Warning Labels 02

September 15, 2014 § Leave a comment

Regular readers of the blog may remember that I love it when the limits of pictograms are tested. Part of my job is reviewing installation instructions for various products which helps me (and ultimately the contractor) out during detailing and construction. These installation instructions have pictograms that are meant to be helpful. Some are less helpful than others. Here’s one I found recently and I’m not confident my interpretation is 100% accurate.


Use your powers of telekinetic destruction to explode your wand into its atomic parts.

Pierce an effigy of a hurricane to anger the Spirit of the Wind.

Vanquish the displeased spirit with a wave of your wand and the following incantation: Who namy droas stum a nam klaw dwon.

Bring your wand back together in a display of authority. Accept offerings and sacrifices with dignity and grace.

Like I said, not super convinced that I got that one right. But that’s what I put in the spec so I hope I am at least close. As always, if you come across any hilarious pictograms feel free to send them my way for captioning.

What Sport is Architecture Like? Football Edition

September 8, 2014 § Leave a comment

Following the typical July lull things are starting to heat up again in the world of sports. Since I’m on a kick of drawing abstract comparisons between architecture and other things, I am going to do a series of posts looking at comparisons between architecture and sports to see what sport architecture is most like. In honor of the first week of football season I will will first be looking at whether or not architecture is like football. Feel free to weigh in in the comments or on Twitter or on your own blog or wherever.

Personal Foul: Roughing the Drafter

Personal Foul: Roughing the Drafter


Football is far and away the most popular sport in America. It’s so popular that people once said “you know, ‘football’ is already a thing that’s popular, you might want to change your name” and Football said “nah” and got away with it. Not so with architecture. Architecture is well-known but not very popular and nobody really gets the rules. It’s more like curling than football.

Football is a team sport. It has some standout big names but also allows for the emergence of storylines for minor players as well. Most people in a city with an NFL franchise can name at least the starting quarterback for their team even if they don’t watch the games. By contrast, architecture is dominated exclusively by a handful of celebrity minds while most people in a city probably can’t name a local architecture firm.


There is no “farm system” so both football and architecture make extensive use of unpaid student labor to develop talent which causes some controversy. Positions on a football team are very specific and everything is coordinated by one person. While this structure might be true of larger architecture firms, architects are more commonly multi-taskers who can take on many roles in a given day.


This is probably the area that football is most like architecture. Just like every game is important for a football team, most architects take on a small number of projects in a year and each is important. If even a few go bad the team could be in for a bad year.

Football is most like …

Law. It’s outrageously popular and there’s a lot of competition for very few high-paying spots. Even if you don’t follow law, you probably know a few firms in your area …

Edgar Snyder is the second-biggest celebrity that I have ever seen in real life

… and there are a few times per year that some high-profile events get national attention.

New Podcast: Creative Labor Exchange

September 4, 2014 § Leave a comment

There’s a new podcast up where I talk with the founders of the Creative Labor Exchange, a new time bank catering to creative projects here in Pittsburgh. Time banks are a way for you to lend your time and skills to others. Then, when you have a project that you need help with, the time bank is there for you to cash in your hours and score some skilled labor. I want to do a more detailed post about it in the future, but time is of the essence here. CLX has their launch party tomorrow, September 5th 2014, at 7pm. You might already be in the Bloomfield/Garfield area anyway for Unblurred, so make sure you stop in at 5106 Penn Ave, tell the ladies what you’re good at, get a sweet button and get ready to collaborate on some projects.

Listen to the podcast

Visit the CLX website for more info

Values in Home Design: USA vs Japan

August 25, 2014 § 1 Comment

Most everyone who has ever attempted a building project of a large enough scale has, at some point during the process, scorned the building department. Why do I need a handrail for 3 crummy steps? Why can’t my sink be 34 and a quarter inches off the ground? Why do I even need a permit at all? At times of frustration like these, the architect might gaze wistfully out the window and long for a land free of code officials. A land not unlike Japan.

As far as I can tell you can do anything you want in Japan. For a long time I attributed this to not only the lack of code enforcement but the absence of a code to enforce. And because there isn’t anything to tell you to put a handrail in, it stands to reason that there’s no way to be sued by someone due to the lack of one.

sleepwalkers prohibited

As I found out from listening to an episode of the Freakonomics podcast, permissive building laws are only a part of why houses be crazy in Japan; as you might have guessed by now, the number one reason that Japanese houses are so unique is an economic one. Houses just don’t retain their value in Japan. I’ll over-simplify for the sake of brevity: the Japanese have a cultural predilection for the “new”, re-enforced by things like Shinto shrines and the shoddy, unsafe housing stock that dominated the post-World War II rebuilding effort. Even newer homes are not trusted because the threat of earthquakes keeps every homeowner on edge. As a result, homes lose all, yes all, of their value 15 to 30 years after they are built. Only the land that the homes are built on retains any value.

Homeowners know that the next owner will just bulldoze the site and start fresh so they are free to build experimental homes that are tailored to their specific lifestyle. Architects, eager to stand out (Japan has the most architects per capita of any country), push the envelope of what is possible and acceptable. The results are the extremely creative houses that are the envy of forward-thinking designers everywhere.

at least where the matching white shirts and pale blue pants for the porfolio shots

But there is an ugly downside to this phenomenon. Homeowners are basically resigned to losing their housing investment so there is no incentive for even basic upkeep. Economically, this means that  it’s very difficult to generate wealth through home ownership. Home ownership is one of the biggest factors in the creation of a wealthy middle class in America and evaporating home values has contributed to the ongoing economic crisis in Japan known as the Lost Decade (which is actually well into its third decade). And while disposable homes are not strictly unsustainable, I have a strong suspicion that these homes are not built solely of rapidly renewable resources.

you'd think a country with a declining birth rate wouldn't be so eager to let its youth fall to their deaths

So is the grass really greener on the other side of the ocean? The housing market in the US of A is certainly not perfect. To start, the idea that homes (or most buildings) built today will exist unchanged even 100 years into the future is a fiction. Between regular maintenance, remodelings and additions, most homes will change dramatically in their lifetime. Emphasis on resale value means that these changes will be made not thinking about the current occupant, but thinking about what some future occupant might like. The result is the sprawling collection of fat, boring homes that make up the suburban landscape. And while yesterday home ownership contributed to the creation of the American middle class, today it contributes to the widening wealth gap between the very poor and the comparatively rich.

Oh, and the American housing market recently imploded the global economy. There’s that.

Can good architecture be created right here in the states despite all the faults and restrictions? Is there a way to break the cycle of declining home values in Japan? Would doing so stifle the creativity that we so admire? As usual I don’t have answers, just musings. But if you have answers or more questions, let me know below.


August 18, 2014 § 3 Comments

Last week I tried to start a social media movement and get people to come up with things that architecture reminds them of. Wouldn’t you know it, Twitter disappointed me once again. But the people who did play made it awesome and I came up with a few more good ones myself, so here is everything from the #architectureislike. If you can think of any more and want to try and bring it back, well, knock yourself out.

^ A bunch of people who were too cool to play along. Here are some of their way more interesting tweets from that day:

Nice of him to put the ellipses right at the point where I stopped paying attention anyway.


He also tweeted 4 times about his own podcast, so maybe he “technically” only gets one bone to throw per day.

I guess if I want a RT from this guy I have to join his shaved head club.

Alright, back to the tweets that were actually entertaining. #notbitter

Just so nobody felt left out.

Thanks again to everyone who played along!

I still think this has potential, so if you have more followers than me and want to take this idea and pretend it was yours two weeks later, that’s just fine with me. Wouldn’t be the first time. #stillnotbitter

Architecture is like toilet paper

August 11, 2014 § Leave a comment

People generally don’t care how good it is as long as they’re not bleeding from the ass afterwards

This seems like a fun hashtag, no? Follow me (at raybowman), I might be able to come up with a few more. And tag yours with #ArchitectureIsLike, we can be trending!

4 DIY furniture hacks

August 4, 2014 § 1 Comment

Every now and then Pinterest will send me some kind of digest email. Most of them I glance at and delete, but the one with the subject “10 why-didn’t-we-think-of-that home hacks” unleashed a torrent of inspiration that I never even knew was in me. It’s just a matter of using your imagination! Where before I would look around and see trash in the street, now I try and think of it as trash in my house. So before you go out and spend your money on an affordable option at Ikea, hack your home using one of these brilliant ideas instead. Best of all, you can do it yourself with no help!

Shipping Pallet Bed

DIY Furn_Shipping Pallet Bed

Re-purposed wood pallets are a hot design trend right now and it’s easy to see why. The cracked moldy wood and shoddy construction add an unsightly touch to any hobo den. But as an architectural purist, I hate to see these pallets dressed up as something they’re not. Why put lipstick on the dirty old pig when you can just have the dirty old pig? I’m getting back to basics with this great bed which is just two pallets next to each other, shown here with sheets up-cycled from burlap sacks of rice. Trouble waking up in the morning? Oversleeping is never a problem when you’re constantly punctured by loose nails!

Bonus hack! Get yourself a monkey to preen the splinters out of your back every morning. Check with the city zoning office and your landlord for any regulations regarding exotic pets.

Cinder Block Nightstand

DIY Furn_CMU Table

Concrete masonry units, commonly called “CMUs”, “cinder blocks” and “pillbug habitats” are the bottom of the building materials barrel. Even the stingiest building owners usually have the decency to cover them up in all but the most utilitarian of building areas. So why not prominently feature them in your bedroom? You’ll look like a lunatic riding the bus with 3 cinder blocks on your lap, but just tell everyone that you’re making a nightstand out of them. Who is crazy now? Just drag them into position across your hardwood floor and POW! You have a stylish nightstand and all it cost you was your security deposit.

Bonus hack! Stack a (literal) ton of cinder blocks against the wall with the cavities facing out for a gorgeous bookshelf. Check with a structural engineer to verify that the floor structure can handle the increased dead load.

Just a bunch of milk crates everywhere

DIY Furn_Milk Crates

Milk crates are like the Legos of interior design. They’re OK individually when used as storage, or turned upside down and used as a chair. But when you have a million of them, the possibilities are endless! Turn two of them upside down and use them as a stool! There might be other options, too, so let your imagination run wild!

Bonus hack! A milk crate would probably look cool with a lightbulb inside it. In any case, check with your local law enforcement officer to verify the statute of limitations for milk crate theft.

Trash Bag Chair

DIY Furn_Trash Bag Chair

Every year New York City gets hit by a blizzard and trash bags pile up on the sidewalk in enormous heaps. Then New Yorkers complain about it and this makes national news because somebody thinks the rest of the country cares. Well, while New Yorkers are getting mad, I’m getting glad. Glad brand trash bags littering my house, that is! Simply take all of your soft-ish refuse that hopefully wont stink for a while, stuff it in a big black sack and throw it on the floor. Then just settle in for a cozy night of self-reflection. Nothing puts your life in perspective like laying on a pile of garbage and staring at the ceiling!

Bonus hack! When this chair goes out of style you won’t feel bad about putting it in a dumpster because that’s where it should have been in the first place. If you’re throwing away an entire living room set, make sure you check with your sanitation department to schedule a bulk pick-up.

That’s all for today! Check back often for more genius tips on how to turn one man’s trash into your own personal treasure!


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