Author Archives: pratikzaveri

The Tafoni Floating Home Concept


San-Francisco-based designer Joanna Borek-Clement’s Tafoni Floating Home concept is intended to “change the attitude towards living on a houseboat and promote a lifestyle that limits disruption of the environment.” Named for a type of naturally-occurring sandstone sculpture that exists in Northern California, the Tafoni is a compact but airy-feeling structure designed for minimal impact, unbeatable views and a largely wall-free interior construction.


Hit the jump for details.

Tafoni Floating Home Project Narrative:

Promoting a New Attitude in Residential Design and Living

The primary goal of this conceptual project is to change the attitude towards living on a houseboat and promote a lifestyle that limits disruption of the environment. Tafoni is spacious, yet compact. Typical houseboats have low ceilings and often feel cramped, which can detract from comfort many residents desire of their homes. In contrast, even though Tafoni has a relatively small floor plate, it is spacious because of the high ceiling and the minimal amount of full-height interior partitions. The partial-height sculptural walls divide the space visually and increase the interaction between people without limiting views. Tafoni is a multi-purpose living pavilion that serves as a permanent house, a weekend retreat, a relaxing summer destination or a place to entertain friends and hold business parties. In the current era of overpopulation and decreasing greenfields, building houseboats is a solution we should consider.

The exemplary location of this project is the houseboat district in Sausalito, California, which features the beautiful views of San Francisco Bay overlooking neighboring Tiburon. This area serves as a permanent residence for many and is an example of peaceful coexistence between humans and nature. Every respectful and creative design, both modern and traditional, is accepted here; the residents pride themselves in the diversity of this floating enclave, which inspires everyone who comes to visit. Living close to unspoiled nature means being surrounded by beauty that enriches life in a way that apartments and on-land houses do not. Floating homes respond to low and high tide and more intimately connect with the environment than suburban houses with manicured backyards. Tafoni helps one discover the possibilities available with realizing that a living space can be very different than the one we grew up in and are used to.

Sustainable Features and Environmental Design Goals

The substantial damage to the environment in traditional on-land construction happens immediately at the start of the project; plants must be removed from greenfields that, in turn, impacts the natural nesting habitat of wildlife. In urban sites the construction debris associated with demolition and remodel of an existing building typically adds to the global refuse problem. Houseboats, as opposed to traditional homes, have no foundations that permanently impact the land. They can be moved from one dock to another to allow the shaded land underneath them to recover. Houseboats can be disassembled and transported to another location in a different city. The environmental goal of this project is to give Tafoni owners the flexibility and options that are invaluable in an environmentally conscious lifestyle.

Local Inspiration from the California Coast

The natural flora and fauna of the California coast provided inspirations for the project. First among them is a tafoni rock formation.


Tafoni are beautiful naturally occurring sculptures of stone, commonly sandstones. These extraordinary rock formations are hypothesized to be results of salt weathering. It is a unique phenomenon that is common along the Northern California shore in such locations as Salt Point State Park in Sonoma County. Their diversity and simple geometric beauty is astounding, shaping the design of the houseboat.

Pebble & Wave

Other important inspirations are the simplicity of coastal pebbles and the beauty of ocean waves. The furniture and casework in the Tafoni project are entirely inspired by smooth, oval-like pebbles polished by the water. Also, the sleeping area features an ocean wave wrapping around the bed formed by the additional curved interior wall separating the bedroom from the bathroom area. The floor pattern references the linear graphics found on California coastal pebbles.

Circulation & Space

The basic spatial concept is simple and minimal; in plan view the sculptural tafoni-inspired exterior and interior feature walls divide the space into three major parts: kitchen, living area and bedroom/ bathroom/closet area.

The middle part consists of a fully glazed sunroom that contains the kitchen, dining area and the main entrance to the boat.

The front part of the houseboat is occupied by a living room and the back part contains a bedroom. Both of these areas feature views of the Bay framed by tafoni-shaped windows. There are no full-height interior walls with the exception of the bathroom and walk-in closet.

Sustainable Structure

The house

The framing of the houseboat consists of the modular repetitive ellipsoidal wooden trusses that can be mass-produced to conserve resources and energy. The ellipsoidal shape of these structural elements allows for a large spanning capacity, thus eliminating the need for additional walls and columns that would cram the space inside affecting the quality of the interior space.

Floating pontoon

The floating pontoon for this houseboat can be made out of variety of materials, including fiberglass or concrete, depending on a specific location of the houseboat. In the exemplary location in Sausalito, the preferred option is a prefabricated concrete pontoon that has a high strength, durability and carrying capacity while requiring little maintenance. One of the characteristics of the San Francisco Bay is a constant change in the water level caused by high and low tide. The pontoon needs to have a sturdy structure and an ability to take the ground. Concrete is a durable and inexpensive construction material utilizing aggregate that can be harvested locally additionally contributing to the sustainability of this project.

Joanna Borek-Clement – Designer’s Profile:

Joanna Borek-Clement, LEED AP, is a designer in San Francisco, California. Her conceptual research focuses on redefining sustainable ideas through the multi-disciplinary languages of architecture, urban design, jewelry and digital graphics. Combining a variety of design disciplines, which includes being a contributing writer for eVolo Architecture & Design Magazine, developing theoretical projects with practicing architecture at DGA Planning | Architecture | Interiors gives her a solid base for a multifaceted design approach.

Joanna continues to receive public recognition for her Sky-Terra project, published in multiple countries in the North America, Asia and Europe. Sky-Terra is also awaiting upcoming publication in the book ‘Future Design’ by DAAB, Germany, in Spring 2010. Joanna received a Merit Award in International Gillette Landmark Design Competition organized by P&G/Gillette, South Boston in January 2009 for her Gillette Sustainable Sculpture Park Project.

Joanna is currently employed as a designer in DGA Planning | Architecture | Interiors where she has worked since 2006. She was educated in Krakow, Poland where she graduated with a Masters Degree in Architecture and Urban Planning from Krakow University of Technology, the only architecture program in Poland officially accredited by the Royal Institute of British Architects. She is currently pursuing her foreign degree evaluation with EESA-NAAB and IDP accreditation with NCARB. During her fourth year of college she was awarded a scholarship to participate in a semester long exchange program with the College of Architecture and Design at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.


I have seen the future and I am opposed: Donald Norman

Donald Norman:

I fear the future of our technologies, but not for the usual reasons. For me, the future would bring forth solutions to our needs and wants, design that provides value in a sustainable and responsible manner. Technology that is relevant and appropriate. But what I see developing seems driven by greed and profit, resulting in restrictive business plans and attempts to enforce proprietary constraints on activity by corporate empires.

The power of my electronic computing and communication equipment is more dictated by my service provider than by the technology itself. Imagine traveling in the future and entering a new country:


Please have your papers ready. Passport, visa, customs form, medical coverage, service provider roaming agreement.


I wrote the first draft of this column from Madeira where I was attending a conference. I couldn’t get on to the Internet because, irony of ironies, this was a technology conference: the 300 attendees had so overwhelmed the hotel’s meager Internet that it became useless. Three hundred attendees probably meant 500 -800 IP devices, counting laptop computers, phones and all the demonstration machines, often requiring multiple IP addresses.

Why not use our smartphones? We dared not. Exorbitant roaming fees imposed by the service providers struck fear into the hearts (and bank accounts) of foreign attendees. Without access to data, what was left for my smartphone to do? Almost nothing. Smart phone became stupid phone. Without a network connection, the most useful technology available in the phone was the backlit screen which meant that my smartphone was reduced to a flashlight.

I can no longer function by myself. When my smartphone becomes stupid, I too become stupid. Just as I am reliant on technology and the skills of others to clothe, house and feed me, I am reliant on my technology for my intelligence. My phone translates foreign languages, provides maps and directions, recommends restaurants and tells me the news of the day. It lets me communicate with friends around the world and in general, allows me to function. All my knowledge depends upon access to communication services: my email, my calendar, my maps and guidebooks. But all of this is at the mercy of the service provider.

Exorbitant roaming fees and a lack of adequate technological infrastructure reduce me to idiocy. My smartphone doesn’t work when I need it most — when I am in a foreign country. Why? Because of the roaming charges and greed of my service provider and the difficulty of purchasing a temporary subscription to data services when in a foreign land.

My intelligence is in the cloud. My life is in the cloud. My friends, photographs, ideas and mail. My life. My mind. Take away my cloud and I am left mindless.

Notice that my isolation is only partially the result of technological limitations. The hotel’s lack of Internet access could be overcome. They had never experienced a technology conference before so they assumed that only a portion of the attendees would be connected to the Internet, and they would primarily do email. Instead, they got a taste of the future world where everyone has multiple devices requiring Internet connection, all wanting a full experience of rich sound and images. That problem, however, is easily remedied.

The much more fundamental problem is caused by the business models of the service providers, whether they be for radio or television, cable or satellite, telephone or mobile phone. Each of these providers wish to maximize their profit while simultaneously minimizing that of their competition. They try to enforce proprietary standards, locking people into their own distribution: Think proprietary digital rights management systems for music, movies and books, think locked cellular phones, think region codes on movie DVDs, think overly restrictive copyrights on content and over-inclusive patents on inventions and ideas. Each system has some basis in logic and business, each has some legitimate reason for existence. But these systems are implemented and enforced in ways that restrict them far beyond what is necessary — even to the point of reducing creativity and hurting individuals.

More and more of our open, universal networks are becoming locked down, available only from within the walls erected by corporate interests. This is how a number of our early communication services started: they were walled gardens with all news, entertainment and information locked away inside, accessible only to members. This is the model being followed in today’s television world of cable and satellite delivery — it threatens to be the model of all service and content providers.

Years ago, when I was at Apple, senior executives from a number of computer companies met to try to agree on some open standards so that programs and systems written for one computer system would work on all systems. The Microsoft representative simply laughed at us. There already is a standard, he told the rest of us, and our problems would all be solved if we simply followed the standard. What standard? Microsoft, of course. His view was instantly rejected by the executives at Sun Microsystems, IBM and Apple (me), but it wasn’t long before his view came to dominate the business. Sun no longer exists, IBM is no longer in the personal computer business and what is the most popular suite of programs for the Apple computer? Microsoft Office, of course. I write this column in Microsoft Word even though it is running on an Apple machine. That is the goal of every technology company: a domination so complete that their systems are the worldwide standard.

The basic rule of business for any new technology is that all the followers want open standards; the leader sees no need for them. Yes, Linux tries valiantly to exist as an open system for personal and business computers, available to all, but the world depends upon the offerings of the few major players, especially the applications provided by Microsoft Office. Linux simply cannot compete.

But what about the Internet, an open system, with open standards where any browser has instant access to all of its delights? Isn’t this the wave of the future? Yes, but this future is in danger of becoming one of walled gardens, where different services are contained within the bounds of subscriptions. Want one group of television shows? Join this garden. Want another? Join that garden. Want news articles, there is yet another garden to join. Want to buy a book or magazine for your electronic reader? You might have to match the item to the reader, the service provider and perhaps even the device. Different items will be sold through different distributors and not all will work on your particular brand of reader. We will all have to purchase multiple brands of readers.

Are tablets and smartphones the future means of accessing Internet services? Perhaps, but each software infrastructure provider and each service provider may impose their restrictions on what will work on their particular tablet. The power of the tablets and phones lie in the applications that run on them, and those are likely to be tightly controlled. Even where they are not controlled, the different operating systems and closed standards for these devices means that a book, game, or application publisher has to develop multiple applications of a single product, one for each different platform, a requirement that the small, independent providers will be unable to meet.

The supposed freedom of the Internet works only if one can gain access. Browsers promise to allow access to the world of Internet sites, but only if the browser will work on the device, and only if the device will allow the media tools that provide the rich textual, graphics, photographic, musical and video formats to operate. Service providers will impose their own tariffs and restrictions. Will communication applications work properly, or will they, too, be restricted by the combined forces of the device manufacturers and the service providers? Current trends are not reassuring.

Tim Wu’s book The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires, demonstrates how this process works. Wu’s major theme is the inevitability of proprietary controls as large corporations discover the market value of exclusivity. All of our modern communication and transportation industries started off in similar ways — whether telephone or film, radio or television, video or websites, Internet conferencing or blogging. At the outset, technologies are deployed to anyone who can be both providers and recipients of the powers of the medium. For example, the first phonographs could both record and play back. Telephone systems proliferated, run by cities or small companies. Radio amateurs and university groups freely developed radio stations. On YouTube, people can both produce and view streaming video. Amateurs and innovative inventors expanded the horizons. Then, as the business potential became obvious to corporate warlords, they struck, buying up small businesses, getting willing governments to enact rules, regulations and laws to protect corporate interests and turning the experimental two-way publications into one-way broadcasts within closed walls. The stories are remarkably similar whether one talks about the phonograph or movies, the telephone or radio, television or newspapers, music or book publishing. (For more, see Wu’s interview with the New York Times.)

Why do we all meekly allow the speed at which we access the Internet to be much slower when we send than when we receive? Service providers will claim it is because, on average, people receive more than they generate. So what? Why would it harm companies to provide equal access? Or perhaps, is it because they want us to be consumers, consuming material sent to us rather than producers, creating our own content — whether text, voice or visual? This asymmetry reinforces the view of the service and content providers; that we consume whatever they produce. All this in the face of great creativity by amateur musicians, photographers and videographers: Where would YouTube be without the everyday creator? Oops, that might be a good question but it might be too late. Where will YouTube be in the future when corporations decide to dominate?

I fear the Internet is doomed to fail, to be replaced by tightly controlled gardens of exclusivity. The Internet has extended beyond the capabilities of its origins: the trusting, open interactions among a few research universities. Today it is too easy for unknown entities to penetrate into private homes and businesses, stealing identities and corporate secrets. Fear of damaging programs and the ever-increasing amount of spam (some just annoying but more and more deadly and malicious), threatens the infrastructure. And so, just as previous corporate warlords used the existence of real inefficiencies and deficiencies in other media to gain control, equipment, service and content providers, large corporations will try to use the deficiencies of the Internet to exert control and exclusivity. All the better, they will claim, to provide safe, secure and harmonious operation, while incidentally enhancing profits and reducing competition. Similar arguments will apply to governments as well, invoking the fears of the existing Internet in order to exert control for the benefit of the existing ruling parties.

I have seen the future, and if it turns out the way it is headed, I am opposed. I fear our free and continual access to information and services is doomed to be replaced by tightly controlled gardens of exclusivity. It is time to rethink the present, for it determines the future.

Super Shipping Container House


Industrial designer Debbie Glassberg has got, hands down, the most stylish shipping container house we’ve seen yet. Erected in Kansas City, Missouri, the five-container house was designed by Glassberg and an unnamed partner. It encompasses 2,600 square feet kept toasty by geothermal heating and is decked out with design touches throughout, as seen in this extensive slideshow, which also features construction shots.

Here’s a video on the house shot by a local news crew:

Glassberg considers the house a prototype and is aiming to create future versions for $125 per square foot.

For those with a particular interest in shipping container construction, check out Dekalb Market’s “Not Just a Container” competition: it’s down to the wire for submissions, which is just two days away, but an expert panel will select the five top finalists by April 19th, at which point the public will have the chance to vote on the winner through the end of the month.

Space Migration and Designing our Future Habitat


This post is part of our year-long series, Apocalypse 2012, where our favorite futurists, resiliency and disaster experts examine the role of design to help you prepare for…the end?

If you asked me what the two most important design tasks at hand for humanity is right now it would be:

1. Preserving human habitat
2. Creating new habitats for humans

The response I often get to these mandates is that the two are mutually exclusive; that if we preserve our habitat, planet Earth, we don’t need to find a new planet. Some might argue that searching for new planets advances unsustainable technologies while simultaneously promoting fatalism with regards to our environment. In other words, the first proposal is proper tree-hugging and the second is dirty, quasi-steampunk.

I believe nothing could be further from the truth. It is an astronomical fact that planet Earth, in the long run, is doomed regardless of how well we handle the present greenhouse effect and related environmental challenges. Secondly, finding alternative habitats will not be feasible if we don’t overcome present environmental challenges. Thirdly, the knowledge needed to terraform planets and to geo-engineer earth is the same.

I do think that we need to take our environment in general—our water and energy supply and global warming specifically—far more seriously than we do. I also don’t think that spacefaring plans should diminish our current obligations to the Earth’s environment. Within design and innovation we are already exploring the next frontier: innovation that breaks away from resource-dependence, where growth is uncoupled from consumption and product life cycles are prolonged.

Spacefaring is tougher to deal with because it seems remote; both physically and in terms of relevance and time. So the stickiest criticism is: “Why invest is space migration now?”

Earth isn’t about to go under and we’ve got our hands full with other eminent and important stuff: A global financial crisis, epidemiologic disasters and natural catastrophes. Well, that might true and there is no clear way of determining the exact right time—I would however still claim that now is the moment to seize:

We are facing a great risk if we choose to postpone a mission for interplanetary exploration. The longer we wait the higher our risk: Earth is the only habitat we have. The probability of something going absolutely bonkers—life being wiped out by an asteroid, giant volcanoes, planetary disaster—is very low. But the risk we incur is immense. The later we start hedging the more expensive a plan B will be.

In 1961, John F. Kennedy announced the goal of sending an American to the Moon before the end of the decade. Such an outlandish goal was aspirational for innovators all over the globe: The United States decided on an ambitious target and, with a strong vision, set out to reach it. Putting a man on the Moon is celebrated as an isolated event today. Kennedy had guts—what responsible politician would declare a 10-year goal today? In retrospect, Kennedy’s goal was perhaps too nearsighted. Space experts argue that by focusing all American expertise on one symbolic goal, the big picture got lost. More advanced means of propulsion could have been developed to enable us to colonize remote corners of space, and crucial geo-engineering experiments could have been conducted.

Although the West “won” the space race, winning such battles don’t matter in the long run. Winning the war, the survival of our species does. The American hegemony will soon be over. Although I don’t foresee the demise of the United States tomorrow, the world’s number one hard power and world’s foremost space faring nation is in decline and already signs of fatigue are showing with respect to long term expenses. It has yet to be seen if cosmonauts or taikonauts or any other nation’s space programs are ready to take up the mantle. And although I am all for private space ventures, the type of investments needed to terraform Mars or bring humans to habitable exoplanets are out of their league. This is a venture bound to take half a millennium or so. We need to get started while we know we have the ability, the will and the funding.

I understand that one of the frustrating parts of this search for new habitats is the feeling that there is even less you, as a designer, can do about it than if you wanted to reverse the greenhouse effect. It is remote and sort of intangible.

One example of someone who is doing something about it is my friend, architect Kristian von Bengtson. He is a boutique example of a citizen starting a private and autonomous space project. Why would a private citizen invest time and money into space exploration? As he explains:

Before the age of robots and machines, humans were key participants in any exploration. From Marco Polo to present cave divers, the human presence is seen as the approval of a discovery. Human involvement in exploration enables sharing the story of the exploration with the whole world, not only objectively, but perhaps more importantly, subjectively. “Being there” as humans is important. But since the development of robots we have created augmented senses and presence which is considered just as good these days. The question is, can one argue that humans have been on Mars through the use of rovers and landers? There is a big difference between exploration using robots and humans. When NASA landed rovers Spirit and Opportunity on Mars they lasted 100 times longer than anticipated. It was a major achievement. Compared with humans, rovers are relatively easy to ship to Mars—machines do not require food and safety. But the two rovers lasting for many years on Mars were estimated to have performed exploration work comparable to one human presence on Mars for only two weeks. Robots do not sense what is important nor do they think rationally or independently. Humans are required in any serious exploration if we want to go somewhere seriously with in this matter.In the development phases of human spaceflight, corporations have always turned towards engineers. However, engineers may have a hard time dealing with factors which cannot be added into equations because of irrational behavior in human nature, human needs and “functionality.” Architects, designers, psychologists and anthropologists are widely used and much required to make it all happen. The integration of machine, mission and humans is a task for these professions to solve. It has been done for many decades with much success and future human exploration calls for more participation from these professions.


Besides autonomous space projects, a few other things that could be done:


    • Outsourcing some non-core projects to private companies.


    • Revamp national and international projects with a clear goal to bring the human species into space.


    • Change international space law to be in favor of “messing” with space. Right now space law is in favor of conservationism.


    • Reinforce and communicate the link between environmentalism and spacefaring—between terraforming and geo-engineering, preserving our habitat, Earth and finding new ones.



In the past, the United States has thrown down the gauntlet of greening the globe and the rest of the world has picked it up. Who will be there to seize the mandate of space migration now?

Architecture for Recovery: IDEO and Michael Graves Design a Home for Disabled Military Veterans

IDEO_WW_Kitchen.pngFlexible kitchen design in the Wounded Warrior home. All images and video courtesy of IDEO

In less than a month, the last American troops stationed in Iraq are set to return home. As the United States prepares to celebrate the close of a painfully fraught era of politics and war, veterans and their families face the beginning of their next great challenge: returning home and acclimating to a peacetime “normalcy.” Oftentimes, United States’ military men and women carry the physical and emotional wounds of their service home with them, “find[ing] workarounds to cope with their surroundings based on individual capabilities and preferences.” Today, IDEO and Michael Graves Associates see their work come alive as the U.S. Army Fort Belvoir and Clark Realty Capital unveil a new model for building accessible homes on military installations: the Wounded Warrior home.

The Wounded Warrior project is a collaboration with the Virginia-based real estate firm Clark Realty Capital and supported by a Department of Defense initiative to develop privatized housing for service members. Using IDEO’s human-centered design process, the team interviewed and observed 10 civilians and 20 injured soldiers, “meeting with their loved ones, and getting feedback from nearly two dozen experts. [IDEO] asked questions that shed light on how active duty service members resume civilian life after debilitating injuries, what could make their experience more dignified and healthy, and what might reconnect them with family, close friends, and the world.” IDEO also immersed itself in the recovery and therapy process for disabled veterans and consulted with dozens of medical experts and advocacy groups.


Through their process, the team quickly realized that there was no one Wounded Warrior, but instead, their work would need to accommodate a wide range of interactions and needs of disabled service men and women. IDEO identified seven dualities from their research:

    • Well-Defined, Undefined Spaces: A home is never set in stone. In a household, roles shift, preferences change and most important, physical and mental impairments dictate an evolving set of challenges. This demands a flexible design that allow for both defined and undefined space. People wish to be the architect of their own home. Open-ended space gives them square feet to imagine an optimism and future they shape themselves.


    • Mobile Roots: It’s difficult to sink down roots when they’re yanked up every few years. The constant flux of transient military life places extra demands on a family. People don’t want to feel they’re just passing through, short timers, skipping from base to base. They want home to feel like they’ve finally arrived at their destination. The dynamic of mobility and deep roots often decides a big chunk of happiness.


    • Inside Out, Outside In: Poets, explorers, and rehab therapists all know the immense healing powers of nature. It’s a tremendous gift for anyone suffering wounds, physical or mental. The outside world or even back patio is a deep-breath metaphor for freedom. Nature is force of nurture. This duality is about bringing the outside experience inside the home—and equally important, making sure the journey outside is short, effortless, and joyful.


    • Visible & Invisible Security: Trauma, post combat stress, reduced mobility—these are issues that make it hard to feel safe and secure. People want the protection of their hidden cocoon but also a total 360 degree visual awareness of their surroundings. It’s about providing security through concealment and reduced exposure—yet also creating security through visibility, instant communication, and control of their environment.


    • Social Privacy: Sometimes people view their home as a sanctuary, a retreat, a place of privacy and introspection. Other times, people see their home as a gateway to the outside world—to social and cultural connections that both determine well-being. A home must be a restful oasis and a place for raucous good times—both equally therapeutic.


    • Uniquely Normal: Here are two distinct and contrary requirements: the desire to live a normal life despite significant physical and often mental wounds. Normal in the just like everybody-else sense. No special treatment whatsoever. But second, the obvious need for specific accommodations that dramatically improve quality of life. In the home, the goal is to strike that balance: a wheel chair-friendly dream home, but one that appears ordinary, nothing more than plain wonderful normal life.


    • Old Self, New Self: Healing is a long and winding road. The early stages are about repairing the damage, rebuilding what was lost. Over time, the unique determination of Wounded Warriors drive them toward self-improvement and transformation. The human beauty is that great loss also inspires tremendous new gain. This calls for an architecture that encourages that recovery, no matter where or how far that journey takes them



IDEO_WW_Living_Day.pngVisible and Invisible Security in private nooks in a Uniquely Normal Living Room.

Today’s unveiling of the Wounded Warrior model home represents an innovative and flexible approach to addressing the needs of not only disabled military veterans, but a wide-ranging group of people facing physical disabilities. Clark Realty partnered with architect Michael Graves to build the first homes—Graves brought his personal insights to the project. Graves has suffered from lower-body paralysis that has confined him to a wheelchair for nearly a decade, and through this experience, he has gained significant expertise into how people live and work, whether mobility challenged or not. We’re excited to see which concepts Graves took from IDEO’s work and how the build will be realized today in Fort Belvoir.

Core77 had the opportunity to sit down with Altay Sendil, IDEO designer and project lead for the Wounded Warrior house to learn more about the process and learnings from this unique project:

Core77: What is the Wounded Warrior Home Project and how did it come about?

Altay Sendil: The Wounded Warrior Home Project is a new model for accessible homes on military bases. Led by Clark Realty Capital, and together with Michael Graves of Michael Graves and Associates, we designed homes for service members returning to active duty after being injured. The first two, which will serve as models for future homes, will be unveiled [today], November 30th, at Fort Belvoir, Virginia.

The project is a result of a nationwide challenge: U.S. service members injured in the field must find workarounds and ways to adapt when they return home. These Wounded Warriors have varied physical and psychological needs that aren’t always addressed in their living environments, even if they comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines. Clark Realty Capital wanted to rethink accessible homes and design beyond these conventional accessibility codes to better support the evolving needs of Wounded Warrior families, and they asked IDEO to help them dig deep into who they were designing for, then help design universally inclusive spaces that anyone would want to live in, physically disabled or not. After our work was completed Graves was brought in to work with the development and construction teams finishing the design and building of the homes.

We were so impressed with Clark’s relentless pursuit to put the Wounded Warrior and their needs first in every step of this process. They were a great match for our human-centered design approach to the challenge of designing homes that are functional, accessible, and desirable for anyone.

What were some of the insights you discovered about the lives of disabled veterans and how did you design the homes to improve their lives?
We set out to truly understand the experiences of civilian families and service members that were living with a variety of injuries. These span physical, emotional and cognitive challenges that include burns, vision loss or impairment, single or multiple amputations, PTSD, Traumatic Brain Injury, and memory loss. We immersed ourselves in the recovery and therapy process and the unique implications of military family life to find design opportunities. We worked with dozens of industry experts, including researchers from the University of Pittsburgh and advocates from the Army Wounded Warrior Program (AW2).

Because of the wide array of family dynamics, personalities and preferences amongst families that would be living in the homes, and the frequent turnover of military family life deployment, it became evident that what we designed would have to accommodate a wide range of interactions and needs. We discovered there is no one Wounded Warrior; no one collective or common experience. Instead, we found that there exists a series of dualities.

There is definitely a diverse range of disabilities—how do the homes allow for universal accessibility? Do the homes help with psychology recovery as well as physical?

We aimed to design homes that would be desirable for anyone, physically disabled or not. A great example of this is in one of the dualities we identified, “Inside Out, Outside In.” It describes the important roll of nature and the outdoors in the therapy process. This is reflected in the therapy gardens, the perimeter walkways, private terraces and prominent windows throughout. The natural outdoor elements that act as positive catalysts regardless of whether one is disabled or not, can be perceived from within the home, and easily accessed from within the home as well. Seeing the outdoors, experiencing the outdoors, and the powerful metaphorical significance of autonomously accessing the outdoors are all moments we wanted the space to enable for any of its potential residents.

Another duality, “Social Privacy” describes how people view their home as a sanctuary, but also want to see their space as a place that provides opportunities to interact with the outside world via media and face-to-face conversations. We expressed this through private therapy rooms with flat panel displays and hi-res digital cameras that allow people to toggle from social connections, remote therapy consultations, or sealed-off moments of privacy and reflection. On the other hand, large open indoor and outdoor spaces enable opportunities to entertain.

IDEO_WW_Adaptable_Office.png(above) Inside Out, Outside In duality as displayed in a patio mockup. (below) Social Privacy in an adaptable office suite.

How did the veterans’ personalities and their experiences at war influence the design process?

One of the interesting patterns we started to recognize across different Wounded Warriors was the positivity, drive and determination that each of them embodied. Healing is a long and challenging road, and the early stages are about repairing the damage, rebuilding what was lost and recalibrating their new normal. Wounded Warriors evolve beyond this space quickly toward self-improvement and transformation. They understand their new limitations in the larger context of the fast-paced world outside of their home, that doesn’t necessarily accommodate their unique needs.

The appropriate role of the home as a supportive environment should be subtle, and not overt. For example, for vision-impaired service members, the high-contrast designating different surfaces and spaces become an implicit way-finding reference. Though wounded warriors may appreciate the extra support, they are determined to live as normal a life as possible, so they quickly adapt from, “how do I survive,” to “how do I thrive?” Their desire for their home to aesthetically “fit” the rest of their community is intentional. A variety of adjustable height work surfaces, appliances and cabinetry allow them to personalize a space like a kitchen with as many of the “normal” conventions and challenges per their preference.

Many veterans are coming home to a nation they don’t recognize and one that doesn’t understand them. How can designers design products and services that have a positive impact on the lives of veterans?

An interesting thing about designing for the needs of veterans is that it’s not political—it’s not a red vs. blue judgment, it’s not about whether you’re for or against war. When service members share their stories, and we can acknowledge what they’ve given, we can better understand their needs as citizens, as families and as real people. We can more closely empathize with these shared dimensions to our lives. When we can connect over these similar goals and aspirations, and see them in the larger context of their specific duties (and often accompanying sacrifices), each of us should feel a larger drive to create a positive impact for them.

No one wants to be a burden or an afterthought, and these men and women deserve to be considered in the experiences we design. It’s not about sympathy and feeling sorry, it’s about empathy and wanting to enable a positive difference. If a designer can respect and appreciate whom they are designing for, there will be an intentional level of dignity and integrity that is delivered in a designed experience. This human-centered design that’s grounded in empathy inherently has the opportunity to benefit all of us.


A Secret and Illegal Design Build: The Hemloft Treehouse


You go into design because you want to create things, and you go into industrial design to create things that will be mass-produced. And mass production, by definition, involves factories and marketing people and finance guys and sales forces, and everyone gets a say. So you quickly learn that unless you’re a design superstar, you don’t really get to create things on your own terms. Unless you keep things small.

That’s why I find this story so fascinating. Joel Allen was a Canada-based software developer who bottomed out financially after his company went broke in the ’00s. He taught himself carpentry, and soon set his sights on building a killer treehouse. The rudiments of a design were provided by architecture student friends, and Allen subsequently set about making his dream a reality.


The story is insane on so many levels. First of all, the treehouse is illegally sited on “Crown land,” or what’s known as State land in the United States—government-protected forests. Secondly, Allen had to hand-carry all of the materials out to the site (and carry the construction waste back out to fulfill his goal of keeping the site as pristine as possible). Thirdly, when his construction was interrupted by helicopter traffic from the nearby Olympics, he had to partially dismantle the structure and camoflauge it to avoid detection. Fourthly, building something structurally sound—let alone level—on a tree clinging to a sharply-sloped mountainside is an engineering feat you’d expect to farm out to a firm specializing in such. Allen pulled it off largely by himself and later, with the help of a girlfriend.


Allen’s complete story of the HemLoft, as it’s known, is epic and far too long to encapsulate here. But if you can carve the time out of your day it’s a highly worthwhile multi-part read, with photos of the construction process.

Here’s a video showing what the house (and a surprisingly earnest, for a lawbreaker, Allen) looks like:

The Tele-Pod: A Kinect Based 360-Degree, Life-Sized Teleconferencing System


Led by professor Roel Vertegaal, a research team at the Human Media Lab of Canada’s Queen’s University has created a fascinating 360-degree display called the Telepod. It consists of a human-being-sized acrylic cylinder, six Microsoft Kinect sensors and a 3D projector, and as you’ll see in the video below, affords the viewer an experience similar to interacting with a hologram. The cylinder displays a live, three-dimensional image of the person with whom you’re interacting, and you can circumnavigate the cylinder to get a completely wraparound view.

The research team foresees at least two applications of the technology. The first, called TeleHuman, is basic teleconferencing. The second application, called BodiPod, could revolutionize the medical industry. It provides the viewer with a “peelable” X-ray scan of the subject’s body, meaning a patient on one continent could receive a diagnosis from a specialist on another (assuming the resolution was high enough). Have a look: