Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Design Experiments l Wall to Wall Research with HouMinn

In 1833 an inventive carpenter from Chicago by the name of Augustine Taylor devised a revolutionary method for building on a limited budget. This method was the first example of stud framing, and with minor tweaks it has dominated the residential construction industry since. Recent demands for sustainable building and affordable housing have inspired research-based firms like HouMinn to re-examine residential construction from the ground up. With the help of two major Universities, a few architects, industrial designers, scientists, engineers and digital fabricators, HouMinn is developing some inspiring prototypes that it hopes will lead to a new alternative for building the American home.


HouMinn principles Marc Swackhamer and Blair Satterfield initially began their experiments with off-the-shelf parts resulting in early projects like the Draft House. These projects evolved into research using full-scale prototyping. The Drape Wall project, their first exploration focused on developing a new building system. The project utilized an interior felt quilt to deal with the mechanical and moisture issues as well as the need for an enclosure, while a aluminum frame supported a series of vacuum-formed thermoplastic bricks creating the durable exterior structure.


The Drape Wall was still based on stud framing methods, while their second wall system, Cloak Wall, sought to make the modular bricks work as the structure, leaving the stud frame behind. This was inspired by the increasingly vigorous, global biomimetics movement that believes designers and scientists should turn to nature's treasure-trove of brilliant design. Marc and Blair sought to make the new system act as natural systems, with each part performing several functions. In the Cloak Wall, the modular bricks support, provide view openings, ventilate, protect from the elements, act as storage and are covered in a special automotive paint on the exterior, which gives the appearance of changing colors as light angles shift season to season. This cool sci-fi effect not only helps the building blend into its natural surroundings, but reflects and absorbs sunlight according to various seasons, making it more sustainable.


HouMinn's practice for the past several years has focused on creating concept prototypes. Much like the cool images we see at Detriot's car shows, these systems aren't yet road ready. As their projects continue to develop Mar and Blair are confident they'll find ways to test the ideas and further them through actual built work. The first step is testing the systems and achieving a highter level of performance. Much like the auto industry, once the system is performative they can then focus on making the product affordable. At the moment, HouMinn is pursuing different types of plastic manufacturing to create extremely flexible and adaptable building blocks. With new methods of production they hope to distill their wall system into something that is extremely simple and elegant, but has a complex level of method, development and thought behind the interactios of the parts. With no doubt this mezzo-local office has the potential to reinvent how we build.



8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Cool ideas, but pretty wacky walls. Can't see burbia latching onto this anytime soon.

Colin Oglesbay said...

Houminn's designs are really only concept prototypes at the moment. Perhaps if their designs lead to actual homes in the future they might be simplified much like the watching the cool concept car turn into the Taurus they might not be as sexy once they get to market.

Anonymous said...

I just think it's amazing and inspiring to see someone dedicate their entire career to designing one wall.

Tom said...

This is refreshing. Architecture should be about trying to benefit the world, not try to play to potential marketing ideas. I applaude HouMinn's efforts and this type of coverage for the AIA blog, more of this and less of the skyway pandering that's good architecture!

Colin said...

Thanks for the kind words. We'll try to continue to seek out the interesting and innovative work of our regions best designers.

John Gavin Dwyer, AIA said...

Tom, your definition of marketing seems a bit narrow. HouMinn's work is certainly marketing, on a very fundamental level. Their work has been on exhibit in many locations and they work hard to get themselves published. They also recently won qand R+D award through Architect magazine, an award I'm sure they worked very hard to apply for. We can't assume, as architects, that our work will simply stand for itself. We need to work to be heard when we have something to say, and that's marketing.

Chris said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chris said...

Well its really really strange, but it is always something new and I like new things they make the world go 'round

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