Modern, if you look at the etymology of the word, means “just now”. ”Now” sits on the shoulders of “before” and looks forward to “then”. If we are as mindful as we can be and are designing for this moment, we cannot help but use many of the materials and techniques of before and still design in a way that will be relevant then. All that said, the essence of modern is something original and new: ”now” is always new, and recycling is better for refuse than for design.
So then, modern is not Eames chairs or board-formed concrete walls or homes with super tight tolerances + no base + giant windows. It is just now. “Now” cannot be completely detached from before or unmindful of “then”, but it must be fresh. It must not be derivative. It must solve for our needs and for then more efficiently than before or it is no design work at all.
Just as modern rock station that largely play songs from the 1990s are missing it, modern construction projects that are copying the cutting edge of mid-century (last century) are missing it. Let’s do some new stuff. Classics are classic because they are great, but if you want to do new, let’s do new.
Element7concrete does not pour much concrete. We etch, grind, polish, stain, and seal 100,000s of square foot every year, but we are not placement guys. I hired what I thought was a skilled and knowledgable craftsman to quarterback the project and abdicated more than I delegated. I ended up with a pretty crappy pour. Luckily, element7concrete is in the business of taking ugly slabs of concrete and polishing, overlaying and cutting them to look amazing. We have started “behind the eight ball” enough times to not be discouraged by the poorness of the initial casting. We do not recommend this path, though. For goodness sake, do it right the first time.
Materials are neatly stacked against the walls. The whole point of our use of containers is discreet, separate spaces for different operations
The ISO doors have been cut off, the trim plates have been installed, the deck is started, but most of our energy and time has been directed towards the systems that these are built to support. Form always ought to follow function, and here’s where we are right now. More later if anyone cares.
This week we started working out of the new location. It’s not close to being done, but it was done enough, and it’s easier to iterate when you are using the space. We can imagine driving, but we can’t actually steer a parked car. We are driving this thing 100mph this week.
Yesterday was the last full day before our Shop Manager moved on. He was extraordinary. Too good: Great systems get built around good people, not great people. Great people work well with or without systems, so the weakness of the system they are in never show up.
So, in addition to finishing this building and an unusually heavy week, I am interviewing for a new shop manager. I am reminded that good talkers are usually bad doers, probably because they get a lot of practice explaining away their badly done work. I read “On Writing Well”, “Elements of Style”, etc. and I hope I’m getting better at communicating. But I will always rather talk through my work. It’s 5:25 already; I need to cut this short and go polish some concrete. Thanks for reading.
Most commercial spaces are big new boxes through which millions of little boxes will pass through. This facility at 7223 W. FM 1431 is made of old boxes, artfully stacked, sheltered and clad. From it artisans will deploy from to make great things that cannot be boxed.
Our ethos is great design with abundant materials. For element7concrete, this building is not expanding as much as creating better shapes for us to work out of, and doing it in a manner that could be efficiently re-created in other markets. Renting 3500sf of shop space and a cool 700sf gallery downtown works in Marble Falls in 2006-2013, but is likely too expensive in other markets The finished facility will be around 5000sf under roof, but only 1640sf conditioned. It will be finished, staffed and open to the public by the end of March, 2014.
The ISO doors on the back of shipping containers are no fun to open. Roll up doors from BuiltRiteIndustries.com make life much nicer by reducing the effort to open up the back of our service pods to a two-finger-deal. When our friends from Anderson Welding make it back to fab up the upper deck pan, we will finish the install: cut off the ISO doors, remove the cam locks on the top, and install the trim piece that covers area between the header and the top of the container. We learned earlier that plasma cutters are worth waiting for.
Yesterday was a rugged day to place concrete. It didn’t drop below freezing, and won’t for a while here, so it wasn’t a bad day to cast concrete. But, it was cold. 21 hours after the first truck arrived, the finishing was “done”. The crew that placed it was not ACI certified, and many best-practices were missed. I’m not proud of that, but I am fairly sure that constraints breed art and sometimes starting imperfectly is a better tack to cool. Then again, that is colored by the Bob Dylan in my ear right now. Anyway, we are pushing to complete this when it is hardest to do that because we are certain it will precipitate a better season of creativity. Removing friction often requires grinding and re-tooling, but is always worth the effort. The take away for you, reader is that where the waves are highest, is where the answers may be found. Work hardest when it is hardest. Live well. Thank you.
We finally have a great concept for the office pod. It was birthed out of a return to what makes our business special. Element7concrete creates revenue by making the worlds most durable + aesthetically timeless floors, but that is the tip of the iceberg. The 90% below the surface is that we are a training company. We hire the brightest, hardest working people we can find, and then invest $1,000s in training them in the best methods we have found.
This process can push people either way, though. If your boss does all the thinking, and you are expcted to just do the written procedure to spec, it is dehumanizing. Sadly, this is an easy pattern to fall into, and artisans can be quick to resist written procedures. The idea that our art was created systematically may seem unromantic. However, this is not the reality.
The reality is our techniques come from and are evolved by the front lines. Our artisans not only learn to make awesome things, they help create the machine that teaches others to make awesome things. This is why this project is named “Paving Forward”. The building is a physical representation of part of this, and needs to be iterated to really be tailored. By the Grace of God we are getting there
My friend Steve Reitz once told me about a concept called the Flower Box Effect. It’s one way neighborhoods get better. It goes like this: A neighborhood starts to look run down. One person gets tired of things looking crappy, so they clean up there yard and add a flower box. Another person notices the new look, asks about it, and finds that a flower box only costs $20, and the yard looks great. So they get a flower box. This spreads, and next thing you know, as you drive through the ‘hood, it doesn’t look so “hood”. The dozens of people who bought flower boxes have started to notice their surroundings more and are mowing more often, washing their windows more, and just generally keeping things neater.
When I started this project I prayed for a flower box effect. I’m not claiming responsibility, but I’m happy to report the property next door was recently bought by Aurelio Lopez of Novus Group and as I my team is forming up the back driveway, he is cleaning up the lot next door in a big way. We are so thankful to have a chance to make this place better. Thank you for reading.