Conserving Resources, Protecting Budgets: The EcoHouse Study

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The original EcoHouse prototype, designed for the Arizona climate.

Is it possible to design a highly-efficient, durable, and affordable house in a rural location? All too often, quality of design suffers due to budget constraints, and sustainability becomes an item buried on a long-forgotten wish list. Realizing the need to integrate sustainable initiatives with high-quality housing designs in rural locations, the Dyron Murphy Architects team set out to develop a housing prototype that Native Housing Authorities across the country could adapt to meet their needs. The resulting project was the DMA “EcoHouse”.

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An Architect’s Reward

Defining the “greatest” reward is difficult because the field of architecture spans many different facets of life. Is a Plexiglas trophy from the AIA “more” rewarding than a handshake and a heartfelt thank you from a grateful client? I am honestly not sure. All I can do is share one of the most rewarding experiences I have had in my (admittedly brief) experience.

The project was to take a 50-year old brick school house and bring it up to 21st century standards. We replaced dilapidated finishes in the classrooms, improved safety features, and brought in natural light throughout the building. The before-and-after photos are striking, and the school administrators were extremely happy with the results. I’m sure that had a little to do with the fact that we renovated the admin area as well, but I digress.  Education is a cause that I care about deeply. Being able to make such a marked improvement in the daily lives of students and teachers (and being appreciated for it) is a truly special feeling.

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Taking Chances

There is always a risk. It doesn’t matter what profession you’re in or what your job title is, at some point you’re taking a chance on something. Whether you’re an intern architect at a “big-box” firm debating whether or not it’s worth it to remind your boss you’ve been working your butt off and need a raise, or you’re the boss debating whether or not it’s worth it to battle the client on a design element you personally added in, you’re taking a risk. In our case, we took a risk on some new industry technology.

You may have noticed the “AR Media” tab that was recently added to our blog menu. If you read through the instructions and had no idea what the heck they’re for…well, here you go. Augmented Reality (AR) refers to programs that digitally enhance the natural world. Its applications are practically limitless – from education to gaming to marketing, companies across the globe have been trying to tap in to the power of AR technology to advance their business. In the Architecture/Engineering/Construction (AEC) industry, AR is a relatively new and unexplored territory. But why? Architects build 3D models all the time, don’t they? So why not build one digitally, and present it to a client via their tablet or smart phone? Seems much more practical than carrying around a foam-core board, doesn’t it?

It sounds great in theory, and it’s that theory that we worked off of as we began implementing AR technology into our practices. We’re a long way off from showing clients AR versions of their projects on-site via GPS coordinates, but we’ve definitely made strides with showing off a couple of our current projects. One of the problems we ran into was the debate over whether AR media is “gimmicky” and whether it’s effective. Are these digital models showing off our design capabilities properly? Do our clients understand that we use state-of-the-art industry technology to develop their projects in the most affordable and efficient way possible? And that this technology is just another way to show that?

Since we’ve just started using AR, we don’t have enough feedback yet to answer these questions. Right now, anyone can follow the directions on the AR Media tab above. Just download the AR Media app, install the DMA building files, point your smartphone or tablet at the DMA logo, and check out either the Institute of American Indian Arts Welcome Center, or the Navajo Nation Division of Transportation Office Complex. Or both. And if you feel particularly inspired, let us know what you think – are we on the right track?

Working in Codes

Building codes. If you have been in the A/E industry for even a short length of time you have had to deal with them. If you have been around for a long time then you probably have a continuing love-hate relationship with them (ok, probably more hate than love, but I digress). I would like to address two points regarding building codes. First, are they even necessary? Second, why are they so darn picky!? Here’s the first installment. Continue reading

Design(less) Build(ish)

In case you haven’t noticed, the building design and construction industry has been leaning more and more towards the Design-Build (D-B) method of project delivery. There has been a lot of politicking about how D-B is faster, cheaper, and in general, better than traditional Design-Bid-Build (D-B-B) projects. On the surface, those claims can be pretty easy to substantiate by picking and choosing a few moderately successful projects to showcase. However, once you dig a little deeper, you may begin to see that D-B is NOT for everyone. Now don’t get me wrong. D-B is perfectly fine as a method of project delivery, under the right circumstances! Continue reading

Don’t You Wish You Worked Here?

If you ever find yourself in the new Navajo Division of Transportation Complex (NDOT), you might look at the floor. And you might notice that there’s a row of lights, in the floor. And you might wonder, “what the heck?” No, it’s not a flaw in the design. It’s an intentional representation of a key part of air transportation – a runway. Make sense now? There are other symbolic representations of various types of transportation incorporated into the design of this office, some easily recognizable, others subtle.

Who says the office needs to be a boring place? Could, perhaps, the design of the office be inspirational and anything but boring? Most people are probably familiar with – and envious of – the Google grounds (employee gym? restaurants in-office? yes please). But what makes it so much better than any other office? The plush furniture? Open spaces? The overall design? Why is the stereotypical office full of cramped cubicles?

Okay, we’ll stop asking rhetorical questions. But seriously, all it takes is a little creativity, and a little imagination, and you get places like NDOT, or Google. If you’re not daydreaming about a new office yet, or if you’re not looking around work for design features in your already-inspiring-comfortable-amazing office and thinking “that’s why I like it here” then try reading this article, which highlights some of the most creative office designs out there:

Best 38 I’d-Like-To-Work-In-That-Place Offices


6 Examples of Innovative Architecture Inspired By Music | Inhabitat – Sustainable Design Innovation, Eco Architecture, Green Building

6 Examples of Innovative Architecture Inspired By Music | Inhabitat – Sustainable Design Innovation, Eco Architecture, Green Building.

We all know that inspiration can come from anywhere. Music and sound are one of the most prominent, influential and diverse forms of inspiration for artists, designers, and people of all disciplines. These projects, highlighted by inhabitat, are incredible examples of architecture influenced and inspired by music. Enjoy the creativity!

When It Counts

Architectural ModelRecently, there’s been quite a debate in the blogging world over the value of architectural work, and whether what we do “counts.” This time, it spurned from the comment of architect and blogger Bob Borson “if doesn’t count if it doesn’t get built” (Life of An Architect) which was then countered with the quipping angst of Jody Brown (Coffee With an Architect).

Here’s our take:

Take a moment and look at an undeveloped bit of land – an empty lot; a field; the great expanse of dirt, rocks and plants will do – and now mentally construct a building there. Start with the general idea – what is the building? (Is it a house, office, store, hospital?) What does it look like? (What color is it? Brick, stucco, wood? Windows? Doors?) Pretty easy right? Now move inside. Plan out each room. How much space does each room need? What is the main function of each of these rooms? How will the users move about and utilize the space?

You might think it seems easy enough to envision something that isn’t there, but there’s a reason people hire architects. We are trained to see empty space and imagine all of the possibilities (bet you only came up with one just now). Each detail we add to the design has a purpose, is carefully thought through, and has more technical information backing it than most people realize.

Now, back to the issue at hand. An architect can spend weeks, months, maybe even years perfecting a design that embodies both beauty and function. And then the client decides to scrap the project. And then you’re going to tell the architect that all that work doesn’t matter? That’s like looking at the Mona Lisa, shrugging, and saying “recycle the canvas.” Ouch.

It might not matter to the rest of the world, or even the client, whether the design that we architects carefully coax out of the ether gets built or not. But to us, it matters. The project is still real, and who knows, maybe we can use some of the ideas from the so-called “dead” project on something new in the future. Or, we can just keep the “failed” design as a reminder that nothing is certain, until it’s (literally) set in stone (or steel, wood, brick, cement…)