Power of the People

SPECIAL EDITION: Espyrial will be taking a break from your normally scheduled architecture and design content to discuss some digital and social media related things. The fact that this semester I am heavily immersed in marketing and political science classes is 100% to blame for this shift in content. Not to worry, this will be temporary, I’m about to set up a “spin-off” blog pretty soon to discuss more digital/technology related things, watch out for news about that.

You know what the best thing about the internet is? It connects people. It sets up a community for people to communicate and interact with each other. You know the saying two heads are better than one? Well just imagine what 1000’s of heads can do! (No the answer I am looking for is not chaos, or mayhem) Collective action can achieve many things. I have two great examples that I have been itching to share.

The first is this website called Kickstarter. If you haven’t heard of it yet, check it out, and then go design something worthwhile.

Like this:

Yea, cool right. Someday I’ll have an iPhone of my own, and I can buy this sweet little charging station.

Anyhoo, upon researching this little guy, I discovered Kickstarter.com and I am so excited that someone invented a platform like this. What an awesome way to help fund products and designs that people actually want. Simply put: 1)You have an idea 2)You submit it to kickstart 3)Start spreading the word and trying to reach your funding goal for your project by the stated deadline 4) Your idea becomes a reality. Share your idea with friends, family, twitter followers, the cashier at the grocery store, a random pedestrian and ask them to support your fabulous idea! Through Kickstarter, people can contribute as much or as little as they want to help you reach your goal and turn your idea into a reality. Generally, the designer will offer special product offers to those who contribute, as an appropriate thank you for their support. The limits are almost endless, an idea can literally be to create anything; art, music, technology, film, etc. Individually, $10 isn’t going to launch the production of a sweet new phone dock, but collectively, if 500 people donate 10$ that’s a whole other ballgame. Talk about having power. You, the people, get to help pick and choose some of the real life products that get created.

So finally the supa cool iPhone dock is made, in all its glory, and your friend Suzie wants one. Her birthday is coming up next week and you feel awesome because you can actually think of something to get her (which by the way, I never know what to get people for their birthday, so props to you). But alas, it retails for $40 dollars and you went to the movies last night ($12 dollars a ticket?!, seriously? Can I just stand in the back for half price?), and you bought a large popcorn (but it was only 25 cents extra!!) so now you only have $8 dollars to spend on Suzies iPhone dock. Poor Suzie, you think. Looks like her phone will have to remain dockless…

There is a light at the end of your $8 dollar tunnel my friend, because I am going to tell you about this wonderful new social media program called Giftiki!

Seems like Suzies phone will be forever charged in a classy dock after all. Giftiki is a social gift giving platform which basically lets people “gift” their friends. Here’s the scenario: Imagine if all of Suzie’s Facebook friends “gifted” her $1. Imagine how many iPhone docks Suzie could get then!? I’ll tell you; lots and lots. And the program is so easy, just sign up on their website, and start gifting your Facebook friends. All the money you gift to your friends can go towards whatever their heart desires. If they don’t know what they want to spend it on yet, your account can be exported as an AmEx gift card, or it can be saved and used to gift other people. Like their website say, “When everyone gives a little, together you give a lot.” Who doesn’t like the sound of that?

So here’s the thing. Collective action can achieve  many wonderful and fabulous things. Social media and technology are opening all kinds of new worlds for sharing ideas, and showing your friends some love. The best part about them, there are visible results. There are (semi-) tangible products that result from both of theses collective platforms. Just let your mind float around in what else collective action can achieve.

Now someone go invent a way for there to be more hours in the day, and I’ll make a donation on Kickstarter.

p.s (Seriously though, I decided it I would rather write this post than read some article on neo-liberalism… good thing I like to hang out at the library)

p.p.s (Hope you liked the Pilot episode of EspyrialDigital…stay tuned)

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The Disappointing World of Harry Potter

Every generation has their big, fabulous, science/fantasy fiction series to get into. My parents had Star Trek, Star Wars and Lord of the Rings, and I have Harry Potter (Thankfully I just missed out on Twilight, but that’s another story).

Never in my lifetime will there emerge something as imaginative and (obviously) magical as the Harry Potter series. Being almost 11 myself when the series  began, I hoped and prayed like everyone else, that I would get my letter in the mail. I hate birds, but my fingers were crossed everyday after I read the first book that a snowy owl would appear outside my window and Hagrid would show up with a birthday cake and give my annoying little brother a pig’s tail.

But in all seriousness, I can say I literally grew up with these books and the characters in them. So naturally, my parents being the intuitive, generous people they are, decided to take my brother and I, at the ages of 19 and 22 respectively, to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter theme park in Orlando, Florida. My heart may have skipped a beat. This is going to be the best trip ever!! I’m finally going to Hogwarts!

Sadly, I never made it to the fantastical palace of magical learning. It still remains to be a figment of my imagination.

Why? you ask

Because it seems that the people who designed the theme park have turned into boring muggles and decided against using their imagination to its utmost potential. My issue with the design of this park is the reason why I will always choose Disney over Universal; because quality is key. Harry Potter is a 15 billion dollar worldwide brand. I think, with two wonderful tools, imagination and innovation, the designers and Universal could have created something much more fun and memorable that what I found there. Even if cost was the issue (which I find hard pressed to believe), they dropped the ball. For the record, it wasn’t bad, I just know that all the potential was there for it to be so much better!

Immediately my expectations were smushed when I discovered that the world of Harry Potter was embedded within the Islands of Adventure Park. Basically leave Jurassic Park land, and enter Harry Potter. That doesn’t exactly fit with the story, dragons are not dinosaurs. Maybe Universal knows something we don’t, and Hogwarts was around during the Jurassic Age?

Moving on, here are my top three biggest disappointments with the Harry Potter theme park:

The first thing, the castle was a third of the size it was supposed to be. I’m not necessarily saying that it needs to be built at a full-scale but,  they didn’t even try to make it believable. Sure it looks great in pictures, but up close it just looks like a very large doll house. The large courtyard with the towering gothic arches (you know, where Neville became a hero in the last movie) probably came up to my knees, and the large white warehouse building that was situated on the backside of the castle to house the rest of the ride doesn’t look that great either. Guess someone forgot to put the invisibility  cloak over it?

The other thing I was really mad about was that the train didn’t move. I was all ready to board the Hogwarts express and I couldn’t, because the front of the train is the only thing available, and it just sits there. What an integral part of the story that could be used as a ride, and a means to get around the entire Islands of Adventure park. Instead the engine was just sitting there, mocking me; Haha you will never go to the REAL Hogwarts.

And the final thing that bothered me was that everything was so in-your-face commercial. How about a little subtlety people? There were no stores in Hogsmede that you could go into simply just for the experience. All the stores you entered had a price tag on the end and tons of people trying to squeeze their way around. The park is already making so much money on ridiculously expensive merchandise and food, at least convince me that my overall experience is worth the price. Doesn’t it sound like a more profitable goal to make something that people want to continue to go back to, time and time again, dollar after dollar? Rather than to just squeeze them for all they’ve got one time, and leave them with a feeling of mediocrity and the lack of reasoning to go back. If I actually believe that I am at Hogwarts than I am happy, and if I am happy, I will probably spend more money. Lots more money.

Just to be fair, the actual Hogwarts, the ride inside the “castle” was really good. So if you want to wait for 2 hours, you get a pretty great 2.5 minutes ahead of you! I mean, I did it twice. Also, I want to give some props to the Ollivanders experience, that was pretty great too, fun for the kids.

I could go on and on about my disappointments with this theme park, but I fear that you will miss the message I am trying to get across to everyone. So plain and simple, quality is so very important. Especially with a project like this. The quality is in the experience you get, and in the attention to small details that are taken by the designers. As an architecture student, I have to believe that I have the power to generate ideas that can change things, and let me tell you, 90 percent of the time I was in the park, I was dreaming up things that should change.

I believe Muggles could create a very magical Hogwarts, and I know this because a place called Disney World exists. Disney World is all about the quality of experience, for young and old. They know how to bring stories to life (probably because the size of all their castles are way more believable). Also, even if they are pushing their merchandise just as hard as Universal, which they are, it doesn’t bother me as much because I am so intrigued and taken in by the overall experience around me. It appears that they understand I would be more willing to buy something because I bought into the experience of it, and not just the name.

Bottom line, Disney wins, for now, because they know how to tell a story, and make it believable. The quality of their theme parks is hard to beat, they make sure that all their visitors know how much heart and soul goes into creating magical experiences for people, and that’s what makes it real. J.K Rowling is a master storyteller, Universal still needs to work on making all the dots connect.

Who knows, maybe Hogwarts is better left to the imagination, although I will always be waiting for my letter.

The worlds smallest castle. Maybe they magically shrunk it?

Did you know that Harry Potter has been around since the age of the Dinosaurs?!

This is what im talking about people. Look at that big, beautiful, believable castle. I can almost see Cinderella waving from the window!

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An XS Story (if you have 5 minutes or less)

For those of you who are running on a tight schedule, I’ve created a quick visual summarizing the process of the XS Studio project…(click on the image to make it larger)


An XS Story

It’s that time of year again…

No, not Christmas.

Time for final projects.

The time when architecture students everywhere become thankful for the things that matter in life; sleep, coffee, and a good playlist.

As I have mentioned before, my studio this year ran a little bit off the beaten track (literally and figuratively, but we’ll get there later).

We didn’t use AutoCAD (a design software). There were no floor plans, or elevations. And we didn’t build chipboard, Sketch-Up, or Rhino models.

There were, however, other kinds of explorations of space. We developed graphic novels; constructing space out from words and images. We explored how to manipulate materials and compose them in a way that was not ‘run-of-the-mill’ (see my post about the melted crayons), and we worked to use site and place as a form of inspiration.

Our studio is hosting (this Wednesday) a gallery show, along with some other local artists, in an old warehouse in Cincinnati. So, for our final project, we had to design and develop an installation piece to put in the show.

First, we learned that a good project isn’t developed by keeping yourself neat and tidy. Getting your hands dirty often pays off.

Sometimes this applies in a figurative sense, but in this case it was literal. For the first few days of our design process we scoured the local (mostly abandoned) railroads for as many forsaken and deteriorating wood ties as we could find.

Our initial design idea was to work on a piece inspired by Andy Goldsworthy and his sculptures using materials found in nature.








This is about as far as we got with our nature sculpture when we realized that making a large dome with the wood pieces we found was going to be nearly impossible for the amount of time we had.

Then I discovered that the ends of some of the pieces were still perfectly square and were able to stand up on their own. Like this…











So we then thought, lets stand them all up like this and create a sort of landscape installation for the gallery show. Using a mitre saw, we began to cut the rest of the wooden pieces to have a flat surface so that they could all stand up vertically.











While Jan was using the saw, she began to notice that the patterns on the pieces of wood that were made visible by the cuts were really beautiful, and we both decided that we wanted to arrange the pieces in a way that showcased both the top and bottom of the wood. We began trying to figure out how it would be possible to construct the installation so that it was visible from all angles. Ultimately we wanted to figure out how to hang the whole piece from the ceiling with the cuts facing up.








So with the help of one of our wonderful (and most witty) professors at Miami University we figured out how to construct our vision.








There you have it folks. The XS Story.

One of my proudest moments.

Not because I got an A, but because someone came to the show and liked it so much, they bought the piece.

Life Lessons: 1) Your first idea isn’t always your best. 2) Testing and researching a material through trial and error is a good way to learn its potential. 3) When your are strongly passionate and invested in something, it usually pays off in the end. One way or another.

Flintstone Chic

There are so many wonderful things to say about concrete.

First off, you can make almost any shape you wish out of it. I know this because back when I was a first year architecture student, any structure I designed that I didn’t know how to engineer otherwise, I automatically decided that it was made out of concrete. Of course, there is lots of real world proof too! Just ask Zaha Hadid.

Second, it tends to be fairly environmentally friendly and limestone (and ingredient of cement*) is one of the most abundant materials on earth. (*cement is just one of the ingredient of concrete, for those of you who don’t know)

Thirdly, it can make coffee!!

You think I’m kidding?











I am absolutely in love with this aesthetic (I love it almost as much as I love coffee, which is saying a lot because I really love coffee).

It is basically a metal working machine with a concrete encasing. The only downside for me is that it looks monstrously heavy. I have so many questions I want to ask the designer. Like where do you put the coffee? This is one of the reasons why I love it so much, because it is so mysterious.

The designer is LINSKIdesign.com . They have some other interesting stuff, like a concrete canoe and concrete speakers.

The goal of their work is to make concrete appliances into desirable consumer products.

Works for me! Where can I get one?!

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Simple > Complex

Here’s an example of a housing project that uses a green roof without covering every single square inch of the property with vegetation. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about check out my post Bilbo, is That You?).

I found this project on Dwell and it discusses a 2,400 sq.ft. project that incorporates a green roof and a number of other environmental tactics into a simple and beautiful house.

Let’s just focus on the roof and why it works so well.

There are a couple of reasons why I like green roofs like this. First of all, they can be flat. I feel like green roofs are great because they are meant to be flat to absorb the water evenly. Water is a friend instead of a foe. I know this because my college house has a flat roof and we are currently experiencing ridiculous amounts of leakage because of poor roof construction and waterproofing, but that’s another story. To get to my point, green roofs can work well flat.

The other benefit of green roofs is that they can be functional too. This house has decided to use the green roof as a garden terrace. Pretty nice if you don’t have a big yard to admire. Two for one benefits.

Simple green is the best green. Just sayin’

More Fun Than A Coloring Book

We are working on material explorations in my design studio at school, which I thought was wonderfully appropriate for my blog. So I decided that I wanted to work with melting crayons because who doesn’t love crayons? I thought the meshing of colors and the change of the material from a liquid to a solid state could make an interesting composition. This is what I ended up with:

Seems somewhat miniscule but a bunch of things happened that I didn’t think would happen from the onset.

The first is that they all fell down. Originally I had twisted them into the holes of the peg board and was hoping that they would just melt down vertically. It turned out, while the crayons were sitting in the oven, that they all just fell over.

The coolest thing about this though is that all of the wax just melted around the wrappers, and now the texture of all the crayon wrappers is very rigid, and not pliable like paper normally is.

The detail pictures are my favorite.

Seaweed Gets A Makeover

I was browsing on www.coolhunting.com and I came across these awesome lighting designs by a company called Ango. They have undergone years of research and have actually created all of these lamps using a material that originates from seaweed!

This material is great because it seems that there are so many different ways to use and connect it.

Now, if you read my last post, I was probably a bit harsh in ridiculing the teacups for the year of research that went behind them, but I want to clarify that I think research is of the utmost importance to material development (I just didn’t think that a years worth of research on a teacup and pot was very necessary).

It is through iteration and exploration that discoveries are made. Without  some R&D, products would never be able to reach their full potential, and I would never have been able to admire these beautiful seaweed lamps.

A Spot ‘O’ Tea

There is one thing that I have always wanted in my life…The perfect tea-pot. Yup that’s right folks, I have dreamed about having the most wonderful porcelain construction to warm my Earl Grey breakfast blend to just the right temperature.

I have waited and waited for the worlds perfect tea-cup, one with over a year’s worth of research behind its design. A tea-cup so amazing that I will look for any excuse just to hold its perfectly molded shape in my hand…

Well luckily for me, I have found such a tea set.

Unluckily for me, it is 700 dollars…and seeing as I am a college student, it appears as if my dreams have been crushed.

There is it! The O Tea set. Hand cast porcelain and walnut by GregorySung for a whopping 700 bucks.

I don’t know if you happened to catch my sarcastic undertones before, and I don’t mean to be critical but… 700 DOLLARS?

Now I have to add a caveat because this tea set was being exclusively sold on Phillips de Pury, and that is a pretty high-class website, so I do understand that there are some people who would be willing and able to pay 700 clams for a porcelain tea set, but that ain’t me.

This tea set is really beautiful, and I think that it is great that they spent 365 days figuring out the perfect size and shape of a teacup, and spout angle of the pot, but the thing that drives me crazy about it is that, as a designer, we should be thinking about all the ergonomics stuff anyway. For example, when designing a tea-cup, one should be conscious of how it will rest inside a person’s hand, and how to mold the spout on the teapot so that it is both beautiful and functional. These should be inherent to the design, and not just added bonuses because you were willing to fork over the cash.

So if anyone of you has an extra 700 dollars lying around and are looking for a well designed tea set that you can’t find in Ikea, here you go!

Sandy Shades

Continuing from my last post, the creating ‘something from anything’ mantra applies to natural materials too.

Don’t limit your imagination to manipulating synthetic and manufactured things, nature offers a lot.

Look at the lamps designed by Nir Meiri out of sand!

This is a great example of showcasing material properties in a new light, literally. The quality of light that this lamp emits is absolutely stunning. Warm and soft. Not necessarily something that you would realize sand was capable of when you see it sitting on a beach.

One of the great elements of these lamps, is that their material qualities change depending on the light that is surrounding them. During the day, when there is an outside light source, the lamps appear solid and clay-like. But when the light source is coming from the lamp itself, it takes on a completely different quality.

Know what the material is capable of, and try to showcase what that material can do best.