Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Cinder Box - Micro Dwell

 This winter Candelaria Design Project Manager Damon Wake teamed up with friend and fellow architect Hunter Floyd to design and build a miniature dwelling unit for an exhibition at the Shemer Art Center in Arcadia 
Appropriately named, The Cinder Box, the tiny structure has been on display for the MicroDwell 2014 exhibit ( since the middle of February.  This Sunday was the last day of the show but the Cinder Box will still be on display for another month as it is currently for sale (

Last year Fire Captain and custom steel Fabricator Patrick McCue started the first MicroDwell Exhibit at the Shemer.  With his experience in steel work at his company RocketFAB (, Pat was inspired to build a small house to sit inside one of his warehouse spaces.  He convinced a few more builders to make structures to display at the show and thus MicroDwell was born.  The Shemer Art Center and Museum, located on Arcadia (50th St.) and Camelback Road, has a large orchard space that was perfect for the display of small scale structures.  This year’s exhibit featured 13 structures nestled between orange trees.  All of the units vary in size, program, and construction.

 After last year’s show, Hunter and Damon were inspired to design and build their own tiny structure.  While Damon has been working on houses of many scales with Candelaria Design for more than two years, Hunter has been at Corgan working on the commercial side of architecture, primarily on schools and airports.  The summer collaboration resulted in the design of the Cinder Box.

   Once the design was complete, they put together marketing material to raise money for the materials.  After setting up a Facebook page ( they started a crowd funding campaign.  Their campaign on the site Crowd Hoster ( raised about $5,800.  Combined with their own funds they embarked on the construction the day after Thanksgiving.  Working nights, weekends, and Holidays, they completed the structure after several long nights and workdays for the show which opened on February 15.

While Damon and Hunter have been drawing up plans for years neither had any construction experience.  Damon worked as a shop technician at Cornell University in the Colleges of Architecture and the Sculpture department several years ago so his skills were rusty. The building process was slow going at first as they figured out, often the hard way, how to put a home together, but the experience proved invaluable.

The plans were simple.  Just some dimensioned framing plans and some elevations.   Much of the design and detailing happened in the field.  As all contractors know, many important decisions are made in the field as the structure starts to take shape.  This was no different.  As the framing went up Hunter and Damon made tweaks to the design, taking advantage of the opportunities they saw inherit in the structure.


The design concept was inspired by the dichotomy of desert ecologies.  The exteriors of rough surfaces like cactus and succulents contrast with the fleshy interior that hold the moisture necessary for desert life.  The simple form is clad in a burnt wood that contrasts with the birch plywood interior.  The wood burning technique called “shou-sugi-ban” was borrowed from an ancient Japanese method of burning cypress.  It protects the wood from pests and rot while making it fire resistant.  The plywood’s natural grain is exposed by sealing it with a clear coat of water based polyurethane.  The contrast allows the interior to glow like jewel box while the outside deals with the harsh desert sun.

            The overall structure is 200 square feet.  Not being plumbed gives the structure the flexibility to be dropped on most properties in the Valley without a building permit.  The front entry is set back to create a porch with doors and windows on the north and east sides.  This helps keep the space cool during the day as no direct sun hits the glass after the early morning.  The main living space is big enough for a couch or a fold out bed.  At the back wall is a desk alcove, a closet, and deep set steel shelves that double as a ladder to the loft bed above.  The whole unit is wired with LED lights at the desk and in the wall niches behind the couch.  It also has wiring for Internet and Cable TV.  They also pre-wired for a future mini-split AC system.
The structure consists of 2x10 studs which allowed for R30 insulation.  The over structured frame was also necessary to keep the unit rigid during transport.  It was primarily built in a lot in downtown Phoenix before a crane picked it up and placed it on a double-drop low boy trailer.  Then the crane picked it up again and dropped it at its current home on the Shemer’s back yard.  Sitting on 10” concrete blocks allows it to stay portable and move as the future owner sees fit.

Decorative niches with cove lights change color and provide an opportunity for storage or art.  The hot rolled steel plates with water jet hand holes were kept raw to expose the natural “mill scale” finish that the steel comes with out of the steel mill.  Pipe fittings also serve as a hand rail and guard rail at the loft.

Brandon Boetto of SlabHaus( teamed up with Hunter and Damon to make a custom piece of concrete furniture just for the dwelling.  They took the burnt wood theme and created a board formed light weight concrete slab for a coffee table.  Brandon floated a piece of glass over the table and set it on top of four inset hair pin legs.  The table was raffled off in an Instagram competition.

The Cinder Box is perfect for any use from a cabin up north to a back yard studio or guest bedroom.  It can fit a TV in front of the couch and be Man Cave or just a get-away space for the kids.  The space is flexible enough to fit the needs of any future owner.  The design is flexible enough to be customized to meet an owner’s needs.  The structure is for sale so Hunter and Damon are still talking to any potential buyers (

So far the reception has been better than expected.  Articles on the show and specifically on the Cinder box have appeared in the New Times ( , the Arizona Republic, NPR (KJZZ)( , ( , Fox 10 News ( , ( , and more.  Hunter and Damon are also due to appear on the cover of the magazine LocalReVibe this next month.  Channel 11 local Phoenix news is also due to have a piece on the show coming up.

Now that the show is ending, they are both ready for some long needed rest.  As this second quarter of 2014 starts to heat up both Candelaria Design and Corgan have had the good fortune of getting busier in this improving economy.  Damon and Hunter are excited to focus on their respective roles as Project Managers while they bring their newly added building experiences back to the office! So you see, we don’t just design mega-mansions – even in Arcadia!

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Honoring and Remembering George Christensen & Bruce Kimball

In the last month many of us in the design community both celebrated and honored the lives of two architects who not only changed the Arizona landscape with their wonderful designs and collaborations but inspired and mentored many of us. Last month we lost one of the best free hand designer and sketcher in Bruce Kimball and this last week we celebrated what would have been the 85th birthday of the late George Christensen.

I met both of these two amazing mentors in 1979 while attending ASU. George was one of my professors and Bruce taught sketching and rendering. I was fortunate enough to get my first job in an architect’s office in 1982 when I started as a draftsman for Christensen, Roberts and Jones and ended up becoming George’s partner, along with Brian Cassidy and Kym Billington in 1987.  This partnership lasted until 1999 when George retired and I went on to open Candelaria Design. 

During all of this time we were always collaborating with the talents and friendship of  Bruce Kimball who did a lot of our quick conceptual sketches and renderings from George’s amazing ideas and concepts. All I can say – and anyone who knew these two – was that we worked hard and we played hard! We would crank all day on a design charette and then as we approached the finish line George would crack a bottle of Dewar’s and pour everyone a Dewar’s with a splash and off we went solving the world’s problems!

I learned so much from these two – of course the most important lesson – working hard and playing hard. Skills from design and sketching to just how to work with and collaborate with clients and bring their wishes to reality. These two were not only masters in the design and presentation process with their loose and quick means of communicating an idea including sketching upside down so the sketch was to the client, but they were masters in just how to deal with clients and people – always friendly, always positive and always creative. Finally, they were always giving back to the profession through teaching at ASU, to George and his involvement with the AIA , to their yearly San Francisco – ASU spring break trip! So many firms have sprung from architects who either worked for or learned from these two.

Bruce’s memorial service last month was very nice and it was so good to see friends and colleagues I had not seen in 30 years. His wife Patti is an angel and the whole thing brought back so many great memories.  Following the ceremony many of us chatted about getting together to celebrate George’s 85th birthday which we then did this past Wednesday at George’s old neighborhood pub, Feeney’s. We had a great turnout from partners from the late 70’s all the way to his final group from 2000 on. George passed away ten years ago and its hard to believe it has already been that long. It was great to share a Dewar’s with a splash and a cigar with so many from those great days.

So much of this profession is about sharing your talent and teaching others – mentoring. Its passing on the knowledge and wisdom while having fun doing it. That was the mastery of these two – Christensen and Kimball. Cheers to you both!