Author: Lessy Grey

Even house project

Even though I have started the new desert house project, I jumped back to the Philly Bridge project to generate this year’s winter special. This was a view that I had planned on illustrating months ago but ran out of time. Luckily, it works perfectly for creating a winter narrative of the first snow of the year with sledders racing to the top of the bridge. This image took a drastic leap from the original V-Ray rendering to the final completed scene with lots of Photoshopped textures throughout. Below is a quick break down of how the image evolved.



1. Sketchup Model / V-Ray Rendering


Above, the Sketchup Model

Above, the V-Ray base rendering. The sketchup model was minimal in detail most of the textures were reused from other views. The only thing I adjusted was the amount of reflection in the sidewalks and the softness of the sun shadow.



2. Context


Next, I inserted the context by Photoshopping in facades that I cut out of online street view maps. I didn’t spend too much time here because I knew it would get washed out quite a bit by the snow.



3. Vegetation


Winter trees were added in the plaza along with shrubs and plantings up the stair wall.



4. Bridge Ceiling


I wanted to do something to draw attention to the bridge, so I dropped in some LED lights and amped up the saturation of the panels. I didn’t want the underside of the bridge to read too dark and uninviting. The LED’s also add some much needed movement to the image.



5. Wet Ground


This was an important part to the narrative of the “first snow”. The ground needed to look wet and slushy so I found several textures that I stitched and overlaid onto the street and sidewalk. I should have spent more time on this step but had to keep moving on.



6. Lights and Snow


Next I needed to show a dusting of snow starting to accumulate on the vegetation. Again, I would have preferred to spend a little more time on this step but had to keep the image moving forward. I also dropped in some lights on the trees for a holiday atmosphere.



7. Car Details


The street needed to be activated so I added tail lights and reflections on the ground. Mist from the wheels was also added to again play up the wet ground look.



8. People


A big part of the narrative of this image was the bridge turning into the perfect sledding site on top. Therefore, I inserted some sledders on and around the grand stair moving the viewers eye up to the top of the bridge. More people were added around the plaza to give the sense that the entire space was being utilized.



9. Color Adjust


Before I inserted the snow, I tweaked the tones of the images to cool things down with more blues and purples. I also drew out some more textures in the underbelly of the bridge and sidewalk.



10. Snow


Finally, the snow was added washing out some of the background and creating more contrast between the shadow of the bridge and everything else. You can find a tutorial on adding snow HERE.

Inadequacy and Inspiration

It is Sunday night and I find myself sitting in my usual location preparing to write the next post on Life of an Architect … except I am experiencing a problem that is making this particular post difficult to write. It’s not that I don’t have anything to write about, it’s that I have too much to write about, which I will confess is worse than having too little.

I have been out of the office for almost two weeks – which rarely-to-never happens. I attended the American Institute of Architects National Convention in New York for a week and then immediately after I rolled into a week-long vacation in Maine. I’ve never been to Maine before and since it was geographically convenient, it seemed like the right time to go. Also, it has been hot as Hades in Dallas lately and I wanted needed a break from the heat.

Here is a quick graphic to illustrate my point:

Weather Comparison - Texas versus Maine

The top is Dallas with the high temperature’s indicated … anything over 95° got a red circle. The bottom is where we stayed in Maine (technically we stayed on Swan’s Island but this was the closest daily temperatures I could find in my 15-second search). Everything below 95° got a blue circle. Dallas pretty much cleared 100° every single day during this last two weeks while that daily high in Maine was somewhere in the low-70’s.

I am not kidding you when I say that my wife started looking for property in Maine during our vacation.

I’m not sure how many of you actually attend conventions, but I definitely have a love/hate relationship with them. Conventions have evolved over the past several years for me – what was once about acquiring continuing education units, taking tours of buildings, and catching up with friends around the country, has now become more about proper time management, meetings, and obligations. I’m not complaining (much) but the speed and demands requested of my time has changed in a way that makes conventions feel like I’m still working, but without the benefit of having a desk, proper access to wifi, and all while responding to emails on my phone, which a way worse than texting … and I hate texting.

I did manage to go on two architectural tours during my time in New York – the first was to Grace Farms, completed in 2015 by the Pritzker Prize-winning firm Saana. Beautiful building located in New Canaan, Connecticut, even prettier setting.

Grace Farms by Saana - photo by Bob Borson

Grace Farms by Saana - photo by Bob Borson

Grace Farms by Saana - photo by Bob Borson

The next tour I managed to take was of the 1964 New York World’s Fair – which was organized by Robert Moses and built in Flushing Meadows – Corona Park.

New York World's Fair Globe - photo by Bob Borson

New York World's Fair Philip Johnson Pavilion - photo by Bob Borson

New York World's Fair Philip Johnson Pavilion - photo by Bob Borson

Most people under 50 years-old associate the Philip Johnson-designed New York State Pavilion viewing platforms with the movie “Men in Black”. These structures are unfortunately in an advanced degree of decay and our ability to see them was limited to some distance away.

I was able to run through the Expo during one of my afternoons – which was a shame really as I would have liked to have spent at least a few hours wandering through all the booths. There were a few that I made a specific effort to visit –

SketchUp at AIA National Convention New York

I have been a fan of SketchUp since its release and it’s been pretty amazing to watch how the platform has grown over the last 17+ years. I also have the good fortune to be speaking at their bi-yearly SketchUp 3d BaseCamp event that is taking place in Palm Springs, California, September 24 through the 28th. If you are planning on attending, sign up for my lecture and make a point to say “hello”.

ArchiCad at AIA National Convention New York

I also spent some time in the ArchiCAD booth checking out all the amazing things they have going on – which was a lot! Despite the fact that my office is on Revit, I still feel the need to keep an eye on what everyone else is doing so I can manage my technological expectations. I posted the picture above to my Instagram “stories” account and was flooded with comments from people singing the praises of the software. I have to admit that the fans of ArchiCAD are extremely vocal in their support, that alone makes me think this is software I need to pay attention to it.

I ended up leaving the convention earlier than planned so that I could meet up with my wife and daughter in Boston while en route to our family’s summer vacation – this time it was spent on Swan’s Island, Maine. I jumped on an Amtrak train in Penn Station in NYC and rode the 4 hours to Boston in relative style (i.e. – I sat in the “Quiet Car”, put my headphones on, and looked out the window). At first light, Saturday morning, picked up the rental car and started our 6-hour drive North.

Cabin Rental in Main - Swan's Island - photo by Bob Borson

This was the cabin we rented for the week. It was just the three of us and was ridiculously oversized for our needs … but the location was perfect.

Maine front yard - photo by Bob Borson

Maybe it’s the Texan in me but whenever I see this much lush green flora, I instantly think “There are going to be a lot of bugs here …” and unfortunately they did not let me down. Nobody else in my family looks as battle-tested as I do, most likely due to the fact I am delicious and I am confident that there is a mosquito newsletter that is distributed that maintains my whereabouts at all times.

Maine - View from the rock - photo by Bob Borson

This was the view from our property. While I would like to say that this is a singularly amazing view, it turns out that just about all of Maine looks exactly like this.

Still looks pretty good to me …

Maine coastline - Low tide - photo by Bob Borson

This is the same spot as the previous picture, this time at low-tide. Twice a day, the tide rolls in/out and the water drops about 10′, exposing what is technically the ocean floor. At the bottom, that’s my wife for scale.

Maine - View from the rock - photo by Bob Borson

Main Coastline - photo by Bob Borson

Not going to lie, just about everywhere in Maine looks exactly like this photo. I think I took this picture on day 5 of my vacation, and despite its obvious beauty, I remember framing the image up and thinking “Meh … I’ve already got a hundred of these.”

Morning View in the fog - photo by Bob Borson

Since Texas is a gigantic state, most of the time I have spent “on the water” has taken place in lakes, and unlike oceans, they are not subject to the ebb and flow of the tide. As a result, it always takes some time to get acclimated to there being water at one moment, and then there not being any water a few hours later. The picture above and immediately below is basically the same place separated by approximately 3 hours.

Morning View in the fog - photo by Bob Borson

Cooking on the deck in Maine - photo by Bob Borson

One of my requirements for cabin living is an outdoor cooking area. Despite this being vacation, we rarely ate out. Mostly we had no choice since we were on an island that didn’t have any restaurants … but so what? When I have the time to prepare food with objectives other than “eating” I actually like to cook. When I tell other architects that my backup plan was to be a chef if the whole architecture thing didn’t pan out, the response I hear the most often was “me too”.

cooking a steak in a cast iron skillet - photo by Bob Borson

Unless you are a vegetarian, you have to admit that this steak hints at the promise of something incredible. I do wish that I had a pepper mill and kosher salt to finish rather than the customary rental cabin generic salt and pepper shakers (but I wasn’t going to let that hold me back).

One of the unplanned, yet wildly enjoyable side trips that popped up on this vacation was the opportunity to meet with architect Eric Reinholdt at 30×40 Design Workshop.

Bob Borson visits 30by40 Studio
30 by 40 Design Studio

Ironically, I have been aware of Eric for a few years – it’s hard to have a blog like mine and not receive emails from people saying “Have you seen the videos this guy is making? You should totally check them out – they’re amazing!

Well, they are amazing and you should totally check them out.

I posted a picture on Instagram during this trip and someone asked if I was going to go visit Eric … and considering that I had no idea where he was, my initial reaction was “probably not” until I looked up his address. You have to understand that Eric lives on an island off the coast of Maine, kind of in the middle of nowhere, so when I punched up the address and found that I was only 20 miles away from his office, an email was sent off asking if he had time to host me.

Bob Borson visits 30by40 Studio
Eric and I are both Norwegian … except I’m a bigger Norwegian than he is

As evidenced by the picture above, he was able to accommodate me into his schedule. I was able to spend a few hours with Eric at his studio despite the fact that he was hosting Australian podcaster extraordinaire Amelia Lee, and what started as a casual visit turned out to be an extremely fruitful use of my time.

Thanks Eric and Amelia!

Bob Borson - Maine Selfie
my best “Popeye the Sailor” impersonation …

So it’s time to circle back around to the main topic – inspiration and inadequacy. The past two weeks have been literally packed full of amazing projects and people – the sort of people who are singularly amazing at what they do. I have been blessed to have surrounded myself with high-quality individuals and it’s really easy to find inspiration in their work. The flipside to spending time with highly successful people is that I frequently leave with this feeling of “what more can/should I be doing?”

Bob Borson Master and Commander
Bob Borson … Master and Commander

The grass is always greener and I am aware that from the outside looking in, I have it pretty good – and I do – but I don’t readily settle or accept the status quo. I see what others are doing and feel like I need to step it up. Things are both good and could be better … but we can always do better, right?

Turn Up the Music in Studio

Architecture and Music … they go together extremely well as music frequently fuels the creative process and there are few things I enjoy more than turning on some music and jamming out in the studio.

Except I can’t do that … not really, because we have an open office plan and it’s already a lot louder than it should be without adding a driving bassline into the mix. The other thing that makes me happy is when I expose some music to somebody that they like. In my office, if you can believe it, just about every song I play nobody has ever heard of before, and I’m not talking about super deep cuts. I once put together a playlist and it took about 45 minutes before anybody recognized a song, and we had already played U2, Kool and the Gang, The Pretenders, and Earth, Wind & Fire.


Last Friday, as Landon and I were preparing to record our next podcast, I mentioned that I used to put together posts where I listed off some of the music that I was currently listening too. He is currently going back through my old posts as we work on assembling our podcast editorial calendar, but he has yet to discover any of my “musical” posts so I thought I would take a look at my listening history and list the last handful of songs here in hopes of exposing you to something you like that maybe you’ve never heard before. Of course, if you are reading this via email, you are going to have to click through onto the website to get access to the videos.

So let’s get this party started – right?

Reignwolf – Are You Satisfied
Canadian rocker Jordan Wolf has yet to release a full-length album (as far as I can tell) but I have stumbled across a handful of his songs dating back to 2014. If you like rock, then this is a song you should appreciate.

Joe Cocker – Feelin’ Alright
I actually had this song on 45 back in my youth … and I feel somewhat positive that the majority of people reading this post have no idea what a 45 is. Joe Cocker has one of the more unique voices, but that’s not why I like this particular song. There is a lot going on in the rhythm section and I think this is just one of those songs that makes you want to open a bottle of wine and dance while your cooking dinner.

That’s an awfully specific description but if you take a moment and listen to the song, I think you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.

Albert King – Born Under a Bad Sign
I was actually just looking for a pure Albert King version of this song but since I am also a huge Stevie Ray Vaughn fan, I am still happy putting this song up for your enjoyment. A lot of people have actually recorded this song but Albert King was the first. Even if you don’t really like rhythm and blues, I think you’ll have a hard time not thinking this is a great song. It also has one of the best blues lyrics ever:

Born under a bad sign, been down since I began to crawl
If it wasn’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have no luck at all


Vance Joy–  We’re Going Home
This is a new one for me and I have my daughter to thank for pointing it out. Of all the people I try to introduce “new” music to, my daughter tops the list. I’m sure she equally enjoys it when she is able to show me something new.

Eels – Fresh Blood
This song has been in my rotation for quite a while but I remain a bit luke-warm on the rest of their songs. The band is really just front-man Mark Everett with a constant revolving door with all other members. This song supports my wife’s observation that if the song doesn’t have a driving bassline or a particularly clever drum pattern, you probably won’t hold my attention in the long run.

I gotta say … she’s not wrong.

The Roots – Break You Off
While some people might only know The Roots as the band for The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, those people would be missing out on some incredibly innovative musicians. I will admit that I don’t really ever listen to the words of any song and if the video for Break You Off is any indication, this is a fairly dirty song. What I will point out is that the drum lick and the organ riffs in this song are what make this song worthy of today’s list … I dare you to tell me that I’m wrong.

Queens of the Stone Age – Feet Don’t Fail Me
While I don’t really consider myself a “hard rocker”, I will admit that I am a sucker for just about every song Queens of the Stone Age have ever recorded. While this song takes a while to get going (at the 1:50 mark) the build-up to that moment is totally worth it. Of all the groups represented on today’s mini-playlist, this is the group that I want to see most in concert … with the possible exception of the next entry …

The Bauhaus and Me

In 2019, Germany will be celebrating the centenary of the founding of the Bauhaus together with partners all over the world. Founded in Weimar in 1919, relocated to Dessau in 1925 and closed in Berlin under pressure from the National Socialists in 1933, the school of design only existed for fourteen years. Despite this, the Bauhaus still has an impact all over the world.

As it turns out, I am heading out to Weimar for the next week to take part in the celebration of the 99th anniversary of the Bauhaus movement. This will be the first time I have been back to Germany since I spent time there while in college. One of the main differences between then and now is that I’ll be sleeping in a hotel rather than on a train, but the other difference, and probably the more important one, is that I have been preparing for this trip by reading a bunch of books and doing a lot of preparatory research.

Bauhaus Curriculum in English

This is the conceptual diagram showing the structure of teaching at the Bauhaus, that was developed by Walter Gropius in 1922. As described by the Bauhaus Archive:

The programme places building at the center of all the activities. But a regular course in architecture was only introduced at the Bauhaus in 1927. Only the most talented students were admitted to the architecture course. At the start of their studies, they received a year of basic training in the so-called preliminary course, in which they were able to experiment with color, shape, and materials, with no specific goals. Depending on their individual suitability, this was followed by practical work in the workshops and accompanying disciplines. The students entered the workshops as ‘apprentices’ and were to sit their ‘apprenticeship’ exams within a given time period.

The outer ring indicates a preliminary 6-month course in basic materials and involved painting and rudimentary experiments in form-making. The inner two rings indicate a 3-year period where students were introduced to workshop training conducted by two masters: one artist, and one craftsman. The center of the wheel references building construction, engineering, and Architecture, which was studied in theory and then skills learned would put into practice by working on the actual constructions of buildings.

The Bauhaus in its international forms is still the most effective cultural export that Germany produced during the twentieth century, and it has shaped today’s lived-in world in many ways. The ideas of the Bauhaus in the fields of fine and applied art, design, architecture, and education were disseminated all over the world by its former teachers and students, to countries including the United States, China, Israel, Switzerland, Japan, and Mexico. Its global approach involving a rethinking of the world was central to its effectiveness.

The Bauhaus was a vibrant school of ideas and a realm of experimentation. Lesser known paths led to new terrains, which were explored there with insatiable curiosity through experimentation, production, drawing, and study. Learning and experimentation took place using real materials and in real life. This involved nothing less than a transformation of everyday life, housing, and social coexistence – issues that are as up to date and relevant today as they were 100 years ago.

With its universal design methods – elementary in terms of formal language, comprehensible and accessible to all – the Bauhaus stands worldwide for a grand idea, for interdisciplinary design, for an unconditional quest for utopias, opportunities, and inspiration. All quests and experiments also involve mistakes and failed or incomplete projects – and these also form part of the international history of the Bauhaus.

I have been looking forward to this trip for the past several months. There is a huge series of events taking place over the next several days – lectures, moderated panels, and a great many tours. If you have ever been to this part of Germany, please let me know if there is something you think I should make a point to see. Otherwise, I plan on sharing photos of my adventures in semi-real time throughout the week on my Instagram account and I hope you can live vicariously through me.

Scroll to top