Deus Ex Machina – The Warhol Factory

Deus Ex Machina – The Warhol Factory


Andy1Over the years of observing architecture and listening to local architects about their designs, I began to see a common thread; one that Andy Warhol saw and ubiqitously exploited so that others can hopefully understand and possibly deviate from.

Because  Andy covered such a vast amount of art, talent and endeavors, it is important for me to narrow a single point of thought and explain that he had one useful point to make in his life. From his Interview with Gene Swenson, Art News (1963)  Andy was asked about liking things and how that was being a machine.

Andy discussed commercial art and how it can go both ways of being creative and not, through process and the subject itself.  “Like the shoe I would draw for an advertisement was called a ‘creation’ but the drawing of it was not.”  This one statement reflects the talented people I see working to pay their bills and aspiring to be different at the same time.  A nomer  to art and work.

In my perception of architecture, talented people are like artists. Andy said , ”If an artist can’t do any more, then he should just quit; and an artist ought to be able to change his stele without feeling bad.” Some of the words that Andy used are very strong and brutal. The brutality is that it can hurt an aspiring artist’s feelings.  But then if we always worry about injured feelings, we could never make discovery.

“Was commercial art more machine-like?” Andy responded “No, it wasn’t.” His reasoning was that he, “was getting paid for it, and did anything” told to do. Example, “if they told me to draw a shoe, Id do it, and if they told me to correct it, I would-Id do anything they told me to do, correct it and do it right.” Here lies his discovery from all his work. “After all that ‘correction,’ those commercial drawings would have feelings, they would have a style. The attitude of those who hired me had feeling or something to; they knew what they wanted, they insisted; sometimes they got very emotional. The process of doing work in commercial art was machine like, but the attitude had feeling to it.”

Attitude (a settled way of thinking or feeling about someone or something, typically one that is reflected in a person’s behavior had feeling? This last statement is intriguing because the process of satisfying everyone was machine like but the people that the machines were created or working for was the attitude (in my humble opinion) Andy lacked.

It appears Andy was a blank soul trying to find something out of ordinary life/things. He always worked to please someone/something and learned that through repetition he could find himself.  I believe he really didn’t have attitude of his own (perfect example watch the video of himself eating a hamburger like so many of us working and eating during lunch break and if he did show them, they were by-products of what someone else wanted. Much like in architecture, talent always seem to stem from needs of others or something.

cambell soupAndy Warhol was a creature of no identity (his view of pop culture and racial preference). His work of machine like process created a feeling for him but would not know the attitude until it is repeated over and over and over. One that seemingly believed in duplicating work over and over to achieve a sense of individuality. On the other hand, the repetition can have a mathematical value. A theorem logic that prevails after so many repeats. Perhaps this is the need that many artists have and cannot let go until reprisal is achieved from unconscionable discovery.

If we listen closely of what Andy meant by, “those who talk about individuality the most are the ones who object to deviation.” A thought comes to mind when we see architecture in many forms of contemporary, modern, mid-century, classical and so on. These movements express individuality in a conforming way that many can study and appreciate.  However, it is a limiting factor for the purpose of association. Notice the irony? How can an artist truly be an individual if he or she is held back from deviation by being classified?  This is the dilemma that I believe Andy wanted to avoid.

marylinRemove objections and seek uniqueness. This may not seem evident in Andy’s comment of “I think every painting should be the same size and the same color so they’re all interchangeable and nobody thinks they have a better painting or a worse painting”  (Andy  Warhol’s Iconophilia pg 10 )   But, carefully dissect the logic and you can see that the objection would be not to share with everyone and the uniqueness would be to identify deviation by going beyond the obvious scope.

machineHence, artists must understand and know that through all paid and none compensatory work (even though it may seem futilely going no where), the Warhol Factory is at play where deviations (big, small, intentional and accidental) can be recognized and derivatives of those work can be shared amongst the masses through visualization and feeling.  From Andy’s discernable works, we can easily identify and associate with, but at the same time, glimmers of differences can be brought out in open for all to see the attitude and understand from it. That is the “machine antithesis” he gave us from our routines – that is Andy Warhol.


Jon Lee




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Res Ipsa Loquitur – The Thing Speaks For Itself

Res Ipsa Loquitur – The Thing Speaks For Itself Res Ipsa Loquitur is a Latin phrase meaning, “the thing speaks for itself.” Much used in common law doctrine and legal jargon. What is interesting though is that such a phrase is not often used in architecture, but should since it can allow in depth thought in different ways.

One way I have seen it is by working with many passionately great architects on wonderful projects. One in particular, Kevin Koch, AIA, Architect at the Texas State Preservation Board and project manager for Texas Governor’s Mansion Restoration, has shown that old neglected materials can have a new life. 2

On a project we built for Mr. Koch, his old garage sat where his new art studio was to be constructed. Looking at the garage, you can see wood rot. The first inclination would be to throw everything away, however, the architect was determined to save as much as possible – a complete opposite to the norm. His initial plan was to make barn door sliders out of it with just simple plywood backing and nailing like two dimensional thought (two dimensional thinking is “essentially … not look beyond the moment, to understand only the moment but not the cause and effect.” ) After the main structure was erected, he knew that it would not be enough to overcome the newness of the sidings so he took the thought to the next level and framed the sidings with exposed members in the back for three dimensional expression. exterior slider 1exterior slider 2 exterior slider 3








In addition, we used the same old siding and applied them over the structural sheathing and moisture barrier so that a juxtaposition is created for setting the contrast between old and new.  siding Shed Door 1Another way of allowing old things to speak was by way of adding the storage shed door from an old house that was being demolished nearby.  The front door, together with all the trim, was placed  backwards so that it swings out. The trim pieces had to be modified, but all in all, everything looked great for re-adaptive use of same function and form.

As for the interior doors, Mr. Koch wanted to use the old panel doors to  closet sliders.  We took all the used doors with the hardware and attached them side by side. Three seperate panels were formed with the barn door track system guiding them. The fact that no tracks or guides are at the bottom, allows the doors to tilt out giving extra room for over sized objects to be stored in the closet space.  This is a very good idea to allow objects that define space to accommodate expansive needs. Closet Panel 1 Since the studio was made for art, the architect wanted a door to speak as one with the room. This meant that we made a hidden drywall door that would not have traditional door handle and hinges. The hidden door was built with special hidden hinges and reglet frame that would allow a mural of expressions to be created on the wall with minimal distraction from the door. In my humble opinion, Mies van der Rohe would be proud of this work.Drywall Door 1 Drywall Door 2 Roof 1In essence, the personal art studio project parallels what Jack Dorsey, co-founder of Twitter and Square, believes in where “principle of simplicity, constraint, and craftsmanship” are what guides the invisible speaking materials to open sounding relevancy. Kevin Koch’s passion and deep love for the forgotten ideas and materials follow this principle, much the way we, as admirers, anticipate hearing the voice to appreciate and cherish again.studio1


by Jon Lee studio2

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Blind Architect – The Fruition of Perception

In my career, I always think about what I plan on doing or how I want to achieve my passions in Architecture. I never think twice about looking at structures and colors with vibrant textures. The thought wasn’t there until I was driving and realized that if I couldn’t see – I wouldn’t be able to drive.

By Rosa Downy


To me, not to drive is scary and unfathomable but what if an architect couldn’t see?  Can an architect who cannot see still be able to fulfill his or her passion? My question was answered! His name is Chris Downey, AIA. “Architecture for the Blind”  He is an architect who lost his vision due to a brain tumor at the height of his career.


brail floor planMr. Downey talks about multi sensory design and how the blind must rely on other factors beside vision to think or create. He says, “blind people rely on acoustics to get around. I test materials with my cane to see how they feel. Instead of doing a ‘walk-through,’ we create a ‘tap-through,’ so you hear what it’s like when you tap your cane throughout the building.” Prato, Alison. “Chris Downey: My Life as a Blind Architect in San Francisco.” Ideas .Ted.Com  30 Sept. 2013.  Thus, he gives us an idea of how he frames without seeing by using wax sticks with his fingers. Taylor-Hochberg, Amelia. “How a Blind Architect Reframes Design.” Architect News .


chris_downey_plans_04by Patricia Chang


Also, how he reads construction documents and the thought put into it is amazing. Mr. Downey basically “found a blind computer scientist who had devised a way to print online maps through a tactile printer; it worked for architectural drawings too. Meub would take Downey’s hand and guide it to details on the plans, as they talked. ‘He can’t just look at a drawing at a glance,’ Meub told me later. ‘At first I thought, Okay, this is going to be a limitation. But then I realized that the way he reads his drawings is not dissimilar to the way we experience space. He’ll be walking through a plan with his index finger, discovering things, and damn, he’s walking through the building!’” McGray, Douglas. “Design Within Reach.” The Atlantic Monthly   

Such effort and thinking around his problem shows me that not everyone who can see is of pure luck, but rather “too comfortable.” To me, Mr. Downy is correct when he said, “as architects, we’re visual animals.” Perhaps extenuating circumstances can push the most out of people, but with passion, I am always encouraged to know we can always do our best. “Take sight out of the equation” and you still have no excuse of “what makes for good architecture.” McGray, Douglas. “Design Within Reach.” The Atlantic Monthly

by Jon Lee

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Perpetual Motion – Different Sustainability

GeneratorPerpetual Motion – Different Sustainability

We always talk about design and how one can create a design that supports sustainability but where does the next level take us? In my opinion, we should move from the obvious of support to the not so like constant sustainable energy in basic construction.

One of my favorite ideas in sustainability is to take the concept of perpetual spinning wheel and convert that real time energy to power a house or structure. Energy that we use everyday is like motion in rotation format,  cars with engines that spin the crankshaft, boats that spin the propeller, and generators that spin turbine to create electricity.

Here is an idea that I have seen. Take a wheel with magnets attached to the outer rim and equally spaced placing it against another magnet force like a rod. If you move the rod closer to the wheel, you can see that the wheel will start spinning if you are able to overcome the first resistance. See video for good example ->

Now imagine taking that spinning wheel and attaching the center shaft to a clutch mechanism (like an automobile transmission clutch) where the spinning wheel will engage/lock to a generator shaft. This transfer of motion from the wheel to the clutch  will spin the generator coils to create electricity where power would go to a regulator and then to batteries for storage/use. (You can go directly from wheel to generator without a clutch type mechanism but would be difficult for the wheel to spin with resistance from the generator)

Just think, every house built with its own internal generator and no need for harmful byproducts, electrical lines, permits, or bills. We have the basic technology to create this endless perpetual electricity. If we step back and think about how to take the obvious into practicality, every structure can truly be sustainable, independently.


by Jon Lee

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Kwanzan / Kanzan Cherry Tree – In South Austin, Texas

Kwanzan / Kanzan Cherry Tree in South Austin, Texas 

kwanzan 1April is here and I am so excited to see my prunus serrulata trees bloom. Yes, that is right! These Booht-Kkoht (Korean) or Japanese cherry trees (American) can thrive here in Austin, Texas. I have living proof and very proud of it!

These trees are 12 – 20 ft tall. Their genetic origin is Asia, around Japan, Korea and China. The trees are deciduous with short single trunk and vase shaped crown. The leaves in spring are bronzed color, turning to dark green and then yellow in the fall. kwanzan 2

The trees are in the rosaceae family so the flowers are light pink in color and clustered in groups of 2 to 5. Kwanzan trees are considered ornamental so flowers are abundant in the spring with no fruits in the fall.   

kwanzan 3The Koreans celebrate the blooming with their Jinhae  or Jeju Cherry Blossom Festival. In Japan, these trees are celebrated in their custom as Hanami (flower viewing). The flowers are viewed as being important in life because the blossoming flowers in spring represent our destiny, birth of a new life and fall of sleeping winter cold.

Kwanzan trees are sensitive to the environment and have short life span of an average 20 years. What makes mine survive the hot summer in Austin, Texas is soil, soil, soil. I cannot emphasize enough how important soil is to a tree of this type. My trees have layers of loam, clay, garden soil, compost and 3 inches of cedar mulch. The compost and garden soil are from The Natural Gardner. I used their Revitalizer Compost and Hill Country Garden soil. I did not mix the soils but layered them like nature would have. Most Arborist would not recommend using this type of soil as fill because to do so might create a bathtub effect, but I did so knowing that certain precautions and steps were taken before I planted them. (The trees were planted in layered limestone rocks. The holes were 8 times the size of the rootball with deep cracks that were tested for proper drainage)kwanzan 4

Overall, I am very excited about the springtime blooms. Working very hard in the hot summer months by keeping the trees well watered paid off the following year. Keeping these trees alive is a lot of work and you are probably asking yourself why? It’s not the amount of work that is seemingly full of burden and hassle , but rather, the symbolism behind the work you do as a sign of dedication to anything you love very much – “never give up.”

Below are some quick tips I have learned to use on my trees. I am not claiming to be a certified arborist, but rather, to share what I think helped keep my babies alive and thriving!

kwanzan 5

Soil Amendments: Mychorizae (once), Biozome (once), Corn Meal (once), Molasses (once), Azomite (yearly), Rabbit Hill Farm Minerals Plus (yearly)

Watering: General rule for watering is for every 1” of trunk width should use 5 gallons of water. Top 3 inches of soil below mulch should be moist and not soaking wet. When the top layer of soil is dry, its time to water.  Liquid Humate (to remove chloramine in the City drinking water) Superthrive (seems to work but no scientific support to back up claims) Liquid Seaweed (hormones and trace minerals) Imidacloprid (once a year in Spring after the blooms fall to avoid problems with bees and to prevent borer and beetle attacks), Actinovate (lessen chance of cotton root rot – prevalent in Texas)

Foliar Spray: Liquid Seaweed (during extreme heat) Actinovate (prevent blight in humid conditions)


by Jon Lee

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The Perfect Architectural Client

The Perfect Architectural Client


data-brainMy love and passion for architectural design and construction always makes me wonder what my ultimate client would be like. I know a lot of builders and architects that would prefer clients with unlimited funds but for me, it’s not about the money but more of the challenge. Thus, if technology ever gives me the chance, I would build an architectural masterpiece for my dream client – a computerized sentient being.

This is much like “Data” from Star Trek Next Generation. Much of it with logic and devoid of emotions, however, when such a life being is able to make choices, these decisions result in creating an identity that we as humans can relate to. Question is, ”what are the choices given to them?”

When I think of what a sentient being would want its’ house to look like, I think about not so much of character traits but more of its’ inherited mission. What is the purpose of its’ existence? An example would be a focus on agriculture. A sentient being living to promote and explore agriculture would probably want to build a house that would suit humans in that field of profession. I’m sure logic would dictate that consciousness is more important than physical abilities so thought would predicate the need to create an environment not for itself but for humans; focused in that field of experience to promote ingenious thoughts of creativity and progressive thinking.

Hence, the process of computerized logic would probably be like collecting output data from human interactive emotions where every picture of design, style, color, texture and so on are categorized and placed into a numerical value that is set for calculation. Human emotions cannot be easily quantified but the outcome can. Once the mathematical tables are created, each value is compared and stored for use as data in creating the type of structure that allows progressive human interaction in that particular field of profession; in hopes of optimized interaction and productivity. Meaning, that the house is created not for the owner but for what the owner wants to achieve. Form and style would be purely driven by maximizing a return on the interaction to promote best thought and creativity. Thus, the mission for this type of sentient would be the optimal environment for the best results from humans.

So from design, we move to construction and what would make a client like that be satisfied? I don’t think it would be fancy rare marbles or wood that is recycled into a new form of design. It would be, in my opinion - function. This means the builder would need to verify, with the designer/architect, all aspects of the construction documents and design so that implementation is faithfully followed.

Architectural construction tolerances would also need to be expressed to the sentient owner and verified so that they know what the expectations are and, if not acceptable, find alternatives that would be. Of course, humans would not think to identify a visual ¼ inch off versus what a computer scan would identify. However, precision will become the nomenclature for this type of client and those who want that level of achievement.

From one of my projects, I had a chance to work with an AIA architect named Caroline Porter of Porter Architecture + Design. From her website, she mentions about the concept of machines in her article called “A Machine for Living in Revisited.” What is fascinating about this is her view of Corbusier’s form of human habit to be the inspiration of design work. Instead of looking at the obvious for livable function, consider what is being performed of habit to be like a machine. Hence, our habits are in much the same as a machine in motion by choice. Not how to live, but to be alive with our passion in a standardized way.

Thus, this leads me to think, if I look at ourselves through the eyes of a computer, would I think our pattern of habits be much like theirs but in a different expressed way or would humans be considered negligible because we can change at any moment. Perhaps the potential negligence is the paradox that has allowed us to survive so many changes in our environment and uncertain future. “As humans, we cannot set absolute standards because we are inconsistent.” (however, because of this we always have the ability to improve and aim for high goals)

There is one thing I know for certain, it is only a matter of time before we come to a point in our lives that the perfect client will make choices. Choices that will identify who we are and what we are dealing with. By far, I dare to think “what would a computer want from us?“


by Jon Lee

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Depth and Volume in Architectural Construction

Depth and Volume – in Architectural Construction?


When you look at a basic 3d  image, you will see that volume is created with shadowing by having more than once façade shown while depth is an illusion of space from shadowing, lighting or anything that cues distance in a real picture. Looking at these two concepts – one can only think that such applicable compartment of ideas run in a fashion that we sometimes not think about.

For example, look at this link . It clearly describes the concepts of depth versus volume but  look closely and you will see a common thread of distinction that separates the two if you bring those concepts to a 2 dimensional realm.

Basically, all objects that depict volume seem to roundly fit a vertical line pattern. Volume1 This up and down trait is what I depict as a common thread for volume.




Likewise, looking at  depth somewhat denotes a horizontal factor or a plane. A side to side link.depth1

Now how does this apply to architectural construction? All structures have a beginning. Question is, which part do you think you are starting with? Side to side or up and down? Prime example is a concrete foundation. When you see this form built and poured, you can see that a huge part of it appears side to side as a solid mass with your eyes first moving left to right or right to left ( I rarely see people look front to back). Side to side is depth which means that an illusion is created and thus make many people think the  structure is going to be small. Add the vertical walls and you get the volume feel of being larger than what you first felt from depth.

Architectural construction is critical of these two concepts because when you build structure, you must verify that what was planned is what was intended. If the side to side is overbearing, the volume can be lost and many people wonder why it doesn’t feel like a proper structure even though the square footage is stated. Sometimes, owners will go back and ask, “are you sure this is correct?” Quite often if the question is not asked directly, it is usually inferred by means of looking at the construction documents twice or making a facial expression.

When you get a chance to look at construction, look to see which part of Volume versus Depth you are looking at. One can stand alone from the other to create a certain feel, but it is the mergence of the two that designers must pay close attention to not lose the essence of what they want to achieve.


by Jon Lee

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To Know Design Is To Know Thyself – Custom Architectural Door

In this addition of our monthly write ups, we take you through the construction of a door project.  On the surface, this may seem like a relatively elementary project, but as you will notice, the attention to detail is what makes this “door project” so much more advanced than what most general contractors perform.

One of the things that separate us from general contractors, which many of our clients and architects note us for, is our ability to exceed expectations with architectural construction projects. For example, on one of our construction projects, we took on the task to build a door from scratch. However, this was not an ordinary door but a beautifully designed creation with integrated LED lights and solid wood inserts.  This door ended up being the king of all doors – a door that defined class and elegance while presenting a gateway into the owner’s dream home and vision.


Door comparisonTo create this piece of art, we first carefully examined and studied an Autocad drawing of the door.  Next, we had a structural welder put together a frame for our door with strict guidance and observation. The frame was built to exact measurements given on the Autocad drawings as well as where the welds need to be and how much heat penetration was required for each spot.  This process ensures the specifications are met to perfection.  We then proceed to the next phase which was ordering our parallam beam and having it cut and trimmed to proper specification (parallam beam is structural composite lumber SCL and is difficult to cut and very hard to mill which is why most wood shops will not mill this type of wood).  The beam came to us as one long rough piece so we cut and milled the wood to exact dimension. Our quality control efforts guarantee there are no imperfections.  Normally, most contractors would not attempt this task because of the amount of skill, patience, and strategy required to perform such an act, but Doug and I have excellent skills and expertise to do this and we love it!  These types of challenges are what motivate us.  The science behind what we do is what sets us apart. Door Frame Mill


After we had the wood properly trimmed and cut, we then carefully re-trimmed/shaved the wood pieces ourselves so that insertion of the blocks into the steel door frame would be perfect. This process was a little time consuming because each block of wood was slightly different from the rest.  However, with careful skimming and sanding, all the blocks fit beautifully and were in sync.Door Fram 2

door frame 3







door frame 4

After the door was assembled, we moved the door to the project site. This took some time because the door was extremely heavy. Installing the door was not easy because of all the slight adjustments we had to make as well as being careful for wiring the LEDs.

We used special screws to hold the wood in the door frame and created a channel for the LEDs as well as the special cut glass. Since Doug and I knew the intricacies of the door structure and design, we closely guided the electrician on how, where and what the wires need to be on the door and frame.  Once the wiring was out of the door, then it was easy for the electrician to connect the wire to a hidden transformer.


Door lightsAll in all, the job was exciting and detail oriented.  We submerged ourselves into the project so that we knew every inch of the door and didn’t rely on the word or measurements of someone else.  The project was hard work, but if it was easy, then everyone would be able to do it.  We want our clients and architects toughest project knowing we live for the challenge, and we look forward to the satisfaction we create.




by Jon Lee

The Mariscal Canyon Project




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Architectural Barriers in Residential Construction


Douglas Keating, AIA Associate

© 2012 Structural Environments, L.L.C.


Time brings all things to pass. In this, the ancient Greek playwright, Aeschylus, is correct. So it is true that, as we age, we have the opportunity to experience life’s gifts and tragedies from different vantage points. As a child, I was born into a world that was, at best, blind to people that had disabilities. For the most part, the “healthy masses” lived life that was largely apart from others with special needs. At this point in our American history, disabled persons the architectural landscape was that of barriers that kept many from even attempting to inhabit public spaces unless absolutely necessary. I rarely came into contact with people having a physical disability. At that time in our society, the disabled were simply kept from view. My perception of aging was simply the addition of a few wrinkles and a change in hair color. Even as an older child, the concept of diminished ability was though to be a choice rather than a function of life. I had absolutely no concept of what a physical disability truly was. In the mid?1970’s my grandfather had a near fatal automobile accident that initially left him unable to walk. He never ventured into public until he was able to walk again. My other older relatives had passed away quickly without experiencing any profound disability. By the time my young adulthood arrived, we reached critical mass, a turning point, when people in the United States had nearly doubled their life expectancy since 1900. Extended life expectancy had brought about its own set of challenges that included an ever—increasing population with disabilities living in a world that was incompatible with their existence.


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Dat Lumen Veritatis – Light Gives Truth

Dat Lumen Veritatis – Light Gives Truth

Sometimes at SEV, we are challenged to find a solution that must be both aesthetically pleasing yet purposely functional. One problem we were asked to resolve was a unique one that a homeowner brought to our attention regarding her master bathroom vanity.

mirror left side original

The homeowner resides in an architectural master piece designed by the architect Nick Deaver, AIA ( called The Three Stones House. This house is unique and beautiful in many ways, from our perspective, and to which the feeling is mutual with the homeowner as well.

mirror right side original

She loves her master bathroom vanity area but at night, she found herself needing more light for makeup and facial grooming . We designed, fabricated, and installed simple illuminating light bars that surround 3 sides of the original mirror’s outer edge. mirror right side with light off

This design is purposely efficient in many ways:  first, the narrow (actual O.D. 1″ width with same thickness as backsplash for flush look) elegant (glass facade) light bars are not offensive to the original architectural design of the cabinetry (not become overbearing and a focal distraction when off) ; second, the lights create a better even spread for good visualization; finally, the lights are LED driven so they are energy/heat efficient.

mirror left side with light on

As we installed the bars, we connected them to the original 3 way vanity light switches located next to the sink so everything looks architecturally original and custom. We also designed the lighting bars for future serviceability. Each bar is separate from the other and can be easily repaired or serviced without dismantling the others.

mirror right side with light on


We hope that seeing our simple light bar project will inspire others to think outside the box and really challenge a simple objective “to the next level.” Find inspiration and you will find accomplishment that speaks in and of itself.


by Jon Leemirror left top side with light on

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