Author: Perk Hash

Desert Abstract Interior Studies

I decided to go abstract with this latest post. With this set of illustrations, I have been studying the interior spaces of the Desert House. I tend to prefer interiors with minimal color and material, so I generated these studies as a way to force me out of that way of thinking. Also, the exterior renderings were a little more serious and detailed, so I wanted to switch things up and have a little fun with these. One thing about minimal images is that inserting just a little texture can really change the reading of the illustration. In this case, just a hint of plaster texture on the walls gives the images a painterly quality. Below is a quick break down of one of the images.



1. V-Ray Base Rendering


For the V-Ray base rendering, I simply applied some colors close to what I was looking for knowing that I would tweak them later in Photoshop.


The Material ID that rendered out of V-Ray was crucial for me to make fast selections. Each color represents a zone that will take on a very specific color in Photoshop. I have talked about Material ID in more depth in this POST.



2. Add Color


Next, I took each zone of color and created a mask of that specific area in Photoshop so that I could dial in the color. In the image above, I adjusted the center pink zone to be lighter and more saturated. I wasn’t trying to be realistic so I wasn’t concerned about washing out the shadows a little bit.


Above, the image shows what the illustration looked like once I had all of the colors adjusted in each zone.



3. Texture


I added a simple plaster texture to all of the walls to break up some of the smoothness of the color gradients. I wanted to do this in Photoshop so that I could dial in how strong the texture was. It is important to note that I still distorted the perspective of the plaster texture to match the wall angles. If it sounds like a lot of work, it isn’t because I was able to use the color zone masks used in the previous step to speed this process up.



4. Color Adjust and Noise


At this point, I began adjusting the overall image. I first lightened the images and increased the saturation. I also added just a hint of noise. I describe how to add noise in step six of this POST.



5. HDR


Finally, I added a slight HDR effect that amplifies the contrast and textures. I used Topaz to generate the HDR effect.



Final Images


Desert House Spreads

The Desert House Project is nearing completion and I have begun looking at how I can piece together the different images into portfolio spreads. Setting up these spreads help me to clarify what images still need to be generated to fill in the narrative gaps. They also get me thinking about the branding strategy of the project and what tone the pages will take on. In the case of the Desert House Project, I drew inspiration from the Abstract Interior Renderings that I created in my last post. Those images used an aggressive color palette and could be interesting when applied to the entire project. The colors are weighted on the warmer side and are extremely saturated. Once I had the color palette, I began adjusting some of the past illustrations to take on the more vibrant colors.

Below are some drafts of the spreads. I still need to obviously add text and annotations, however the spreads are starting to take shape and I can now study how the colors and layouts flow from one spread to the other. There are also a lot of images and spreads for this project that are not included in this post but that will be included in the final portfolio. For the new portfolio, I will be giving each project more pages to express the design so that each spread can have a little more breathing room and less pressure to cram as much information as possible into them.

One of the spreads I put together included some new floor plans of the house. Again, I still need to layer in some text and annotations, but the framework is there. I experimented with lots of different material and color options before settling on a more simplified final image. Floor plans contain a lot of information that viewers are trying to digest quickly. Layering in lots of textures and colors can sometimes overload the plans with too much information and ends up hurting the hierarchy and reading of the diagram. I almost always end up going the more simple route with my floor plans.

I will hopefully have a new project underway by my next post. I have yet to do a project in a mountainous terrain. I think I will give that a go and see what I come up with….

Embarrassing Conference Calls

At some point, somebody thought instead of having face-to-face meetings, conference calls would be a good idea. They were wrong because it’s a bad idea … just like ordering anything from a “food” truck is a bad idea. Just a warning, I am writing today’s post while balanced upon my soapbox.

architect on the telephone

I have a project I have been working on that seems to have every possible consultant possible involved – Structural, Civil, MEP, Smart Building, Door Hardware, Interior Design, Specification Writer, Information Technology, Low Voltage, Building Automation, Sound Masking, and Security … I think the only consultant we are missing is a Zookeeper. Due to the number of consultants (twelve if you were counting), we have a lot of meetings and a lot of conference calls … and conference calls are one of the biggest time-sucks ever known to mankind.

There are probably a lot of you out there thinking:

“You’re crazy, conference calls save so much time, they are an incredibly effective use of my greatest resource … time.”

If you are that person, you are probably part of the problem. As the architect on the project, I have to talk to all of these consultants constantly, literally hours and hours and hours each week, whereas most of those consultants only have to talk to one or two other people from that list, and even then, only occasionally (and I’m on all of those calls). When working on a project with that many consultants, one of my roles is to make sure that nothing falls through the cracks and that the work is coordinated between all the associated individuals. When a conference call is involved, 9 times out of 10, the person I am speaking with just starts looking at the information we are supposed to be discussing while we are on the phone.

Am I the only person who actually prepares for conference calls?!? Recent observations have led me to conclude that conference calls are a crutch to allow people to postpone doing their work ahead of time. If you are sitting across the table from me and you aren’t prepared, there’s nowhere for you to hide … you will see me looking intensely at you as if I were your mother and I just caught you doing something that we both know you shouldn’t have been doing.

The amount of time I spend acting as “Quality Control” for someone else’s scope of work seems endless. I’m not sure when it happened, but somewhere along the way, the architect has become responsible for making sure that everyone else is actually doing their job … and if I wanted to do their job, I’d be whatever it is that they are. Apparently, it is now my job to check everybody else’s work and cover such low-hanging fruit like:

“You can’t physically put this here, that’s a wall”


“Why are there sound-masking devices in the parking garage?”


“You have abbreviations for everything, including the manufacturer … you’re going to have to provide a legend.”

or my favorite

“You have the wrong project name in the specifications.”

I know that these are highly trained and intelligent people, so what’s going on? Have I slipped into a cycle where people know that I will check their work and as a result, stopped doing it themselves? As the architect, and project lead, it is my job to coordinate the work of all my consultants … I totally get that and I am on-board for providing that service, but these days it seems like I am an extension of all my consultant’s firms and my job description includes performing quality control on their scope of work.

If you think I am complaining, you would be correct.

Stop the madness, or I’m going to send you to bed without your dinner.

Just Draw it Up

There is a request that I receive a few times a week that I thought I would finally talk about in an effort to shed some light on a fairly taboo subject. Those requests typically start off something like this:

“I have already designed my house but since I am not an architect, I don’t know how to create the technical drawings I would need to give to a contractor. Is this something that you would do, and if so, how much do you charge?”

With 100% certainty, I know that I am not alone in receiving these sorts of inquiries. Years ago, in the days before I spent an hour or two each day responding to emails, this is the sort of question that would work me up and, depending on my overall mood, I might even have become irritated at this reduction in my abilities. I’d think to myself, C’mon, I am not a drafting service! I am a highly educated, extremely experienced, and thoroughly licensed professional architect. But I rarely react like that anymore, mostly because most people (who aren’t architects) don’t really understand the myriad of moving parts to their request and they don’t know how long it takes to simply “draw up some plans.” So I am here to set the record straight … it takes a long time.

Modern House Drawings – Dallas Architect Bob Borson
These are the sorts of drawings an architect will create for you
This email exchange also typically includes some insight that they have already tried reaching out to other architects, and IF they received a callback, they would typically be told that the architecture firm wasn’t taking on any new projects at the moment. It is at this moment when I try to explain that calling up an architecture firm and telling them that you’ve already done the design for your house, you just need someone to prepare the drawings, is akin to going to your doctor and telling them that you’ve “already figure out what was wrong, I just need you to write a prescription.” While there are doctors out there that might be willing to do this, they are probably as rare as finding an architect who will simply draw up your plans … and you can probably only find either through back channels and secret alleyway exchanges.

The takeaway from these emails is fairly simple … it still comes down to finding the right sort of person for the job at hand. If all you need is someone to take your plans and turn them into serviceable documents, you should reach out to a drafting service. You won’t have to deal with the prickly demeanor that you might receive from some architects, and the cost to provide those drawings will presumably be more in line with your expectations. If you want to take advantage of the skill set an architect can provide, along with the insight that comes from working on these sorts of projects from the initial concept, through the preparation of documents that are suitable for permitting and pricing, and concluding with construction administration, then an architect might be exactly what you are looking for.

The truth is that I genuinely want to help every person who reaches out and asks this question, but the reality is that most of the time, it isn’t a good fit for either of us. I would much rather inform someone of that reality and be helpful, than to move forward and put them in a difficult position. The one thing I will always try to do is I will answer their questions.

Adventure to Helsinki in Winter

I have two more travel excursions before the end of the year, and my next trip one is just around the corner, which means I am in full-on research mode. My destination is Helsinki, Finland- a place that I have never visited before – and I am going in winter … because I’m smart that way.

I am really excited, and a little bummed out because this is a destination I have wanted to make for a few decades, which is great … except this is a short trip and the time I have available to really explore are extremely limited. Of course, my research is proving to be a bit agonizing because I am simply learning about all these additional amazing things that I can’t do with the limited time I have available to me … but let’s be honest, I am way more excited than bummed out.

Considering that I have the most amazing group of people who read this site, I thought I would turn to you all and ask for advice on any can’t miss activities. That’s right, I wrote “activities” because while I like looking at buildings as much as the next architect, it took a trip with my wife and daughter in 2009 to Paris for me to learn that I get more out of these trips if I mix in some of the local flavors to go along with my architecture. I wrote a post titled “Through the Eyes of a Child” that explains it in detail but this is the highlight:

Take some time to slow down and look at what you are looking at. It can be a bunch of paintbrush strokes you’re looking at or people standing in line to get their coffee. Looking at the things around the thing you are looking at can add to the experience in ways you won’t know until you try. Sometimes all it takes is a 5-year-old kid to point that out to you.

To that end, I am also searching for restaurants, spas, museums, and other cultural highlights.

But first … the architecture!

As much as I would like to visit Villa Mairea, also by Alvar Aalto, it is a 4-hour train ride away from where I will be and I ‘m not sure that if I should basically eat up one of my days to go see this one building … as much as I secretly want to do exactly that.

The Studio Aalto is located in the Munkkiniemi area of Helsinki and should be an easy destination for me to visit. I also learned that there is a gift shop located here so it looks like I can continue the streak of getting magnets for everyone back at the office.

The home of Alvar and Aino Aalto is only about a 6-minute walk from Studio Aalto so unless something goes terribly wrong … I’ll definitely be seeing you Aalto house!

Säynätsalo Town Hall by Alvar Aalto photo by Nico Saieh
Säynätsalo Town Hall by Alvar Aalto [photo by Nico Saieh]
Probably my most favorite Aalto project is the Säynätsalo Town Hall – I project that was the inspiration for the most important project I designed in college (what was called our “Sound Building” semester). This was a competition project that Aalto won in 1949 with the building being completed in 1952 … and it is unlikely that I will get to see it. Located in the town of Jyväskylä, this is another 4+ hour train ride (each way).
It would appear that there are quite a few Aalto projects in Jyväskylä, including the Aalto Museum, so maybe I can convince my wife that this would be a good way to spend one of our days.

One of the cultural activities we will be partaking will be a traditional Finnish sauna … followed by a plunge into the Baltic sea. Did you know that that the population of Finland is around 5.4 million and there are over 3.3 million saunas? There used to be a considerable number of public saunas in the larger cities but most apartments now have their own which is making public saunas like Löyly far more uncommon. I’m not sure how long we will be staying on site, but there is a restaurant as part of this facility so I am hoping that it will be at least half a day and will include the evening meal or at the very least, cocktails.

There are a number of other notable buildings in and around Helsinki by architects not named “Aalto”, but I am still trying to determine just how much time I actually have to dedicate to architectural pursuits. I basically have 4 full days of exploring and I am open to suggestions from those of you how have either been or know of something worthwhile that you think I might enjoy.

Architecture Studio Vignettes

Did you know that our office closes at noon on Fridays? This is a policy that has been in place for years – one that I think everyone really enjoys. While it seems like a drag working 8:00 AM to 6:00 PM Monday through Thursday, most people are pretty happy skipping out of the office to enjoy an early jump on the weekend. This was the case this past Friday when I found myself alone in the office for several hours. Most of the time I use the peace and quiet to minimize the work that I would have to do over the weekend … in this case, I decided to take some photos so I could write this very particular blog post.

Malone Maxwell Borson Architect’s Studio

Our office has grown to 11 people and we are at max capacity at the moment. I was up at the office working on some billing, the most exciting sort of work to stay late for, and I started thinking about how the personality of our office is really starting to round itself into proper form. I’ve talked about how important the culture of a firm is and as much as I’d like to think I have something to do with shaping it, I don’t actually think that’s true … it’s the 10 other people in the office doing what they feel comfortable doing. Maybe my contribution is simply getting out of the way.

Malone Maxwell Borson Architect’s Studio

We had a film crew in the office earlier in the week and had spent some time trying to straighten the place up a bit … this is what “straightened up” looks like.

Malone Maxwell Borson Architect’s Studio view Bob Borson’s Desk

I sit in the far back corner of the office. In some ways, I think this is the best spot (as I should since I’m the one who laid the office out and “assigned” myself this seat). I have plenty of room and seem to expand out in all directions to fill it up. If you look closely, you can see that I have a bunch of framed accolades sitting on my desk just leaning up against the wall … don’t know where to put them. My desk isn’t as exciting as it used to be, you are more likely to find its surface adorned with 3-ring binders and spreadsheets over trace paper and sketch tools.

Architect’s Desk – Benching System and magnets

At the end of each person’s workstation, you will find magnets and cards that are mementos from projects and the vacation trips of people. It has become a bit of a tradition that when someone takes a trip somewhere, they’ll pick up something for the people left behind working in the office. A few of us has made this memento an image magnet, on the far right, you can see my additions from my most recent trip to the Stiftung Bauhaus Dessau, and the image of Mt. Desert Island in Maine from this summer.

What’s on an Architect’s Desk – sketches 01

About 1/3rd of the desks had process sketches on them, but I didn’t want to put those images in this post without getting permission. This is a sketch from my desk – generated a few weeks ago for a fairly significant addition renovation project we have underway to a Robert A. M. Stern house here in Dallas.

Architecture Studio – metal shelf of awesomeness

Of course, my favorite part of the office was the addition of the “Metal Shelf of Awesomeness” earlier this year. Whenever I look back to this wall prior to the addition of this shelf, I have a hard time wondering why it took so long to put it into place.

Architecture Studio – metal shelf of awesomeness

Not only does the shelf give us a place to display the models that we make (as well as get them off every horizontal surfaces in the office) it gives those of us who aren’t on the window a place to hang up valuable sketches and “other” important pieces of … stuff.

Architectural Drawings with Post-It notes

One of the projects that seems to absorb the most attention in the office, is the addition and renovation of a 1.35 million square foot, 42-story office tower. The drawings for this project are substantial and keeping track of everything is no small task in and of itself … we’ve been using a few more Post-it notes than ever over the past few months.

Architectural Drawings with Post-It notes

Everybody is getting in on the Post-It note action.

Architectural Redlines

We also have loads of as-built drawings. This is the handiwork of one of our employees and I couldn’t NOT take a picture of this. This particular associate has a very specific set of skills … being thorough and typically being right. I don’t have the words for how he processes his site measurements, but it makes sense to him and that’s good enough for everyone else.

Architectural Model – Oak Grove

I mentioned that we had a film crew in the office last week, although that might not actually be correct as it was one person (can 1 person be a crew?) Over the past few weeks, I have been interviewed on-site at one of my projects, gone into the studio for some voiceover work, and the final piece of the multimedia extravaganza was the 1-person film crew that came to the office to shoot some “B-roll”. Any guesses as to the things that received the most attention in the office?!?

It was the models … but of course, you knew that. Everybody loves architectural models

Conference Room Whiteboard

Finally, there is the conference room … a room that I don’t particularly like. I’m a big fan of the floor-to-ceiling and wall-to-wall magnetic whiteboards as they are incredibly functional. What I don’t like is the table and the lack of cable management. If you ever come to my office, don’t ask me about it unless you want me to be in a bad mood.

I’m sure my co-workers would be a little creeped out at the idea that I was walking around their workspaces with my camera taking pictures of their stuff – which for the record, I did very little of that … but none of them read this blog since they have get to deal with me every day.

Scroll to top