Design Matters – Pinewood Derby

Bjella Pinewood Derby 2015 - 2

This was our third year competing in the Cub Scout Pinewood Derby. Once again as expected, Team Bjella came in DEAD LAST. Apparently aerodynamics have some sort of effect on the outcome 😉 .

Even finishing last, we WERE the winners (especially Beck, king of the band saw, with all of his fingers still on the correct hands). Then again, so was every other team who spent time together building a car. You can’t put a price on that. This is one case where “we’re all winners” is actually true.

The derby has changed since its inception so many years ago. Every year the winning car is virtually identical to the past year’s winner. It is a 1/2 inch flat wedge with minimal wind resistance and optimal weight distribution. The wheels and axles are tuned using micrometers and possibly electron microscopes. The contest is an exercise in precision engineering. Gone are the days when kids competed against other kids with fun cars. Now the dads compete against other dads because the kids don’t have the skills, tools or patience to do such precision work themselves.

Beck is now nine. Each year we build a car together, with his contribution growing. This year he built about seventy percent of the car – cutting, drilling painting and gluing (we split the fun 50:50, though). Starting with our very first car, we decided to design and build fun cars, not fast cars, figuring the car will spend far more time displayed on Beck’s shelf than crossing a finish line. It ought to look cool! Neither of us wanted to spend endless, tedious hours tapering axles, calculating friction coefficients and refining performance characteristics (plus we didn’t have the security credentials necessary for access to the top secret derby workshops).

As a fringe benefit, I believe we have raised the bar for the troop. They have come to expect a cool car from Beck and now actively compete to beat his car. This year showed a noticeable effort by the other scouts to make fun cars. I think we have had an impact. Now the pressure is on to come up with a concept for next year!

Bjella Pinewood Derby 2015

Bjella Pinewood Derby 2014

The car above is our second year entry.

Bjella Pinewood Derby 2013

Bjella Pinewood Derby 2013-2

After competing in the Pinewood Derby for the first time (car shown above), I posted the following to Facebook:

It was Beck’s first Cub Scout pinewood derby last week. To my dismay, the first thing we saw upon entering the event was a table overflowing with a hundred trophies. Yep, everyone was going to be a winner! I consoled myself that at least we had finally reached the bottom and could sink no further in our societal goal of cheapening achievement.

But then, lo and behold, the announcer lifted his microphone and said: “Hey everyone, make sure you stop by the big box next to the door, it has leftover trophies from prior years, so if you want a few more just grab them on your way out.” If you thought a trophy couldn’t be worth less than zero, turns out you were wrong.

Explaining to a six-year old the meaning of competition, winning, and more importantly losing, was not as daunting as I had feared. A trophy is meaningless unless it is earned. Beck had fun even though his car came in dead last every heat. He was a little disappointed until he won the “Best Design” award, of which there was, thankfully, only one!

For me, the highlight of the day was when, as we were leaving, he asked, “Daddy, would please carry the trophy I EARNED?”

Sketchbreak – Sacre Coeur, Paris

Europe Sketches_0007a

So, what’s up with all these sketches?

I was cleaning my office a few weeks back, a rather rare event, and my catatonic eyes fell upon the dusty shelves. There, among the binders and tech manuals, sat my sketchbooks, some new, some old, all filled with a lifetime of travels. Then it hit me. Only a handful of people had ever seen these sketches. I had never really shown them to anyone, except Robyn.

You see, the idea of sharing the drawings always felt akin to vacation slideshows people gave back in the day. No one really wanted to sit through them, no matter how interesting the presenter thought they were. So why create sketches at all? Well, for me, sketching is cathartic, almost like meditation. It is also a powerful way to capture a moment in time, to etch it into memory. It doesn’t matter whether it is a work of art or the most simplistic of scribbles, the sketch itself is not the end, but merely the means to the end.

Therein lies the dilemma: Do I dust around the sketchbooks and forbid them the light of day, or do I take them off the shelf and possibly bore you all to tears with an old fashioned, albeit drawn out, social media slideshow.

There it is. If you would like to see more sketches over the coming year, hit the Like button, get yourself a bowl of popcorn and sit back for the show. If not, I’ll probably just toss them…

{originally posted to Facebook}

The Birth of a Home – Yellowstone Club Montana Mountain House

What happens when you get a bunch of architects together for a camping weekend (you know who you are!) and then ask them to collaborate on the design of the perfect mountain home… This is their design sketch and my interpretation of it. The similarities are eerie aren’t they? Thanks to all – especially to the one who drew the cute little heart, obviously marking the kitchen, which we all know is the heart of any home! And, the Yin-Yang. Clearly, without balance (and a few load bearing-walls and maybe some beams) the home would topple over 😉 .

Montana House 2

See more of my work at Arteriors Architecture.

When is a Hotel not a Hotel?

Kamandalu

When it’s the Kamandalu in Ubud, Bali. One of the interesting things about architects (or possibly annoying if you are one of our spouses) is we live and breathe architecture. So much so that we often plan our vacations around buildings we wish to see and places we wish to experience. This is one of those places.

The Kamandalu is built as a small village with individual thatched “huts” instead of typical shoe-box hotel rooms. It’s not kitschy like a Disney environment, but uses indigenous building materials and traditional construction techniques to create an amazing, tranquil landscape. How many hotels feature early morning strolls along misty, meandering paths, shadowed by the occasional monkey?

And, yes, there is a pool if you’re into that kind of thing 😉

Tim & Robyn Bjella, Kamandalu, Bali
Tim & Robyn Bjella, Kamandalu, Bali

The Magically Floating Roof – Modern house Ladue, Missouri

IMG_1028 Adjusted

Notice the roof of this house appears to float above the walls. Aside from the obvious aesthetic appeal, the transparent glass gap between the walls and the roof allow the interior to “seep” outside and the outside to “flow” inside the house. This has the affect of making the interior spaces appear visually larger to the people within because their perception of space is not completely stopped by the walls. They may look over and around the walls. To achieve this, we constructed a steel frame within the home, set back from the exterior walls (much like the core of a skyscraper), that holds up the roof and floors. It also stiffens the home and prevents it from folding like a proverbial house of cards.

See more of my work at Arteriors Architecture.

Sketch Break – Falling Water

Tim Bjella Sketches-Falling Water

This spring I finally made the obligatory architectural pilgrimage to one of the greatest homes ever designed by the master, Frank Lloyd Wright, in Bear Run, Pennsylvania. This extraordinary home, perched above a cascading creek, nestled into the site, must be experienced in person. Pictures simply cannot do it justice. Of course, I tried anyway. Here is my sketch.

Sometimes people think that the sketch itself is the end game. But, in fact, it is the act of sketching that is the reward. The quality of the sketch is mostly irrelevant. Because I spent a few minutes focused and completely aware of my surroundings, almost meditatively, I will forever have the memory etched into my mind of sitting on a boulder below the falls with the breeze whispering through the trees, the birds chirping and swooping around the home and the inexpressible tranquility of the place. You simply cannot get that from taking a quick snapshot.