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A holiday message from 50 years ago


As I mentioned in the previous post the crew of Apollo 8 experienced a number of “firsts” on their December 1968 flight to the moon. First and foremost they were the first men to leave Earth’s orbit. As they made their way towards the moon they were for the first time able to see all of the earth at once. They photographed this but the far more well-known image from their flight was taken once they were in orbit around the moon.

I wrote a post about this back in 2013 and in it I referenced a video (which is still worth watching) where NASA created an animation that combines the existing voice recording of the astronauts overlaid with the images they took to recreate the somewhat frantic moments that proceeded the creation of this famous "Earthrise" image. Frank Borman was in the process of executing a roll of the spacecraft when Bill Anders, who was surveying the Lunar surface for potential landing sites, happened to see the Earth beginning to rise out of his window. He snaps a shot of it with the camera he has, but realizing its loaded with black and white film, he calls out to the third member of the crew, Jim Lovell, to grab a canister containing color film. As the spacecraft continues to roll, the view disappears out of the small window Anders is using before Lovell can retrieve the color film. All three of them think they've missed the shot when the Earth comes into view out of another window. It is through the round window of the spacecraft's hatch that the iconic image is ultimately taken.

The fact that the photo exists at all is incredible: the spacecraft just happened to be pointing at the exact right place at the exact right time. It’s also incredible that this amazing technical achievement occurred over a half-century ago. We as a nation (and as a people) have enormous potential to do great things when we work together. It’s something worth remembering.

And so just as I did five years ago I will end this post with a quote from the final line from Apollo 8's Christmas Eve broadcast that was made that same day as Apollo 8’s iconic photo:

...and from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas - and God bless all of you, all of you on the good Earth.

Merry Christmas.

When we built Spaceships


Fifty years ago, at 7:51 in the morning Apollo 8 launched into space from the eastern Florida coast. After orbiting the earth twice it restarted its third stage engine which set it on a course for the moon.

Everyone knows about Apollo 11’s historic landing on the moon that occurred some seven months later but in many ways Apollo 8 was just as remarkable of a flight. It was the first manned test of the Saturn V rocket, the largest and arguably most complex vehicle ever built. It was the first time men would leave the orbit of the earth and travel to another heavenly body. It was the first time man had first looked upon the far side of the moon with their own eyes. It was the first time man would look back and see the Earth in its entirety.

We’ll touch on all of that in the coming days but in the meantime it is worth remembering that there was a time in our nation’s history that we were willing to build spaceships to go other worlds rather than walls to keep out our neighbors.

And Then There Were Four...


This past Saturday Alan Bean passed away after a brief illness. He was one of only twelve men to have walked on the moon. All of those moonwalks occurred in the late 60s and early 70s and all of the moonwalkers who are still alive are now well into their eighties. With the passing of Al Bean there are now only four men on Earth who have walked on another world.

What made Bean particularly unique (within an already incredibly unique category of men) was what he did after he walked on the moon. He became a painter. His work focused on spaceflight and his experience seeing things so few of us will ever be able to see for ourselves.

Bean's abrupt career change always reminded me of that line from the 1997 film Contact where Jodie Foster, finding herself unable to describe the overpowering beauty of the cosmos, says that rather than a scientist like herself they "Should have sent a poet." 

Even thought it's been almost fifty years since we first landed on the moon we are still in the infancy of space exploration. We aren't yet to the point where we can send poets into space. But it is somehow comforting to know that some of the test pilots, engineers and scientists we have sent come back so changed that they decided to become poets.



Seven Years Ago


Seven years ago I took advantage of a free flight I had on Southwest Airlines and took an evening flight to Orlando, Florida. I checked into a cheap hotel on the outskirts of town, slept for a few hours and then got up at 3am to drive to Titusville. Once there I walked about midway across a bridge where I then sat and waited for five hours.

I did this because ever since I was a boy I had wanted to experience the launch of a Space Shuttle. At 8:46 on May 16 of 2011 I was finally able to do that.

It takes about eight and a half minutes for a Space Shuttle to get into space. Unfortunately due to a low cloud bank I was only able to see about the first six seconds of that. To be sure a lot of time, effort and money went into those six seconds, but It was worth totally worth it.

I will never forget the intense brightness of the exhaust plume. I will never forget the overwhelming sense of excitement and patriotism. I will never forget how I, along with the several hundred other people on the bridge couldn't help but cheer as this amazing piece of human engineering made its way towards the heavens.

I will never forget that I am, and always will be, a complete and total nerd.


In Praise of Good Humor


SpaceX launched its first Falcon Heavy launch vehicle this week. I was able to watch it live on my computer at my office and it was a truly spectacular event. As a test flight with a relatively low chance of success the rocket carried no "real" payload. Normally these sorts of tests carry ballast or some other sort of dead weight, but the founder of SpaceX, Elon Musk, thought that would be boring. 

And indeed it would have been. And so instead they sent aloft a cherry red Tesla Roadster. Tesla, of course, is also helmed by Musk and while all this could be dismissed as a publicity stunt, I appreciated the gesture.

I am in no way comparing myself to Musk - obviously he and I function in very different planes of influence and importance - but I certainly recognize his desire to humanize (or at least humorize) the tasks he undertakes. It's the same reason Michael Jackson and David Hasselhoff inhabit the renderings I produce. It's the same reason this website is littered with hidden Easter egg links.

It's good to take seriously the important thing you do in life. But it's also OK to wink at the people you encounter along the way.


The View

image courtesy of NASA

image courtesy of NASA

Two years ago I started producing The Works podcast in order to share stories about the built environment. Sometimes I've stretched the definition of what architecture is. In this month's episode, for example, I make the argument that the Lunar Module where astronauts lived while on the surface of the moon is technically part of the built environment and so should be considered to be architecture. This classification gave me an excuse to interview one of the twelve men who have walked on the moon.

It was really cool. 

and I talked at length about what it's like to live for a few days on another world and to see things that very few people have ever seen. That conversation is included in the most recent episode called simply "The View".

As always, please talk a moment to listen to the story and if you like what you hear, feel listen to the other nineteen episodes or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes where you can also rate the show and leave a comment.

Space Shuttle Twang

Five years ago I had amassed enough miles on Southwest for a free flight to Florida. I also had a fortuitous break in my work schedule that allowed me the freedom to use that free flight to travel to Florida to watch the second-to-last launch of the Space Shuttle. This is something I had wanted to do since I was a nerdy little kid, and so as a nerdy middle-aged adult I was thrilled to finally be able to make that wish come true.

After taking the last flight to Orlando I checked into a cheap hotel on the east side of town where I slept for a few hours until my alarm awoke me at 3am. I then drove for about 45 minutes until I reached Titusville where I claimed a spot on the Max Brewer Bridge that I had heard was a good place for non-VIPs such as myself to view launches.

I then waited for about four hours until the launch itself.

I had always been told that that launches are incredibly loud. Located as I was almost twelve miles away from the action, the event for me was utterly silent. The only indication that the launch sequence had started was when the clouds of steam began to boil out to either side of the launch pad. The Shuttle's three main engines actually ignite about four seconds prior to its actual liftoff. This allows them to come up to full power and to identify any issues prior to the launch (a handful of launches were aborted when the engines automatically shut down during these four seconds). This time also allows the shuttle stack to self-resolve its twang.

To explain what I mean by "twang" I first need to describe the general design of the shuttle. Two white Solid Rocket Boosters are strapped to either side of a single large and orange External Tank. The winged Shuttle Orbiter with it's three main engines are then attached to one side of this External Tank. This configuration creates an asymmetrical assembly which is somewhat unusual in spacecraft design.

An artifact of this design - and the fact that the Main Engines start a few seconds before launch - is that the entire assembly flexes several feet in response to the asymmetrically applied thrust of the Shuttle Orbiter's main engines. It then "bounces back" to its original condition an instant before the Solid Rocket Boosters are themselves ignited and liftoff occurs. 

This phenomenon can be seen most clearly at the extreme end of the assembly at the top of the External Tank:

Of course from twelve miles away I could see none of this. But one thing I could see that you can't fully appreciate in video and photos of a launch is how intense the exhaust plume really is. You always see it as being a bright white flame, but that's simply because the dynamic range of video and photo equipment is limited and it simply washes out. In reality it has an intense brightness that seemed to approach that of the sun.

There's also an emotional response to a launch that's difficult to describe. As soon as the shuttle lifted off I felt compelled - along with the thousands of other spectators surrounding me to cheer. We did this for absolutely no good reason - the astronauts on board the shuttle certainly couldn't hear us and the Shuttle itself was absolutely indifferent to our vocalizations. And yet the visceral response to the spectacle of the launch and the swelling of national pride I felt simply could not be contained and I let out a prolonged and triumphal, "Yeah!"

That lasted for only a few seconds until the shuttle passed through a low cloud bank and completely disappeared to everyone on the ground. In that instant the crowd's collective cheers turned into a collective disappointed, "Awwww." And then everyone turned around and went home.

The launch, however,  continued as planned (it looked even cooler for the other side of the clouds.) and the about eight and a half minutes after the Shuttle twanged, it was in orbit about 250 miles above the earth.

For all the time and expense associated with the trip, I was technically only able to watch about six seconds of the launch. But it was totally worth it.

Aging Astronauts Selling Cars

a still from the "Commander" ad for the Audi R8 ad by VBP

a still from the "Commander" ad for the Audi R8 ad by VBP

Although I didn't watch much of the World Series on Sunday, my understanding is that the Denver Nuggets defeated the Carolina Hurricanes. I wasn't paying all that much attention as I watched the game's the first inning, but after Denver kicked a birdie, a commercial came on that caught my eye.

By now, Super Bowl commercials are hyped for being of exceptional high quality (or for being exceptionally bizarre). But even so this particular ad was noteworthy in that it told a tight, compelling narrative. It was like a little 60-second movie.

We see an Aging Astronaut lost in his memories of his mission to the Moon from many decades ago. His son stops by for a visit and hears from his caretaker that his dad hasn't been eating and that this is part of an ongoing mental and physical decline. The son then has an idea and invites his dad to take a drive with him in his new car. As he approaches this new car, we see images of a younger version of the Aging Astronaut as he made his way toward his spacecraft. We then see images of his past launch (or at least stock footage of the unmanned Apollo 4 launch) intercut with images of his present driving experience. The Aging Astronaut smiles just as he did so many years ago as he was flying into space.  

I smiled as I watched the ad. My wife's response to seeing the sleek metallic grey car featured in the ad (The 2017 Audi R8 V10 Plus) was to say, "That's pretty." My child's response to seeing the footage of the rocket launch was, "Wow."

It might seem odd for a German car company to use the past glories of the US Space program as a way of selling cars (this is especially true given the fact that GM had a close association with the US space program and famously provided Apollo astronauts with Corvettes). That being said, much of the engineering of the Saturn V rocket pictured in the closing seconds of the commercial was done by former Nazi scientists secretly smuggled out of Germany at the end of World War II. Their story is a fascinating one, but that's another topic for another blog post. 

Anyway, the commercial successfully conveys that Audi is something cool enough for young, attractive men (with $200k to drop on a sports car) but is also a piece of machinery that even retired astronauts can respect. More importantly, it has the power to bring these two generations together (provided the senior citizen you're hoping to connect with is a professional driver on a closed course). Audi really hopes that in the future you will think about this ad as opposed to the fact that Audi's parent company his been embroiled in a scandal stemming from engineering a way to intentionally cheat emissions testing (notice Audi dropped its "Truth in Engineering" tagline from the commercial).

The ad was produced by Venables, Bell and Partners who have done a number of Audi's more recent commercials (interestingly, VBP also does "customer experience" consulting work and were responsible for the signage, messaging and event theme for the Barclay’s Center by SHoP Architects). The ad was directed by Craig Gillespie who has several filmmaking credits to his name including Lars and the Real and Million Dollar Arm. The production values of the commercial are incredibly high. The spacesuit worn by the younger version of the Aging Astronaut is a good reproduction of the A7L suit worn by the Apollo Astronauts (and designed and build by a women's undergarment company - another story for another day) who flew to the moon in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It should be noted, however, that although this particular suit did make use of both blue and red collar rings, they never did so on the same flight (the commercial shows the younger version of the Aging Astronaut with a red neck ring whereas his mustached wingman has a blue collar). Apparently the Aging Astronaut has no memory of the third crew member who would have flown with him on an Apollo mission which is all for the best as it makes for a tighter narrative.

But perhaps the most significant - and perhaps the saddest - accuracy in the commercial is that the Aging Astronaut is depicted as being rather old. 

Most of the astronauts were in their late thirties when they went to the moon (if anything the younger version of the Aging Astronaut may be too young). The last Lunar landing occurred in 1972, almost 45 years ago which means that of the twelve humans that have walked on the moon, all of them who are still alive are into their 80s today. Just this past week, Ed Mitchell passed away in West Palm Beach, Florida. He was the last surviving member of his Apollo 14 crew. It is a sad fact that there will come a time in the not-too-distant future when there will no living person who has walked on the surface of another world.

It's not often that a car commercial gets you ponder mortality, but then again, this is the Super Bowl we're talking about.

You know what's also good about this ad? The music. The song that begins to swell in the background as the octogenarian begins his joyride is of course "Starman" by David Bowie. Bowie, who himself died only a few weeks ago, is a perfect choice. The creators of the ad couldn't have known that was going to happen, but it does add another layer to what was already a surprisingly deep TV commercial:

There's a starman waiting in the sky.
He'd like to come and meet us
But he thinks he'd blow our minds.
There's a starman waiting in the sky.
He's told us not to blow it
'Cause he knows it's all worthwhile.

In Praise of Gemini

Gemini 7 as seen from Gemini 6, image courtesy NASA
Gemini 7 as seen from Gemini 6, image courtesy NASA

When I was a kid I went through several discernible "phases" where I was interested in / obsessed with a specific topic. These topics included South America, flags, aircraft and spaceflight. The interest in space arguably extends to this day.

One of the ways these phases were manifest was by me reading everything I could about space in our family's copy of the World Book Encyclopedia. Encyclopedias, if you will recall, were bound reference volumes where you went for information about things in the world. Instead of it being constantly updated online, this information was permanently printed on paper. It was very quaint.

At any rate, the 10-year-old version of me took a particular interest in the US Space Program from the first steps of the Project Mercury to the triumphal moon landings that occurred as part of the Apollo Program (the edition of the World Book we had was printed before the Space Shuttle had become a real thing).

In the years since then, I've maintained a interest in the subject although I approach it from a slightly different perspective. Now I'm fascinated in it from a design standpoint.

Although the engineering of the spacecraft themselves is compelling, so too is the engineering of the process that allowed us to go from barely launching a single guy into space to successfully landing two guys on the moon. The fact that this occurred in less than 9 years in an era before the kind of computing we take for granted today makes the accomplishment all the more amazing.

That accomplishment did not happen in one giant leap, but rather it was accomplished through the achievements of several small steps. We remember the "firsts" of the Mercury missions and the triumphal moon landings of the Apollo missions, but the Gemini Missions were a critical step in the process.

Project Gemini consisted of ten manned missions that occurred in 1965 and 1966. Each flight carried two astronauts into low earth orbit where they practiced the techniques and technologies that would be required to land on the moon. On Gemini 5, for example, they tested the fuel-cells that would be needed to power a week-long trip to the moon and back. Gemini 6 and 7 practiced orbital rendezvous. Gemini 12 helped perfect the spacewalk techniques that are still used to this day.

Each flight built on the accomplishments of the one before it so that by 1969, the space program was ready to land on the moon. This incremental approach was in contrast to those of the Soviet Space Program that was able to accomplish several early milestones before the US, but those achievements were not part of a larger strategic plan. Although the Soviets had a moon program, it floundered whereas the US program succeeded.

The takeaway from all this is that the big, seemingly impossible tasks are achieved through small incremental steps. And although those small steps may be easy enough to achieve on their own, they must be planned so that they are all moving towards the larger goal.

I'm thinking about all this as I think about the office and all that we've accomplished this past year. I go back and forth on weather or not 2015 was a good one for HiWorks. On the one hand, a lot of really good things happened - we landed several exciting new projects and met a lot of interesting people as a result of the publication of the courthouse book. On the other hand we were considerably less profitable and we have less in savings now than we did at the beginning of the year. HiWorks has only existed for 3 years and so we are still in the early stages of our development. I'd like to think the little steps we are taking now are in the service of achieving a larger goal but we need to make certain we know what that goal is. Perhaps that's something we can do in 2016.

We'll let you know when we figure it out. Until then, Happy New Year.

Why Does Rice Play Texas?

image courtesy Bob Gomel of Life Magazine

There is relatively little overlap between people who watch football and those who read this blog. And so it may come as news to you that UT beat Rice last night 42 to 28. To be perfectly honest, I don't care.

That said, it is interesting to note that the game occurred exactly 53 years after John F. Kennedy gave his "We Choose To Go To The Moon Speech" in Houston. On September 12, 1962 the President took to the podium at Rice Stadium to convince the American people that they should dedicate themselves to do something that seemed nearly impossible at the time - land a man on the moon in a little over eight years:

But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic?  

We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard...

The above text is the version that is reprinted in most articles about the speech and what is heard in most documentaries. You hear the audience cheer when Kennedy declares, "We Choose to go to the moon." That narrative makes sense. The President speaks an inspirational line and those listening applaud in support. Unfortunately that's not what they're cheering about. In the reprinting of the speech, a line has been removed.

Here is what Kennedy actually said:

But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas? 

We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard...

The inside joke about Rice playing the University of Texas was one that was appreciated by the audience that day that included many Rice students. They understood that in these contests, Rice usually doesn't win. Their applause in response to that throw-away line about the difficulty of traveling to the moon is what is misinterpreted as applause about choosing to go to the moon. Later in the speech you hear the audience cheer again as Kennedy make a joke about how hot it is in Texas in September. You can watch an excerpt of the speech here that includes the audience reaction to the line about Rice playing Texas and the heat.

It's understandable why the line is so often removed. It doesn't make much sense outside of Texas and I suppose it diminishes somewhat the rhetorical power of the line that immediately follows. Still, it's another good example of the intertwined histories of Texas and American spaceflight.

And speaking of the history of American spaceflight, less than six years later the impossible was achieved when Apollo 11 landed on the moon in July of 1969. But by then the impossible had already been achieved. In October of 1965 Rice beat Texas 20 to 17.

1968 iPad

Image from 2001: A Space Odyssey courtesy MGM

I'm by no means the the first one to point this out, but there is a scene on Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey where two astronauts on a mission to Jupiter eat a meal while watching video on what look like iPads. Given the fact that the movie was released in 1968, the prediction of this technology is pretty amazing.

Of course, they didn't get everything right:

The flight to Jupiter portrayed in the movie occurs (as one might expect) in 2001. Apple didn't release the iPad until 2010. Although other tablets were released into the marketplace earlier, most of them were pretty bad

Of course, the more significant botched prediction is that a manned flight to Jupiter would occur in 2001. Thanks to Nixon's decision to defund NASA, that wouldn't even come close to happening.

If you look closely, the tablets in the movie are made by IBM, a company that in real life would abandon the manufacturing of PC hardware in 2004. Instead, the tablets of today were instead created by a company started in a garage by a bunch of hippies eight years after the movie was released.

Still, it's one of countless small details that contribute to this visually stunning film (despite the fact it's last 10 minutes remain completely incomprehensible).

The Function of Paint

illustration of typical Saturn V paint scheme by Nick Stevens

What color should we paint this?

This question often gets asked toward the end of a project when all the "important" decisions regarding the design of a building have been made. With names such as "Positive Red" and "Lavish Lavender", it's easy to dismiss the selection of paint colors as an frivolous choices to be made.

But color is important. Not only can it radically change the perception of a space (dark colors make a space seem smaller while light colors tend to make it seem larger), paint can also do things. To make my point it helps to momentarily step outside of the world of architecture.

Camouflage is probably one of the most obvious examples of the use of color to serve a particular function. Although camouflage is typically thought of as the use of color to hide something from view, it can also be used to confuse as well as to conceal. Dazzle camouflage used on ships in World War I is probably the best example of this (for an excellent podcast episode about check out this great 99% Invisible episode). Since no single color proved effective for concealing a ship in all weather conditions, naval architects instead tried to develop a paint color that made it all but impossible to determine a ship's size, speed and heading. 

Another example of this is the type of confusion camouflage is used by automakers when they test new vehicles on public streets before a formal public unveiling. Obviously making a car invisible is a problematic endeavor, but they can make make the appearance of the new vehicle harder to discern. More interestingly, they sometimes use patterns that are intended to confuse not the casual observer, but the autofocus system of the cameras used by auto magazines and blogs trying to publish the spy photos of upcoming vehicles.

But just as paint can be used to confuse, it can also be used to clarify. The color patterns on rockets, for example, are there so that observers on the ground can better understand what is going on during a launch. At higher distances and greater altitudes it can be difficult to tell if a rocket is rolling about its long axis and alternating bands of black and white help observers tell weather or not the vehicle is stable. This explains the distinctive black on white banding of the Saturn V launch vehicle (the pattern is so iconic you can buy a version of it as cycling jersey). However, be careful that you don't paint too much of your rocket black - sunlight can cause problematic spikes in temperature as black paint absorbs heat more that white paint (there's lots more about this and why we paint rockets like Nazis in this extensive blog post).

The story goes that early modern architects eschewed paint in favor of a more honest expression of materials but the reality is more complicated. Frank Lloyd Wright used earth tones to make his design seem even more a part of its surrounding landscape. Alvar Aalto used strategic blasts of color in his elegant interventions into the Finnish landscape.

How do we use color in our practice? Well, it varies. In some projects we work to match an existing palate of colors. In others we take a cue from the dazzle camouflage playbook to try and break up the mass of a building while referencing a company's logo. In all cases, however, we seek to employ all the tools at our disposal to create a design that is appropriate, beautiful and functional.

Even if someday that might mean using the color "Lavish Lavender".



image courtesy Ian Allen / Architectural Lighting

I just returned from attending the Texas Society of Architects Convention and Design Expo in Houston. The event represents an great opportunity to visit with colleagues, catch up with friends, lean some new things about the profession and receive useless swag from vendors whose products I may never actually use. It also represents an opportunity to explore the host city and while in Houston I made a concerted effort to explore the relatively new James Turrell Skyspace on the Rice University Campus.

Turrell is an American artist whose body of work spanning four decades has focused almost exclusively on light. Many of his larger, more recent projects have been "skyspaces", outdoor rooms with a single, framed opening to the sky. Turrell uses this aperture to frame the sky, allowing the visitor to perceive its color, intensity and depth in a way not normally possible. This is intensified by the artificial illumination of the ceiling plane which varies, causing the visitor's perception of the sky to change in unexpected ways.

As little pieces of architecture, these sky spaces are beautiful, but the experience of visiting one is transcendental. “Twilight Epiphany” - the official title of the project at Rice - was completed in 2012 and is one of Turrell's larger installations with two viewing levels. I had visited it before during the day but I wanted to make sure I was able to see it at dawn and dusk when it truly becomes alive. And so on Thursday evening I went there with friends and it was an enjoyable communal experience. But the following morning I returned and had the space and the experience to myself.

At first the oculus of the Skyspace is a black void surrounded by an intense frame of slowly, almost imperceptibly chaining colors. When the sky is first kissed by the light of dawn, there is a period of time where the sky acts as a blank canvas whose perceived hue appears to vary wildly depending on how the ceiling plane is illuminated. This is where the magic occurs.

This was also when I noticed what appeared to be a pulsating star cross diagonally across the oculus. It was too intense to be a star, but its speed and apparent altitude seemed to imply it wasn't a airplane either. As I sat wan continued to focus on the sky, it occurred to me that it might have been the International Space Station that will occasional pass overhead as it orbits the Earth 260 miles above its surface.

It was a beautiful connection between art and science, nature and man, the finite and the infinite, the heavens and the earth. It was also a good reminder of the importance of taking time to sit and look at observe the overwhelming beauty of the world.


HiWorks receives top billing above Willie Nelson

image courtesy Texas Monthly

Every year we try and produce at least two hypothetical designs. Last year we entered a couple of competitions including a design for the remaining structures from HemisFair '68 and a proposal for how to reuse the Astrodome. This year we looked skyward, designing a mission patch for a space tourism company and most recently, a new structure to house Houston's Saturn V rocket.

When I recently took my daughter to visit the Johnson Space Center in Houston I was impressed by how good the restored Saturn V rocket appeared but was incredibly underwhelmed by the structure that was built to protect one of only three surviving spacecraft built to fly men to the moon. Surely one of the most impressive artifacts of 20th century engineering deserved a more fitting container. We certainly felt that way and so we endeavored to design one.

In the weeks since completing the design, we've been pleasantly surprised by the amount of press coverage we have received. We were especially flattered when a story about the proposal in Texas Monthly was posted above a story about Willie Nelson. Our modest proposal seems to have started a discussion which is as much as we could have hoped for.

You can read some of this coverage by clicking on the following links:

Texas Monthly

The Houston Chronicle

The Architect's Newspaper

Yahoo! News



HiWorks in space

Original spacesuit photo courtesy Tim Evanson

A few weeks ago I mentioned that our office developed a design for the mission patch for those flying to the edge of space as part of the World View Experience.  With help form Julie Pizzo Wood and Christian Collins we came up with a design that we were quite pleased with and it turns out the jury liked it as well.  It was announced this morning that our design was officially selected by the organization and so if all goes according to plan, in the next few years this patch will fly on every World View flight.

Go us.


World View is a space tourism company that plans to offer interested parties a ride to the edge of space under a large high-altitude balloon.  At $75,000 a ticket, it's a bargain compared to most other ventures.  A ride on Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo, for example, will run you $250,000. I'm not going to be purchasing a ticket for either of these adventures anytime soon, but when I learned that World View was sponsoring a design competition to imagine a mission patch for its voyagers I thought I should give it a shot.

Mission patches go back to the early days of the Gemini program.  Usually designed with input from the crew, the best examples represented a bold representation of the mission while containing symbolic elements that tell a larger story.  Apollo 8, for example, was the first manned voyage around the moon and so its patch was comprised of a stylized "8" showing its path around the earth and moon.

With help from Julie Pizzo Wood and Christian Collins, we developed a concept that illustrated the World View "pod" being hoisted to the threshold of space by its helium-filled balloon.  Momentarily eclipsing the sunrise, the pod also frames eight stars, symbolizing the six passengers and two crew members who will be aboard each flight.

If you feel so inclined, please vote for our design (as you scroll, our design is about midway down on the left).  It does require you to register your email, but you can opt-out of inclusion on their mailing list.  

Even if we aren't going be be flying to space anytime soon, with your help, at least there is a chance that something we designed will be able to make the trip.


To All Of You On The Good Earth

image courtesy NASA

In December of 1968 - a year that was challenging at best - the three man crew of Apollo 8 made the first manned flight from Earth to the Moon.  Although they didn't actually land on the moon  (that would occur 7 months later on Apollo 11) They did experience things no one had ever seen before.   This including seeing the Earth "rise" over the surface of the Moon.  The photograph of this has become one of the iconic images of the twentieth century.

It's important to keep in mind that NASA's astronauts weren't sent into space to take pretty pictures.  The ones they did capture were in many cases unplanned snapshots that could very easily have been missed. 

In a new video made for the 45th anniversary of the flight, NASA has created an animation that combines the existing voice recording of the astronauts overlaid with the images they took to recreate the somewhat frantic moments that proceeded the creation of the "Earthrise" image.  Frank Borman was in the process of executing a roll of the spacecraft when Bill Anders, who was surveying the Lunar surface for potential landing sites, happened to see the Earth beginning to rise out of his window.  He snaps a shot of it with the camera he has, but realizing its loaded with black and white film, he calls out to the third member of the crew, Jim Lovell, to grab a canister containing color film.  As the spacecraft continues to roll, the view disappears out of the small window Anders is using before Lovell can retrieve the color film.  All three of them think they've missed the shot when the Earth comes into view out of Borman's window.  It is through the round window of the spacecraft's hatch that the iconic image is ultimately taken.

And so in conclusion to this blog post (and this year), I will quote the final line from Apollo 8's Christmas Eve Broadcast that was made from Lunar orbit that same day: 

...and from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas - and God bless all of you, all of you on the good Earth.


On Courthouses and Spaceflight

image courtesy TEDxSanAntonio

Last Saturday I had the opportunity to speak at this year’s San Antonio TEDx conference at Rackspace Global Headquarters here in San Antonio.  To be sure it was an honor to be selected to speak but even more so it was an amazing event to experience.  Being able to work with and interact as much as I did with my fellow speakers made the event all the more profound.  In addition to coming away from the experience with more than a few “ideas worth sharing”, but I also made a group of friends with whom I’m sure I will stay in contact for some time.  The act of crafting and delivering a talk also gave me the opportunity to make connections that had not been made before. 

I spoke specifically about my work on county courthouses and how they helped transform Texas from a mostly poor and rural condition into the modern state it is today.  I had always thought that this interest was wholly separate from spaceflight - another subject I have spoken about in the past.  But a UTSA graduate student I met at the event made me realize that courthouses and spaceflight serve the same purpose even if they did so at different times. 

The power of both comes from their ability to harness our dreams to move society forward.  Courthouses inspired Texans to build a modern state that was civil and just and so was critical to the advancement of Texas in the 19th century.  Likewise, the space program inspired America to become the leader in technology and innovation that it was throughout the second half of the 20th century.  Courthouses and the space program both had an immeasurable ability to inspire that made them so critical to the advancement of society. 

At any rate, I’ll post my individual talk as soon as it’s available but in the meantime, a video of the entire eight hour day can be found here.