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Architecture Monday

July 24, 2017

A wonderful school project in Zambia.  Using locally sourced materials and careful study of the site, this is one great set of classrooms.  The roof is calculated to shade the structure just right from the hot hot sun, acting like a giant parasol that keeps things below cool.  The windows are placed both high and low to let in lots of light without causing glare.  The split design lets the spaces between classroom blocks be porticos, porches, and spaces to gather and teach.  And the space between the parasol and the buildings is used as additional, open-air, classrooms – which in turn is a further moment of delight in the perforated wall that frames the stair access.

That seemingly mundane concrete block that makes the perforated wall possible is almost invisible to our eyes, so jaded by the usual uses of concrete block in our everyday lives, by careful detailing and the application of a lusciously smooth plaster.  With a rhythm defined by the carefully placed windows, it stands proudly but not disruptively amongst the big skies and grasslands that surround it.

This is no big budget project.  It is, however, big on design.  Creativity transcends.  It takes what’s there and multiplies it, crafting delightful spaces that works better for more people, in turn acting as a force multiplier for the activities of the community.  Great work.

Chipakata Children’s Academy by Susan Rodriguez, Frank Lupo, Randy Antonia Lott, Fabian Bedolla, Hiroko Nakatani, Mehonaz Kazi

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Architecturally Chuffed

July 23, 2017

I received this in an email this from a client a couple of years after project completion and it is music to my architect ears:

“Your visit gave me a chance to reflect again on how happy I am with the way we designed the space. Along with all the technical requirements, it was important to me that it feel pleasant to work in, and indeed it does.”

A space that feels great and works well is what we strive for, and it is always wonderful to know when we hit that mark.

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Gaming Thursday: The Mouse Guard Epiphany

July 20, 2017

With another chapter in our Dresden Files game come to a close, my group and I have plunged ourselves into Mouseguard.  Based on the grand graphic novels by David Peterson, it promises a heavily narrative-based game (it uses a version of the Burning Wheel system).  We’ve played a half-dozen or so sessions, and we’ve progressively been getting into the swing of things.  There are a quite number of intricacies to the system that took us a while to remember and get a handle on;  more than we were anticipating, but as we play more and more we can see how they interconnect and what they make available.  However, there was one aspect of the game that kept seeming to elude us, something that despite our growing familiarity of the system still seemed to be robbing our game of what we felt should be a certain flow and involvement.

Last weekend, though, in one of those hilarious moments of non-sequitur insights while randomly walking through my house, I got just what had been eluding us:  Compared to the resolution structure in most RPGs, Mouseguard’s is reversed.

In all the RPGs I’m familiar with (indeed, this has been the “normal” way of playing since I started playing 30 odd years ago), scenes* are played out in “real-time”, with players/characters acting and reacting to events as they unfold in the scene, and die rolls are made whenever the GM thinks one of these (re)actions has a chance of failure.  This continues with further (re)actions and further die rolls until the scene ends.  Many different skills or abilities may be tested during a scene, and the players are usually trying to angle themselves and their actions towards “victory.”

Here is where Mouseguard flips things on its (mouse) ear:  there is only one test, and it happens at the start of a scene.

Things begin with the GM describing the basics of the obstacle to be overcome in very broad, 1000 metre view, terms.  The scene is also set in those broad terms:  it could be the forest, an entire city, underground caverns, or the sea.  With the obstacle set, the GM can present what skill needs to be tested to bring the party to a desired outcome, and the players can also suggest more.  Then one character makes the test, with potential (and game-rules-directed) assistance from the other characters.  After a rather involved series of steps and ways to have the test be successful (and it makes much more sense why there are so many steps once we got how few influential the few test rolls are), the party either succeeds or fails.

And then you narrate the heck out of how the party gets to that conclusion.

That there is the biggest shift to make to get Mouseguard… Setting the scene also includes setting how the scene will end.  Everyone around the table knows this outcome.  Armed with that knowledge, you all work to tell the most interesting story you can come up with for how it all plays out.

Wow.

I think this is quite cool.  And I’d say definitively the most narrative angle of the narrative-RPGs I’ve played.  There’s a certain liberation in starting the scene knowing you will fail (or succeed, for that matter) – you can set up your failure much more intricately, much more delicately, and much more satisfyingly than wondering how you’ll do on that next skill test (and knowing there could be several more skill tests).  And since everyone knows, the whole group gets in on the act.  Maybe they all act in concert to foul things up, maybe one of them botches things, maybe they try valiantly but the environment gets them, maybe they lose big, maybe they just miss it by milimetres.  Interpersonal interactions can play a role, friends and enemies could be involved, it’s all open to play with.

Overall, I think this creates the potential for much richer stories.  Maybe it lends itself more towards mostly third-party narration versus acting things out, but I don’t know yet.  I’m excited to see how we play it out in our group.  Now that we’ve got the sequence down right, I’m sure we’ll begin to further grok the various intricacies between all the different inputs (persona points, fate points, beliefs, etc) and also use them in a much more rich manner.

For sure I’m still a big fan of the real-time and extemporaneous style of play, but this reverse-o way of playing has got me really eager to see what comes out of it.  I’ll let you all know how it turns out.

 

* While there’s usually no hard and game-rules enforced start to a scene, there is a certain point where the GM begins to describe things in more detail or with more urgency, often accompanied by the description of a new location.

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Wonder Wednesday

July 19, 2017

There are few times the expression “stopped in my tracks” has been a literal one for me.

This was one of those times.

I recently visited the space shuttle Endeavour at the California Science Centre.  I had seen this shuttle before, as it flew overhead on its last voyage towards its science centre home.  But this was up close and personal.  As soon as I entered the doorway to the hanger in which it resides and looked up at the shuttle raised overhead, I was hit with grandeur and amazement.  I stood there for many minutes and just looked, taking it all in before I returned to myself and began an slow and deliberate tour around its entirety, from nose to tail and back.

 

Endeavour is magnificent.

Larger than you might think, until you are that close.  Still bearing the signs of her last reentry, score marks along the tiles here, darkening around the tail there.  Nearby are tires furrowed from their sudden re-encounter with terra firma.  Every bit a technological marvel.  That have been to space.  And back.  Again.  And again.

I’ve loved our space programs forever.  I can remember where I was when I learned about the Challenger explosion, can remember rushing in at home later that day to find whatever coverage I could find about it, remember where I was when I learned about Columbia’s breakup, listening with growing dread as I drove to Saturday practice.  I had a chance once to see a launch at the Cape – I didn’t work it out to do so.  I am kicking myself a bit now for not having done so…

But here she was, silent but present, firmly held by our planet’s grip yet still soaring in spirit, delivering wonder.

 

(Unfortunately, despite the scissor lift, we were not being offered a chance to go inside the orbiter… )

(Nifty to note that this is not Endeavour’s final position – there’s plans for a new exhibition building that will have her mounted vertically to the external tank and solid rocket boosters in launch configuration, with a gantry nearby allowing for several levels of viewing access.  This will have the three shuttles on display around the country being shown in all three of the orbiter’s modes:  Launch (here), Orbit (Kennedy Space Centre), and Landing (Smithsonian National Air & Space).

(I cannot help but laugh and love the following bill of lading transferring the shuttle to the science centre, also on display… especially the initial cost line!)

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Philosophy Tuesday

July 18, 2017

This is a philosophical statement.  It is intended to spark thinking and examining.  Tonight, a quote:

 

The majority of what exists is arbitrary…

Neither inevitable nor right…

Simply the result of muddle and happenstance.

 

The School of Life

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Architecture Monday

July 17, 2017

I don’t think it’s a surprise at this point that I’m a fan of Snøhetta.  And this lovely cabin design is just another example why.

Check this out.  There’s a nice play at work here between a long rectangular bar and a playful roof whose base (but not ridge!) has been rotated in relation to that base bar.  This opens up a whole bunch of spatial magic.  Just from the outside, there’s something fun about it, with roof lines going this way and that, and every side looking different and intriguing.  I also like how the play of angles is reinforced by punctuating each end of the rectangular bar by a prominent and solid concrete box that does double duty to store wood or outdoor gear.

All of this really sings by the generous porch, where the interplay creates a deck that opens outward and upward towards the landscape beyond.  Inside, the windows reach all the way to the roof, bringing scads of light in and letting your view wander out.

All throughout the play of angles create little nifty moments and opportunities, from the small covered entry on the one side, and the expanding bedrooms on the other.

At its core, this is a very straightforward three bedroom cabin, designed for a multitude of locations.  With some equally straightforward but carefully considered design moves, Snøhetta has created a cabin far beyond the ordinary.  And, most excitingly, it’s also a prefab, so we can all get one!  Got a spot?  Call in an order and have it shipped your way…

Great, great work.  Gapahuk by Snøhetta.

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D23 Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge: Architect’s View

July 15, 2017

Disney Imagineering and Disney Parks released a huge model yesterday of the upcoming Star Wars land at both Disneyland and Walt Disney World (to which the name has also potentially been leaked as Galaxy’s Edge).  And I do mean huge model – a full blown architectural model complete with silhouette people.  Quite frankly, it is crazy impressive, and it gives an amazing amount of insight into how the land will be designed (and how far they have to go to complete it, judging by looking at recent satellite imagery).  Seeing this model has me totally stoked – so much has been revealed!  Let’s do the architectural deep dive!

First and foremost, the baseline for all the buildings appears to be around 3-4 stories tall.  These are not small at all, and walking down the streets and alleys will feel very canyonlike.  The streets are also twist and kink.  Not only does this mean you won’t be able to see out of the area, thus cementing the magic and immersion, but it also, quite significantly, means that you also won’t be able to see most of the rest of the Star Wars area either.  Which in turns means you’ll never get a reference for scale which will make the park feel larger than it is as you walk and explore all over.  This is very different than many of the other areas at Disney.  Because you can’t see one street over, and you’ll rarely get a “down the street” look, coupled with the fact that there is so much detail and little alleyways and alcoves and they are probably littered with little interactive moments, this thing is going to feel huge.

The only area where you have a straight sightline will be the Resistance (though I’ll call it Rebel area, I’m oldschool) camp.  This in of itself is an unexpected twist, a forested area that’s separate from the starport area.  We’re getting two new themed lands in one!

Back to the buildings, making them so tall also means they have plenty of room for second or even third floors.  I’d wager most of this will be taken up for “backstage” areas – one of the most exciting things about this new Star Wars land is that there will be no Disney castmembers within it, or, more precisely, every single castmember will be “in costume”.  It is a 100% role playing area, and so if you go to buy a drink, you’re not buying it from a Disney uniformed member in some themed restaurant, you are buying it from Grubarsh the Jenet from their cantina.  It’s all RP, all the time, and they are going to need a lot of backstage areas for members to costume up, rest, and travel to and fro without being seen “out of character”.  That said, there’s a lot of second story area, and they could potentially put some attractions up there and grow the amount of content in the land without growing its footprint.

The next most interesting thing for me is all that rock.  Hiding the large rides – Battle Escape and the Millennium Falcon ride – behind rock faces is a great way to keep what amount to very large buildings from breaking up the ramshackle small-scale feel of all the rest of the starport buildings.  It also creates a very strong edge that’ll help in the feeling of a cramped starport, nestled up as much as it can to a natural boundary.

And then there are all those spires – if the scale of everything within that model is accurate, those are some very tall spires, tall enough they’ll likely match the Matterhorn and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, out rivaling the height of the castle.  From outside the land those spires will be very visible.  While Galaxy’s Edge is very well designed to be isolated visually (and thematically) from within the rest of the park (and, as noted above, vice-versa), these rock spires break that isolation enough to be a calling card.

There’s so many fun details to explore in this model, which bodes well for the real thing.  This is going to be a blast to be in, totally immersive, with so much to discover.  Plus they’re talking about tracking visitors real time through “Galaxy Credits”, so that your actions on rides (such as how well you pilot the Millennium Falcon) and interactions with the denizens of the starport and the Resistance base will influence how your subsequent interactions will go.  This sounds amazing (and a bit creepy!), and will mark a very different park going experience, one of being a participant and character rather than an idle spectator.  Very cool.

Now all we have to do is wait two years for it to open.

 

Photos sourced from the following, check them out for additional coverage including videos of the model!

blogmicky.com

Mercury News

DSNY Newscast

And the official Disney Parks Blog