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Open Studio!

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If you’re looking for something fun to do this Friday night, feel free to drop by our office (Room 425) for Open Studios night at Bok. Several tenants will be open to display their creative work in architecture, video, furnituremaking, glassblowing, jewelrymaking, and light.

4-7 pm Friday, October 11th
Bok Building, 1901 South 9th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19148

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Hidden Design at the National Constitution Center

by Sara Pochedly

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I recently made my first trip to the National Constitution Center located here in Philadelphia.  As a designer I was really impressed by the permanent exhibit space.  While there were approximately 100 people experiencing the exhibits, the room was surprisingly quiet.  Looking around I could see a variety of screens playing videos, but there were no headsets, no phone apps and I could not hear any media sounds.  And then all of a sudden, I stepped directly in front of a screen and the sound arrived!  I looked to the left, then to the right, and lastly up towards the ceiling, but saw nothing.  I thought, where is the sound coming from?  And then I looked towards to floor and noticed that the flooring had changed from carpet to a metal grate and realized the focused sound was coming from the floor!  Scanning the rest of the room I soon realized that many of the exhibits had these grates.  While they were not completely invisible, these grates blended into the background, and yet they were the most impactful part of the exhibit.  They made the exhibits engaging because as you moved from area to area, you continuously walked in and out of relevant audio/video clips.  This is a great example of when good design is invisible.

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Sara is an Architect, Interior Designer and Sustainable designer who is a self-proclaimed museum aficionado.

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Architecture in Video Games

by Sam Katovitch

Video games are, for the most part, about building worlds.  These worlds can reflect our own, and many “realistic” games, such as racing games, exploration games, and combat games often do.  They can superficially resemble our world, but operate on different principles, or different mechanics to lend them the edge of difference.  Video games can also build worlds that never have or could have existed in our universe, with settings in the future, the past, different planets, or even alternate dimensions.  Part of what makes these varied settings so immersive and engaging is the graphical and visual languages from which they are made, and the designers of these worlds work just as hard as any architects operating in the real world. 

Making a game world takes a lot of work, and if a setting is good, it means a person or team of persons poured their blood, sweat, and tears into making it so.  If a world is detailed, engaging, and most importantly believable, at least in the context of the game, it has that elusive quality that is the Holy Grail of video game designers – immersion.  A game world that swallows up the player and lets them believe, if only for a second, that what they are doing is making a difference, has that all-important quality. 

Conversely, badly-designed settings take a player out of the experience, and a good game that is hampered by a badly-designed or poorly-implemented world is the worst kind of bad experience, especially if the story on its own is engaging.  Many independently made (aka “indie”) games suffer this problem, as many are very well written, but all the good writing in the world isn’t going to pay animators and designers enough to create a good world on a shoestring budget. 

Video game settings are also very dependent on the player’s suspension of disbelief, and their standards.  Games like Doom and Quake from the very earliest days of 3D looked great in comparison to 2D games of their day, but in the nearly 3 decades since those games came out video game technology has come a very long way.

Part of what makes video games so massively popular among mainstream media is their ability to create settings which could never existing in the real world.  The architecture of these settings varies massively based on the genre and artistic preferences of the designers and the message they are trying to get across.  The ancient, incomprehensible megastructures of Halo or Shadow of the Colossus create a sense of being a tiny, insignificant creature, wandering through the ruins of a once mighty, now fallen civilization; the towering, claustrophobic Gothic spires and ancient cathedrals from games like Dark Souls and Bloodborne contribute to a much more oppressive, deliberately angst-inducing environment.  The small villages and bustling, human-scale cities of the Elder Scrolls games are a stark contrast to the cavernous tombs, dungeons, and bandit camps the player explores in the wilderness, and provide welcome moments of relief from dangerous adventures. The oppressive city of Dunwall in Dishonored, on the other hand, is as much an enemy and obstacle to the player as the corrupt city guards and swarms of carnivorous rats the game is known for.

Portal at Voi –  Halo 3 , 2007, Bungie, 343 Industries

Portal at Voi – Halo 3, 2007, Bungie, 343 Industries

Research Hall –  Bloodborne,  2015, FromSoftware

Research Hall – Bloodborne, 2015, FromSoftware

Lothric Castle –  Dark Souls 3,  2016, FromSoftware

Lothric Castle – Dark Souls 3, 2016, FromSoftware

Riverwood Village –  The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim,  2011, Bethesda Game Studios

Riverwood Village – The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, 2011, Bethesda Game Studios

Dunwall Clocktower –  Dishonored,  2012, Arkane Studios

Dunwall Clocktower – Dishonored, 2012, Arkane Studios

With the growing video game industry came the burgeoning profession of video game environment designer. Designers of video game worlds may not be bound by strict building or zoning codes like designers in the real world, but they have an entirely different set of rules they have to abide by, as nothing breaks a video game’s immersion than bad level design. A video game world has to be just as well laid-out as a major civic or commercial building, because in many situations there will not be signs pointing the player’s way to the next objective. The wayfinding in virtual environments is crucial, since if a player gets frustrated and lost, they are as likely to turn off the game and go do something else as they are to keep pushing until they find the way forward. This does not necessarily mean the environments need to be simple – a great deal of skill is needed to create a game world where the paths are complex enough to challenge, but navigable enough to not frustrate players. On the low end of the complexity spectrum are games like the Call of Duty series, where the levels are linear and progress is restricted almost entirely to corridors so the players keep moving forward, thus allowing little to no exploration or player freedom, to allow greater focus on the game’s story. At the other end of the scale are puzzle games like Portal and The Talos Principle, which have more open-ended levels with the path forward cleverly disguised by puzzles and confusing layouts. There are players who prefer linearity, and those that prefer to find their own way through an environment, but players naturally gravitate to games with the kinds of environments they enjoy.

Aqueduct –  The Talos Principle,  2014, Devolver Digital, Croteam

Aqueduct – The Talos Principle, 2014, Devolver Digital, Croteam

The worlds built by video game designers may not necessarily reflect our own, but a similar amount of care goes into creating an engaging environment in virtual space as it does in reality.  Game designers may not be bound by the laws of gravity, but they are bound by the laws of player consciousness and understanding, and a game with a badly-realized world will soon be laden with negative reviews and critical panning.  Thus, video game architecture has to be carefully laid out and curated so as not to take the player out of the experience and ruin their immersion, and most importantly, it has to be believable enough to serve the main point of video games in general – to be a break from the mundanity of everyday life, and a chance to escape into a world of fantastic scenes. 

Sources:

Bloodborne – Research Hall - https://bloodborne.wiki.fextralife.com/Research+Hall

The Talos Principle – Aqueduct - http://www.croteam.com/talosprinciple/

Dishonored – Dunwall Clocktower - https://dishonored.fandom.com/wiki/Clocktower

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – Riverwood Village - https://en.uesp.net/wiki/Skyrim:Riverwood

Dark Souls 3 – Lothric Castle - https://darksouls.fandom.com/wiki/Lothric_Castle

Halo 3 – Portal at Voi - http://halo.bungie.net/projects/halo3/default.aspx

Sam has played all these games, but mostly just draws his own worlds now (he’s an architecture student, you know!)

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Craftsman Farm, Morrisville, NJ

by Sara Pochedly

Looking for an Architectural day trip adventure?

Craftsman Farm, Morrisville, NJ: (A day trip) A quick 1.75 hour drive from Philadelphia.

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I grew up in an Arts and Crafts Style home with parents who are avid antique collectors.   

The Arts and Crafts Movement, also sometimes known as Craftsman Style or Mission Style, was an international design movement in Europe and North America that lasted from approximately 1880-1920.  The movement encouraged traditional craftsmanship and simple forms.

When I moved to the Philadelphia area my Dad was thrilled that he could finally make it to Morrisville, NJ to visit Craftsman Farm, Gustav Stickley’s Iconic Log House, and to date we have visited on 3 separate occasions.  Stickley was a very well-known turn-of-the-century (1900s) furniture maker who bought the land in New Jersey to get away from the busy New York life.  He had the intention of creating a farm school for boys, to get back to the basics of life.  Though the dream of a school never fully materialized, he built several buildings on the property including the club house which was originally intended for gatherings and meals, and later was turned into the Stickley Family Home.  He and his family lived there from 1911 until 1915 when he filed for bankruptcy and sold the house.  The house only had one other owner and was sold in 1989. The Stickley Museum at Craftsman Farms was formed in 1989 to protect and preserve the property.

Craftsman Farms was the only residence Stickley built for himself and is now considered one of the most significant American Arts and Crafts buildings.  Several distinctive details include the copper fireplaces, each with their own saying, the color palette, all very dark colors which give the spaces a particular ambiance, and of course, the space-specific furniture and furnishings,  many of which, have been re-acquired or replicated by the museum.

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The museum is open limited hours each week and makes for a nice weekend trip.  When you are up in the Morrisville area you can also check out the National Park Service - Morristown National Historical Park.

To learn more about Craftsman Farm or schedule your trip please visit https://www.stickleymuseum.org/

Sara is an Architect, Interior Designer and Sustainable designer who is a huge fan of Neil Zurcher’s One Tank Trips!

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Architectural Photography

by Sam Katovitch

Collision

Collision

The photographing of architecture is as much of an art as the design of the actual spaces and forms is.  Where the goal of architecture – arguably – is to create spaces ideal for the activities predicted to take place in them, architectural photography is the art of capturing an image that by its very nature cannot be fully processed by the human eye, and making it comprehensible, relatable, and beautiful. 

The craft of architectural photography is extremely dependent on the equipment used, which in ordinary photography is just the tool by which images are made.  When photographing buildings, normal lenses aren’t enough.  The human visual system has a binocular field of view of about 115 degrees horizontally, in addition to 40 degrees on each side which are peripheral only.  Compare that to a normal 50mm prime lens (the standard in the days of 35mm film).  That lens has a field of view of 40 degrees total – no peripheral vision here.  Now, a single human eye has a field of view of about 55 degrees, which is roughly equivalent to a 43mm lens.  Such a lens is not hard to obtain, as it isn’t even really considered “wide-angle.”  But if an architectural photographer used a 43mm lens to photograph a building, it would be like looking through a single human eye – one with zero peripheral vision.  Thus, wide angle lenses become crucial for photographers wishing to capture the same angles of view as those of the human eye.  The earliest lenses used for this purpose had focal lengths of 24-35mm in the days of film cameras, and the widest lens commonly available now is a mere 14mm equivalent focal length. 

The other hurdle photographers must clear when capturing architecture – one made more difficult due to the use of wide-angle lenses – is the problem of converging lines.  Due to the way lenses are made, combined with the natural perspective that is inherent to single-point view, wide angle shots and shots taken at an angle looking upward are victim to converging lines.  This is less of a problem in street or landscape or portrait photography as the subjects are more organic, less subject to perspective, and generally smaller in scale. In architectural photography this becomes a huge issue.  Perspective and lens mechanics conspire to make buildings look crooked, tilted, or oddly foreshortened.  This is why photos taken by a tourist on their smartphone or digital camera will never look the same as those that have been taken by a professional photographer, and only part of that is due to skill.  The method developed to get around this issue is called tilt-shift photography. 

Tilt-shift photography is nothing new, in fact it has been an ability of cameras going all the way back to early bellows cameras, where the lens could be moved independently of the film body to create perspective changes within the camera.  The technology was only adapted to smaller-format cameras, like those used by architectural photographers, in the 1960s.  On small cameras it is almost entirely accomplished through special lenses called “perspective control” or PC lenses, the first of which was developed by Nikon in 1962.  PC lenses have the ability to shift the lens up or down relative to the film.  A variant on this concept is the tilt-shift lens.  The “tilt-shift” name comes from the ability to rotate the lens plane relative to the image plane – the “tilt” – and to move the lens plane parallel to the image plane – the “shift”.  By shifting the lens plane up or down relative to the image plane, the photographer can control the perspective of the image taken, and this is how architectural photographers create their images.   Most architectural photographs are taken with the lens shifted upwards relative to the image plane, and so the camera’s film or sensor can be kept parallel to the subject, while the lens’ movement is used to position the subject within the image area.  Thus, all points on a subject remain the same distance from the camera and the shape of the subject is preserved and not foreshortened.  This eliminates the problem of tilting the camera to capture a building, and results in images where parallel lines remain parallel and walls do not seem to tilt inwards towards one another.

There is a wide gulf between a regular person taking a photo of a building on a regular camera or smartphone, and an architectural photographer doing it.  Professional building photographers have an arsenal of specialized equipment and techniques to make the most of their photos, and lend their work the extra sense of immersion and accuracy that traditional photography just can’t replicate.  An entire industry has developed around the photographing of buildings, and that industry will only continue to grow more advanced as new photographic technologies become available. 

Gable –  This image is an example of how a normal camera still create parallel vertical lines – this picture was taken with the camera held at arm’s-length above my head, decreasing vertical skew.

Gable – This image is an example of how a normal camera still create parallel vertical lines – this picture was taken with the camera held at arm’s-length above my head, decreasing vertical skew.

South –  A typical Broad Street shot showing the converging effect of a normal lens on perspective – note how the buildings seem to lean in towards each other.

South – A typical Broad Street shot showing the converging effect of a normal lens on perspective – note how the buildings seem to lean in towards each other.

all photos by Sam Katovitch. Sam uses REAL FILM.

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Road Trip Part 1: A Philly “Gem”

by Sara Pochedly

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Beth Sholom Synagogue, Elkins Park: (An afternoon adventure) A quick 30 minute drive from Center City, Philadelphia

You don’t really get to see a city until you have visitors.  Being a transplant to the city of Philadelphia, I have many friends and family members come to visit every year.  I have visited many of the well-known and recommended places on numerous occasions and was looking for something new.  I brought this up to the office to see if they had some off the beaten path recommendations, and Bart said “have you ever been to the Frank Lloyd Wright synagogue in Elkins Park?”  I looked at him quite puzzled—a Frank Lloyd Wright building so close?  I honestly didn’t have any recollection of hearing of this building before.  I have been to several of Frank Lloyd Wright’s other buildings, including Fallingwater, his studio in Oak Park, Robie House, Unity Chapel and Guggenheim Museum and was very interested in learning more about his work close by.

A few weekends ago when my parents were in town, we made the trip to Beth Sholom Synagogue.  We had to order tickets in advance (which can be purchased through their website) and arrived for the last tour available on a Sunday afternoon.  To our surprise we had a private tour!

The tour included an introductory video and an exhibit which includes all the letters between Rabbi Cohen and Frank Lloyd Wright, and a walking tour through the main sanctuary and the lower level smaller sanctuary. Our docent was very knowledgeable and it was a very enjoyable tour.

Beth Sholom Synagogue was one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s last works.  He actually passed away while the project was under construction.  The main architectural feature of the building is a double-walled translucent roof structure with corrugated glass panels on the exterior and plastic panels on the interior.  This structure provides a variety of ever-changing lighting conditions that can be experienced by the users within.  At night when the synagogue is in use, it glows.  There are many other unique features and details including all of the custom designed door handles, the designed furniture pieces (many still have their original upholstery) and the star-shaped lighting on the lower level.

Beth Sholom Synagogue is located at 8231 Old York Road, Elkins Park, PA 19027 and you can learn more at their website https://www.bethsholomcongregation.org/tour-beth-sholom and purchase tickets at https://www.bethsholompreservation.org/

I highly recommend checking this building out!  And thank you Bart for this wonderful recommendation!

Sara is an Architect, Interior Designer and Sustainable designer who is a huge fan of Neil Zurcher’s One Tank Trips!

 

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Cheap Furniture (Vol. 1)

by Bart Bajda

Whoever said good looking furniture had to be expensive was a fool.  This series of posts will prove just that by showcasing furniture designed and built by me using readily accessible materials that can be found in most of your common hardware stores. 

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Volume 1 (many more to come) features a coffee table with a wood top and waterfall edge.  The ends are tapered to reveal the steel frame below.  A glass shelf sits below for additional storage. 

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The wood top and end are made from standard 2x4 studs glued together and doweled through at each end and the corner for a perfect alignment.  Now I understand pine is soft and dents fairly easily, but let’s be honest, I don’t know anyone who hacks away at frozen meat on their coffee table.  The steel frame is standard 3/4" steel angle cut to size, drilled, and held together with machine screws and nuts.  The frame was painted black and lightly sanded to reveal exposed steel at the edges.  The lower shelf is made of glass panels I had recovered for free from a local department store closing.  To prevent rattling and provide a little more protection, the glass rests on a rubber weather strip, typically used to seal windows, adhered to the lower frame. 

Now to prove my point, I’d like to give a material cost breakdown for this project.  Some people won’t factor in the miscellaneous glue, screws, etc. but for arguments sake I’ve tried to include every little bit not including the tools and equipment.  However, I will add that no heavy-duty commercial grade equipment was used as this was all done in my 12’ x12’ Philadelphia row home backyard. 

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*Glass can be substituted with acrylic or polycarbonate panels found in any common hardware store.

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Bart is the Toner Architects 2019 axe-throwing champion.                                          

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South Philly Smokhaus is Now Open

plenty of wood for the in-house smoker! (photo by Bart Bajda / Toner Architects)

plenty of wood for the in-house smoker! (photo by Bart Bajda / Toner Architects)

by Sara Pochedly

We are really excited to announce that South Philly Smokhaus is now open!  Eric Daelhousen came to us 2 years ago with a plan of opening South Philly Smokhaus, and after considering several locations, all in South Philly, he decided to make his home here at Bok! (Which is really convenient for the Toner Team and anyone visiting us, since he is our downstairs neighbor.) 

Eric hard at work. (photo by Bart Bajda / Toner Architects)

Eric hard at work. (photo by Bart Bajda / Toner Architects)

If you follow the lingering aroma of burning wood that brings memories of family gatherings and great food it will lead you to the doorstep of South Philly Smokhaus. The smoker is burning around the clock so that they can offer a wide variety of smoked meats including brisket, ribs, pulled pork, sausage and chicken quarters. In addition to the meat offerings there are a variety of sandwiches, sides and desserts. The full menu can be found at https://www.southphillysmokhaus.com. I am certain that you will find something you will like! In my opinion, there is no wrong choice, everything that we have sampled has been delicious.

As an added bonus Giunta’s Prime of Reading Terminal market has opened up its own separate counter, called Passio Prime, inside the South Philly Smokhaus restaurant bringing a delightful selection of fresh meats to the neighborhood.

mmmmm . . . meat (photo by Bart Bajda / Toner Architects)

mmmmm . . . meat (photo by Bart Bajda / Toner Architects)

From a design perspective Eric did something really special by engaging a variety of companies here at Bok to help actualize the restaurant. Each company/designer brought a specific touch and combined together provided a refined version of a traditional Barbecue aesthetic.  The team included:

Architecture: Toner Architects – www.tonerarch.com

Interior design, furniture selection: Nuance Jewelry - www.nuance-jewelry.com

South Philly Smokhaus keychains: Nuance Jewelry - www.nuance-jewelry.com

Decorative paint: Done + Dusted - www.doneanddusted.us

Feature light fixture: Remark Glass - www.remarkglass.com

Countertops and tabletops: Bicyclette Furniture - www.bicyclettefurniture.com     

Sandwich bread: Machine Shop Boulangerie - www.machineshopphilly.com                    

Photography: Stevie Chris - www.steviechris.com

We recommend you stop by and grab a bite, and promise you won’t be disappointed.  But, please plan ahead and get there early, because they have been selling out daily!

Sara is an Architect, Interior Designer, Sustainable Designer and a secretly aspiring food critic.

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Get to Know Us

toner team

We are real people too!  Since we just put up the staff bios for everyone our website, we wanted to take a minute and share some fun facts about our team that are in addition to the formal bios.  You can check out the bios at http://www.tonerarch.com/about/

 

Ian Toner

Who is your favorite Architect? Alvar Aalto

What is your favorite building? Villa Mairea

What is your favorite city (that is not Philadelphia)? Prague. Went there with no expectations. It was beautiful and friendly.

What is your favorite color? Blue

What is your favorite food? Sichuan Chinese

What is your favorite song? Eye of the Tiger

What are your hobbies outside of work? 2 kids!

Do you have a pet? If yes, what type? Cat. Ugh.


Sara Pochedly

Who is your favorite Architect?  Richard Neutra (and Ian Toner)

What is your favorite building? It’s hard to choose just one, but I really enjoy the Farnsworth House by Mies Van der Rohe

What is your favorite city (that is not Philadelphia)?  Cleveland! As some of you may know, I am from Cleveland and awesome place to both live and visit.  I will have an upcoming blog post on what to do and see in Cleveland.

What is your favorite color? My favorite color in general is blue, my favorite color to wear is black, and my favorite color to paint the walls is light purple.

What is your favorite food? French Fries…wait I should probably say something healthy like green beans.  Growing up I asked my mom to make green beans so often, my siblings to this day say they can’t eat them.  I also really enjoy vegetarian Indian food.

What is your favorite song? I am a huge fan of electronic music and really enjoy Ratatat Loud Pipes.

What are your hobbies outside of work? Gardening, hiking and trying to renovate my own house with no help…

Do you have a pet? If yes, what type? Yes, a dog named Juno.  She is a Bichon Frise.


Justyn Myers

Who is your favorite Architect? Shuhei Endo for his simple material selections and undulating forms diving in and out of landscapes.

What is your favorite building?  Currently the Cira Center, I like to call it the shard.  It's a really simple design that has a powerful impact by using its natural surroundings.  The 4 sides of the building are square with the SE and NW corners sloping in.  This allows for these corners to light up during sun rise and sun set.  While the majority of the skyline is grey during these times this shouts like a beacon of color.  Cesar Pelli's approach to tall buildings is that they should never be capped off, always reaching higher into the sky.  This building is a clear representation of this idea.  Using these two ideas the building represents a shard of glass pointing to the taller buildings in Philadelphia's skyline.  It is so simple but yet so effective.

What is your favorite city (that is not Philadelphia)? Tokyo for its vibrant culture, wacky styles, it's vast night life, and delicious foods.

What is your favorite color? Earth tones of green

What is your favorite food? Cao lầu A delicious Vietnamese dish with noodles, fresh greens, pork and a little spice.  A really nice mix of cold and hot ingredients served at room temperature.

What is your favorite song?  There are so many but a couple would be "Get lifted" by George Mccrae, "Deacon Blues" by Steely Dan, "My Boo" Ghost Town DJ's, "Careless Whispers" by Wham.  These all come from the nostalgia of karaoke. Never try to sing a G-n-R song.

What are your hobbies outside of work? Event planning, costuming making, working with my hands and making things like furniture and props for events.  I also like exploring various places to send it.

Do you have a pet? If yes, what type? 2 cats, Coco & Chanel


Bart Bajda

Who is your favorite Architect?  Daniel Libeskind

What is your favorite building?  Santo Spirito

What is your favorite city (that is not Philadelphia)?  Barcelona

What is your favorite color?  Aqua

What is your favorite food?  Pad Prik Khing - Thai

What is your favorite song?  High Hopes - Pink Floyd

What are your hobbies outside of work?  Building furniture

Do you have a pet? If yes, what type?  No pets

 

David Fisher

Who is your favorite Architect? Frank Lloyd Wright

What is your favorite building? One Liberty Place

What is your favorite city (that is not Philadelphia)? Denver, CO

What is your favorite color? Green

What is your favorite food? Lasagna

What is your favorite song? Wait - M83

What are your hobbies outside of work?  Playing piano and guitar

Do you have a pet?  I (my family) have a dog and chinchilla.  Both live with my parents back home.

 
Sam Katovitch

Who is your favorite Architect?  Renzo Piano

What is your favorite building?  Grace Farms by SANAA

What is your favorite city (that is not Philadelphia)?  Paris, France

What is your favorite color?  Burgundy

What is your favorite food?  Pho

What is your favorite song?  Little Lighter by Ripe

What are your hobbies outside of work?  Film photography, writing, hiking, kayaking, road trips

Do you have a pet? If yes, what type?  One-eyed black cat named Manny

Come join us at our upcoming open house this Friday, October 12th, from 4-7. You can ask us about all our favorite things!

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LANDAU Design + Technology joins the Toner Team at Bok.

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We are excited to announce that Chris Landau of LANDAU Design + Technology has joined us in our office here at Bok.  Chris founded LANDAU Design + Technology earlier this summer and joined the Toner Office on September 1st!  Chris has a background in art and his company strives to bridge the gap between design and technology.  His main client base is designers, researchers and engineers.  He works in a variety of modes so he can help his clients produce, develop, strategize, design and learn.  His services include but are not limited to; 3D Modeling, custom tools, integrated design systems, animation, visualizations and analysis, and fabrication preparation.  For more information please visit  https://www.landau.design/

 If you’re interested in seeing Chris and his work in person, you can join us at our open house, which will take place as part of Design Philadelphia. We’ll be open this Friday, the 12th, from 4-7pm. Hope to see you there!

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Open House!

Mark your calendars, save the date!  Toner Architects will be opening our office doors for Bok Night from 4-7 on Friday, October 12 for Design Philadelphia.  Please stop by for a visit!

You’ll get a chance to see our new office and have a look at what we’ve been working on. While you’re here, you can check out our office-mate Chris Landau’s work, as well.

We are located in Bok (A hub for Design Philadelphia this year) at

1901 South 9th Street (corner of 9th and Mifflin)
Room 425
Philadelphia, PA 19148

In addition to our open house there will be multiple other companies hosting events that night at Bok including but not limited to:

Bicyclette Furniture

Firth and Wilson Transport Cycles

Gnome Architects

JV Collective

Klip Collective

Lobo Mau

made@bok

Milder Office Inc.

Mozilla

Nuance Jewelry

Remark Glass

Roantree Weaves

Stover Ceramics

Urban Aesthetics

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Adult Science Fair

by Justyn Myers

A while back I was given the chance to participate and compete in a local science fair.  When presented with the idea, the inner kid in me got real excited as images of trifold presentation boards and short sleeved collared shirts ran through my mind.  What kind of project would have the most impact, would be the most fun to build, and is something I could use after it was done?  I had figured the volcano was played out, and robotics would be too complicated given the short 2-week time frame.  I had always wanted to make a trebuchet and this was the perfect time to do so.  Now I have the opportunity to explore how it was made by going through those motions and get a chance to really understand how to maximize its potential (energy).   I’m going to run through the steps of how to make one and explain my conclusion and explore what I would do differently when I build the next one. 

The trebuchet is an ancient siege engine used for throwing large rocks. It was invented in China in about the 4th century BC, came to Europe in the 6th century AD, and did not become obsolete until the 16th century, well after the introduction of gunpowder.  Trebuchets were so popular because an army would show up to invade a castle and use the surrounding trees to build the catapult, thus relieving the army of having to carry this large thing around when travelling.

A classical trebuchet involves a falling counterweight which accelerates the throwing arm and the sling attached to it. A small speed on the counterweight provides a large speed on the end of the throwing arm and an even larger speed on the projectile in the sling because the arm and projectile have a much larger radius from the fulcrum than the counterweight does. Ideally, the sling will release when the projectile is traveling at a 45-degree angle to the ground, and the counterweight should impart all of its energy to the projectile. I decided to make a trebuchet that would use a case of soda as a counterweight, and would throw a single can of soda as far as possible.

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Aside from the basic components of the trebuchet there are other factors to consider when building a trebuchet.  After building the initial small-scale model I made changes and added these items:

WHEELS: As the counterweight swings down, the trebuchet rolls forwards and then backwards. The forward motion adds to the velocity of the projectile, much as the forward motion of a baseball pitcher add to the velocity of a ball. The forwards motion of the trebuchet also helps to smooth out the motion of the swinging beam, adding to the control of the projectile.

COUNTERWEIGHTS WERE OF TWO TYPES: fixed or hinged. Fixed counterweights were easier to design and build. However, in an effort to harness the full energy of the falling mass, hinged counterweight trebuchets were built.  I used both and found the projectile went further with a hinged counterweight.  The hinge allowed the counterweight to fall at maximum velocity without any horizontal drag.

THINGS I WOULD CHANGE
There are a couple things I would change when I tackle this project again.  One thing would be to increase the amount of counter weight used from (1) case to (2) cases of soda because generally in a trebuchet as the weight increases the distance increases as well.  We should have cut the hole in our arm further so that the arm could reach the trigger without additional string. This would make our trebuchet more efficient.  And lastly, I would create an adjustable pin mechanism to adjust firing angle on the battle field.

CONCLUSION
This trebuchet model was an enjoyable and surprising project. The design and construction were both challenging and interesting, and this small project allows you to exercise both your mind and your hands. It was surprising because the mathematical model corresponded so well with the range and actual performance in the field. I think it can be said with certainty that the more soda you drink out of the can to be thrown (making it lighter), and the more soda you add to the counterweight, the distance travelled by the projectile increases. In addition, the greater the height above the ground the counterweight is held, and the greater the angle the projectile turns through, the greater the displacement of the projectile. For an object that is 36" tall and works on only gravity to fire an object 33 feet (as mine did) attests to the beauty and pragmatism of the trebuchet design.

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Project Progress: 1627 Brandywine

We're getting excited about this project--1627 Brandywine Street in Philadelphia. The building was originally a carriage house. More recently, it was used for storage. Now, we're working with the new owner to convert it to a home and studio.

The existing front.

The existing front.

The first floor will contain a garage and photography studio, with living space above. We really want to take advantage of the huge wooden roof trusses, so they'll stay exposed in the finished space. The front is in amazing condition; it's made of yellow-orange ironspot roman brick, with incredibly thin joints and great workmanship.

A detail of the oval window; look at how carefully the bricks were cut to fit it.

A detail of the oval window; look at how carefully the bricks were cut to fit it.

Carriages used to be stored in here; the large roof trusses also hold up the second floor, so that the first floor could be totally open. There's evidence that at one time there was an elevator (manually operated, of course) that could lift carriages up to the second level.

Carriages used to be stored in here; the large roof trusses also hold up the second floor, so that the first floor could be totally open. There's evidence that at one time there was an elevator (manually operated, of course) that could lift carriages up to the second level.

The second floor; the steel rods coming down from the trusses hold the floor up.

The second floor; the steel rods coming down from the trusses hold the floor up.

Some images of the proposed space.

Some images of the proposed space.

We'll keep you posted on this one. As we finish preliminary design, we're getting ready to meet with the neighbors, and then with the Historical Commission

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Parish House Opening

You've seen us write a lot about our Parish House project in the past, especially on social media. Well, the first two units are finally finished!

This building started out as part of a larger parcel, originally containing a church, a rowhouse, and the church's parish house, where events such as wedding receptions, performances, and classes took place. 

The overall site is marked in blue; individual buildings in red.

The overall site is marked in blue; individual buildings in red.

When we started on the project, the first thing to do was to decide how to handle all of these buildings that were sharing one lot. The client, Red Oak Development, wanted to subdivide the land so that each building would be on a separate parcel. Ultimately, we ended up dividing it into eight pieces: one for the church, one for the existing rowhouse, one vacant lot, and five separate lots under the parish house. The church, which was in bad disrepair, was sold to another developer, who ultimately decided to demolish it and build several rowhouses. The existing rowhouse was renovated and sold, and we designed a new rowhouse on the empty lot. 

The biggest challenge, though, was the parish house. This was a large stone building, built in 1912, with a combination of wood and steel structure. The developer decided at the beginning of the project to break the building up into five individual homes, which would feature very high ceilings (the existing building had ceiling heights of 10' in the basement, and 14' on the first floor!), large open spaces, and custom stairs. Here are some progress shots of the demolition and construction work:

Rear view of the existing building, after the church was demolished. The hole in the foreground was for a new house at 2127 East Cumberland (see link, above).

Rear view of the existing building, after the church was demolished. The hole in the foreground was for a new house at 2127 East Cumberland (see link, above).

New concrete walls divide the basements of the five houses. Here, you can see the trenches for the new footings, as well as the existing steel columns and beams.

New concrete walls divide the basements of the five houses. Here, you can see the trenches for the new footings, as well as the existing steel columns and beams.

New openings were made for the main stairways in four of the five units.

New openings were made for the main stairways in four of the five units.

Window team is measuring for installation.

Window team is measuring for installation.

Once the new walls between the units were installed, you could really get a sense of how the space would feel when finished.

Once the new walls between the units were installed, you could really get a sense of how the space would feel when finished.

View from the rooftop of the original building, before the third-floor additions were built.

View from the rooftop of the original building, before the third-floor additions were built.

New openings were cut in the original back wall. This doorway accesses an addition at the second floor that contains a bedroom.

New openings were cut in the original back wall. This doorway accesses an addition at the second floor that contains a bedroom.

The main space on the first floor during demolition.

The main space on the first floor during demolition.

The original main staircase; this was repaired and refinished (see last photo, below).

The original main staircase; this was repaired and refinished (see last photo, below).

Well, after almost two years of design and construction, the first two homes are complete. They are full of custom details, such as steel stairs with reclaimed wood treads, built-ins in the kitchens, concrete countertops, and original wood paneling salvaged during demolition. We'll have some final photos soon; stay tuned! In the meantime, here are some shots from the open house:

The stone portion is the original building; the wood addition on top is new and contains the master bedroom suite.

The stone portion is the original building; the wood addition on top is new and contains the master bedroom suite.

This is the main floor, with kitchen, dining, and living space. The original stone walls are exposed, and the wood floors are original. The wood paneling is salvaged from the original structure.

This is the main floor, with kitchen, dining, and living space. The original stone walls are exposed, and the wood floors are original. The wood paneling is salvaged from the original structure.

This is the "basement" living space. With ten-foot ceilings and large windows, it certainly doesn't feel underground.

This is the "basement" living space. With ten-foot ceilings and large windows, it certainly doesn't feel underground.

The view from the master bedroom on the third floor.

The view from the master bedroom on the third floor.

The original main staircase was repaired and refinished, then extended up to the third floor.

The original main staircase was repaired and refinished, then extended up to the third floor.

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Things We Do: Historical Commission Approvals

Philadelphia is an old city, whose plan was first laid out by William Penn in 1683. One of the main agencies in charge of protecting our architectural history is the Philadelphia Historical Commission (PHC). Philadelphia has a combination of historic properties (individual buildings that are protected) and historic districts (whole areas of the city that are protected). The PHC has a process in place to review any work on protected buildings and within protected districts.

Proposed Facade Restoration Drawing, 1629 Wallace Street

Proposed Facade Restoration Drawing, 1629 Wallace Street

The Commission's protections cover the exterior shape and materials of a building. The goal is to preserve existing history, and--when new development is planned--to protect the character of historic buildings and neighborhoods.

Everything is reviewed--from the materials to be used, to the restoration of existing cornices, to the shape of the roofline. We've worked with several clients to get through this process. There are several steps involved.

At the beginning of design, we will confirm that the client's property is protected. Our experience with past projects helps to inform us as to what the PHC is likely to approve, and we will try to steer our work in that direction. After putting together some preliminary drawings and taking existing-conditions photographs, we will meet with PHC staff at their office to discuss the project. They will often be able to give us a deeper historical perspective on the building, using their extensive collection of historical photographs.

1600 Block of Wallace Street, 1963 ( https://www.phillyhistory.org )

1600 Block of Wallace Street, 1963 (https://www.phillyhistory.org)

Once preliminary design is complete, we assemble an application package for the PHC Architectural Committee. This committee is made up of architects and preservationists, and their purpose is to provide guidance to us regarding the specifics of our building. We will meet with the committee to discuss the particulars of our building, and our proposed solutions. They will ultimately make a recommendation to the Historical Commission, either in favor of or in opposition to the project.

Existing Conditions at 1629 Wallace Street

Existing Conditions at 1629 Wallace Street

A few weeks later, we meet with the Historical Commission, which is the group that will make the final decision on the project. The Commission is made up of architects, preservationists, historians, and representatives from the community and real-estate development interests. We present the project to them, and they ask questions. At the end of the hearing, they will take a vote either approving or denying the project.

But wait--there's more! Assuming the project is approved, it's time for us to start on construction drawings. This involves more detailed drawings, as well as material samples. For a typical project, this might include "shop drawings" from a custom window manufacturer, brick and mortar samples, and metal finish samples. Once the construction drawings are complete and the details and material samples are assembled, we make one last trip to the PHC office to get everything reviewed. The review is just to make sure that we haven't changed anything since our Commission approval. After review, the PHC staff will stamp the drawings, and then they are ready to go to Licenses and Inspections for building permit review.

If you have a property that's listed on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places, we can help!

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Socializing

Maybe you get our newsletter, but want to see more of the day-to-day stuff. Maybe you like construction photos of current projects? Maybe you wonder what an architect thinks about as they move through the world? Maybe you just want the facts about someone?

Well, we have several ways we put information out there, so take your pick.

On our Facebook page, we post photos from construction sites, real estate listings for recently-completed projects, and the occasional sketch or drawing of a project still in design.

On our Instagram page, you will mostly find pictures of random buildings throughout Philadelphia (and, occasionally, other places), with our thoughts on the good, the bad, and the ugly. We also publish these photos to Facebook and Twitter.

Our Twitter feed is mostly comprised of photos from Instagram, but we occasionally drop a thought or two there. As you can see, getting down to 140 characters is a bit of a challenge for us.

We use LinkedIn to show you our resumes and to give basic info about our firm.

We've started using Pinterest more and more to communicate ideas with clients. It's easy to make boards to describe the feeling you want in a space, a particular countertop material, or even a color scheme.

If you're on one or more of these sites, connect with us and see what we're up to!

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Project Progress: 170 West Oxford

We've been working on a renovation and addition to this little guy in South Kensington:

That's us, in the middle.

That's us, in the middle.

This building is an L-shaped one, with a very steep staircase, tiny rooms, and closed-in windows. We'll be opening up the interior, enlarging the windows back to their original size, rebuilding the stair, and adding a third floor.

The new plans. Finished basement, living space on the first floor, two bedrooms and a bathroom on the second floor, and a master suite on the third.

The new plans. Finished basement, living space on the first floor, two bedrooms and a bathroom on the second floor, and a master suite on the third.

Rough front and rear views of the finished house, from during preliminary design.

Rough front and rear views of the finished house, from during preliminary design.

A quick rendering of the finished project.

A quick rendering of the finished project.

The project needed a zoning variance for the addition, which was granted. We are currently working on construction drawings for this one--stay tuned!

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Working Together

I recently read an article from the November/December 2015 issue of Remodeling Magazine called "The Blueprint of a Profitable Partnership", by Victoria Downing. (I know, I know, I'm pretty far behind on my magazines.) It was a good article, giving readers some tips on what an architect is looking for in a builder. To paraphrase:

  1. Will you listen, and not impose your ideas on the architect.
  2. Will you bring the architect's design to life, or butcher it by cutting corners?
  3. Will you provide accurate estimates?
  4. Will you have great workmanship?
  5. Are you up to date on the latest products and construction methods?
  6. Will you handle material selection, if necessary?
  7. Are you organized, and do you communicate well?
  8. Do you have a record of on-time and on-budget projects?
  9. Have you done projects like this before?
  10. Do you consider the architect to be an ally? Will you bring him/her in on future projects?

This is a good list; I think most people would agree that these are reasonable things to want. And it got me thinking--what do we do in our office, to hold up our end of the bargain? How can we be good partners to our contractors?

  1. We like to listen, as well. Contractors know a lot about how buildings go together--not just how things should happen, but how the actually do happen. By visiting the jobsites and hearing how contractors deal with construction issues, we can provide better designs that will contain solutions in advance, or flexibility where there are unknowns.
  2. It's important for us to explain clearly what our priorities are. Most contractors don't want to cut corners, but they also need to be cost-conscious. By clearly describing what the priorities are, everyone can be on the same page.
  3. See #2. If we clearly describe what we want to achieve, the contractor can more accurately price the work.
  4. We believe that providing high-quality drawings and a well-thought-out design will help set a tone with the contractor that high-quality workmanship is expected. We also work to modulate the client's expectations regarding what good work costs.
  5. We do our best to stay up to date on what is happening in the field. New products come out all the time--contractors may have a different focus (ease of installation, lower cost) than the architect or client does (durability, performance, aesthetics), but if we're all keeping our eyes open and are discussing new things as they come out, the team can decide together whether to use a new solution to an old problem.
  6. Certain materials just need to perform (waterproofing or insulation, for example), while others need to have a certain appearance, too (finishes, flooring, etc). Depending on the project type and schedule, the client may want to depend more on the contractor's knowledge of what is available immediately, and we are happy to have their input.
  7. We try, at all times, to have clear, consistent communication. The best result for a project comes from everyone knowing what is happening, and having a chance to chime in on project decisions. That's part of why we try to involve the builder as early in the process as possible.
  8. Sometimes during construction, something will come up that stops the project in its tracks. It might be an unusual structural situation, or a clearance that just can't be met. We try to respond to these situations as quickly as possible, with solutions that are effective and simple. That way, the project can get back on track as quickly as possible, with minimal impact on budget.
  9. We bring a lot of experience, with many different project types under our belts. We try to learn from past projects and construction so we can constantly improve.
  10. As mentioned above in #7, we like to get the contractor involved as early as possible. That way, their input can be baked right into the design. And we're always happy to make recommendations to clients who are looking for them.

Builders--do you have a project that needs an architect?

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Good Design Can Happen Anywhere

Peanut Chews are a Philly thing. They're made here, and they're popular here. One thing I love about them is this cool barcode design. It takes something that's usually ignored, and turns it into something interesting. That's the power of good design.

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