merging architecture and craftiness Posted on March 30, 2015 By Cindy Black

A few weeks ago, QuiltCon descended on Austin, bringing a surplus of incredibly crafty people to town. I mean, making a quilt that has compositional coherence and lays flat is a feat unto itself, but these quilters take it to a whole other level.

Consider the winner of Best in Show, Kathy York’s ‘i Quilt’, with the repeating lower case ‘i’ motif standing at different scales to suggest a repeating set of portals or cityscape. I like that each panel is symmetrical, but the overall composition resolves the repeated element in a random way.

‘i Quilt’ by Kathy York, Austin, TX. Best in Show, QuiltCon 2015.


Or the merging of trapezoids, triangles, bridge-like elements, and patterns flying out of frame in this group quilt:

Churn Dash 2: Complementary by Members of The Seattle MQG; Woodinville, WA. QuiltCon 2015 2nd place Group Quilt.


It was interesting to look at these while in the throes of selecting finish materials on a few projects. I was beginning to feel a bit like I was looking, pointing and picking, rather than creating. Which makes me wonder: how much can craftiness influence architecture? Can I learn more from people who are constantly hands-on with their craft? Should I be setting aside time to develop crafts without a project agenda hanging over my head?

It’s not too much of a stretch to imagine how quilt making can influence modern pattern design, which conveniently extends into wall and floor surfaces of buildings. But we could refer to quilt patterns to inspire the figure / ground ‘fabric’ of our cities, or as shapes of building plans. Quilt making offers an intuitive glance at pattern that could loosen up any architectural design, typically restricted by parameters of all kinds.

Another crafty phenomenon that has influenced architecture is upcycling: adapting found objects or junk into useful objects or forms of art. Recycled wooden pallets have been used for everything from bed frames to staircases to exterior walls; shipping containers were recently used as a concept for a downtown Austin bar.

We’ve been influence by upcycling quite a bit, most recently in the design of our neighborhood pub Drink.Well. The tight space layout required some clever planning for table space and standing room, so we integrated some ‘standing poles’ for people to gather around, which have circular tables. The tables are wheels, topped with glass and welded to the columns.

These paired well alongside with some upcycled light fixtures, the ‘mig’ from Barnlight Electric:



In Rick’s design of the Club de Ville (waaaaaaaay back in 1997), he found these discarded sheets of steel; the negative of space created by stamped machine parts. These uniquely patterned sheets were used as gates and partitions in the block wall that created a courtyard.

What draws us to these pieces is the series of thought and surprise involved. We identify a desirable shape in everyday objects, and then play around with them in different combinations to create something useful.

We often look to crafters for ideas, since we have to focus on big picture (you know, making sure the building is to code, that it fits properly on the site, that the clients are happy, that everything is within budget). Without such restrictions, crafters are able to spend more time assembling materials at a small scale and learn from their derivations.

Crafting allows a bit of failure. Ultimately, it’s a forgiving art form.

I’m greatly inspired by architects who have collaborated with crafters at a high level, enabling more of a handmade building type. The Bat Yam project used a common household object, a soup can, to construct dome-like structures in an otherwise vacant lot.


The thoughtful, talented architects of AL BORDE in Chile  developed several projects with the people of the seaside town of Manabi, Ecuador. These are beautiful examples of what can happen when architects bring together the crafters’ knowledge of materials and awareness of physical surroundings with the architects’ ability to synthesize abstract ideas and translate ideas into spaces.

At our highest point of creativity, this is what we do with our work. Not only can we empower people to build, but we can collaborate with crafters in the field to inspire a more enriched approach to design and the potential to craft an entire community.


This post is part of the ArchiTalks series. I’m honored that Bob Borson invited me to post, and thoroughly humbled by my attempt to get this post done on time and remain coherent! Please visit the posts below to see what other architects had to say about this month’s keyword, ‘Crafty’:

Bob Borson – Life of An Architect

Architects are Crafty

Matthew Stanfield – FiELD9: architecture
On the Craft of Drafting: A Lament

Marica McKeel – Studio MM
Why I Love My Craft: Residential Architecture

Jeff Echols – Architect Of The Internet
Master Your Craft – A Tale of Architecture and Beer

Lee Calisti, AIA – Think Architect
panel craft

Mark R. LePage – Entrepreneur Architect
How to Craft an Effective Blog Post in 90 Minutes or Less

Lora Teagarden – L² Design, LLC
Oh, you crafty!

Rosa Sheng – Equity by Design / The Missing 32% Project
Which Craft?

Michele Grace Hottel – Michele Grace Hottel, Architect

Meghana Joshi – IRA Consultants, LLC
Crafty-in Architecture as a Craft

Ghost Lab

Brian Paletz – The Emerging Architect
Underhanded Evil Schemes

Jonathan Brown – Proto-Architecture

Eric Wittman – intern[life]
arts and [crafty]

Cindy Black – Rick & Cindy Black Architects

merging architecture and craftiness


Filed under: