Welcome back for another round of #ArchiTalks. ArchiTalks is a blog movement initiated by the architect Bob Borson of Life of An Architect in which Archi-Bloggers around the world huddle together to blog about the same topic. The topic for ArchiTalks #7 is:
Make sure to check out my fellow bloggers using the links at the bottom of this blog.
When I started to think about my 'Crafty' blog, I immediately zero'd in on building craft. I know right? that's not creative at all....whatever!
During the period in which I was brain-storming ideas, I had a discussion with one of my Archi-Buddies about the Ghost Lab. And later that day I had that 'eureka moment' and decided that I would share my experience at the Ghost Lab as my 'crafty' blog. It is at the Ghost Lab that I was first turned on to the importance of detailing and quality building craft.
So what the heck is a Ghost Lab?
To tell you about the Ghost Lab I will need to go back in time a bit. All the way back to the summer of 2006. This was a milestone summer for me. Or perhaps it would best be described as a summer of transition. I had just completed my Masters of Architecture from the University of Maryland and would soon be starting my first real job as an intern architect with Michael Graves and Associates in Princeton, New Jersey. This would officially be my last summer. And my last hoorrah was the Ghost Lab.
"The Ghost Lab began as a critique of architectural education and is based on the apprenticeship model of professional education that has its roots in the medieval trade guild." - Brian MacKay-Lyons
Yeah......What he said.
The Ghost Laboratory was a design-build workshop led by the architect Brian MacKay-Lyons of MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects. The workshop, which takes place among the ruins of a nearly 400 year old Arcadian village on the Nova Scotia coast, is attended by architects, students and professors. The lab consists of a one week design phase and a one week building phase.
In total, there were 13 Ghost Lab workshops. The 13th occurred in 2011 and was a Symposium titled "Ideas in Things." I had the privilege of participating in Ghost 8. At Ghost 8 we were were tasked with designing and building a studio building that would be used for subsequent Ghost Labs.
So who is this Brian MacKay-Lyons fella?
The Chainsaw Architect
We jokingly dubbed Brian the 'Chainsaw Architect' during our stay at Ghost. He seemed to relish the opportunity to make on the fly 'corrections' through the use of a few strategic cuts via his trusty chainsaw. When not wielding a chainsaw, Brian can be found leading the firm MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. The firm's work is regularly published and has garnered over 100 awards. Just recently, Brian MacKay-Lyons received the 2015 RAIC Gold Medal. In addition to his successful practice, Brian is a professor of Dalhousie University.
In short, this guy is a real bad-ass!
During our stay at Ghost, we had the opportunity to visit several houses that Brian had designed. Brian's work is in a category that can be described as 'Modern Vernacular' and the aesthetics of his buildings have been dubbed as 'Plain Modern.'
The hilly coast line of Nova Scotia makes for some amazing views.
"Like many of our other houses, Hill House is primarily a landscape-viewing device." - Brian MacKay-Lyons
"Plainness is no accident in good architecture. You have only to think of the Karnak, the Parthenon, and those marvelous Romanesque abbeys in France." - Alvaro Siza on Portuguese Plain Architecture
Purpose: Design and Build a Studio
Architect Brian MacKay Lyons
Guest Architect David Miller of The Miller Hull Partnership
Guest Architect Bob Benz of Thomas Anderson & Co
Architecture Critic Peter Buchanan
32 students (Ghosties)
The Setting for the Ghost Lab
Kingsberg, Nova Scotia
The setting for the Ghost Lab was a strip of land overlooking the Atlantic Ocean in a place called Kingsberg, Nova Scotia. It is a place of remarkable beauty. The picture above was taken on a hill that overlooks the Ghost campus...or Ghost-Town. The building on the far right is the Studio that we built at Ghost 8. The 4 cabins were built at Ghost 7. The wooden barn in the foreground was built at Ghost 9.. And the wooden tower in the background was from Ghost 6.
Keep in mind that these pictures were taken 9 years ago, probably on a 4MB digital camera. There are no fancy Instagram filters on these. These are the real deal.
I was extremely lucky to have participated in Ghost 8. Because the previous year at Ghost 7, the team built these 4 cabins. Prior to that, everyone stayed in tents for the entire 2 week stay. So these cabins were a big step up. Each cabin housed 8 Ghosties.
The Design Process
The Barn is where all the magic happened. This would be the setting for the 'Design' portion of Ghost. For 3 straight days we packed into the barn and developed the design of the studio. We would literally fill every nook and cranny of this little building.
Although everyone there would participate in the design, it was no doubt a MacKay-Lyons structure. Brian had developed a series of concept sketches for what the studio building would be prior to the workshop. His sketchbook was littered with these beautiful sketches. I remember being extremely envious of his sketching ability back then, and am equally awe-struck now.
The plan can be seen in the sketch above on the right. It was a very simple linear building with one long open space and a small 2nd floor mezzanine.
Our main task for the design portion was to translate Brian's sketches into a set of working drawings that would be used for the construction of the building. The picture below shows the types of drawings that were created. Everything was drawn freehand on graph paper.
While we were building the full size studio building, some of the Ghosties were building a 1/4"=1' scale model of the Studio Building. Or as Derek Zoolander would have called it.... "a studio for ants!"
In previous years, the 2 weeks were equally split between design and build. Ghost 8 was the largest structure at that point so extra time was given to the build portion. We spent about 3 days designing in the studio and 11 building. The concrete foundation walls had been poured prior to our arrival, so step 1 was to build a floor.
Here is one of the ghosties tieing re-bar for one of the concrete shear walls.
A Landscape Viewing Device
Building Craft and the Importance of Details.
"God is in the details." - Ludwig Mies van der Rohe
So I haven't mentioned craft much during this post. My goal is that the pictures would do most of the talking.
This experience instilled in me a great appreciation for building craft and detailing. A majority of the structure was exposed, therefore we took great interest in well crafted joinery and detailing. And when you have to build what you draw, a greater amount of attention and pride goes into every little detail.
Ghost Lab was about the people.
As I look back through all of these photos I realize that the greatest take-away from Ghost 8 was not the exposure to great architecture and famous architects. It was not experiencing the beauty of the Nova Scotia coastline. And it was not the thrill of constructing a building.
It was about the People.
I've gotten a little teary eyed looking back at all of this. 32 students from around the world came to this little town, lived together and managed to design and build a substantial structure. It was pretty remarkable. I think they call that synergy.
We were using some very primitive forms of building technology. Other than the concrete foundations and shear walls, everything on this building was stick built. Which was important since we didn't have any heavy equipment. There were no nail guns on the site or electric screw drivers. Everything had to be light and able to be connected by hand.
Because of these primitive constraints, we all had to be very thoughtful and work together.
By modern standards, the building we created during that 2 weeks was not 'technically' complete. It is what we would call a building shell. After the ghosties went their separate ways, MacKay-Lyons would complete the studio. There are some pretty amazing photos of the finished product on the Ghost 8 website. Please check it out.