretensions, but also sadness
Tall, but stocky
A real person,
with crooked, bent hands

Architecture can also be such a person
When the objective is not to find the ideal form,
but rather the limit of a person
architecture becomes more tolerant
of deviations in both color and form

[Drawings courtesy of Gert Wingardh, Eleven Houses, Reflections over the Architecture]



Oijared Country Club & Golf Club, Lerum Sweden, 1986

We build
a simple concrete house
beside a hill
shovel earth over it
and sow grass

Easy and inexpensive

The first tee from the roof

Of course

[Drawings courtesy of Gert Wingardh, Eleven Houses, Reflections over the Architecture]






There is something about these projects that we can’t quite put our thumb on.  They are each rather ordinary – one might overlook the significance of the inset tree sculptures on the Glaskasten Museum; the Oijared Country Club isn’t even visible from most perspectives on the surrounding golf course; the untrained eye could drive right past the housing at Arabia Beach and not think twice.  But as understated as these projects are, they are also careful, thoughtful and sensible projects.  They are deliberate works of a master architect.

We’re proposing that the reason these projects are so extraordinary is precisely this quality of being ordinary.  The lack of design-hype.  These projects don’t have a theme that hits you in the face, no marketing package, no buzz, no sound-bite, hell 2 out of 3 don’t even have websites.  These projects don’t subscribe to any sort of architecture movement, they’re not plastered all over the cover of design magazines, they don’t tout their “green-ess” .  They just are.