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  Practical Application of Newtools Ideas

This first section of this portal is some examples of my work between 1980-2012. When I arrived in New York City in 1978, I thought of myself as an artist. After several years I decided I was really a builder with artist tendencies.

The 1980s
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When working for clients, rarely did they want some radical design. My reputation was having the ability to cram many uses into a tiny space while putting a slight artist bent to the designs.

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Occasionally a client wanted something artistic. Though I built many glass pieces, the stained glass on the left is the only one I ever got paid for. The client wanted the glass to reflect the designs in her collection of Turkish rigs.

The rest of these images are experiments I did in my apartment to try out ideas. Most were built out of scrap materials left over from paying projects. Once I started studying Buckminster Fuller I began using basic geometrical systems (polyhedra) as the skeleton of a cabinet and then put on artist skin over it.

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The 1990s
The House in Brasil

In 1992, hurricane Andrew went very close to my mother's house. My brother and I went to help her till the water and lights came back on. While there I saw the wide spread devastation and decided I needed to design a simple, cheap modular housing unit.

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I began the design with one question, "What is the smallest space one person can live in? I decided four closets would anchor the dome-like section of the vector equilibrium. The modular side walls would connect all together. This design allowed units to be grouped together.

At the same time, after years of visiting Brasil I bought some land near a beach in the south of the country. I though I could test out my designs there.

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I found a local crew to help me build the house. I didn't use an architect or engineer which proved to have been a mistake. Fortunately, years later Fabiano Schwalb, a Brazilian architect helped rectify my mistakes. Once I built the small house I began to construct additions.

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From the top view you can see where the original two-dome house was built. I connected the other additions with a roof garden wanting to take advantage of the beautiful views I had of the ocean. This proved to be problematic with never-ending leaks. Finally, years later Fabiano designed and built a roof.

Having a roof allowed us to collect rain water for use in the garden.

Another problem with the idea of this roof garden was the tropical sun beating down on the cement roof making the small house very hot during the summer. If I had shown my designs to someone with building experience I could have avoided a lot of problems. That is what experiments are for, to learn from your mistakes.

Here are some examples of using basic geometry's structures to build furniture. The rhombic dodecahedron is handy for storage.

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The structure of the VE proved practical for window guards.

For the next 15 years or so I went back and forth between Brasil and New York. A new apartment allowed me new opportunities to take leftover material and make something new. When I visited London, I saw kitchen cabinets that you could place the dishes directly from washing them inside the cabinets and the water would drip into the sink. I developed a version of that using the rhombic dodecahedron.

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The 2000s
The Carport

The Most Effective Minimum 'container' (structure with an inside and an outside) is the 4-sided tetrahedron. If you had a machine that could pulverize a rock into the finest powder and then look at it under a microscope you would see the powder is rocks at this scale and not one of them has less than four sides. Want some structure to divide our local environment into inside and outside you need at least four sides. Fabiano Schwalb and I decided to build a carport that would act as a prototype of a modular roofing substructure. We wanted to use conventional building material in a new way. We decided to use the modular unit of 1/4 volume of a 6BB tetra as our form.

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In portal 5, Expansion to the First 12, there is a detailed explanation of Fuller's Most Effective Minimum modular unit for the Sphere family, the 'a' and 'b' modules. The +s and 0s are the 'handedness' of each module. Six of them make a 1/4 volume 6BB tetra, 24 of them = 1 TV (tetra volume).

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By using one of the most fundamental modular units you have maximum structural integrity along any expanse. The key is figuring out how the joints come together in a cost-effective manner. Fabiano designed a universal joint. He designed a 7-way metal joint. No complex mitering where the conventional wooden rafters came together, they just slip into a sleeve.

Rethinking every aspect of how to build a house is the place to begin to lower costs.

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After nearly 50 years of studying structure in Nature I suggest the future of low-cost modular building patterns will grow out of the triangle and the fundamental structures in basic geometry. The rectangle/shoe box/ minimal-modernist approach to cost-saving has played itself out. A new do-more-by-using-less design aesthetic is needed. These ideas are one 'push-off-start' in that direction.

New York City Apartment

After my wife died and the kids left home, I decided to turn my apartment into a showcase of my space-saving ideas. I spent several years converting it between jobs. The apartment has 440 square feet where you enter the apartment into a bedroom. I wanted privacy between the bedroom and the rest of the space so instead of just a wall I developed the idea of building 'attic space' in the wasted space between the top of the door and the ceiling. This 'attic' stretched from the bedroom into the kitchen producing a large amount of long-term storage.

Attic Space and Maximum Storage
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I constantly asked myself what is being wasted in small New York apartments. The space above the door allows storage above and also in other areas building a platform for storage underneath windows. On the right is a walk-in closest with a lot of drawer space as well as space for hanging. A computer desk and cabinet storage on the left. A fan is placed near the ceiling so the door could be closed and the air could still be circulating.

Kitchen

To maximize living space and storage it is useful to do a 'site map'. This is an understanding of air flow and where the sunlight hits in the apartment. Walking into the kitchen the wall on the left received the most sunlight so all of the storage was put on the other side. Having a clear line of sight from one end of the space to the other makes it look bigger.

A small breakfast nook could fit into such a small space because its base was a triangle. Think about triangles when designing in a small space.

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This apartment was build more than 100 years ago, an original tenement apartment where there was just one plumbing stack which the kitchen sink and bath tub shared. I kept the bath tub, added a shower and built a titled 'bath house' around it (behind the sink and kitchen cabinet). Separating the bath from the water closet toilet allowed more people to get ready at the same time. I placed a strong lighting unit above the sink and enclosed it with glass to give the illusion of a skylight.

Originally the sink was against the wall but by putting it at an angle it allowed more cabinet storage. I simplified the original dish drainer to its essence (compare with earlier version). The piece of wood at the top allowed large pots and pans to be washed in any order not having to wait till the end to put them on top of the other dishes. The dish drainer was placed in just the right position to not interfere with any dish washing. 

 

In the bottom cabinet underneath the countertop there is always the problem of reaching the items in the back of the cabinet. I sliced the shelves lengthwise placing one in the cabinet and the other on the door allowing easy access.

When I first moved in the previous owner had taken out the wall separating the kitchen and living room. I built the proper reinforcements using triangles while adding in the glass works. From the floor to the average reach of a human needs to be rectilinear for maximum storage. Above that line triangles add interest giving the illusion of more space.

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The Half-Bedroom

The idea of a half-bedroom is a combination of a work space that converts into a closed off guest bedroom. I made my worktable big enough to fit a single futon on it. Under the window on the right I built a platform that allowed the futon to be stored underneath. On the ceiling you can see the outline of the bedroom. There is a large mirror door on the left that hinges to close off the left portion. Behind are two small panels that eventually close the gaps between the other panels. You see a green pillar that hides two panels without blocking any light. This was the key to the success of this design, no stored panels blocking the natural light. On the far wall are the last two panels that completely enclose the space.

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