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Look Out Pisa

Monday, December 19th, 2011

During our second design/build workshop in Oaxaca, Mexico this coming March, our team of RAW students will have a mere 6 days (72 hours to be precise!) to design and build a complete project.  To be successful (and we will), a lot of planning and collaboration is required before anyone arrives in Mexico. We've been in contact with the community of San Pablo Etla for several months, discussing possible projects and design ideas that support the ongoing development of their communal lands for eco-tourism. This upfront programming and schematic design is essential so the client can sign off on the project, the materials and site are ready, and we are off to a running start on the first day.


Of the many possible projects we discussed for next spring's workshop, we happily settled on the creation of an eco-playground. The project will be built close to the RAW Oaxaca 2011 project, El Mirador, on la mesita (the little mesa) overlooking the Etla valley. To accomplish the combined goals for RAW the community, we’ve proposed a tower concept centered on three design parameters:


1.  Discovery – Tower structures lend themselves to exploration and discovery for children.  The act of climbing in, around and through a tower offers endless opportunities to discover the qualities of a space.  As we think about the structure to be created we are excited about the challenge of designing an interior scaled for children, not adults. The complexity of ladders to connect floors. a top deck (with railing) for viewing, and everything in between offers all kinds of design opportunities.


2.  Playfulness – To spark the imagination of the children, the tower will lean to the side and appear to be balancing on one corner. It suggests that nothing is as it seems on the surface – a good place to start when creating for children.  For you students who enjoy designing sculptural, Gehry-esque architecture, the exercise of designing and making complex three dimensional structures will be a good lesson.  


3.  Variability – The topography and geography of the site lend themselves to a variety of potential access points and connections to the surrounding landscape. We will need to design and develop a bridge and several main paths that weave up, down, around and under the adjacent hill, while allowing for the less established paths that the children will create up and down the terraced hillside.


From an architectural perspective, we like the project because the simple form will be both striking and subtle.  We’ve never built anything quite like it and the hidden complexity will offer tremendous design opportunities and challenges for RAW students. It’s success will rely on the well thought out detailed design that is accomplished during the workshop.  We are excited about creating a space for unstructured and creative play for the children of San Pablo Etla, and the community is too. They have already honored the project with a name: “La Torre Inclinada de Bambu".  Move over Pisa, the “Leaning Tower” of San Pablo is on its way.


Designing & Building the Architecture of Play

Thursday, December 8th, 2011

Planning for Oaxaca 2012 is well under way.  Just today, we received an email from our friends in Oaxaca asking about materials we’ll need in March.  “We need a rough estimate of the bamboo that you will need. Diameter?, length?, quantity?” they asked. 
Bamboo? That sounds interesting, but for what? you might wonder.  Following several months of discussions with the San Pablo Etla community about ongoing goals for the site, the availability of resources, and the individual benefits of different projects, the decision to design and build an eco-playground was made.  While there were a number of good projects to choose from, in the end, the playground was chosen for three reasons:
  • It allows for a high degree of creative liberty. (that’s good for us)
  • It fills a need for recreation & play spaces for kids.  (that’s good for them)
  • And, it can be accomplished within our short – 1 week! – workshop timeframe. (that’s good for everyone)
A couple of things I've noticed about kids and architecture make me especially excited about designing and building a playground for kids.  The first is the honesty by which kids experience architecture. While adults have filters for what they “should” think, kids are unencumbered by social norms and respond openly to their environment. Kids know what they like and are refreshingly honest in their response. The second is that kids are drawn to discover and when it comes to architecture, the best spaces are those that lend themselves to discovery over time.  Whether a tree, hay loft or urban back alley, the limitless variation of surface, form and structure offers a rich environment for kids' developing minds. (I'll have more thoughts on that in the coming months.) In the meantime, I'm thrilled to partner once again with the community of San Pablo Etla, in the foothills of the Sierra Norte mountains, and anxious to lead a group of young architecture students as we design and build the architecture of play. 
- Paul

We Must Do Better

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011

In my practice, I talk to clients about the link between the benefit of a project and the burden thereof.  I explain the hidden things we’re inadvertently designing – the forests of the west, the impact of a church on its neighbors, the quality of the air we collectively breathe each day – that are linked to every decision we make as we design their specific building.  No design decision exists in isolation or, to borrow a concept from physics: every design action has an equal (and often unconsidered) design reaction. 

That got me thinking as I read Bruce Mau’s recent article in Architect, You Can Do Better If the built environment is important to humanity (and I believe it is) and if architects are uniquely trained to provide meaningful built environments (and I believe we are), how is it that we’ve designed the profession of architecture to be irrelevant to the vast majority of humanity?  I believe it wasn’t intentional, but rather, was an unconsidered reaction that we can learn to correct.  It will no doubt require us to rethink for whom and how we work, and more importantly, what unconventional skills we have in our toolboxes. 



RAW show at UNC-Charlotte school of #architecture

Monday, September 19th, 2011

It's both humbling and gratifying to have past participants take pride in and get excited about the learning and work they do at RAW and want to share it with their fellow students and others. This week UNC Charlotte students, Sairy Sanchez, Andrew Baur and Keihly Moore showcased this past summer's RAW design/build workshop, the Hearth, outside of Custer, South Dakota. Sairy, Andrew and Keihly shared a cool overview (it's kind've big) of the workshop and time lapse videos (1) (2) (3) of the design/build process. It sure looks like we worked fast :)

Students also had some thoughtful things to say about their RAW experience: 


I learned to be more confident about my ideas and strengths. In school we often get categorized and known for one thing we're good at. But at RAW, every student was encouraged to try different aspects of design, construction, leadership, and teammwork, which allowed me to get to know myself better in all those areas.


RAW Dakota was one of the most valuable learning experiences I have ever received. For me, the workshop definitely took me out of my comfort zone, but it helped me realize that you really can do anything if you're willing to try it!


In school, most projects we do are individual. We alone come up with the design decisions that meet the program criteria, we choose the materials, and anything else that goes into the project. Only one person is making decisions. In real life, however, architecture is a team effort. Working collaboratively at RAW helped us get an idea of what working for a firm or on site will be like. We have to listen to each other and cooperate.

We will post more feedback from the students later. In the meantime, if you are in the Charlotte area, head on over to the architecture gallery at Storrs and have a peak!

Adding to the lore of the land

Monday, August 8th, 2011

Tuesday + Wednesday July 26-27, 2011

Today was the only fully cloudy day we’ve had the entire trip. Rain came later in the afternoon, a light sprinkling for about at hour. We worked through it. The mood of the group seemed to match the skies – not as cheerful, quieter, more still. Partly I think this is due to how tired we all were (late night last night) and the fact that the end was near and we didn’t want it to come any nearer.

After a while we slowed down in our work, perhaps subconsciously savoring it, not wanting the moment to end. We were so used to the go-go-go schedule, it felt strange to be running out of things to do.

Our last steel corrugated wall panels went up much easier today. My hands figured out how to trick the tin snips into cutting a much smoother, consistent edge, even if it was 1/8”-1/4” at a time. I was proud of that cut, dog-gone-it! I hope I will have filled my quota for cutting steel corrugation for at least a year or two! The top trim piece fit nicely, and the trim on the windows completed the frame in a most complimentary way.

We finished early, cleaned up, and even had time for the birthday cake (three birthdays in 2 weeks!) Charley and a few others made an extra covered wood storage area, and positioned it in harmony with the other buildings, at the back. As we were moving it around, feeling out the right place we must have looked silly. It’s interesting that you can just “feel” a good place. I think we take this feeling a bit for granted.

It was nice that we weren’t rushed; we had time to absorb and just be. Since I tend to be a perfectionist on my design projects, I sometimes carry them to the wire – so this was nice to have time on our side.

We showered (cold, because the sun wasn’t out, even though at times the clouds glowed from behind) and it was raining as I showered, and since the showers are open to the skies, it was like a double shower, of two different spray consistencies, and perhaps not surprisingly, the temperatures were quite similar. The best thing about cold showers on a cold day is how warm and reset you feel when you put clean clothes on.

After a delish dinner, we all followed Julie and the sage smoke scent on the “official” path to the finished spaces. It felt like a light hearted, quirky procession to me. We were all glowing. (At least I liked to imagine we were.)

Not to be left out, Justin and Nate hooked in with Skype and gave their share of birdmans (silly game involving pushups) and virtual hugs. They were silly and the mood was so warm. As we all tucked in the gathering space, Paul and Barb did a great job of the final presentations. All 13 of us got a wedge of the tree we used for the columns with our reward written on it. Awards ranged from Charley’s Most Improved, to Eli’s Most Cheery, to Andrew’s The Bull Award. (Earlier he said his arms didn’t look this way because he was lifting puppies!) We all signed our names under the wedge, and Paul presented this to Julie. Paul also made Jeannie (our amazing chef) a bowl out of the same 65 year old tree (yes, Tim and I actually counted the rings, giggling as we counted from opposite directions knowing how silly we looked holding the round section between us as we stared intently at it). We also got to pick out a piece of rose quartz, which is believed to have heart-healing properties – activating the heart energy. We could all certainly feel it.

Julie had good words to share, reminding me of what I like most about architecture – transforming ideas and visions into physical realities, calling materials to act as our vision, enabling the place to be shared with others. From the client’s point of view, Julie said it was fun to be able to see us take her visions and piecemeal thoughts and turn them into a creative space that we can all collectively call our own. She ended with declaring the two spaces sacred, which was truly a touching moment.

I can feel that I am transformed. I am tired, yes, and my hands remember well all the steel corrugation, but, I think what sticks with me the most now is the story, and, now having accomplished our goals and worked through all the problem solving together, I’m filled with a new kind of energy.

We light our inaugural fire pit and the multi-tiered seating around it is perfect; perfect height and perfect distance from the flames that cast a warm glow to add to our own smiles.

The space feels really good, especially filled with people and laughter. It’s the first time we can truly experience the space in a social way, without worrying about connections, materials, and process of assembly first and foremost in our thoughts. It really can be intimate and accommodating for larger groups, just the way Julie imagined.

Later on, as some turn into bed, others decide to sleep our last night there. We return, sleeping bags in tow, and stoke the fire. It feels odd going to the site without having to work. This night is different then the other group sleepovers we’ve had. The fire changes the dynamic. People cluster in smaller groups and find their own little nooks and spaces to be in. We are there together, but in our own spaces.

Being here, living the work we were doing truly did rekindle my love of design and reminded me of how much I enjoy being outside. I am reminded how much I love woods, how comfortable I feel in them (even with the mystical unseen threat of mountain lions and the sound of the coyote pack). I love the way the trees capture the wind. Julie has had people out who have said the trees have spoken to them about their history, and that oddly comforts me. There is also something about the energy from the rocks. And perhaps its all riding on your won belief system, but I’d like to think they hold an intrinsic power.

I’m especially proud of our reuse of materials – the process in building is repeated throughout. Who says the formwork has to be thrown away immediately? And the bracing and supports? Those are perfectly good rough sawn 1×6. Perfect to form our kitchen wall composition. So, in a way, the buildings can tell their own history through their materials – and it extends beyond its life already! I think this is partly why it feels good. For me it was a real treat to work so closely with wood, chiseling it out, piecing it together, working around the knots, and with the grain.

Oh and my favorite tools, you ask? Chalk line, for one, and chisels for another. The speed square was also extremely valuable too…

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Adam, Tim and I had one last yoga session on the high rocks above the abode. The terrain was challenging and unlevel, as usual, but the views and the breeze and the openness were unmatched. Stretching up there seemed to make my molecules stretch even farther – the expansiveness of the sky is catching. We joked that we could design a yoga session around the idea of construction…. “stretch your arms out like a beam, making sure to remain level…”
On the quiet trek back down to camp I felt lighter and springier. The small stand of aspens glowed white in the morning sun, set against the meadow and ponderosas.

Over the course of the last 2 weeks I also appreciated the small conversations about health I had with Jeannie (our amazing cook). A bee/wasp stung me on my left arm on 2 separate days (I’m pretty sure he just accidentally backed into me.) Jeannie pulled out the OLBAS healing-everything oil from Switzerland. Peppermint and ginger were two of the ingredients. Strong in scent, it was used for many cures. I rubbed a drop on my stings and it provided relief. Another day after lunch I had a sharp stomachache that came on suddenly (I’m still not sure of the cause). I sipped on 2 drops in a 16 oz. glass for a ½ hour and within short order it was gone. Other people were able to clear congestion using the same stuff. Amazing.

Lastly, silence is also something we don’t get enough of. We have the radio playing constantly, or music. There needs to be silence to balance everything (even if it is just within us.) The nights here were so piercingly quiet; at first I could not believe it. No crickets, no frogs, no cicadas. Occasionally there was a coyote pack that could be hear from the hills. I could definitely get my fill here in this place, but as I think about my home in Charlotte with the street out front, a main corridor for sirens, I can’t imagine it. Perhaps I’ll also have to work on cultivating the silence inside as well.

Speaking of silence and, now buildings, reflecting on the experience of just being in the site, absorbing the silence surrounding and taking advantage of the new sense of shelter, in the perfect ways…just a little from the hotness of the sun, and just a little from the sprinkling of rain. The openness of the clerestory still embraces the forest, still connecting, still letting the silence in. I remember, in one conversation around the fire, it was said that architecture should enhance your experience of the place. These structures have done just that, making the site more usable and accessible. They also help to tell the story of the place, through their own making, adding to the lore of the land.

And, with that bit of alliteration, I shall sign off for now.

I'm pleased as punch to be apart of this story with these super people!

All the best,


I am in a dual Masters program in Architecture and Urban Design at the University of North Carolina Charlotte. I am participating in the RAW Dakota 2011 workshop in Custer, SD July 13-27, 2011 and blogging about the experience. Please add any thoughts or stories of your own! Thanks for reading! – Keihly Moore

Closing in!

Wednesday, July 27th, 2011

Monday, July 25, 2011

Corrugated metal is hard to cut. We also found out that we didn’t build in enough reveals. To take away the glare and age the metal, we painted the steel with Muriatic Acid, which ate right through the sponges. It made me wonder what my gloves were made of, since they were not phased.

It was an exciting moment when the kitchen island was completed (with 8 people hauling the concrete table top to the wooden frame). We then snacked in celebration and felt the goodness of 16 people easily crowding around the table and sitting on the rock wall.

We also had rain today for the first time. We saw the clouds coming, and the lightning foreshadowed the rain. It was a nice feeling to be sheltered by our roof from something other than the sun. Shelter with a view, none-the-less. The wide overhangs bring you closer to the edge of the rain. Afterwards, the rain cooled the air by at least 10 degrees. Within 15 minutes the sky was clear and cheery, as if nothing happened. We’re so lucky we haven’t had to deal with mud during this project!

The end of the day was frustrating; we had much problem solving on the fly, but it will all work out, and I think it will be even stronger in the end. There has been so much to learn! I’m continually thankful for all these little challenges, though. Things can’t be too easy! After all, there’d be no good stories to tell!

Not believing we’ll be soon be completing this adventure,


I am in a dual Masters program in Architecture and Urban Design at the University of North Carolina Charlotte. I am participating in the RAW Dakota 2011 workshop in Custer, SD July 13-27, 2011 and blogging about the experience. Any thoughts you'd like to add? Thanks for reading! – Keihly Moore

Two days left…

Wednesday, July 27th, 2011

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Only 2 full work days left! Today we know our challenges, and we set to work. I’m “traded” to the gathering space team once again. We all rotate teams twice. This allows the opportunity for people to share thoughts, designs, and experiences between the teams as each person rotates. It also provides an extra challenge because you can never been too comfortable with a team. You learn to work with everyone and you learn who has the knowledge from previous days that you might need today. They system is also set up so that no one can really claim full ownership for design decisions, so everyone has a roll in the decisions. Rather than owning a specific design (as we are consumed with in school) I think of it as a way to learn to gain ownership of a process or task, so that you can pass this knowledge on to others in your team. So, today, just when I thought I knew all the ins and outs of the kitchen space, I jumped to the gathering space side. I also think this move brings new comers with fresh energy – looking at design challenges in new ways.

Today I jumped onto the wall team. Others were working on the roof, and I had had quite enough of that yesterday – what a brain teaser all these alignments are! Since I was last on the team, the wall idea had morphed into one of using the scribed formwork from our concrete pour as a wall texture – mimicking a rolling landscape and the Black Hills. I think it’s a perfect use of our formwork, which normally would have found its way into the dumpster. We might as well take advantage of all the work we did figuring out how to build the formwork over all the boulders under the foundation wall! Tim and I managed to find a few perfect fits to match our dimensions – the pieces lining up easily. Searching the site for cast offs, I love fitting found pieces into our jigsaw puzzle. The marks of process still adorn the cdx Portland plywood, but, to me, this adds to the story of the material, giving it a history of its own. Finishing the notched out holes for the rafters and then cutting the purlins on the gathering space side, the steel corrugation finally starts to be set into place while the walls close in with a ribbon of silhouetted landscape.

The end of the day is greeted with the brillance of the setting sun, the best time to capture photos.

Feeling accomplished and satisfied with our progress,


I am in a dual Masters program in Architecture and Urban Design at the University of North Carolina Charlotte. I am participating in the RAW Dakota 2011 workshop in Custer, SD July 13-27, 2011 and blogging about the experience. Thoughts you'd like to add? Thanks for reading! – Keihly Moore

Balloons and roofs

Wednesday, July 27th, 2011

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Hot air balloons. A night at the Abode let me awake early (5.20am) to scramble to the top of the rocks to catch the first glimpse of the sun over the ponderosas. You know when you can see the outline of the land on a high hill, and the trees poke up in a lighter filigree? This is the back-lit vision of the hills at this moment. I love it.

After yoga surrounded by rocky crags, around 6.30am the hot air balloons drifted skyward into our view. I could hear the hot air being shot into the top. I wonder what it would be like to be drifting…

Today at the site Adam and I conquer the roof. All day. Adam and I calculated and recalculated. Figured and refigured. It’s a delicate balance to figure the right proportion of the beam to the purlin to the edging of the steel corrugation. At the end of the day we were satisfied with our final numbers.(See the sketchbook drawing.)


I am in a dual Masters program in Architecture and Urban Design at the University of North Carolina Charlotte. I am participating in the RAW Dakota 2011 workshop in Custer, SD July 13-27, 2011 and blogging about the experience. Thanks for reading! – Keihly Moore

Beams and columns, level and plumb

Wednesday, July 27th, 2011

Friday, July 22, 2011

Today I am maestra again, for the second time. Today’s to-do list for the kitchen space included:
-west wall – outside horizontals – figure out the doors to the cabinets (are they removable to be used as a cutting board, or another table surface?)
-Fasten the shelves to the concrete columns
-finalize and construct the Mortise and Tenon joint
-design the joint for the tree column
-design the joint for the column opposite the tree
-figure out the countertop detailing and support
-Raise all the columns and beams into place
I will admit I was a bit nervous during the day. There’s a lot of pressure measuring the columns and beams and making sure they are plumb and square, lining up with the other concrete columns. They all seem like their own independent variables, and somehow they all have to align together in parallel and perpendicular. Tim and I tackled these measurements and checked over and over to make sure. We only had 2 6 in X 10 in beams – there was no screwing up. Paul’s previous comment rang true when he spoke about this new landscape we’ve created for ourselves (our poured concrete columns) and the interventions we’d have to carefully plan.
All in all, though, tasks got accomplished, the beams were raised, columns were plumb, beams were level. The tree column looked better than I ever expected (and chiseling it out for the beam pocket was a good workout!)
I breathed an excited sigh of relief.

Until later,

I am in a dual Masters program in Architecture and Urban Design at the University of North Carolina Charlotte. I am participating in the RAW Dakota 2011 workshop in Custer, SD July 13-27, 2011 and blogging about the experience. Do you have any thoughts you'd like to add? Thanks for reading! – Keihly Moore

Threading and thoughts

Wednesday, July 27th, 2011

Thursday, July 21, 2011

A valuable lesson we’ve learned is to build in reveals at material joints to make it easier to construct and hide little imperfections. We’ve found it quite valuable to have an extra ½” on each side to work with when it comes time to plumb.
In our evening conversation, we reflected on our experience thus far. Paul made good points about our progress figuring out the process of making, jumping into the unknown and anticipating the next move. As a group, we’ve had days of sputtering as these things are grappled with, but then we fall into a groove and everyone knows their place. Perhaps one of my favorite points that Paul made was that our first challenge was putting something regular (2 buildings, with level floors) into an unruly and rocky landscape, and now, after our concrete pours, we’ve created for ourselves a new unruly, irregular landscape to which we must adapt and design the intervention into.

When the question was asked about our thoughts on spending so much time outdoors and how that influences the buildings, one response (from a new camper) was that thinking about things in totality really has made a difference. Everything from conserving water in showers and washing, and solar powered devices, to rocks and wood from the property has contributed to the sense of place and appropriateness in the landscape. Nan pointed out a reminder that we change nature so much faster than it changes itself [for better or for worse].

Paul said that architecture is defining itself narrower and narrower. Architecture needs to expand with greater skill sets. More people should benefit from architect’s services, and there is a need to broaden the architecture base. Nate asked –how do you change the way you view the environment? It’s not about the building; but about enhancing the inhabitants’ lives and the experience of the place. The building is only a small part.

It was good to hear everyone’s perspectives and thoughts, and the fire atmosphere added to the story telling experience.


I am in a dual Masters program in Architecture and Urban Design at the University of North Carolina Charlotte. I am participating in the RAW Dakota 2011 workshop in Custer, SD July 13-27, 2011 and blogging about the experience. Thoughts you'd like to add? Thanks for reading! – Keihly Moore