There is More To Air Than Just Breathing It

It is also a planetary defense system!


Air is a mixture of gases. The mixture is unique and contains group of gases that is nearly constant within our atmosphere.

Measured in percentage by volume. Source.

To simplify,


But Air isn’t just gas. Air also has tiny particles called aerosols. Aerosols come in many shapes and sizes, for example dust and pollen. These are natural aerosols that get moved by the wind. Air is also susceptible of other types of aerosols (like soot and smoke) that can be harmful to humans and cause air pollution. To add to the diversity of it all, there is something called bioaerosols. These are microbes that can’t fly, but can travel enormous distance like its non biological counterparts, due to wind, rain and biological discharges, like say, a sneeze.

Carbon Dioxide (CO2) is part of air. It can actually be a good thing too! It is what plants need to breathe, and they exhale Oxygen-2. We have a symbiotic relationship going on between Fauna & Flora. The problem is when we have excess CO2 because it accumulates within our atmosphere. When this happens it traps the sun’s heat energy in the atmosphere warming the planet and the oceans. The planet is a very carefully balanced and self regulated environment, temperature shifts can produce huge consequences for the weather patterns that affect human activity. It is important to note that the planet will be here if our species dies, global warming is an imperative for the human condition and quality of life.


Explaining Air Humidity

Humidity is really all about water being held in the particles of air. It is usually measured in percentages, and for example, air humidity is 100% before it rains.


Explaining Air Pressure

Air is pushing down on Earth’s surface — that is what air pressure is. When at sea level you experience higher air pressure because you have the whole atmosphere (up to that point) pushing down on you. The higher you go the lower the air pressure is because, naturally, there is less air pushing down on you. The change in air pressure can cause your ears to pop, as you have probably experienced in a plain or driving up a hill or mountain.


Air is an Insulator

Our atmosphere is filled with air. This air gap keeps our planet from getting too cold or too hot. The Ozone, which is basically three oxygen atoms (O3, our breathing oxygen is O2) is also the layer that protects us from harmful ultraviolet radiation.

“The concentration of ozone varies with altitude. Peak concentrations, an average of 8 molecules of ozone per million molecules in the atmosphere, occur between an altitude of 30 and 35 kilometers.” NASA

It doesn’t stop there though! Air, because it is composed of small particles, can rub against meteoroids. This friction causes the meteoroids to, more often than not, get burned before reaching the Earth.


Air Movement

Even in a relatively still day, the air is always moving. The fastest gust of wind ever recorded was 253 miles per hour (MPH)!

Air Quality

If you check the weather the Air Quality Index (AQI) may pop up as part of the report. The lower the number is the better. 0–50 is good, 50–100 is okay, and 100–500 stay inside.

Why Make This Article?

Even though most of us get taught these terms and concepts at a young age it is important we review them every once in a while. When talking about sustainability, pollution, or even checking the weather daily, knowing more about how things work and are interconnected can allow us to generate more educated decisions and conclusions.

I am an Aspiring Architect. My goals are to help design the sustainable cities of tomorrow, build in outer space & help people be successful. If you’d like to never, ever miss my posts, consider following and subscribing! If that seems to be a huge commitment, perhaps consider joining Medium if you haven’t already, to have access to other informative articles within this incredibly diverse platform.

For centuries, we’ve pushed the natural world out. Time to stop.

Andrea Arias – Originally published: Oct 11 · 7 min read

Let’s Talk About Biophilic Design!

This article is written as a prelude to an extensive list about the future of architecture. As I was crafting the list, I realized every item needed an exclusive in depth look. So let’s talk about Biophilia.

Midway through my Master’s Degree, I had a sustainability class taught by Prof. Cynthia Fishman. She brought in regional experts in all kinds of incredible topics within sustainability that are manifesting and evolving in the Architectural World. Biophilia stood out to me because it has a lot of psychological effects to humans and a huge capacity to transform space with relatively little effort and money. The world has caught on to this, and Biophilia is one of the most adapted trends in architecture within the last 5 years (even if nobody calls it that way) — and it shows no sign of slowing down.

Singapore’s Changi Airport has more than 500,000 plants, and some 250 plant species. It also produces about 3,000 plants a month in its own nursery. PHOTO BY GETTY via Nat Geo.

What is Biophilia?

Biophilia literally translates to “love of life”. In essence, it’s the idea that there is an underlining fascination and desire of communion with nature that stems for a biological imperative need to interact with the natural world.

Who used the term first?

A psychologist called Erich Fromm who coined it, but it was Harvard biologist Edward O. Wilson and Yale professor of social ecology Stephen Kellert who popularized it. Mr. Wilson wrote a book called Biophilia, in which he proposes that “our attraction to nature is genetically predetermined and a result of evolution.”

“If we stray too far from our inherited dependence on the natural world, we do so at our own peril.”

— Stephen Kellert, “Birthright: People and Nature in the Modern World” (2012)

Buy the Paperback or Kindle

Why does nature have this effect on us?

Research suggests that the cognitive benefits of being in nature is because nature has “restorative environments”. Why nature has this effect on us is, actually, quite a philosophical question (even while forgetting that we are nature too). Researches have gathered evidence that supports the idea that nature is so alienated from our day-to-day lives that it helps us escape from daily fatigue. The field of evolutionary psychology argue that the allure might come from the perception that those who were well-connected to their environment (landscape, animals, water sources, etc.) were more likely to survive. It is so ingrained in our human imperatives that even watching photographs or films of natural scenes have provided significant reprieve.

Studies were done comparing walking through a scenic area versus a busy urban area. The subjects in the scenic area demonstrated less anxiety than their counterparts. They also found that it really doesn’t matter how the time was spent, and how long (although they recommend 2hrs a week min.). Just a couple of minutes exposed to natural environments showed exponential mental health benefits. These benefits can include stress reduction, improved productivity, more concentration, greater creativity and self-esteem boost.

Biophilia: Bringing Nature into Interior Design

How does this apply to architecture & design?

Environmental psychology plays a huge part in the translation of the benefits. This wing of behavioral science study how natural and man made spaces affect our health, mental processes and social interactions. They have consistently suggested that the built environment supports human activity the best when it echoes the natural world. This can be achieved through scale, tone, dimension, light, layout and sound — among many other elements. Intentionally generating this type of environment can significantly curb stress and promote well-being.

Imagine if we could normalize these principles and constantly integrate them in the built environment?

Is this a Sustainability Thing?

It is mainly about human health, but biophilia does inherently have a lot of sustainability embedded in it specially if you make it a mission to use as many locally sourced materials as possible.

Patterns of Biophilic Design

This section utilizes Terrapin’s Bright-Green Resource extensively as a guideline to present diverse ideas within Biophilic Design. The information will be accompanied by curated images, and short comments to further clarify.

Nature in The Space:

Factory in the Forest / Design Unit Architects Snd. Bhd, Photo by Lin Ho Photography

01// Visual Connection — this is exactly what it implies, a view into nature, living system and natural processes.

Nine Bridges Country Club by Shigeru Ban Architects

02// Non-Visual Connection with Nature — these are auditory, haptic, olfactory and gustatory stimuli. They have to cultivate positive reference to natural systems, nature or natural process.

Think listening to a recording of waves or rain. Think of subtle architectural queues within an enclosed place. And definitely think of Biomimicry.


03// Non-Rhythmic Sensory Stimuli — Ephemeral phenomena with nature that may be statistical, but no precisely predictable.

The wind. A sudden storm. A bird flew past your window. Including those sensations in the design or enabling those phenomena to occur within your space is part of exciting serendipity that confirms life is worth living.


04// Thermal & Airflow Variability — Subtle changes in the air temperature, relative humidity and airflow. These aspects acting on your skin and the temperature of surfaces in a way that mimics natural environments.

Waterfall at Singapore Airport

05// Presence of Water — Seeing, hearing or touching water.

The Liège-Guillemins railway station, Photo by MItchell van Ejik

06// Dynamic & Diffuse Light — Varying light and shadow intensities that change over time, mimicking

The Highline in New York City during fall.

07// Connection with Natural Systems — Awareness of seasonal and temporal changes.

Natural Analogues:

The Passion Façade, Sagrada Familia. ©
The Passion Façade, Sagrada Familia. ©

08// Biomorphic Forms & Patterns — symbolic references (contours, patterns, texture, numerical arrangements) that persist in nature.

The interior structure, its columns and nave, are meant to mimic the shape of bones of a skeleton and the shape of trees and branches.

Urban Park Micro Renovation / Atelier cnS + School of Architecture, South China University of Technology Source.

09// Material Connection with Nature — Materials and elements from nature that have minimal processing and reflect the local ecology and geology, hearkening to its unique sense of place.

Viipuri Library / Alvar Aalto

10// Complexity & Order — Sensory information that adheres to spatial hierarchy as it might be found and encountered in nature.

Nature of the Space:


11// Prospect — Unimpeded view over a distance.

12// Refuge — A place for withdrawal from environmental conditions, yes, but also from the main flow of activity of the space. It’s important to create spaces that the individual is protected from behind and overhead.

New Interior for Casa Batlló Stairs & Atrium / Kengo Kuma & Associates

13// Mystery — Promise of more information. This is achieved from partial views, strategic deprivation of sensorial devices that entice individuals to travel deeper and explore the environment they are in.

Grand Canyon Skywalk

14// Risk/Peril — Identifiable threat coupled with reliable safeguard.

This is not about just bringing a couple of plants in, even though it is definitely a step in the right direction. What it’s really about is reconnecting with nature, and rekindling that aspect of our humanity by advocating more biophilic buildings. Biophilic design, above all, fosters an identity of place through authentic interaction with natural elements. Every place in which employs biophilic design will respond to circumstances unique to that place — rendering it its authenticity. You can incorporate all of these elements to big and small places alike. From your home to the local library, Biophilia is a new way of thinking of space that celebrates our need to connect with nature.

Let’s Talk About Hyperloops!

They’re fast. They’re efficient. They’re the future of nationalization & globalization.

This article is written as a prelude to an extensive list about the future of architecture. As I was crafting the list, I realized every item needed an exclusive in depth look. So let’s talk about Hyperloops.

Image by Groundworks

What is a Hyperloop?

A Hyperloop is a high-speed transportation system meant to be used for both passenger and freight transport. It is a sealed tube or system of tubes with low air pressure, through which a pod can travel free of air resistance or friction. The three major components are therefore a tube, a pod and a terminal. Through magnetic or aerodynamic levitation as well as electromagnetic or aerodynamic propulsion the pod can glide along the fixed path. This path will be laid out by the tube. The terminals would handle arrivals and departures.

Still Confused? Maybe Elon Musk’s description: “cross between a Concorde and a railgun and an air hockey table” is slightly more helpful?

Concept art of Hyperloop inner workings — Camilo Sanchez

Why hasn’t it existed before?

Technological hindrances, their subsequent costs, and the cost of maglev — to put it super simply. Maglev is a system of train that uses two sets of magnets, one to repel and one to move the train ahead. This system takes advantage of the lack of friction. The Maglev system, although researched through nearly a century, is currently only being used in China, Korea, and Japan.

Maglev is but one solution to the high speed problem, technically not considered a hyperloop and therefore not the whole story. It is important to mention it due to it being the hyperloop closest relative, so to speak. The hyperloop provides even more ground breaking benefits and speeds. For this reason the Hyperloop is currently an open source project with companies forming in the 21st century alongside research groups.

In essence due to the hyperloop’s ability to leverage pressure and electricity to achieve incredibly high speeds at sustainable energy costs are they main factors driving the bulk of the interest. It is the cost at every level (R&D, testing, eventual production, and construction, retrofitting urban fabrics to fit… the list goes on and on) that remains severe barrier. The idea first appeared in 1904 by Robert H. Goddard and then later depicted in the movie Genesis II in 1973. Elon Musk brought it back into the forefront in 2012. With its latest resurgence a lot of players are volunteering resources to generate feasible solutions.

Courtesy of Hyperloop One

What are the benefits of making Hyperloops?

It’s incredible speed capacities for relative low energy/ resource consumption are the main conceptual highlights for hyperloops. Every country struggles with massive passenger transport as well as getting goods from one side of their country to another (freight transport). The energy usage is a driving factor at a sustainability level, but also at an operational level. The relatively low cost easily allows for 24/7 access while still managing to reduce fossil fuel usage of both passenger and freight transportation substantially in comparison to current methods.

Comparative graph of energy consumption by HARDT

From a cultural perspective it can transform the way we enjoy our own and other’s countries. Imagine being able to live in Kansas but work in Connecticut. Imagine having a National Hyperloop Pass that would allow for families to travel across the U.S at a low cost. Imagine a transcontinental system of hyperloops. A hyperloop from New York City to Lisbon, for example. Hyperloops would transform the world. It would aid in uniting countries internally and externally due to higher accessibility to travel at a lower cost. The new hubs would be beacons of economic activity and development. Our understanding of our own country’s sub cultures would be more prevalent due to its cross nation access. Empathy might even thrive.

Who is Making Hyperloops?

Here is a list of companies and research teams with a brief description and link to webpage.


Route Estimator within the Main Website of Virgin Hyperloop

Virgin Hyperloop
This is my favorite website of the whole bunch. Beyond having a plethora of amazingly fun learning materials that delves deep into all the points addressed in this article, it gives the visitor power over speculation. The route estimator is one of my favorite tools. It allows for people to entertain and compare their current access to transportation with the potential of Hyperloop Transportation. They also have a unique sense of transparency — showing their projects, and giving sneak peeks to stats and conversations being actively had. They do well in letting the visitors know that the Hyperloop is happening, how it is possible, and what to look forward to.

Diagram explaining the technology.

Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (Hyperloop TT)
The first Hyperloop company created (founded in 2013). This website is full of amazingly detailed information about every aspect of Hyperloops. They go into the capsule, infrastructure, station, vacuum and levitation. The have information about the projects and partners they are currently engaged with as well. Their website is remarkably specific and informative, boasting the most concept images and diagrams of single website within this list.

Concept of their Test Track

These guys are pretty cool. They share their feasibility studies, their progress and are even making low cost ventilators through the pandemic. They also focus on both passenger and freight experience. Their concept images are readily available as well as some of their recent feasibility studies for some of the commissions they’re working on around the world.

India’s response to the Hyperloop, their focus is on freight and quick transportation for goods. They have a lot of press and enthusiasm, but their website is severely lacking and simple. Regardless, this is ground breaking work and has the potential to completely transform how India does business. They are very aware of this as well and are pushing hard to make it happen.

Arrivo Homepage

Their website is extremely lacking because they stopped existing. They are worth mentioning because their approach was slightly different. Beyond the passenger and freight experience, they explored the idea of getting into the hyperloop with your vehicle bypassing traffic at 200 mph sustainably. They are articles from 2017 that said they would start experimenting in Denver, Colorado, but that never reached fruition. They claimed to be “The End of Traffic” but they completely failed as a company. A reddit formed company called rLoop bought its scraps after Arrivo failed to acquire funding.

Concept design from rLoop

This company is interesting in more ways than one. The whole concept of decentralized engineering is provocative and exciting, but their website doesn’t do well in showing their actual capabilities. They have a couple of really awesome concept designs and the explanation of their projects look promising. I am very excited to see how this group of internet strangers tackle saving the world through engineering.

Provided by Hardt Website, more details of their technology here

Hardt Global Mobility
This is an amazing company, and if my article was not enough, please check out their website for great educational material. They are excited about the ramifications of their products, the impact on people, and they are here to change the world. Their super educational website really showcases their dedication to make these projects work. HARDT, claims “We Help Industry and Governments Join the Future of Transportation”. They are currently in charge of developing a massive hyperloop project in Europe. The European Hyperloop Center is expected to open its doors as soon as 2022.

Provided by Zeleros Website

They claim to be the most scalable hyperloop system, combining technology from aviation, railways and maglev to “radically reduce infrastructure cost”.

Provided by Nevomo Website

Nevomo (previously Hyper Poland)
This particular company is developing phased implementation of hyperloop-inspired transportation. Basically they want to re-use existing railway corridors and regulations and retrofit hyperloop technology.

Research Teams:

Concept Images from their Gallery

TUM Hyperloop (previously WARR Hyperloop)
TUM Hyperloop is a program of the Technical University of Munich and NEXT Prototypes e.V. These guys won the Elon Musk Hyperloop Competition all four times. Then they developed a full-scale transportation system while they boast on holding the world’s speed record at 482 km/h. Their website is research heavy, information rich, and showcases very promising work. Their goal is to advance the technology as much as possible to hit the ground running and start transforming urban landscape through public access to hyperloops.

Provided by EuroTube Website

The EuroTube
These guys seem to be very focused and determined. Their website postulates a problem and the solutions in a very linear fashion. Their goal is to “accelerate the development of sustainable vacuum transport”. The way they do this is by encouraging R&D, providing facilities and getting communities on board with the idea. The cool thing about EuroTube is that they are looking at the problem holistically and evaluating different aspects of the hyperloop. Last year they published a video talking about EuroTube’s Beta Shell. This “shell” is presented as a high performance concrete solution for vacuum applications.

Hardt hyperloop hub rendering by UNStudio (Courtesy UNStudio)

How will this affect Architecture?

There are many ways this will affect the world of architecture. I will divide it into three simple tiers: direct, indirect, & global.

At a direct level it will generate a new building type. We have to remember that a Hyperloop is not a train and its specifications and complications are part of its formula. Architects will have to learn how to design along side hyperloops and its unique specifications. The hyperloop also has a space-age, hype with clear futuristic undertones which will most likely be reflected in the architectural style and form factor of the Hyperloop HUB building type.

At an indirect level it will bring about a whole lot of work for local architects within HUB distances. These HUBs will be economic powerhouses that might as well be dubbed as Midas Golden Touch. Wherever they are placed economic boom will follow. Where economic boom appears, gentrification, tourism, and attractions emerge. Renovations, hotels, hospitals, museums, monuments, restaurants, and retail spaces will be in high demand.

At a global scale, a large and stimulating conversation about architecture in a globalized stage will emerge. Do we want to hold to national styles and give a unique appearance to our HUBs? Or do we want to move to a global language, akin to modernism, and start thinking of globalized symbols? Housing will shift its current logic gate due to transportation access and the growing Work from Home movement. The world of the built environment will have to be asking itself a lot of ground breaking and difficult questions that will have remarkable cultural ramifications.

Hyperloop Criticism

As cool as they hyperloop is, it is not invulnerable to criticism. The big trifecta of criticism for this particular concept is cost, comfort, and understanding.

Let us start with cost. The early cost estimates for the Hyperloop are in constant debate. Some even wonder if its affordability will even be possible at the beginning. There is also the argument that the energy requirements for Hyperloops cannot be offset by current solar panel technology. There are substantially researched pushbacks and rebukes on all these concerns. Some of them are that as time passes these costs will be less and less and eventually the hyperloop will pay for itself in terms of passenger usage and the further advancement of renewable energy technology. The counter argument, in simple words, is that the hyperloop worth the cost in the long run, big time.

The subject of comfort comes from the science behind the hyperloop’s movement through space. Some people argue that the small profile and physics involved that the ride will be claustrophobic and uncomfortable. I can with almost 100% certainty that the army of industrial designers that would love to work on this won’t let discomfort happen. These hyperloops are going to be the evidence of humanity’s attainment of the future. While the goal is to normalize its use, when it first arrives it will be revolutionary. To support that narrative it has to be a reasonably comfortable mode of transportation. All industries have quality check, and this one will not be an exception.

Lastly, understanding seems to be the biggest kryptonite to most ground breaking projects. Many people don’t understand that this is not a train. A hyperloop is a step up from the train — its speeds remarkable, its potential nearly unlimited, and a great source for sustainable inter continental (and cross continental) passenger and freight travel. The last one of those three account for the second most of CO2 emissions at a global scale. Many within political and financial circles have the “why fix what ain’t broke mentality”. What they fail realize and acknowledge is how disproportionately lacking our transportation infrastructure is from an efficiency and sustainability standpoint. In a world of space travel, instant speed global communication, and cellphones — hyperloops need to exist.

Final Thoughts

Hyperloops are awesome and they are here to change the world as we know it. While some might consider the Hyperloop an engineering feat (rightfully so), its existence has major impacts on the built environment. From the singular residence to a Hyperloop Hub, the implications at a socio-economic-cultural level will radically impact the way we live and therefore how we choose to build. Generating a more sustainable mode of travel for both people and goods will increase our likelihoods to avoid extinction as a species. But whether that pans out or not, while we remain on Earth, hyperloops will increase of exposure to different surroundings. Doing so will begin to break those eco-chambers, and unites us as a species in very unique ways. This new exposure to rapid transit will have massive effects that will permeate the built environment at a fundamental level.

Hi! My name is Andrea Arias and I am an Aspiring Architect. I am an Aspiring Architect. My goal is to help design the sustainable cities of tomorrow, build in outer space & help people be successful. Naturally, these are the topics I enjoy writing about. If you’d like to never, ever miss my posts, consider following and subscribing! If that seems to be a huge commitment, perhaps consider joining Medium to have access to other informative articles within this incredibly diverse platform.

How To Give Good (Non-Professional) Criticism

A Quick Guide Awaits

Welcome! To My short guide of giving good criticism, if you come from my previous article Be More Than Fluff then I appreciate the follow up. If you haven’t check it out, be sure to read it before or after, no particular order is required.

The reason I specified Non-Professional criticism its because you can’t ever expect to be from a different field and give good professional advice as a default — unless you have insider information on the industry criteria. If you’re a jack of all trades and know a bit about everything then good for you, but I find it good practice to know one’s place and give feedback respecting people’s careers & pursuits by understanding the limits of your professional knowledge. With that the first tip,

Know Your Place

When giving feedback one cannot assume a place of superiority or high ego complex because whatever comes out of your mouth is going to sound condescending. If you are not from the industry don’t give criticism like you’re the expert or somehow know more than the person about their own career or pursuit.

Separate Objective from Subjective

Objectivity(of a person or their judgment) not influenced by personal feelings or opinions in considering and representing facts.

Subjectivity(of a person or their judgment) based on or influenced by personal feelings, tastes, or opinions.

I define them, not because I don’t think my reader would know the difference, but because I have been asked quite frequently the difference between the two in normal day to day conversation. I usually have these definitions at hand to illustrate through comparison the stark difference those words have even if commonly used interchangeably.

Now, some might argue that criticism is a form of subjective evaluation, because largely your course of evaluation is a subjective process. And while I would agree with that sentiment in its entirety, there is space for objectivity within criticism. For example,

A photograph that the subject matter is not centered.
It is objective to say, your subject matter is not centered.
It is subjective to say, because of it I don’t like the image.

Whenever You Postulate a Position Subjective or Objective, Explain Why

Criticism of work is worthless if the person criticizing doesn’t have critical thinking attached. Don’t just say you don’t like the colors or the composition is weird or the formatting is distracting. Those are useless opinions that do nothing to advance the conversation until you explain why. The why of your perceptions, thoughts and postulations is where the real criticism exists— because it allows the person to glimpse into the psyche of those experiencing their work.

The Secret Formula

[Good] + [Bad] + [How it could be improved] + [End on a positive note]

I posted this formula in my previous article and explained it lightly as follows:

Preface with the good to get them excited about the post, hit them with the bad, but never without offering suggestions or solutions, and then — always end on a positive note, to soften the blow or to simply let them know that you mean nothing of it personally, just some constructive criticism.

– Be More Than Fluff

This was generated on the thought that it would be used for commenting on posts. The same formula applies to conversation and physical interactions. I will break it down more thoroughly:

Why Start with the Good?

Well people get defensive and over-protective about their work due the effort evolved and general attachment. So, if you just start straight with the bad there is a huge chance they will be in a bad mood for the rest of the conversation. Bypass the drama. Start by emphasizing the best in whatever it is you are critiquing, in other words the strengths of the overall intention. Some people come in and say “what if there isn’t anything” and that’s just lack of vision, there is always something positive within the context — even if its the effort or the fact that they did it is something. You can fish positive things to say (that are true) to bring the overall mood of the critique into the high spirits category.

Hit em’ with the Bad!

Be nice and polite. It’s the humbling part of the conversation and the one that should be dealt with the utmost finesse. Don’t humiliate, just illustrate. Illustrate your point, where it comes from and why you think this way. In this step more than ever you should really separate objective from subjective, and if the person get’s too agitated remind them it is simply your opinion.

Solutions or Shut up

Never, ever give criticism without having answers or being very clear and vocal about you identifying a problem but having no solutions for it. If you haven’t been able to even hint at a solution what makes you equipped to demand new solutions?

Always End on a Positive Note

At this point, its been quite the emotional rollercoaster for the person receiving criticism, the best you can do is throw them a niceness hypothetical bone that let’s them know it’s all in good faith and you’re excited to see their progress, journey and achievements.

Bonus Points if You’re Funny!

Don’t be disrespectful, but definitely if you can make the entire experience positive, make the person laugh and just enjoy the conversation about their work, there really is no bad way to give criticism. Put yourself in their shoes and ask yourself, how would I want to be criticized?

My name is Andrea Arias! I am an Aspiring Architect. My goal is to help design sustainable cities of tomorrow, build in outer space & help people be successful. If you liked this article, give me a like, comment, and a follow, so I can understand my readers better and craft better articles in the future! Stay tuned for more.

Why Does Your City Build the Same Building Over & Over Again?

When I used to be in school I used to villainize the citizens for the repetitive buildings around me. The rhetoric of school makes it seem like “the people” don’t want innovative architecture and that you can only achieve that through these mystical one in a lifetime wealthy clients who are willing to break the mold. As an architectural intern I quickly realized that is far from the truth. Since then I have done a lot of informal polls through social media to see what actual citizens think about their cities and built environment. I was pleasantly surprised that citizens throughout the U.S are not only wanting better architecture, they are craving for it.

So, if it’s not the average citizen’s fault as I had believed — why do we build the same buildings over and over again? Well, I bet you won’t be surprised to hear that it all has to do with money. I will break down — very broadly some of the economics that involve building things in the United States of America.

A conceptual representation of parcel lines that are often found in survey maps old and new. Illustration made by Author

Land Acquisition

This is the first-ish step. I say -ish because there is a lot of research and admin work for a developer to choose a site and then decide to purchase it. The developer already knows the building type they want based on market studies and desired profit margins and the analysis that drive those decisions deserve and article all on their own. During their land search they have to look at zoning and if the land they desire doesn’t have the appropriate zoning they have to make sure that they could potentially rezone the land to fit their purposes. If that is not possible then the financial plan they have presented to the investors won’t pan out and the whole idea will crumble. There are many more considerations and struggles to be had in this process but for the purpose of the article we are going to bypass that, and just assume it was a simple monetary transaction that perfectly fit all their zoning needs. It is important to know that when you acquire a piece of land there is plenty of paperwork to be done and all of this costs money and time — therefore before they even call the designers the developer is already on the red.

Preliminary Site Analysis Work

For the architects and engineers to get to work there needs to be a land survey and a soils report that is certified so we know scientifically know what the land has to offer and is capable of doing. Is the soil sturdy enough to support the intended structure? What is the topography like? How much dirt do we have to move around to start the process? Is there demolition work to be done? These are just a few questions that need to be addressed before design is even on the table. Usually though, developers have an idea of what they want in terms of programming, size, and shape the designers & engineers need to take that and make it into a reality.

Soils reports are done by inserting a hollow tube and pulling a cylindrical sample in which determines the percentage of soil composition. Illustration made by Author


This is the part where the designers do the heavy lifting. The quality of your client relationship will dictate their overall comfort level with new ideas. Some more seasoned developers are more aggressively set in their ways and know exactly what they want, but most of the times developers are open to some (cost saving) innovative ideas, within reason. And this is where both the developer and the designer fail. Very few times is a firm only working on one project making the need for projects to be “churned out” as fast as possible. From the architects and engineers perspective the faster the project gets out the better because we can tackle new projects and the client is happier. The is developer is in huge hurry because the more time they sit on an empty lot the more they have to wait to get paid in addition and so they look at it as loosing even more money if projects to stay on schedule (which they rarely do). So everyone is in a hurry and often times there is little time to let things sit. Permit Set reviews can take 3–12 months depending on the city so just because you have finally solidified a design doesn’t mean the city is automatically going to accept it, comments will come back and you have to re-do this process until you are finally approved. The architects and engineers get paid and the developer is still on the red.

Reasons behind Form, Program & Material Selection

While I have had the pleasure to work with both money hungry developers and developers who really care — both are very concerned about money and hesitant to spend it on things they don’t understand. As a designer on the field and an academic I am aware of so many amazing products that are revolutionary and would really benefit the built environment as a whole but are the developers willing to invest in the time taken to properly research it for this application? Are the engineers/consultants going to increase their fee exponentially because of it? Does the firm have time to properly research these new applications to properly guide the contractor? And most importantly, do local contractors and builders know how to make this happen?

I spoke with the head of sustainability in the city of Denver at the beginning of 2020 and asked her why don’t they offer free classes to builders to get acquainted with new sustainable technologies? Her response was they did but nobody showed up. They considered these attacks to their livelihood — why couldn’t they just keep doing the same thing they’ve always done? Why was the city trying to change the ways things were always done and wasting their money making time with classes?

The Economy of Building — Effort post Design

The labor done by architects, engineers, and development teams are no small feat. Without it there definitely wouldn’t be buildings as we know them today — but hats off to the people who actually do the work, interpret our drawings and build the thing. The structure of builders revolves around one key figure: the contractor. The contractor are the brains of the entire building operation, they direct, organize, source, pay, and manage all the subcontractors that specialize in the different areas (like electricity, mechanical equipment, plumbing, roofing, fixture installers, tile installers, wall applications, framers, etc.) that make up a building. The best contractors really imbibe the drawings, don’t make any assumptions when things are unclear, and strive for a good relationship with the subcontractors, architect and client alike. After they do all of this work they have to generate an Owner’s Manual that explains basically every function installed on the building as well as all the warranty information. The contractors are hired based on their previous experience successfully achieving something similar as the aspiring finished product. They almost never market themselves because word of mouth gets them plenty of work. So using a lot of innovative new materials, unconventional forms, and complicating things by using cutting edge mechanical equipment is a lot of effort that might even require further education for subcontractors, possible errors with material that would require ordering additional stock and all of these items would be at the contractor’s expense and to be managed by the initially quoted fee.


Simply put, building the same thing over and over again is the most inexpensive, fast tracked option for everyone involved. From the planning scale its easier to leave antiquated unequitable building codes than re-write them, even if they were generated with racist and classist principles carried over from the 20th century. This has been prescribing developments in ways that are often rooted discriminatory practices and outdated data. Then the process of real estate is incredibly costly influencing the developer’s desire to keep a tight purse through the entire design and building process — since they’re profit could be 3–5 years away (sometimes even more!). The schedules are so tight because of the city’s absurdly long review times, making the workflows of all the consultants involved have added pressure of the developer- due to land sitting idle is costing them money without tangible return on sight . After all these obstacles are bypassed and you finally get permit approval from the city and you have to hope that there is a contractor willing to build the ideas within your drawings and hope they do it to the best quality possible at a reasonable, budget friendly fee. So obviously market logix will dictate that is absolutely way easier to just build the same thing over and over again, regardless what the actual users and citizens want out of our cities and spaces.


For every new development there needs to be a minimum of 1–3 community meetings. This is a process done by the building department as a very crucial step for developers to get their things approved. I have personally attended multiple as a designer accompanying a developer and more often than not (actually all of them but one) nobody showed up.

As a citizen you hold incredible power, and it is your job to keep yourself informed on the built environment, show up and be vocal. Demand what you want out of your city officials and local designers — people have power even if everything around you is trying to convince you that you don’t. Next time there is a design related conversation go ahead and listen and be part of it. Voice your opinions, open your mind to learn about the local construction industry, and become an advocate and co-author of your city’s futre built environment.

Five Things To Do Before Starting A Home Remodel

// 4 min read // Illustration by Abstract Memento

Tomorrow I start my 5th renovation and it has gotten me thinking about the process and how far I had come from my first intern days where my then boss just threw me into the deep end for me to figure it out. While I enjoyed the challenge, I think its best to provide a bit of guidance from an architectural designer’s point of view to those embarking a stressful yet exciting and remarkable journey to making your home space even better.

Search local building codes or find someone to do it for you

It is never a bad idea to investigate what are some of the design guidelines and zoning limits that your property may have to prevent disappointment through the process. If being a designer (and even more a home designer) has taught me anything is that people are more creative than they give themselves credit for and they pay too much attention to trends. Understanding the limits you need to work with early on is crucial to avoid wasting time with impossible ideas that will slow down the process.

Have a clear idea of what you want

After knowing the limits — go crazy. Don’t think about cost or feasibility. If you did the first step the understanding of feasibility is embedded in your evaluation of choices. Enjoy the process of fantasying, do some local widow shopping at furniture stores, stay at different hotels if you can afford it to get ideas on lighting and layout, and explore your surroundings architecturally as much as possible. Start a Pinterest board, or mood board, or cutting pages out of your favorite magazines. Whatever methods resonate with you, indulge in them to enrich yourself with visual data. Remember be honest with yourself and identify what you really, really really want. Focus on circulation, ease of use, comfort, practicality, conduciveness to relaxation and productivity, and beauty. Forget about trends and what other people like and just focus on how you would make your space better for yourself and loved ones (if applicable).

Have a clear idea of budget

Ron, one of my favorite General Contractors/Builder I have ever worked with, always says “Anything is possible if you have money” — and that is absolutely true. That being said, knowing exactly how much you have to spend is key because anything can be done to fit your budget if you plan ahead. That is why step 2 is so important. Indecisiveness or lack of preparation through the actual building phase can be very costly, time wasting and frustrating for subcontractors who might loose a day of work because of a seemingly random quick change. So, I take Ron’s words and reframe them this way from my experience as a designer, “Everything can be done to fit the budget, if it’s considered holistically from the beginning”.

Keep looking until you find professionals invested in your goals

Designers and contractors come in all shapes and sizes — make sure you find a team that is compatible with the goals you have set for the project. Renovations rarely go 100% as initially planned. There are a lot of surprises to be found tucked in walls, attics, and floorboards. There can be soils reports that cause issues, and even flooding plains you didn’t even know existed. Things will happen that nobody expects, but if you have the right team and you all have a great designer/owner/builder relationship — everything is going to be an upbeat journey of creative problem solving and making sure you dreams come true. Don’t settle and pay accordingly.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions

Some of my favorite interactions with clients is explaining architectural concepts to an owner who is curious and wants to understand decisions made. Likewise, when the Builder takes the time to explain why a detail needs to change or how a certain item doesn’t work as drawn for myself and the owner to understand. The ability to have open dialogue is key, and very related to the fourth step of this list. Still, I insist that regardless of your relationship level with your builder or designer, always ask questions. Ask why, ask how, ask when, ask where, and ask them to draw it for you/show it until you get it. The more you understand what is going on the more you will be able to make more informed decisions about your house on the fly as surprise issues and impromptu moments of decisions come your way.

If you do these five things your journey through home renovation will be a more efficient, exciting, and rewarding experience.

5 Reasons You Should Book a Staycation Immediately

I promise it is not a waste of money.

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I got a new job! My husband and I were extremely excited. But how to celebrate? I had wanted to go to Chicago, but who could doggy sit? Did we want to go through the trouble/exposure of flights for two or three days? No… Ok. So what to do? “Why don’t we just stay here? In Denver? At an awesome hotel that is beautiful and pet friendly?” he asked. To be honest, I was a bit against it. I thought it to be a waste of money — we already live downtown! My husband promised me that it was going to be relaxing and fun — apparently this was something he often did with his mother and siblings! I trusted him and went with it. This is what I learned.

Your city as a resident is not the same as your city in “vacation mode”

Key elements here is to really cater your experience. I wanted a nice tub to do a “spa day”, so when we searched for a room we made sure it had this feature. Whatever matters to you — indoor pool, gym, living room area, tub, a nice shower, an incredible view, a desirable location, amazing room service— whatever it is make sure it is a treat and something you don’t get to usually experience. Once the day arrives make sure you get in “vacation mode”. Relax. I promise you will see your city in a completely different way than what you see as a resident. At least for me, it helped me appreciate where I live a lot more.

You don’t have to worry about “seeing it all”, and focus on things you’ve never had time to do

Sometimes when we travel to new places we are so worried with fulfilling the touristic list that it can be more stressful than relaxing. How many times have you been in vacation and need a vacation from your vacation? Staycations are all the relaxing and zero the worry. Bring your easel and paint set you got for Christmas and never actually used. Finish that 1000 piece puzzle you want to glue and frame, finish that book with the cup of wine next to a window like your dreamt of — in essence, use this staycation to really indulge in the things you’ve been putting off because when you are home you are either working, homeschooling, cleaning, doing laundry, washing dishes and beating yourself up for not learning Spanish and doing yoga every morning like you promised.

Not having to do chores for a couple of days can be incredibly rejuvenating

I am a very happy wife and I love keeping my house beautiful and clean — specially since I have such a collaborative and engaging partner that helps me achieve it! But not having to do any chores was incredibly relaxing and exciting. It was a weekend of garbage T.V, delicious food and snacks that we bought at the nearest grocery store, and of course — our Spa-Day. The lack of worry of the keep up, while simultaneously being surrounded by an impeccably clean and empty space that I didn’t have to worry about the upkeep — was an incredibly freeing and consequently relaxing experience that left me rejuvenated.

Exposure to new architecture, new styles and creature comforts

As an architectural designer and aspiring architect, I am very cognizant of the spaces around me and the effect they have on myself and others. Even if you are not aware of such things to the same degree, you are definitely affected by it. Being surrounded by new environments can be incredibly stimulating for your brain and senses. The more high end the hotel you stay at (within budget, of course) the more new state of the art creature comforts like lighting design, innovative bathroom layout and technological features are included. Being surrounded by such a curated experience can inspire you to re-design parts of your home and give you a boost of motivation for the upcoming spring cleaning.

A strong motivator

My husband and I had been struggling for a year to find a new place to live. We love our apartment layout but hate the amount of natural light that comes in and the lack of amenities within our community. We had no idea what the next step would be, or what exactly was it that we were looking for and so were set on just renovating our lease. After experiencing a high-rise room, amazing amenities and gorgeous views — we have a better idea of what our next apartment will be, and we are motivated and focused on the kind of experience we want going forward. If you already have your home, staycation can motivate you and your partner to appropriate certain parts of the house that are unused, give you stylistic ideas, or really clarify what you want for your upcoming renovation.

Overall staycations may seem like a waste of money that can be best used for new stuff or even a vacation further away to unknown territories. A couple of weeks before I would have agreed with you wholeheartedly. After going through the experience and really enjoying how I feel after the fact — relaxed, rejuvenated, and inspired, I cannot recommend it enough. Often we explore the places we live in the least because we are trapped in the daily grind of life and we assume we know everything about it because of it. Take the opportunity to contribute and stimulate your local economy and really look at your city in a new light. Most importantly make sure you check-in with your “vacation mode” on. I promise you won’t regret it.

Originally posted on Medium.

The Thompson Center, An Urban Context Case Study with Proposed Solutions

Check out Thompson Center here, in Google Maps.

The Thompson Center is one of those buildings that the majority of the public (historic preservationist and citizen alike) define as “ugly”, “bug-like”, or my personal favorite “something that came down from outer space”. In reality is a monument to Post Modernist architecture, and its quite an architectural marvel. Within this blogpost I aim to make a case for it. You see, the city is entertaining the idea of selling it off to developers, so they can demolish and create more privatized, monetary enriching development. The preservationists are against it from a historical background, and the government is making an argument that its renovations and cost of maintenance are not worth the money. My presentation is about technological existing solutions that would help the Thompson Center be a more efficient building in terms of spatial organization and energy loads.

Before we continue exploring these solutions, I always find it crucial to study the history of place.

Prior to the Thomson Center this location housed the Sherman Hotel. That building in itself underwent five different iterations until its final closure and subsequent demolition. It was host to talented musicians which attracted the business of many socialites, mobsters and politicians alike.

Afterwards the Thompson Center was built. It’s function was to serve as a secondary capitol for the State of Illinois and consolidated 50 different Illinois State agency offices into one new building. It was to be a “peoples center” meaning an easily accessible and inviting place to do business with the state of Illinois – as well as shop and dine. It solidified this concept by becoming a major Transportation Hub connecting six different train lines (Blue, Brown, Green, Pink, Orange and Purple) within its walls.

There are many arguments for its preservation, my personal favorite reason is because it is a one of a kind architectural experience in the world. Whilst architecture requires functionality to justify its purpose, I think with this pragmatic thought American architecture is suffering from exploring itself and its limits. This building is a prime example of that thirst within the discourse in our nation. When built, it sought to break records and barriers in construction. Where is that energy in contemporary manifestations? Below are some plans and sections of the Thompson Center.

There are also some historical reasons to preserve the building, that satisfy the Standards of Preservation. This image explores some of those points:

For those who resist the sentimental value I explore some more pragmatic reasons to preserve this building for posterity. I believe that it is far more sustainable both physically (and historically), to enhance this building than it is to demolish it. Here are some arguments for it:

The main points are:

1- The Thompson Center is a major public asset. Chicagoans are no strangers to seeing their public assets sold to private investors who do not have the public’s general access and welfare in mind.

2- One of the largest atrium spaces in the world. Generating a solution that mitigates the energy load of this building would be a precedent for Adaptive Reuse and sustainability.

3- Represents the architectural identity of a bygone generation that Chicago is trying to sneakily erase because it clashes with its “Modern Architecture” touristic persona. We should not allow our governmental bodies to manufacture history.

Now, all of this is mighty fine and sentimental, but let’s talk about the problems and issues of this building that led to its existence being in contention.

The mainly reported issues of this building are its glass, HVAC, odors and green house effect.

1- The glass is a single paned, non insulate glass. Curved panels were used, which means that they are all custom and would be a nightmare, cost wise, to replace. The amount of glass provokes HVAC issues.

2- Speaking of HVAC, this building is completely open. The floors are not subdivided into zones so it is extremely hard to cool in the summer and warm in the winter. There is only one HVAC zone in this building and it is overworked because of the large atrium space and open floor plans.

3- Because of this openness there are a lot of odor issues that travel upwards through the building.

4- Because of the glass the sun gets magnified and interior heats gets amplified.

With the issues in mind I researched different possibilities that could enhance building performance at a reasonable cost. My strategies are as follows:

Fig. 1
*These are not designs just diagrams for ease of understanding.
Fig. 2
*These are not designs just diagrams for ease of understanding.

The first strategy is utilizing smart glass coating (Fig. 1 – example of specifications for adhesion here). By being able to control the amount of UV lights that comes into the atrium space HVAC loads are completely dropped. And because it is a coating, there is no cost to replace the uniquely customized rounded windows, simply the cost to coat them.

Another key strategy would be closing off sections to compartmentalize HVAC loads. As you can see in the drawing (Fig 2 pink spaces) demonstrates how you would start generating different HVAC zones. Alongside with partial demolition (Fig 2 red), which means creating vertical connections through voided forms to allow for micro atriums to form and generate different space configuration types, as well as new HVAC zones. From a business model standpoint more varied retail/office spaces could form, which could be used for different department types, and real estate financial model. An example would be WeWork type spaces – that would continue to perpetuate the “building for the people” concept.

An image explaining compartmentalized HVAC loads within a residential microcosm:

This strategy led me to more unique and transformative strategies to do alongside the aforementioned ones. Creating wind corridors to allow for passive cooling and natural air circulation (Fig. 1 shows in blue), as well as provide a heat exhaust (as hot air travels upwards). This would also allow for green space at these open pockets (Fig. 2 shown in green). This would be great way to utilize the preexisting green house effect condition to enable health and wellness within the building structure. Effectively, by creating this corridor of wind, you would also naturally move the otherwise stagnant air that holds the strong odors within the atrium space.

Below is are drawings that explain passive cooling in more detail:

Now. I couldn’t call myself a designer if I didn’t show you some mood boards of what these kind of interventions would look like:

This is the board of which this presentation was based of.

And, of course, my sources:

Would love to know your thoughts, fellow reader! The research for these solutions was incredibly fun and I really enjoy the problem solving aspect of this kind of work. Adaptive Reuse is something I am very passionate about – stay tuned for more research.

Undergraduate Portfolio 2018

This is the portfolio I used by the end of my undergraduate. I was really proud of it – I worked for months on it trying to make it look like a magazine. While that portfolio got me my current job and the in to my current grad school (along side some sweet scholarships) the biggest thing I got out of it was my love for making books. My inspiration was the Vignelli’s. Graphic designer Massimo was a huge inspiration in my early years in Architecture School. There was something about the logistics of his simplicity that really made me excited about page organization.

Hope you enjoy it!

What It Means to Be an Architect

It’s a little bit more complicated than just designing buildings.

Illustration by Abstract Memento

When you start architecture at any college they will be quick to talk to you about Vitruvius. Vitruvius was an eloquent man with many talents, circa 1st century BC . He wrote “The Ten Books of Architecture”, which as far as we know, is the first series of architecture books in history. To be honest, I don’t think anyone really reads them in its entirety, just the first chapters, but in that first part, he states the key words to being the best architect you can be: As an architect it is your duty to know a little bit about everything, never pretending to know more than the actual masters in their craft, but enough to be competent, engaging and capable to intelligently contribute to a conversation if the subject matter were to arise.

This is indeed an ambitious creed, but one that has endured the test of time not only in the field of architecture, but as a constant personal goal. As an architecture student, you are trained to be a Master Designer. Not only must you learn and understand the concepts of the built environment but a way of problem solving that allows you to design from an entire building, to the smallest detail on a corner beneath a crawlspace. An architect is trained to be a designer of experiences, of moments, of a home, of place of worship, a place to play, a place to heal, of furniture, graphic design — all in all, you are trained to define, think, and solve design problems of all shapes and sizes. You aren’t taught a specific style, program or scale — you are taught to design everything and anything, and as your career progresses and you make your choices in life based on who you are — you find your niche and adjust your efforts accordingly. But out of school, you have to have the capability to do it all — in terms of design.

As architects in the modern age we learn how things are built by getting thrown into the deep end. Your first job will teach more about how to build things than any school you could ever pay for. The main reason for this is the act of building and the implications it may bring are 1000% directly correlated to your context. How you build in Miami is nowhere near how you build in California or in Denver or Savannah or San Juan, even if it’s the same country abiding by the same laws. I’ve been exposed to all the aforementioned markets, and while you can adapt your existing skills to the imperative of those places there is a definite and palpable learning curve due to many things like material price due to sourcing, climactic imperatives, client type, social imperatives, perception in luxury goods, market economy, and soil quality — to name a few.

Another reason to know a little bit about everything is because your role as an architect doesn’t stop at just designing. Architects are the coordinators, contact point and the ones that collate all the work and efforts of interior designer, engineers, client, contractor, manufacturers, consultants, and any other specialist relevant to the project. And then after all that we have to do construction administration to ensure the project is built as intended. How are we supposed to communicate the interests of all the stakeholders if we have zero grasps on what they do and how it affects everyone involved ?
The power we hold must be used responsibly to ensure the success of projects and keep happy customers. We have to know our history, the technology of the time, be tastemakers and connoisseurs of all things luxury and common goods alike, keep up with news and economy to understand the shifting values of prime material costs to be aware of how budgets may\ need to be adjusted, while also honing rhetoric and public speaking skills to deal with the backlash of when things go wrong. As the nucleus of the entire operation, you can imagine we definitely get “yelled at” a decent amount.

So in conclusion, architects need to know a bit of everything to be competent at all the different phases that our daily life incurs. Which if you’re passionate about what you do, every day will be exciting, fun, and full of unimaginable challenges.