Thursday, December 4, 2014

Thesis: The Architectural Problem

Now that I finally have an ENTIRE day to myself, I think it's about time I started showing this blog some love. This year has been crazy with job and school and more school, and then more school on top of that. This has been such a formative year for me, with my summer experience in Namibia giving real confidence in my ability as a designer. And I just realize that I did not write a single post about it. Dang. Ok. Alright, you know what, fine. I'm releasing everything, this entire thesis. There will be pictures, there will be videos, there will be generalizations and there will probably be a couple of nuggets of social commentary. It's gonna be great. Are you ready? I'm ready.


Two bus patrons at Peninsula Towne Center
My thesis all started with me. I'm a college student in Hampton, Virginia with no car. This means that I need to either ask all of my friends with cars for a ride, or ride the bus. Since friends have their own schedules most of the time, I prefer to ride the bus. Based on my previous posts detailing riding the HRT, you can see that it can be a somewhat complicated process, and I consider myself something of an expert user. I've used the bus to go to work, do shopping, go to job interviews, and even dates. But have you ever tried riding the bus in the summer? Most of the stops don't even have benches, and the ones that do have metal, which is like sitting on a stove on a hot summer day. And the shelters are built like green houses, with glass and metal trapping in heat like a microwave. If you were inside you baked, and if you were outside, you still baked. Winter was not much better, with no shelter whatsoever at some stops. The shelters did at least give you the comfort of sitting while you froze. Clearly, these are less than ideal conditions. 


Bus stop schedule board in Hampton
Equally important is the aspect of visibility. I have personally waited for over 30 minutes for a bus, only to have it drive right past me. I've had to wait for 45 minutes for a bus, not knowing how soon or late it is coming. And to some, that might not seem like a big deal, but combine that with the conditions I've described above, and the picture becomes, if possible,  even more unpleasant. Making sure that passengers and buses can see each other is very important. A facet of this is safety, as lighting and increased surrounding visibility can reduce crime. There can also be emergency notifications built into the bus stops. You can actually find these systems already on college campuses and in certain retail parking lots. So I feel that visibility is more than just being able to physically see the bus, it's also about being able to see around you, knowing when the buses are coming, and maintaining safe spaces for people to wait. 

At bus stops you expect to see a bus schedule, that will tell you when the next bus is coming. Not so in Hampton. Instead, their schedules tell you how often the buses are coming and their hours of operation. Which can be useful, but only if you know exactly how long ago the last bus was. Without that information, the schedule is completely useless. And in places where buses only  operate every 30 minutes to an hour, people would often rather just leave than have to wait a half hour or more to see if they can catch the next bus. 

You can, of course, check the next bus on your phone. Bus routes can be found at and you can find an entire detailed travel itinerary by using the public transportation option on Google Maps. You can even call H.R.T. to find the next bus at your stop (make sure you know the intersection). However, without a phone, all of that becomes impossible. Phones with internet capabilities are infamous for being battery drainers, and even regular phones can die at inopportune moments. This can leave you stranded mid-trip with no information. Nowadays, people often don't wear watches and keep time using their phones, so even if you knew the bus times from memory, you still wouldn't know how how soon the next bus is once your phone dies. 


But how will you power all these functions? Bus shelters can be very expensive upwards of $3000 per individual shelter. Including these additional but necessary functions of visibility, from schedules, notification systems, and lighting all need electricity to power them. In a move to make these stops more self-sufficient, I am proposing that they be solar powered. We have seen this implemented on a wide scale in San Francisco, with their city-wide shelters coming with solar panels on top. 

Architects and designers from all over the world have come up with innovative concepts, some experimenting with novel forms, others trying to stuff as much tech into it as possible (looking at you, MIT), and then others going for the straight whimsical (looking at you, Japan). But none of these solutions are truly trying to deal with these problems from the three areas of shelter, visibility, and power all combined in one design. And that is what I aim to do with my thesis.
My next post will deal with specific bus stops and solutions from all over, trying to see their successes and failures. 

Friday, March 14, 2014

Seaside Series: The Second Afternoon

After taking a quick PB&J break for lunch, we returned to work, if you can call sketching beautiful buildings in equally beautiful weather work. We started by sketching the view from Ruskin Place to the Central Square, where you can see the historic Post Office through the colonnades. It's these planned terminated vistas that are an excellent reason for architecture students to come to Seaside, because although you hear about how you should be incorporating these moments from your professors, it's an entirely different thing to see it in person.

For the second part of the afternoon we had the honor of being taken on the tour by the great Robert Davis, one of the town founders of Seaside. The day ended with us watching the sunrise from a pavilion and walking along the beach.

The view we were sketching looking from Ruskin Place to the Central Square

Pedestrians and cyclists enjoying this no-car zone. 

My sketch of the view. This was actually my second attempt, the first attempt had the proportion of the buildings and alley all wrong.

The view back to Ruskin Place while sitting right in between the Great Southern restaurant, which catered 3 of our meals, and the Heavenly Gelato and Ice Cream store. What I loved most about these 2 buildings is how similar they are as far as general form, but the details make them look like completely different structures. The use of color and the details on the columns and the balconies create 2 distinct visual experiences. 

Collection of student sketches of the view from Central Square back to Ruskin Place. This was to let us see how even though we were technically tooking at the same corridor, the space around it can completely redefine the view. 

An elegant and colorful temple front attached to a residence. The sense of order despite the building's asymmetry is what I think really makes this building pop. 

Professors' Mason and Gindroz talking about the history of the parking lot, which was interesting in its use of trees to mark out the parking.  
Tabita redoing her sketches as we wait for the arrival of Mr. Davis to take us for a tour of Seaside. 

One of Seaside's famous pavilions. 

The colors of the light at sunset have a really great effect on the facades on the beach. 

Beautiful, clean, and simple. 

Monday, March 10, 2014

Seaside Series: The Second Morning

After waking up at 8:30 in the morning for breakfast, the class met up in the Seaside Institute building to do an exercise with mapping urban spaces, landmarks, and temple fronts. Our professors are Ray Gindroz and Mason Andrews, who also take Hampton University students to France for study abroad studio. When we finished the exercise, we went out into the town and started sketching and analyzing the spaces created by the buildings.
Up bright and early to continue exploring the town!

Morning exercise with Jessica showing the base buildings.

A better view of the academic village at breakfast...

Sketching the Post Office from the shrimp shack, and trying to look between Kelvon and Snow's heads

Walking between the houses on the beach front

Mr. Gindroz talking to us about our sketches inside the pavilion.

One of my perspective sketches

Professor Gindroz and Professor Mason

Everybody settling down into sketch mode...