Transitioning to a New Blog

This will be my last blog post on this account, as I set it up to collect thoughts during my grad school experience. For future posts, please check out my new personal blog at David’s Thoughts on Life, Food and Whatnot (LINK) , or check out my linkedin profile where I may occasionally post on professional topics (LINKEDIN)

In the quarter system at UW, I was bombarded with new information, theories and experiences every 10 weeks. From design/build studios, to living in Mexico City, and leading a seminar in Lima, Peru, it has been quite the roller coaster. I was delighted to gain exposure to the field of Global Health through their 15 credit certificate program, and was able to obtain a degree concentration in Materials and Fabrication by building things with robots! Overall, I really enjoyed UW’s architecture program, as it was grounded in techtonics, which I like to think of as structural poetry. We designed with the understanding that the architecture will need to be built and planned accordingly. See below for a sample of some of the work I accomplished in 3 short years.

While I did not quite know what I would focus on for my thesis, it seemed that every step along the way led me closer and closer to addressing the need for housing. (See previous blog post: Contemporary Bamboo Housing in South America).  I am very happy with the conclusion of my academic work and am excited for my next steps!


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Transitioning to a New Blog

The end: Thesis document and presentation

It’s over! My masters of architecture is complete and I am on to exciting next steps (more info in next blog post). Below I will try to present a brief explanation of my process and outcome, but for a more thorough viewing, follow these links for a recording of my thesis defense (LINK) and panel discussion (LINK 1) (LINK 2).3_5 Final-1 copy

This past quarter has been intense. I learned and saw so much traveling in the fall quarter and it was initially difficult to focus on how to curate all of that information into a thesis. My biggest breakthrough happened when I printed out a few hundred photos and started to filter and categorize the bamboo buildings. I picked up on common themes and current building practices (below)


As I wrote my thesis document, I began to find great literature calling out the cultural, technical and economic factors that influence people’s opinions about bamboo. This is where my argument first began to take shape. Half of the thesis was focused on clearly disseminating what I had learned on the research trip (advancements in bamboo housing). The second half was explaining my thoughts on what could be done to improve the bamboo housing sector.

Half of the presentation was focused on clearly disseminating what I had learned on the research trip. The second half was explaining my thoughts on what could be done to improve the bamboo housing sector.


Overall, it has been difficult to hold back the urge to design “solutions” to the bottlenecks in the bamboo value chain, but if I had put all my energy into a design, then this research would not have come together in a clear and comprehensive way.

For an in-depth understanding of the modern developments, roadblocks to large-scale bamboo housing, and some thoughts on ways forward, please have a look at my thesis document. (LINK). excerpts below.

Intro to bamboo building                                     Appendix glimps

After the document, there are dozens of pages of images, a compilation of “greatest hits” from the trip. I hope to curate these into a traveling exhibition in the near future!



The end: Thesis document and presentation

Bamboo Housing – Building Back Better after Earthquakes

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Since writing last, I traveled along the Peruvian and Ecuadorian coast as part of my thesis research on bamboo housing. Along the way, I met many inspirational architects, contractors, and residents who are embracing the new building code, allowing people to legally build a home using bamboo as the structural elements. Through interviews and site visits to various housing projects, I was able to catch a glimpse at the potential that bamboo can offer to areas that were devastated by the 2016 earthquake.

Below is a brief report I wrote on the topic, discussing projects I visited and obstacles that limit the use of bamboo: availability of quality supply, affordability, knowledge of new construction techniques, and social stigma against the material to name a few.

More where that came from! Time for thesis…

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Bamboo Housing – Building Back Better after Earthquakes

“God is in the details” – Mies van der Rohe

Translating ideas into reality is difficult, especially when someone else doing it! Construction documents are crucial to communicating to the contractor what you want built, and how you want it put together. Even a small park had plenty of details to work out, in a very short amount of time.


We also had to think about the construction schedule, because we hired a contractor and a carpenter. We met with both of them early on to make sure that our proposed overlap worked.

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One strategy we used was to match details that the local contractors used in the previous projects. By using the same materials and detailing, the project’s bind the two ends of the community together with similar design language.

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But there were issues with the previous fence design, as the netting was not strong enough to keep the dogs out of the park. We had a few people working on detailing the new fence. On the job site, I revised the design to have a horizontal cap to make it a bit safer.

gate printTo minimize clearance needed for a swinging gate, we put in a saloon style, double swing gate.

We didn’t make the students do ALL the work though. Brian hand drafted some of the other wooden elements for the park: the deck and the handrail transition from block,

To avoid a septic tank, we built a bridge/deck over it.
A man specifically requested a table to play chess on. Great idea 🙂

the table,


The summers get VERY hot. We hope to raise funding for this structure with a crowdsourcing campaign. Keep an eye out for it!


and a shade structure that we plan to install in phase 2.


On the detailing end, I modified the metal structure for our double slide by adding a guard rail (safety first!).

trees.jpgWe ended up removing the concrete tube, as there was a sharp edge and the parents were worried about kids cutting their lil heads open…So we used them as tree planters instead!

blog4_01There were a few instances during the construction that I would notice something that could be unsafe, or was not resolved cleanly. Thinking quickly and creatively is part of the job that I enjoy the most, especially when it is working side by side with the contractors, as we design a better solution together.

det_Music.jpgOne such case, we were worried that kids fighting to get up the slide would fall backwards onto the fence nearby. So we modified it to be taller, and used it as a musical feature, attaching our walkie-talkie and kitchen drum set.

Det_Benches2I also modified a bench detail from the gardens project that fits onto the concrete block so that it would fit onto a stacked block in the Fog Water Park, replacing ply benches which faired poorly in the sun and (infrequent) rain.



After all that hard work, we had an inauguration, where all rose their glasses thanking the UW program and all our hard work.

It felt great to see the space transform and see the kids having so much fun. I thought maybe it was the sugar rush from all the candy at the park opening, but when I went back a week later, Gloria told me on the weekend they play there from sun up til 10pm!

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I really enjoy seeing how the space changes each day at the jobsite, seeing the lines from your paper turn into layers of materials is what makes the job fun (when it works out like you planned…).

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To share that effect with you, I meticulously took photos throughout the project. Enjoy!

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I was literally in the trenches…but as Brian says, I hardly do work, I just take photos.

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Words cannot explain how happy I am that we made a dog-proof park! Gates stay closed when they have springs 🙂

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So much happened in such a short period of time. 19 days from start of construction to opening day!

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A triangle is not an easy shape to work with, but I think the students did an excellent job utilizing the awkward shaped space!

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We asked them to get creative. I think they got the point…(sorry I had too). There was an unplanned jog in the fence due to a tall concrete curb. We tried our best to make it look nice!

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We used our stair detail from the Fog Water Farms. This geometry was a tough cut, but both the carpenter and the contractor made a clean transition.

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I hope you enjoyed the ride! Excited to see what’s up next? Stay tuned for an update on my bamboo architecture tour of Peru and Ecuador!



“God is in the details” – Mies van der Rohe

Design Development – School’s out!

0_blogDesign Development

At this point, Brian Gerich joined our team, and Coco Alarcon returned to the jungle to work on the IUCI’s projects in Iquitos. Brian’s addition to the seminar was perfectly timed, as he was a new set of eyes and helped us quickly go from a schematic design to design development in the matter of days. This transition was a new challenge for the students, because realities of the site, budget, and constructability required them to revisit and refine their schematic designs.

1_blogThe community was still very busy building their stairs, and we needed to hire a contractor, which in the end made it impossible to build two parks. This reduction in scope was a blessing, because the amount of work needed to detail the project proved to be difficult as we had no graduate students in the group this year, and the students’ experiences were limited when it came to construction documents.

SITE COMPLEXITYThe change in height across the site and the discovery of a septic tank added complexity to the design that was not considered during the initial sketches. We solved the change in height by using the precast sewar blocks as retaining walls (as we did with the larger park last year). We did not want to put any weight on the septic tank, so we built a wooded deck above that spanned across the unexpected buried treasure.


We crunched for 3 days and presented a refined design to the community. We were looking for feedback on the overall design, plant selection and any additional play elements we could add.

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They all were very happy with the change from the teeter-totters to the slide and understood the reason why only one park would be built. We coordinated the meeting to coincide with a lunch break near the stair construction, as to not impead too much on their weekly work session.

Construction Documents

Monday Plan
It was pretty challenging to develop the construction documents in such a short amount of time! Fortunately our contractor is very good at pointing out any overlooked details, always asking the right questions ahead of time.

FinalRendering.inddThe students presented the final design to the community, showing them what it would look like in the weeks to come. We celebrated by demonstrating how the musical instruments worked, and busting out a new set of double dutch jump ropes!

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It was a great (and challenging) experience to lead the seminar, balancing student and community expectations with a very short amount of time, with a modest budget. I have yet to see the student reviews, but I give us an A+! The whole team worked very hard in the last week, but unfortunately the students were not able to see the finished product. That didn’t stop us from taking a stellar group photo 🙂

Stay tuned for the final post, where I manage the construction for two weeks and celebrate its inauguration.

Design Development – School’s out!

Community Input – Student Designs

Efficient Community Meetings
The municipal support for the community’s public stair project forced us rethink the structure of the seminar. We needed to make the Sunday meetings with the community efficient and short, because we would be taking time away from their planned work sessions. Our solution was to coordinate our meetings with planned food breaks, and moved our presentations directly next to the work site. If you go to the people, and there is food, there will be a good turn out!


Drawings from first workshop
Our task was to synthesize the community input, balance their desires with the budget and time we had to design in (just 4 weeks!).

Looking through the drawings, most first choice projects were larger than we could do in the time alotted (a security tower or a community center), but across the board, the second choice was a public space that had a playground, benches and flowers.


To clarify preference on park location before the second Sunday meeting, we handed ballots out to the 90 homes and explained the two places where people drew their parks. The next day, we collected 56 votes, with 52 people selecting the same site. With a location and a program chosen by the community, we were on our way!

RESEARCH: Existing parks, material studies, site visit

Case studies- It is crucial to understand the local context you are designing in, so before designing, we did research, mainly through site visits and observation. We visited many parks and public spaces in Lima, as well as small parks in the surrounding areas of Puente Piedra, and past projects from the IUCI. Jorge Alarcon Piscoya is from Lima, and recently completed his Masters of Landscape Architecture from UW. He was invaluable to explaining the ecology of the coast, especially the fragile Lomas system that we were designing for.

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Material Studies: Landscape –  We began taking an inventory of what plants were being used, keeping in mind the climate and water scarcity of our community. We then visited the plant nursery that we have used in the past projects to see costs and learn more about each plant’s needs (sun, planting spacing, water needs etc).

Material Studies: Hardscape – Metal elements rust rather quickly due to salty air of the coast, and are rather expensive, so we typically use them sparingly. Other elements in local parks (besides plastic play structures) are eucalyptus poles, concrete testing cylinders, wooden trellises/benches, and stone.

We have a connection with a local precast concrete factory that produces affordable concrete elements. They are typically used for access to municipal water and sewer pipes, but our projects with the community has used them as benches, retaining walls, and planters.

Site Visit – We needed to have a good understanding about the unique geometries of the site, its proximity to neighbors (lot lines are more of a guideline here), solar orientation, and relationship to future street and sidewalk development.

Luckily, one of our students had a drone! This tool proved useful to get accurate, up-to-date aerial imagery.

DESIGN: Drawing, modeling, group charrette scramble

Blog2_44Working in a large group can be hard, especially with a fast paced design. I used my design/build experience with Steve Badanes as a guide, and started out with “community agreements”, listing the pros and cons of designing in a group. This was helpful because if I saw any red flags or issues, we had a document showing what our expectations were.

To speed the process, we did three fast paced design sessions. Starting out in 3 small groups, two medium groups, then the whole class together. Having three iterations, and mixing groups up makes the final product a collective effort, as opposed to choosing a specific persons idea.

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Physical modeling with scaled figures, sections, and questions such as “how will that be built” helped us stay within the realm of realistic possibilities. Another Steve quote that stays with me is “You students try to cram all 20 great ideas you ever had into one project. Simplify!”

PRESENT: Community workshop 2


The goal of the second meeting was to reveal the most popular proposed project and locations,  present the student’s schematic designs, and solicit feedback. Of the 7 students, we had one native Spanish speaker. Juan led the presentations, but other students would describe specific elements of the designs, with Juan translating.

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As trained designers, we can easily see a plan and understand what is being shown. It is not as easy for others, so we had the students draw perspective sketches of the design elements.

Our feedback exercise hoped to understand what were the most popular play elements in the park, and what was the preferred color palette. We proposed teeter totters, a balancing beam structure, and a climbing net.

The main takeaways we received from the second meeting was that the play elements we proposed were considered too dangerous for little kids (teeter totter= toe smasher). Additional elements they requested were: a slide, garbage can, stage for music, a water tank for irrigation, and a fence to keep the animals out. With schematic design complete, and more feedback from the community, next step was design development and construction documents.

Stay tuned!

Community Input – Student Designs

Participatory Design: Setting Priorities

Welcome to Peru!


7 undergraduate students, myself, a Peruvian landscape architect, and a US architect have been working together the past 20 days to design a project using a participatory design process. This has been my first opportunity to co-teach a seminar, and the readings that accompany the class have been quite enlightening. The theory behind the methods has added a new depth to my understanding of what participatory design can be.


Kumar Somesh, Methods for Community Participation

The above spectrum of engagement shows that the facilitator/project initiator gives up their power of choice and decision making to give it to the community. With the exploration seminar, there is a lot we need to control to have a finished project at the end of the 4-week program: time management of design development, budget, expectations of the community and the students etc. Kumar notes that the benefits of sharing control with the community are worth the effort, because they know what will work, what will last, and what to prioritize. In the end, this results in something that will resonate with them, and will be loved and cared for throughout the years.

Unbeknownst to our group, after 6 years of petitioning the local government, the community request for paved stairs was finally granted! Walking down slippery, steep muddy slopes vs. sturdy stairs makes a huge impact, especially for the safety of the elderly community members.

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What this meant for our project is that the community was very busy realizing their own project, with a tight deadline from the municipality. While our methods typically utilize their time and talents to realize the project, this would not be appropriate as it would detract from their own project.

We met with the community leaders and discussed 3 potential sites for improvement of communal space, allowing us to focus the engagement process of the initial meeting to specific locations.


Our first meeting went well! We brought food, drinks and cookies and made sure to keep the meeting as quick as possible as to not take away any momentum from their work.

We had one student who was fluent in Spanish, as well the other teacher and myself. The other students were helping by handing out materials, playing with antsy children, and documenting the process. This way we kept everyone engaged, with a smooth, efficient meeting.

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We split the 30+ people into six groups with a simple goal: propose 3-5 things you would like to see in your community, by drawing or writing. They have been through this process various times throughout the years, and have become very good at visualizing their desires, with specific details. Ideally, we would have had each group present their ideas, make a master list, and had each person vote on a card of their top 3 choices. Unfortunately, our time was short, so we had each group rank their own projects highest priority to lowest.

Our task afterwards was to analyze the different groups priorities, compare it with the available/proposed sites, and look at what our budget and time would allow. It looks like two small parks with play spaces for children was the winner!

We observed that the current park is getting high use, but the smaller kids do not have a chance to play, being pushed to the peripheries.  Stay tuned for the design process!





Participatory Design: Setting Priorities