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ARCH 101: Midterm Learning Portfolio

Scaled Models

Applying Proportions


Kit Of Parts + Narrative

Photodocumentation + Hand Drawings


Breaking The Ice

Content Diagram


Response To Nature


Frames + Surfaces

Defining Spaces

Defining Spaces

3D Montage + Kit Of Parts 2

Scaled Models

Elman Cabrera

Fall 2013 City College Of San Francisco

Week 1: Breaking The Ice The difficult part of the homework for me was connecting my ideas with the information given. The information was clear: arrange 12 elements to create a composition. Although it was clear it could take me to endless possibilities of doing my composition. It was really difficult to decide where to start, what objects to use, how to arrange them, and how to make the overall composition stable enough to be pinned in a wall. My approach was to try to give a “meaning� to what I was doing. The box in the center with the irregular shaped object being held in the air by two threads is a representation of my comfort zone holding me in place. I decided to use triangles to represent the difficulty of the task because at some point I felt uncomfortable, out of my space and with fear of failing. The cubes represent my ideas, questions and options. Those cubes are joined to the box by the triangles in an attempt to represent that I had to go outside of my comfort zone and risk myself to fulfill what I was being asked. Finally on the right side there are three objects. I organized them like stair steps because I wanted to symbolize the steps I had to take to finally come up with a design for my composition.

Repetition For my iteration number 2, I wanted to express the journey I’m about to start with this class. In my first iteration I represented my comfort zone with a cube. Now, that cube is expanding and divided. I used two curvilinear segments of wood to impose a sense of movement and rhythm. The three triangles are meant to in incorporate repetition to the model while they keep being the representation of information, options and questions. The two cubes at one end are my scattered knowledge, positioned at the beginning of the curvilinear segments to represent the “journey” of evolution to become rounded and unify. Overall, my composition has an intentional form of a DNA molecule. I tried to emphasize that my comfort zone is deforming and breaking apart. The reason why I used sharp-angled triangles is because the information I’m receiving sometimes is confusing and overwhelming but is definitely becoming part of me with this journey. My knowledge is starting to “evolve” from unpolished and static to more balanced and well-centered one.

Photodocumentation + Hand Drawings I was required to photograph and draw some orthogonal views of my last two models. The objective of the homework was in part to exercise the skill of drawing the different orthogonal views and at the same time it was the base for our next project. The difficult part of the assignment was measuring and drawing the elements with oblique angles, mostly because the angles change the perceived distance and dimension depending on how the object is viewed. The exercise also helped me to realize how my models drastically changed from one view to the other. For example, the plant view of my second model really seems organized and “clean” but the front and back views are a little chaotic. I think the reason for this was that I designed it from “above.” I made all the parts and started gluing them focusing on what I was seeing from my view (top view), forgetting the other views. The lesson is that I have to be careful not to fixate on one view only but making sure that all sides are interesting and designed with an intention.

Week 3: Kit Of Parts 1 + Intro To Narrative For this task I was asked to deconstruct my two previous models into different design elements and then rearrange them in a way to better communicate my expressive intentions. I was also introduced to the use of narrative in design, defined as the use of written document that conveys the meaning of an idea, person, or event through the description of a form, space, light, color, texture, or scale. The narrative is not a literal representation of what something is physically but rather what it means to be (1). With these traced elements of my previous models, I will try to incorporate rhythm, unity, and balance to my next model. Although at this point my narrative is still under construction, I will try to keep my focus on themes like evolution (shapes) and journeys (lines and sizes).

Proportions With this model I wanted to create something dynamic and rhythmic that could take the eyes of the observer into a journey. I tried to add rhythm and a sense of movement with the curvilinear elements and the pieces that serve as ribs. At the same time, I tried to incorporate the Fibonacci Series into my design by adding the straight segments of wood that extend from the “back bone.” However, trying to incorporate the Fibonacci series was difficult. I think that this difficulty was mostly because I was working only with the skeleton of my model and I really felt like I didn’t have that much of a choice in how to incorporate the scale system. Overall, I’m still working in my narrative and trying to join the dots between my narrative and my final design, yet I decided to start working with themes like journeys (movement - rhythm) and evolution (actual shape). Working without a base for the first time became a challenge. By working with a base, I didn’t have to worry that much about the stability of my work. This time I had to take the stability into my design while keeping it attractive. The result was adding the small straight segments arranging them in a zigzag pattern. By doing this, I not only gained stability but I incorporated a new design element. Also, I had fewer views to care of. The views were something that I tried to be very careful this time but surprisingly I started fighting against symmetry for this reason.

Applying Proportions I’m getting too fixated on implementing a scale system. Although this time I was a bit more successful in implementing it, the fixation I had with the scale system led me to completely disregard other details. Literally, my model has a flat side. It was notorious that I built the model focused only on some views instead of bringing into account each view. I was embarrassed that the first thing that my classmates said when they saw my model was, “It looks like a shark,” but I had to admit it, after I was done building it I thought exactly the same thing. The “fin” at the dorsal side was intended to bring some drama to the model while creating a point of focus, an invitation to start traveling and experimenting the organic shapes. I felt a little disappointed in how my work turned out. There are a few things that keep undermining my work. The first and most frustrating one is not being able to write and relate my narrative to my built model. Second, I keep having the tendency on focusing only on one view to build my models. Third, the implementation of a scale system keeps being a great challenge. However, I’m going to address these problems so they don’t interfere with my next model(s).

Scaled Models For this week I was asked to scale up an interesting aspect of my previous model that defined space hierarchically and that could be experienced from all six views. I’m having difficulties connecting the narrative to my designs, which I think together with the scale system ended up undermining my last model. So for this week I tried to make the statement about the courage of going out in a journey and adventure, such as mountain climbing as my professor and I discussed. I tried to make a bold representation of it exaggerating a curvilinear segment that depending on how the model is viewed, it gives the sensation of going up and out to space or being grounded back to Earth. This segment of wood also adds a dynamic sensation to the overall model. I tried breaking symmetry by changing the aspects of the model in some axes. As you can see, there are squares on one side and some kind of triangles at the other. At a detailed inspection, you can see that the triangles have a rounded segment while the other side is straight. Basically, the purpose is to denote the fun and serious sides of deciding to go out and explore. The open squares at the other side are static to bring over the sensation of seriousness to a playful model. The squares are open so the eye of the observer could actually go and close them, catching the interest while wondering why they are open. Overall, the task was a bit difficult in the sense of experimenting and trying to define spaces. I was in doubt for some parts of my project like how to do it and what spaces were the most interesting. I think I overcome this challenge and I like how my piece of work looks.

Scaled Models In my second scaled model I bet for structural stability which turned into unity. I also meant to incorporate rhythm with a series of straight elements positioned at different angles to define spaces in different shapes and sizes. I kept in mind to be as playful as I could with each view trying to make sure there wasn’t a “right” way to see my model and that each view could be somewhat related and have a purpose. My design was intended to let the observer explore and even take the journey through my model. After the critique today, I was surprised that my classmates were accurate in what I was trying to evoke through my two designs. I was glad to realize that there’s not failure because even those ideas that we think are terrible can transform into something valuable.

3D Montage + Kit of Parts 2 TThe prompt of the homework was to photodocument my two previous models from different viewpoints and distances and then arrange them to assemble them in two new architectural montages. These new models had to define new spaces hierarchically (spaces of different shapes and sizes). Once the pieces are put together, the model has to have a six-direction-plus-center (front, back, two sides, up, and down). I’ve been working only with basswood and CA glue so far. These two materials have allowed a great flexibility to work with my designs. However, as noted before, I had some complications trying to implement a scale system by working only with wood and I didn’t feel like I had much of a choice in how and where to implement it. Since the instructions ask to use a stiff mounting board my construction material is going to change. I’ve been thinking to switch from wood to another material but so far I haven’t dared and this is a great opportunity to do so. I’m going to have to run some tests like how the CA glue and board bonding together and try to see how I add color to my iterations since in my last critique my classmate Laurie suggested it.

Defining Spaces With this model I focused mostly in oblique angles and pointed shapes to define spaces. I was having difficulties selecting parts of my model that could result in an interesting piece. I kept in mind to have and open figure since in my last model that was one of the critiques I received. I wanted pointed pieces to add some drama and in some way invite the observers out to space through my whole model. My approach to define spaces was to think about personal and open spaces. By personal I mean those spaces that were connected to the whole structure but in some way accessible only by going around the whole model such is the case of the spaces defined at the “top� of the model. The whole model is composed of open spaces because no matter what, you could easily see through the model and have a view of everything that’s around the model.

Defining Spaces With my kit of parts, I was looking for pieces that could help to project my model out to space. Since I was working with cardboard, my pieces already had a certain amount of surface area that could help glue them together. Also, I wanted to have asymmetry in my model. I tried to divide my model in two sides. I used the only piece standing vertical (found in the center) to apply the asymmetry. To the left side there is a piece with a curved part ending in a sharp point. With this piece, I wanted to take the observers into a journey leading their eyes into the “sky.” At the right ride there is oblique “wall” connected to the left side with the curved segment that unifies both parts and sides. I think I was successful with my model and I really love it. The use of a different material and the critique of my previous work really influenced and helped in such a way that it inspired me to build what I consider my most successful model so far.

Frames + Surfaces This model was divided in two parts. The first one was to create the frame of our previous model and second, to add surfaces. I was asked to have in mind three types of surfaces: Clear, opaque, and translucent. While creating the frames we were supposed to start introducing a tectonic language into our design. We saw some great and inspiring examples during class but once I was in front of my work it turn out to be a bit difficult. I wanted to add beauty and complexity through the tectonic language. My approach was to start drilling holes along of some wood elements to insert wires and later could help to support or add a surface. Also, while doing this I was thinking which part I was going to leave uncovered to show the “truth” of my work. When it came to surfaces I thought of those open and intimate spaces I defined before. I didn’t wanted to isolate these spaces from the rest of the model so I create a series of rhythmic patterns that depending on the view of the observers, they could see through these added surfaces. That was the case of the wire as well. I purposely cover some parts of it in the front or in the back exposing the truth of the tectonic language for everyone to see.

Narrative The most important aspects of my design are the use of sharp pointed pieces and the how the surfaces are used. The decision behind how the surfaces are put together was because I wanted to have personal spaces without isolating them from the rest of the model. The use of oblique angles and sharp pointed pieces are a way to invite the observer to “travel” through my design. The main objective would be that the observer senses a harmonic movement, rhythm, and discovers joys similar to when one goes out in adventure. I wanted to create all these experiences with the use of repetition in some of the surfaces and in some of the frames. My design is a representation of going in an adventure like mountain climbing. I want the observers to feel free and encourage them to explore and find their favorite “spots.” I want them to sense an invitation to take a journey. The main invitation comes from the sleek angled piece to the left that ends sharp pointed. The angle in which the piece is arranged and the curvilinear segment is intended to take the eyes of the observer from the “center” of the model to one extreme and have the capacity to experience the whole model. I’m provoking in them a curiosity and the courage of going out in an adventure, to take a journey. I wanted to extend an invitation to exchange the ground for the sky and be able to not only experience my whole design but wonder what’s around it as well. The same experience one gets when hiking and reaching the top of a mountain. There are two different sides to my design. To the left, the model is composed of an intimate space with an open space at the center, a “courtyard” where you can see the sky. In this center the invitation to start a journey is extended by the angled structure. To the right, there’s an angled element connected to the left side with the curvilinear segment found at the top. The surfaces in this element are arranged in such a way to symbolize the different paths that an adventurer finds while mountain climbing. Although both sides are different, they share the sense of movement and rhythm with their repetitive elements, unifying the whole design.

Responses To Natural Forces

San Francisco Federal Building

The form, structure and the orientation of the building are the results of a series of site and weather analyses in order to maximize the forces of nature like wind, sun exposure and heat which the building takes advantage.

The building is a sleek tower-like building. During its construction the surrounding communities asked for a building with open spaces and a one that could help to improve the quality and vitality of the area. Setting the building to the back and leaving most of its front area free to host an urban plaza accomplished this requirement.

The building has a modern and attractive look and it is different from other government buildings. Although it is different in all its aspects it has a series of security features disguised with some its elements, for example the sloped lawn is actually designed to deflect a blast of a bomb away from the daycare that operates under the plaza.

Sun’s Path

Maybe the most atractive aspects of its structure start with its impressive-dynamic layer of mesh, glass and perforated metal panels. Being the predominant elements in its south façade, they not only help to separate the outside from the inside, the glass and the perforated metal panels work as a way to deflect light and heat while leaving the inside spaces filled with light through the day.

The hierarchal language of acute angles extends to the walls and roofs of its interiors as well helping to define the spaces in a different but concise way. The spaces are open and naturally lighted during the day, saving the use of electricity. For some employees this comes at the price of being exposed to the sun all day long in their cubicles.

The building also benefits from the winds that are predominant in the city throughout the year. The floors up to the fifth floor have operable windows to let people manage their work environment. Apparently, some people find too difficult to have controlled environments inside their workspace mostly because the wind is too strong and for the sun exposure. At the same time, the design of the building incorporates a “living skin” that “breathes.” This living skin incorporated in its walls is controlled by an air and temperature monitor. This monitor lets in the breeze and winds to cool off the interiors during the day and the concrete structure during the night.

The café at the corner was designed with two purposes. One, to delineate the block architecturally and unifying both structures with some its elements. In this case, the café shares the aspects of its roof with the façade of the building. Second, it was intended to promote the interaction between the employees but again; it is a choice of design that the people don’t share and like.


At this point, I have all my work lying in my table. I look at each one of them and I can almost feel a certain feeling of accomplishment, pain, and love. Accomplishment because I didn’t give up. Although some of my models were successful while others were not, I tried to do my best always. I spent so many hours designing, envisioning my models in my head just to go to my worktable and see my ideas fall apart. There were literally nights were I slept 3 hours just because my model wasn’t coming together but now I can feel that each piece has a value for me. I realized that even in those “failures” I had opportunities to transform them into something beautiful and meaningful. Pain because sometimes it was frustrating to put my ideas together. Sometimes I felt lost with all the new vocabulary and how to connect it to my designs. Love because they represent my progress and dedication. I have grown and learned so much in these 9 weeks. For me, each model is not only cut wood or board glued together. They are a reflection of my progress, of my courage, and even the evolution of my way of thinking. Arch 101 is not an easy class but it has been an inspiring class where I have learned to incorporate my ideas to design, to find a meaning in everything I do, and has helped me to see the world in a different way. Now, I walk through the streets of the city literally questioning the purpose and design of everything I see and feeling that I have all these ideas already put together waiting for me to take them apart in my mind to make them my own.

Arch 101 Midterm Learning Portfolio