Some of my architectural studies…

Digital morphology is the study of form using computer tools. We did a project last semester to explore the creation of new forms that might have architectural uses, with Autodesk’s 3dsMax software as the basic tool.

My exploration started with the way sails move in a wind field as boats tack into the wind. The movement of the sails was the starting point, and then we looked at ways of perturbing the surface, based on the characteristics of parts of the surface. I think this is still an early exploration, but I learned enough that with a suitable project I think I could use these tools to create something interesting and relevant.

Architecture and me

After many, many years away from architecture, I’ve enrolled at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco for a M.Arch degree, with the intention of practicing architecture in a couple of years. It’s a tough schedule, with classes three days a week and work two days a week, but it seems to be sustainable.

The school is a bit unusual in that all the academic staff are practicing professionals. This give the school a very down-to-earth flavour, although there is still room for theory. It’s interesting and fairly challenging from a time perspective. So far it’s a lot of fun.

I’m taking three classes: a design studio, a theory class looking at what architecture is and how architects work, and a class called “Computer Generated Morphology” that looks at using examples from nature, coded in a 3-D modelling environment, to generate architectural forms. These kinds of ideas are behind some of the things we’ve seen recently, for example the Beijing athletic stadium (the bird’s nest) and the Beijing Aquatic Center (the water cube). Both of these buildings used computer models to generate the actual structure of the buildings. 

As time goes by, I’m hoping to post a bit about the classes and what I’m learning, but time is short with this schedule!

Back from a trip to LA

We drove down in my Acura—it’s comfortable for long distances. The purpose was to attend a party given in honour of Donald and Melany’s baby: Naomi. We stayed for a week or so, and it was good to see everyone again.

Towards the end, I developed a bronchial infection and was out of action: in fact it’s just on the mend now, a week later. As a result Marina had to drive us back, a tiring but not unmanageable task. Subsequently Caelean also developed a fever, and he’s also on the mend. We think both of these may be connected to Jeremy’s bout of pneumonia, but it’s hard to tell. So Marina is the only one left unscathed.

Naomi is a very cheerful child, now seven months old, and we attended her first outing to the beach, well hatted and protected from the sun. She was fascinated by the waves, and not at all fearful. I had previously only seen Naomi when she was very tiny, and of course at this stage she changes almost every day. I think her happy disposition will be an asset.

Naomi is born into the paparazzi world of digital photography: I’m sure she was photographed several hundred times during the few days we were there! But I am not inclined to publish pictures of other people’s children on the web, so if you would like to see any, please let me know.

Music for everyone

TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design—it’s a community and a conference, held in Monterey each year. Their tag line is “ideas worth spreading”, and they publish videos of many of the short (under 20 minute) talks from the conference each year. This one is about music, and shows some work from MIT’s Media Lab that makes music much more accessible to everyone.

Music is more than…

I came across this (thanks, Stephanie!) this afternoon: it’s a group of people who get together to explore home-made musical instruments, many of them combinations of mechanical and electrical or electronic components. Some of them are played in conventional ways, some make music under computer control, and some combine multiple techniques. 


What’s nice about this is that it describes a group of people who get together to share their ideas, and to have a good time together. It’s a long way from a conventional concert, but just as rewarding, and perhaps more so.

There’s a lot going on in electronic music—tonight the Stanford Laptop Orchestra (that’s right) is playing and I’m hoping to go. There’s also a group in the Bay Area that get together regularly to learn about electronics, computing and music. A week ago I went to a talk at UC Santa Cruz that presented some algorithmic music—I’ll try to post separately about that.

Yamkat and family

GhostingSadly, we don’t have many pictures of ourselves sailing Yamkat—our 30′ Richard Woods catamaran. Here are a few from our very first sail, when we all had a chance to try her out, and the boys enjoyed taking the helm, and exploring the huge trampoline forward, from which they could see their reflections in the water (and no doubt other things of great interest…).

The gallery is here.

Ana Nuevo and the Elephant Seals

A big, lazy maleBetween San Francisco and Santa Cruz, on the Pacific coast, lies the Ana Nuevo State Natural Reserve. It’s home to a big colony of elephant seals—in fact the largest colony in the world. Every few years we go out there to see them—it’s different at each season of the year, and this year we went out to see them in early February. The weather was cold and grey, but it didn’t rain (except for a few moments, perhaps), and we were able to have a great view of the different parts of the colony. It’s important to book, because you can only go near the animals as part of a guided tour, which keeps everyone safe, and limits the disruption to the seals.

Lighthouse keeper's ruinThey are really big—especially the males, which seem mountain-like. The males compete for rank in the colony, and develop deep scarring around their chests, and in some cases all around to their backs. The dominant male in a colony is kept busy chasing off all the other males.

There’s a lighthouse, with a now derelict keeper’s cottage on a low island facing out to sea. It must have been very inconvenient, with no direct access by land, and now it’s automated and the cottage is no longer used.

The gallery is here.

Seattle: a few pictures

The original StarbucksWhen we were in Seattle, we tried to spend some time on the water, with a trip to Bainbridge Island, and a tour around the harbor and through the locks. We also visited the Boeing facility in Everett, but they forbade photography, so we went to the Boeing museum closer to Sea-Tac airport, where we saw a lot of interesting aircraft including the Blackbird and the Concorde. I’ve just uploaded some of the pictures, which you can see here.

Yet more pictures from the past

These pictures are quite old – I’ve just installed a new Mac for myself, with Apple’s Aperture for image management. I’ve been using a combination of iView (now owned by Microsoft) and Nikon’s Capture NX, but Aperture is very well integrated into the Mac environment, and I have a plug-in that automates uploads into Gallery, which is the software I use to manage my photo galleries online.

Capture NX has one unique feature that I really like – the so-called U Point technology that was created by Nik Software. This allows edits to be applied to regions identified both geographically and by tone. The result is the easiest way to fix a wide range of localized image problems. The bad news is that while Capture NX does stellar work on Nikon raw (.nef) images, Aperture converts images to TIFF before passing them to Capture NX (or any other external program). The good news is that Nik’s Viveza software, which supports U Point technology, is supposed to be available integrated with Aperture 2.1 in May. So perhaps at least I’ll be able to get some of the integration that way if I can stomach the price, which is more than the cost of Aperture!

The new gallery contains some old pictures from a trip to Annapolis in 2000. They are actually negatives that I scanned – not the best way to do things, but the only choice for a second life for these old pictures.

A few new pictures

Volvo Ocean Race: PortsmouthWhen we were living in England, I followed the Volvo circumnavigation race – big powerful boats doing up to 500 miles in 24 hours under sail. They visited Portsmouth, and we went down to see them and take some pictures. This boat is the Brazilian entry, who came third in the Portsmouth race, but I was supporting ABN Amro One – a European entry, but skippered by New Zealander Mike Sanderson, the ultimate winner of the race. I have infinite respect for these sailors – this is extreme sport taken to the ultimate, with a months-long race in the hottest, coldest, toughest conditions anywhere.

Ducklings in the sunI’ve also put up a few pictures from the UK – Horseshoe Lake. This is one of the many gravel pits in England that have been flooded and are now used for sailing, fishing etc. We used to go to Horseshoe Lake to sail, but on this occasion I think we just pottered around and enjoyed the very tame birds that were hopping around on the bank.

De Young Museum, San FranciscoFinally some pictures from San Francisco: the De Young museum in Golden Gate Park, designed by the Swiss firm of architects Herzog and de Meuron. I learned about them from an exhibition at the New Tate museum in London, where there was an extensive display that described their process, including a lot of the work they did in designing the De Young museum.