You need to read less and think more!

This blog is about getting stoked and getting worthwhile things done. There is a sea of useless information bombarding you, and this is a desert island where you beach your boat and build a hut. There are also some clever little construction tricks to be presented.



Sunday, January 16, 2011

Making Construction Errors Remarkable - Episode 2

I've had the opportunity to meet more than my share of celebrities. Though Hollywood types don't impress me much, I gush a little when I meet a great architect.  I think it might be because of Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead.  Or maybe it's just because I love great design and know how hard it would be to bring a great building completely into existence.  In any event when I have had opportunities to meet my personal heroes of design, I really got keyed up.

Most recently, my path has crossed with the work of Dick Clark Architecture.  His client, Jon Luce, builds some of the finest custom homes in Austin, and for his Hill Country Retreat, the design is minimal, honest, and just excellent.  I really don't know how to put into words the economy of space and how well the land is showcased. (Language fails there:  It's like trying to describe what a mushroom tastes like.)  But if one has even a modicum of sense of aesthetic, walking through the bones of this house is just delightful.

Problem is, the house was to have sealed concrete flooring, and the slab turned out really bad.  Often we score grids or patterns into floors using saws with diamond blades, but this one could've been cut with a pocket knife!  Crappy weather and who-knows-what-else made for a slab that wore like it was made of gypsum.  When I looked at it for the first time, I really didn't see a clear way to fix it.  An overlay here would've been a bit wrong as the rawness of the land and elegance of the design would abhor a veneer of any sort.  Grinding seemed risky as sometimes a poor piece of concrete will just disintegrate beneath our equipment and burn up a lot of diamond tooling in the process.  I just didn't see a clear means to create value.

To humor Jon, I showed up on a cold, rainy, Friday morning expecting to grind a sample for a set price, pack-up and go.  The sample seemed better than the floor that hadn't been ground, but I wasn't sold.  The more I talked to Jon, the more I realized that we really had to roll the dice and go for it, though.  We came up with a strategy of multiple passes with a 150 grit metal bond diamonds and a methyl-methacrylate sealer with a matte finish additive to sort of glue the slab together. 8 hours and 240 gallons of water-turned-slurry later, we surprisingly had a really neat looking floor.  Though we ran out of diamonds and pads for our scrubber, the outcome is clear now, and I am STOKED.  The floor is rough in spots, and it couldn't be re-created on a bet, but somehow it's just right.  It is perfectly imperfect.  It is the bridge between the rustic site and the modern lines of the home.  It is the serendipity that makes element7concrete floors worthwhile.

Check out the architects renderings on JonLuceBuilder.com:
 http://www.jonlucebuilder.com/current-projects/
Check out Dick Clark Architecture's site to see why I'm so thankful to work on one of his projects:
http://www.dcarch.com/
Then, check out of your internet browser and go make something!
Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Making construction errors remarkable

A customer of mine (an architect from Brazil), reminded me recently of how concrete flooring is an element of "honest architecture".  Sure, some decorative concrete contractors base their businesses on faux rocks of all sorts, but the real point to working as hard as we do is to make something timeless and simple.

Therein lies the rub. The foundation is never perfect.  The other trades working on it aren't either. Plumbers miss the mark and have to cut trenches in the slab. Framers oil their nail guns right in the entryway and inadvertently apply an irremovable "resist" to acid stain. A family of raccoons pissed away the lime in the concrete and ran through it (literally: this has happened on a floor we stained) leaving ghost puddles of white in the dark walnut floor. The point is, these mishaps can ruin the project, or make it the coolest part of the house.

I guess if I have one story to tell here, it ought to be the raccoon-pee story.  After wet-scrubbing/honing the slab, it looked great and we turned around and stained it the same day. The next day when we came to rinse residue, there were puddles and tracks throughout. What we did, was design and saw-cut a pattern of golden rectangles, sectors of circles, and other such shapes that minimally complemented the architecture of the house in the places with the puddles and tracks and to balance. Then, we ground away the concrete within the shapes, exposing the stones and polished it as shiny ass possible (3000 grit) while the rest of the floor was at about 150. We used a solvent based dye to penetrate and color the concrete without regard to the lime content. The end result was a rough-and-dusty-half-day for my team and I, a really cool floor, a very happy customer, and a builder who became a raving fan of element7concrete.

So, the take-away is study the geometry and rhythm of good design and be a pro. When things go wrong (I promise they will) use the opportunity to make it better than you could have without the "inspiration of Nature".  At the risk of sounding weird, I urge you to know that Nature is for you (not against you) and if you dance with it through the process everything will work out for the best.  Go make something today!