Vernacular Architecture

Yesterday, while perusing my Google alerts on architecture, I stumbled across an article titled “Is Vernacular Architecture Dead?” and thought it was worth a second glance. My first step after that was Googling ‘vernacular architecture,’ which, according to Wikipedia, is a style of design based on local needs, materials, and traditions. This made me think of both adobe homes and igloos, where people gathered materials and built their homes, and my knee-jerk reaction was yes, it is.

An adobe building as an example of vernacular architecture.

As I read further, the argument for vernacular architecture being dead included things such as our increasing connectivity and global awareness. It is so easy to find something on the internet you like that you may have never seen before or may not have been exposed to if not for the wonders of the world wide web. So why not bring pieces of another culture into your area?

Another contributing factor is cost. Building the same structure(s) over and over bring about some financial savings for construction companies and developers. There is an economy of scale in buying a few materials in large quantities and allowing for customization based on colors and finishes. The tradespeople also become more adept at creating these buildings because they understand how things are going together and can find better/quicker ways to construct them. Anyone looking to build is going to be aware of costs and want their money to go as far as possible.

While there is logic to these arguments, my experience would say that there are people who are embracing local architecture. We have people call the office who have found home plans online but find they just aren’t working. Sometimes, things just don’t fit the location or respond to the site. Can you imagine a lovely tiki hut on a snowy mountaintop? Sure, you can do it, but why? It doesn’t address climate issues. The heating bill would be outrageous.

These huts wouldn’t be quite right on a snowy mountain.

There is also an increasing awareness of utilizing local materials with “green” building design. This is something we try to do as much as possible. It’s environmentally conscious and it’s cost-efficient. Why pay to have materials brought in, when you have it in your backyard already? There is the additional benefit of saving fossil fuels during transport.

There are practical reasons to embrace vernacular architecture. Climate would certainly be one of them. Sustainability would be another. There’s also the question of whether a building is appropriate and “fits” the area. This is almost always an underlying concern for our staff when designing. So, based on my experience, vernacular architecture is alive and well.

Architecture as Pop Music

Architecture has been compared to music in many ways over the years. Some think that architecture is frozen music. So, let’s have a little fun with this. Imagine if architectural styles were people taking one of those online personality tests – something like “What Song Is Your Theme Song?” or “What Song is Your Anthem?”. We’ll be limiting ourselves to music between 2000-present because using songs from their own time period is far too easy.


The Renaissance spanned the 14th – 17th centuries. It took a lot of inspiration from the Roman’s and is known by its symmetry, proportions, and geometry – it’s so very orderly.

I’m going with Lindsey Stirling’s cover of “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” by Green Day. A classical instrument making something new.


The Victorian era was all about showing off your status. New money and cheaper goods were expanding the middle class, who were only too happy to spend their money making them feel a bit more like royalty. The only problem was the upper classes weren’t too keen on these nouveau riche. “Royals” by Lorde is perfect for people that wish they were part of the Victorian upper class.

Arts and Crafts

This anti-industrial movement pushed for handcrafted items. Every person in The Vespers plays an instrument (if not more). Their music has a handmade quality about it – very different from the highly electronicized music we sometimes have.

Art Nouveau

Stemming from the Arts and Crafts movement, Art Nouveau was all about the arts and took its inspiration from nature – particularly curvy lines….you could say that they were bringing sexy back.

Art Deco

Big and bold, Art Deco combined the Modernist style with the love of craft that was prominent in the Arts and Crafts movement. The style represented luxury, glamour, and technological progress. As it gained steam, it featured rare and expensive materials. This style requires a flashy, catchy song. Fergie’s “A Little Party Never Killed Nobody” is catchy and the music video is a little more than flashy.

International Style

The international style brought in a stripped down architecture.

Pentatonix’ stripped down version of Havana fits in perfectly. As an a capella group, Pentatonix removes all the instrumental ornament from Camilla Cabello’s song.


The post-modern movement was a rejection of modernism’s sleek, clean lines – similar to the Arts and Crafts rejection of industrialization. The post-modernists looked to historical references and re-interpreted them.

Postmodern Jukebox’s cover of Creep by Radiohead takes a modern song and reinvents it by throwing a vintage vibe on it.

This was actually far harder to write than I expected. I foolishy thought it would be easy to match current music to architecture. What do you think of my choices? There are lots of other architectural styles – what music would put to them?

Ready Player One

Recently, I watched the movie ‘Ready Player One’ which speaks to both my movie buff side and my inner video game nerd. Set in the not so distant future, life is spent between “normal” daily life and a virtual world. I was intrigued by their representation of architecture in this setting, where people are more concerned with their virtual lives than reality.

Our journey starts in the hero’s bedroom, as he leaves the house in the morning. The house is a typical trailer that you would find in a trailer park with a slight twist. It’s stacked on top of multiple trailers about 100 feet in the air. As the camera pans out, we see the whole landscape with several trailer towers, precariously stacked on top of each other. Clearly, in this world where reality comes in a distant second to the virtual world, people have less interest in their surroundings. Also, the people funnel all available income into gear that makes their virtual lives better, sacrificing other creature comforts. This poses a challenge for architects. How do you address changes in society? Do you create virtual architecture or focus on adapting current architecture to meet needs that arise from the virtual culture?

In some ways, the movie does address this question. If you have ever put on a virtual reality headset you quickly learn that reality still has an impact. The impact can be quite literal, as there’s the possibility of running into a wall or furnishings. In the movie, this was resolved by standing on a multi-directional treadmill before donning your VR headset. The treadmill shifts direction when as the person does, allowing a full range of motion, without obstacles. This solves the walking into a wall issue. In addition to the treadmill, there is a harness that keeps you from falling.

So how does architecture adapt to societal changes and values, like this alternate reality? Historically speaking, it is one of the things architecture does very well. Just think about how homes here have evolved with changes such as indoor plumbing. Or how architecture responds to differing climates to make occupants as comfortable as possible. Architects spend a great deal of time thinking about and improving the human condition.

Crenellations like this were once necessary in architecture for fortification and protection. Photo by Scott Bowen.

With the growing popularity of virtual reality, it will be interesting to see if the future develops as depicted in the movie. Would the architecture follow a similar trend? Will people spend less money on tangible items, including architecture? If so, how do we respond to accommodate the movement of people in a virtual world?

The Transition from Student to Intern

The transition from student to intern is not an easy one, but it’s also not as difficult as you’d think.

If you’re like me and you choose to start working almost as soon as possible, you’ll get that lovely FOMO (fear of missing out) as your friends text and Snapchat you since they don’t start work for another month or so. During school, summer is usually spent relaxing and doing interesting yet undemanding internships. Needless to say, hearing the alarm clock go off is still a shock every morning. I’m slowly but surely falling into a routine that is helping me become a real adult…I guess.

One of the main things I had been informed of right off the bat was that working at MSB Architects would help me learn the technical side of architecture. I brought this up in my interview as a criticism against my education and lack of real-life experience. While learning how to forge my own design process and access my creative side, I missed out on the reality of building codes and Revit goodness. Admitting that to the people who you are interviewing with seems a bit foolish, but they reassured me that their job is to help me understand the practices and procedures used in this profession. So far this has been true. I feel that I am slowly starting to bridge the gap between where the projects I designed in school ended and how one would go about making those projects a reality.

Redlines are your friends.

Working in a small firm is helping me work directly with people that can help me get a grasp on the architectural process, get the experience I think I need, and most importantly ask lots of questions! That being said, I know I still have a lot to learn and it’s a new but exciting feeling to come to work and learn every day, even though I know this is just the tip of the iceberg that is “architecture.” Oh, and this idiom seems especially fitting for me because in my final critique my design was compared to The Titanic.

The Titanic?

Overall my first couple weeks with MSB Architects have been incredible. I feel that I am a valued team member and I am inspired to continue learning and growing within the architectural field.

Thank you, Janelle and Brianna, for the lovely Revit Cheat Sheet!


The Next Chapter of Our Story: A new logo

The next chapter in our story: MSB Architects–Your Story Built.

Every once in awhile, it’s time to stop and take stock in where you’ve been and where you are headed. MSB Architects has long served as storytellers through architecture. We find joy and passion in finding something special about YOUR story, be it your history, brand, or something about the building itself and communicating it through architectural elements. We discovered during our time of reflection was that this wasn’t necessarily the story we were telling about ourselves. So we decided to make some “renovations” of our own that better express our focus. So without further ado, introducing the new look of MSB Architects.

We are thrilled to find kindred spirits in HighRock Studios designers, whom we could “geek out” with over visual messaging. The resulting logo’s orange line looks like the aerial view of several buildings of varying sizes working together in a community, much as we view our work as being vital to the community. At the same time, the same line resembles a “parti diagram,” a tool we use early in the design process to roughly sketch a concept into key structures and relationships. At the most basic level, this is what we do—we create structures and relationships. The font and colors represent a more modern take on our past while moving to the future.

Capping it all off is our simple statement of purpose: Your Story Built. We take the time to find out your story and what you want to communicate through your building and weave it into the design elements of the space. From something as simple as using your logo colors as accents to something more complicated like spelling the company name in Morse code in the window pattern, we incorporate your story into the design. After all, your new space is part of your story.

Storage, The Sequel. More Tips for Reorganizing at Home.

In a previous blog, we began a discussion of storage and organization – how to de-clutter and re-organize at home. This week, we continue our quest to help you conquer additional clutter culprits. 

The Kitchen Junk Drawer

You know the one. The drawer with the birthday candles, super glue tubes, uncapped writing utensils, scotch tape, and notepads. To tackle this, the same de-cluttering and organization methods apply: remove all items, take an inventory, determine what you realistically use. No need to keep 30 pens in the drawer if you only need 2-3 any given week.

These pens fit nicely into old, plastic containers that formerly held deli meat.

When items go back into the drawer, keep them organized by sectioning them into small, shallow bins. The plastic bins your deli meats came in make easy drawer compartments that separate items by type. These handy bins make items easier to find and provide a great way to recycle and reuse. Plus, they save you money by preventing you from buying custom drawer dividers.

Books and More Books

During your de-cluttering project, you may conclude that you just don’t have enough shelf or cabinet space. So, you buy temporary shelving, putting a band-aid on the clutter instead of solving the problem. Perhaps it’s time to go through what is taking up all that room (your lifetime accumulation of books?),

If books are the issue, determine which you can let go of and donate to a used bookstore or local charity. We would never recommend letting go of books that have special literary, nostalgic or family-heirloom meaning. Instead, take a realistic look at whether you will ever re-reference or re-read those books. Trust that the books made an impact and rejoice in the fact that once those books are gone, you’ve created more storage.

Excess Furniture

During your organization efforts, you may find that a piece of furniture has become available due to your successful purging of excess stuff. The extra china cabinet in your dining room that housed three sets of dishes you “just had to have” but never use is now empty.  Think about re-purposing that cabinet in a non-traditional way. Move it to your home office or second bedroom as additional storage of sweaters, linens, craft materials, or holiday wrapping paper – whatever still needs consolidating for a more organized space.


What is an RFP?

The world is full of acronyms and the field of architecture is no exception. One important acronym for us is RFP or Request for Proposal, and it’s exactly what it sounds like. This is a way of asking for qualifications or a document showcasing your company’s skill and services. But what does it take to prepare your response to an RFP?

All RFP’s have several items they are looking for from responding firms. Those requirements are items that the agency deems important for the job. This often includes resumes, past projects, current workload, insurance certificates, and who is on the team (specifically the people they will interact with if awarded). Seems like an easy request, right?  Any company should have this information readily available, but it’s not usually as simple as you think.

One of the largest challenges is the format of the RFP response, which means one of two things in the architecture world. If no format is specified, then the architect will use his own formatting style and layout on the sheets. Usually has a logo on many pages and follows a certain visual aesthetic. Other times, a prospective client specifies the 330 Form, which was created by the federal government. By selecting this option, the client ensures that every respondent is giving the same information in the same manner. No problem. Except this means we have to keep and maintain all our information in two formats, which can be cumbersome. Additionally, each RFP usually wants slightly different information, so it takes time to customize each proposal.

Punching holes to bind the RFP.

Another item that is unique for each proposal is the design team. Depending on the type of project, you need different types and numbers of consultants. For example, if you do school work you may use specific engineers that are more versed in the requirements of schools. They may or may not be the same consultants you would use for church projects. Typically we use civil, mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and structural engineers on most projects, but sometimes we need other specialties like cost estimators, lighting designers, interior designers, and acoustical engineers.

A completed proposal, ready to head out the door.

You can see how with just these two items we encounter, a simple RFP response quickly turns into a more robust effort. As a result, we might spend several days working on a single RFP. We put a lot of thought into our RFP responses, right down to how it should be bound.

How many architects does it take to screw in a light bulb?

It sounds like a bad joke, I know.  But at least choosing the light (or any product) is sometimes a longer process than you might think.  As designers we care about everything that will go into a space, from interior finish colors, to carpet patterns, to the caulk around the windows, and yes even the light bulbs.

Does this match?? Choosing products to match existing conditions can be a challenge, especially when you can’t get close enough to the product to see the comparison. Photos by self and Janelle Horst.

There are so many products in the world today, produced by a multitude of manufacturing companies.  And despite yearly design trends permeating every manufacturer, each version of a product is distinctly unique.  Two carpet tiles may both be 24” square, with grey tones, in linear striations, but because they are from two different manufacturers they are going to be different.  (As the various postal carriers who deliver to our office can attest, we get a lot of samples for this very reason.)  And these similar differences can make it difficult to choose between “Buffstone” and “Charlotte Tan” which is when we get multiple people involved.

Choices, choices everywhere, but which one is right? Often, we have to choose between four different shades of red as in the first photo, seven shades of beige as in the second photo, or 50 Shades of White. But sometimes we have so many choices we have to spread out to see the whole picture. Photos by self.

Sometimes it can take up to six designers, plus the owners, contractors, and Scott’s fish (though they’re not much help) to figure out which color, carpet, or fixture looks and feels correct.

Lighting is always fun to see samples of because laying on the floor (and trusting no one to drop it) is really the only way to get a good feel for the product as in the photos on the left. In the photos on the right we’re trying to decide if an 8’-0” hanging height for a linear lighting fixture would feel awkward in a lobby space, Kim even got involved in that decision. Photos by self and Janelle Horst.


And in case you were wondering, according to Jody Brown of “Coffee with an Architect,” the answer is 21.

One to sketch out the concept.

One to model it in Revit.

One to question the concept… “Does it have to turn?”

One to write an addendum informing the contractors of the change.

One to find the spec section and ASTM Standards for turning light bulbs.

One to fill out the LEED paperwork.

One to suggest a “stainless steel” light bulb.

One to suggest a skylight instead of the light bulb.

One to research alternate methods of changing light bulbs.

One to suggest having a charette to brainstorm ideas about installing light bulbs.

One (intern) to build a chipboard model of the light bulb.

One to suggest recessing the light bulb.

One to issue addendum # 35 to have the contractor reverse the door swing into the room so that the light switch and be relocated on the adjacent wall.

One to ask the design principal in charge to call the client to let them know.

One to call the structural engineer to see if the beam running through the light bulb can be moved.

One to render the space showing a Louis Poulsen “artichoke” lamp instead of the light bulb.

One to ask: “What does the light bulb want to be?”

One to discuss Le Corbusier’s use of light bulbs throughout Villa Savoye.

One to google “Snohetta / Light bulbs.”

One to remove the boundary between the interior and the exterior of the light bulb.

And finally, one to turn off the light while muttering “Less is more”.