Rebuilding as a Redefining Moment

"For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them”. ~Aristotle
As an architect, most of my experiences are heavily rooted on learning from direct experience, a philosophy of education I embraced since joining Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin more than sixteen years ago. At Taliesin I learned about architecture through building, using my own hands, from mixing concrete for a desert masonry wall to mimicking processes in nature as sources for design. The experience revealed the learning process as a redefining moment about the built environment particularly when we had to rebuild a wall several times due to mishaps.

A few weeks ago I came full circle with this philosophy when I participated in Thos. Moser’s Maine Event as one of eight architects and interior designers chosen to experience a condensed Customer-In-Residence Program. Thos. Moser, a company known for fine wood furniture pieces and craftsman of chairs for five living US Presidents and the Pope, teamed me up with their master craftsman, Teak, like the wood, to build a designer table worthy of being an heirloom.

Planks of Cherry wood
Building the Wing Hall Table started with selecting lumber from the stacks at Rough Mill. It was like a spectacle of spiritual specification when I handpicked the cherry lumber with the right grain pattern that would breathe life into the table. The two parallel cathedral grain patterns meeting at the middle of the plank would portray the abstractions of my parallel architectural trajectories. This would be the story it would celebrate, I told myself.

Image by Thos. Moser
When I played with the power sander like an unsupervised kid in a playground, it became a moment of reflection and repose. The master craftsman had me repeat the process of power sanding until the table surface felt almost silky smooth to touch. It made me recall that masonry wall I had to rebuild at Taliesin several times and what that meant for me as an architect. By the time we completed the table, I knew every dowel I installed in the joint intimately, and had molded the surface edge profile like a sculptor to a sculpture.

There was also an unmistakeable bond formed with my shop mates as a result of building together, which in retrospect, was also present when I built and rebuilt with the Taliesin Fellowship.

As I looked at the parallel grain patterns on the table surface, now glowing in natural luster after I airbrushed it with oil, an abstraction of images appeared in my mind. They were like ripples of water washing over land and yet the beauty of its patterns only became apparent after a heavy blow of pressurized oil against its surface. At the culmination of the crafting of this heirloom, global news spread like wildfire that the strongest storm to hit the earth made landfall in the Philippines, where I’m also licensed as an architect. It became a redefining moment with a metaphorical message that in rebuilding, there is a reason for hope, because the beauty of the unknown is waiting to be revealed, like wood grain patterns glowing in natural luster. It’s time to transform.

Instead of keeping the Wing Hall Table for my personal collection, Thos. Moser and I (in coordination with White Good) have decided to donate this one-of-a-kind signature furniture to ALLL’s upcoming crowd funding campaign that would support a rebuilding project in connection with Typhoon Haiyan.
Our upcoming rebuilding project
Wing Hall Table. Image from Thos. Moser website

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From Metropolis Magazine POV: Social Primer for Practice and Projects

Architect Lira Luis dishes about KINetic, a social media platform designed for architectural project collaborations.

Read it today in Metropolis Magazine's "Point of View"

Social Primer for Practice and Projects
Image by Kingspan and Think

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Leave No Stone and Tile Unturned

(View original article at the Coverings Blog)

Ceramic tile has been a popular building material for over 4,000 years. It played a prominent role in the history of building construction from the oldest pyramids in Egypt to the tile mosaics of Spain. We have seen century old buildings inlaid with it, proving its longevity and strength.

Gruell Parc Trencadis by Antonio Gaudi (image by lloydi.com)

Catalan modernist architect Antonio Gaudi leveraged tile in an unconventional method in the Güell Parc project where Trencadis was ubiquitous. Trencadis (or Pique Assiette) is a mosaic technique that utilizes broken tile chards, which could possibly address some LEED credits such as Innovation in Design, Material Reuse, Recycled Content and in the case of the Güell Parc, Regional Materials, since Gaudi used discarded pieces of ceramic tiles, as well as white ceramic from broken cups and plates collected from manufacturers’ factories within its region of Esplugues de Llobregat, Spain.

As for stone, when architects and designers specify it for surface finishing, the design decisions are influenced by visual considerations derived from the stone’s patterns. The manufacturer cuts a block of stone driven by these aesthetic parameters which can be anywhere within the block. The scrap stone is then discarded and often diverted to landfill. Wojtek Rajch, president of Earth Stone Midwest in Chicago, wants to change that through his re-manufacturing company. They use marble and granite scrap cut-stone collected from shops within its locality as the “raw material” for their products. The company re-cuts and re-finishes scrap cut-stone into new shapes and sizes, for use as flooring, pavers, wall coverings, and architectural build-outs.

While Antonio Gaudi recycled ceramic from broken cups and plates, architecture firm Canon Design transformed 200,000 pounds of porcelain material from water closets at the iconic John C. Kluczynski Building by Mies van der Rohe, into clean modern-looking tiles covering 57,000 square feet. This innovation in design was a result of the relationship between the architect (Canon Design) and the manufacturer (Crossville, Inc.) within the framework of the manufacturer’s tile-recycling program called “Tile Take Back”. Crossville, Inc. has developed this proprietary system of processing ceramic and porcelain tile back into powder used in manufacturing new tile. When architects lead these types of conversations, such as the case of Cannon Design, and involve themselves in the early planning stages of custom tile production, then the project likely results in exceptionally meeting the client’s basis of design and the project’s design objectives.
A project by Michael P Johnson<br />
Image courtesy of Michael P Johnson<br />
Photo: Bill Timmerman, Timmerman Photography, Inc.
Finding the right product for a project is equally important as finding the right manufacturer to work with on a project. A designer’s idea is only as good as the products he/she specifies as well as how the manufacturer executes this idea.” This is clearly evident in the projects Yoder Residence, Wilkinson Office Warehouse Reconstruction, McCue Residence, Bradley Residence, and Ellsworth Residence, by Michael P. Johnson, the first American to win Italy’s prestigious 11th International Aldo Villa Award .
A project by Michael P Johnson<br >
Image courtesy of Michael P Johnson

Johnson’s work on the Bradley and Ellsworth residential projects in particular, have earned him the Italian Trade Commission’s coveted Legend Award. He will be sharing his insights on best practices while working on these projects, at Coverings 2013 together with Lira Luis at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta.

A project by ALLL<br />
Sketches by Lira Luis<br />
Images courtesy of Habitile

Recent advancements in tile have allowed designers more opportunities for creativity and pathways to ecological thinking. This is exactly what architecture firm ALLL in Chicago, led by Lira Luis, is aiming for in its Living Wall System project. In collaboration with Habitile’s Aurora Mahassine, the Living Wall System project is an attempt to analyse the environmental, social, and economic dimensions of buildings to reiterate eco-systemic performance and of the urban ecosystem to provide habitat, food, and energy within the topographies of developing countries and reinhabitation of industrialized ones. This could be a model that can be replicated elsewhere. Luis will be presenting this project, currently in its earliest stages of development that experiments with tile, for the first time, at their Coverings presentation.

Meanwhile, Tile of Spain manufacturer, Ceracasa in collaboration with the Institute of Chemical Technology from Pol. University of Valencia and the Environmental Studies Centre of the Mediterranean (CEAM), have produced the Bionic tile. It is a porcelain tile that can purify air and destroy harmful nitrogen oxides (NOx) that are emitted during the combustion process from vehicular and industrial pollution.

New technologies continue to disrupt the Tile & Natural Stone Industry and they are not without skeptics as well as reluctant adopters. In a recent Twitter communication with Patti Fasan, first woman to receive the prestigious Joe Tarver award of the National Tile Contractors Association, she posed an important question that architects and designers need to address as far as the underlying hesitancy to adopt emerging technologies in a profession that thrives on innovation: How can architecture adopt existing innovation (in Tile & Natural Stone) faster in the USA?

We must leave no stone and tile unturned when it comes to seeking and using new materials for the advancement of architecture and design.

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Architect Lira Luis and Michael P Johnson to Speak at Coverings Conference in Atlanta

Coverings — The Ultimate Tile + Stone Experience — has invited Michael P Johnson, Michael P Johnson Design Studio and Lira Luis, AIA, RIBA, LEED AP BD+C, ALLL to be speakers at its annual conference and exposition coming to Atlanta, Georgia, April 29 - May 2, 2013. Michael and Lira’s session entitled:

examines the best practices related to the designer-manufacturer relationship and how both sides can benefit from the process. Several case-study projects will be presented demonstrating aesthetically pleasing projects resulting from successful designer-manufacturer collaborations.

About Michael P. Johnson
Modern art is modern because it is critical. Michael’s deep care for a solid, modern, ethical architecture is rooted in and draws from his ongoing care for the education of an architect. It may be that Michael's sophistication emerges from his ability to fathom the notion of educating an architect both on the macro scale of an overarching issue in the discipline, and on the micro scale of mentoring students. In other words, he is as good at addressing large issues of architectural education as clearly as he is able to help a beginning student navigate the way into the world of architecture. His intellectual dexterity in education stems from his dexterity in design, where he is not only clear but exceedingly specific about design details and material assemblies for the purpose of achieving a resolute whole moment of architecture. As such, when he mentors a student about something that in its context can be mistaken as inconsequential, Michael is fully aware of the role that small moments will play in the total development of that student. This palindromic understanding can just as easily start from a reference to the ethos of an architect, but it will fast become convincingly specific of the effect it has on a detail between two materials that troubles a student he mentors. Michael has build a formidable list of buildings, received numerous awards, lectured extensively in the United States and abroad, and his worked has been published in magazines and books.

About Lira Luis AIA, RIBA, LEED AP BD+C
Lira Luis is a global American architect specializing in organic architecture. She graduated with a Master of Architecture degree from Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin and a Bachelor of Science degree in Architecture, Cum Laude, from the University of Santo Tomas. She holds multiple licenses in Asia, North America, and a Chartered Architect designation in Continental Europe. She has designed an impressive army of diverse and socially-relevant building typographies in Asian and US markets that included the Fortune 100 companies in the US. A multi-awarded architect, she is named 2012 Top 20 Under 40 by ENR. She was National Geographic and The Aspen Institute’s Environment Forum Scholar, the American Institute of Architects’ AIA Athena Young Professional Award recipient, Tile of Spain’s Reign In Spain competition winner, i4Design Magazine’s 2011 Suite 16 Top Picks, and the 2011 AIA Knowledge Scholar on Practice Management. Award-winning architect and design correspondent, Lira contributes articles as a resident blogger in Chicago Tribune’s ChicagoNow and as AIA KnowledgeNet’s Gold Top Contributor Blogger. She has been featured several times in the media in recent years, including interviews in Mashable.com, Greensource magazine, CAN-TV, Discovery Channel’s Travel Daily, and AZ Family Channel 3. Her work has been published in Architectural Record Magazine, Metropolis Magazine, Wisconsin River Valley Journal, Arizona Republic, Phoenix Magazine, Blueprint Magazine in Malaysia, and broadsheets in the Philippines.

Download Handouts by clicking on image

Additional show highlights include:
  • More Than 800 Global Exhibitors—In just one location over four action-packed days, you can discover the latest tile and stone trends and source the latest products from over 800 global exhibitors.
  • Comprehensive Education Program—Coverings offers the most in-depth tile and stone education program in the Americas, and it’s entirely free. With nearly 70 sessions to choose from, you’ll walk away with the education you need to succeed in the industry.
  • Special Programs and Events—From the Installation Design Showcase and the new Coverings Central, to the PROJECT: Green display and the Art Tile Village, Coverings covers it all.

About Coverings
Coverings is the premier international trade fair and expo dedicated exclusively to showcasing the newest in ceramic tile and natural stone. It has grown to be the largest and most important show of its kind in the U.S., featuring exhibitors from more than 50 countries and attracting thousands of distributors, retailers, fabricators, contractors and specifiers, architectural and design professionals, builders and real estate developers, plus the press and journalists who cover this vital and dynamic industry. Coverings is the stage for introducing some of the most innovative tile and stone products in the world. The exposition also serves as a valuable resource for continuing education for all categories of attendees, with informative, accredited seminars and live demonstration sessions conducted throughout the four days and all free of charge. Coverings 2013 is set for April 29 - May 2, at Georgia World Congress Center, Atlanta, GA. For more information visit www.coverings.com or contact National Trade Productions, Coverings Show Management, 703-683-8500.

Michael P Johnson Design Studio: www.mpjstudio.com

ALLL (Atelier Lira Luis, LLC): www.liraluis.com
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A year in review: Let's talk about Design

Happy new year everyone! The best is yet to come as far as new things happening in our world and in the architecture world at large. We are excited! One of the highlights of the past year was when OREM interviewed Lira Luis to discuss the Value of Design. It has reached nearly 54,000 views worldwide. Take a look:
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