Friday, November 25, 2016

Credit to Architectural Artists

Some time back I blogged about Bruce Goff's Crystal Chapel project and included a stunning image of the proposed building. I neglected to give credit to the very capable illustrators;  "Perfect Prisms: Crystal Chapel" was created in 2009 by Ellen Sandor, Chris Kemp, Chris Day, Ben Carney, and Miguel Delgado of (art)n. Click on their link to see additional architectural images. The artists have also produced very creative architectural art as GIFs. Here are a few examples of their GIFs to pique your interest:
Mies-en-scene: The Farnsworth House by (art)n
Second Illusion About Antonio G. in New York by (art)n.
Reconstructing the Wright Space by (art)n.
Punta Pacific: A Deconstructed Vision by (art)n.
The above images remind me of some Salvador Dali paintings. He often extracted abstract structures from literal images. As an example, consider Galatea of the Spheres:
Galatea of the Spheres by Salvador Dali, 1952.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Capturing Architecture in Art

Every once in a while someone comes along with a fresh, invigorating approach to art and architecture. Chris Musselman is carving out an artistic niche with a unique rendering style that will be of interest to architects, builders, and marketing professionals.

I became aware of Chris through a series of renderings published in Modern in Denver magazine. His illustrations focused on the Denver neighborhood of Arapahoe Acres. This 1950s-era community is on the National Register of Historic Places. It is a beautiful example of mid-century modern architecture. I decided to track Chris down to commission a rendering of my own home. His phone contact  contained an out-of-state area code and his tracks ran through Chicago and Santa Fe.  But it turns out he now lives and works in my town, Denver, Colorado.

Chris applies a spare graphic approach to architectural renderings, with lots of atmospherics and a lively sense of color. His technique is highly stylized but approachable. Here is a link to his website: And here is the rendering he produced for my house.

Architectural rendering by Chris Mussellman. 
Thanks, Chris!

Friday, November 4, 2016

Architecture Podcast

Our friends at Mountain View Windows and Doors run a regularly schedule podcast about architecture, design, building, and business. The Art of Construction podcast continues to grow and develop and has become the #1 podcast on iTunes for contractors and architects.  With their increased success they have decided to give it is own home/website: the art of

With this is mind, the link to their interview with Michael Knorr has also changed:

Podcast hosts Kevin Keefe and Devon Tilly.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Is Donald Trump an Architect?

Is Donald Trump an architect? Or an interior designer? He is neither, of course. But he seems to think he has some authority in matters of design; last week he criticized the materials used in the venerable United Nations hall of the General Assembly. President Obama addressed the General Assembly, speaking in front of a familiar backdrop of green marble tiles. Trump opined that the tiles looked cheap and, if elected, he would replace them with big beautiful slabs of marble that would be great. This is an unsurprising thought coming from a rich man.  Large slabs of stone are more expensive than covering the same area in smaller tiles. Trump, being rich, is probably used to the more expensive version of materials. I doubt that the U.N. made the choice based on budget (the room is quite nicely appointed throughout). It is surprising that Mr. Trump is reticent about details of international policy, but does not hesitate in a call to action to redecorate the U.N. First of all, he is not (and has never been) in elected office; second, even if he were to be elected President of the United States, the U.N. would not be under his direction. Finally, aren't there more important issues to be discussed than the size of the tiles in the General Assembly?  Of course, Trump has been obsessed with size throughout his campaign. And he does purport to be an expert on walls.
President Obama at the U.N.
As if there aren't enough things to worry about when contemplating a Trump victory, we now have to consider his decorating talent. Based on what we've seen of his taste so far, I worry about what he would do to the White House if elected. The White House has always been a house, not a palace. We have deliberately and consciously treated our presidents as men of the people, not royalty sitting on a throne.  But Trump's style can only be described as early dictator. He likes guilded surfaces and baroque embellishments. It is the type of domestic pomp also favored by Sadaam Husein, Vladimir Putin, and other ne'er-do-wells.

Trump's New York apartment at Trump Tower.
Trump in his gold chair (with an uncomfrtable looking Mike Pence).
Vladimir Putin upon his gold throne.
Ditto for Sadaam Husein.
Melania Trump interviewed by Mika Brezinski.

Trump's Miralago estate.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Architecture of Power 1: The Capitol Building

The Capitol of the United States.
Buildings are often symbols for something beyond the structures themselves.  Kevin Lynch famously made this argument in Learning from Las Vegas (Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, Steven Izenour; MIT Press 1977).  Lynch's book praised gigantic neon signs as an appropriate architecture for a fast-moving car culture that has no time for diminutive details. In Las Vegas the buildings themselves become signs, using architecture to attract gawkers and gamblers.

Buildings may blatantly telegraph their function. Hot dog stands in the shape of hot dogs. Ice cream shops as oversized canisters of cream. Motels as concrete teepees. These examples are kitsch; they hardly qualify as architecture. Buildings with more august functions usually employ subtle cues to communicate their function. This is when design transcends structure. It is particularly fascinating to contemplate the architecture of power. Can architecture be used to support the very idea of political power? There is no better place to look for an answer than the capital of the free world, Washington, D.C.
Little Man ice cream stand in Denver.
Roadside hot dog in Colorado.
Washington abounds with buildings designed to communicate power, authority, strength. The Capitol building itself is a leading example. An vague image of the Capitol is potent enough to signal power around the world. Whether as a photograph or an abstract logo, the Capitol is universally recognized as a symbol of power. The Capitol is so familiar that even a lean graphic suggesting the capitol dome provides instant recognition and authority. Letter heads, campaign stickers, or government edicts frequently employ the abstraction. It is used as a logo for political talk shows and to market patriotic merchandise of all sorts. Images of the capitol are ubiquitous.

Iconic images of the U.S. Capitol. 
The first Capitol dome, designed by Charles Bulfinch, a Boston architect, was finished in 1824. After Capitol expansions it was considered too small (and a fire hazard). A new dome was constructed to a design by Thomas U. Walter in the 1850s. Eleven Capitol architects have contributed changes and additions over the years. The building has morphed over time; it is impossible to credit authorship to any individual. The accretion of additions has also resulted in the dome looking somewhat like a decoration plopped atop a sheet cake, connected less than elegantly to the elements beneath. Such criticism may seem churlish to some. The symbolism of the Capitol bears almost as much emotional weight as the nation's flag. To criticize it seems unpatriotic. Which brings up the central problem in writing a serious architectural critique of the Capitol: the building is so familiar that it is more of an icon and less of a building. Still, it is architecture and can be viewed as such.
A cake.
How does it stack up as architecture?  To my eye, the proportions are less than graceful. It looks like what it is: an accretion of add-ons and improvements over time by different people for different purposes. The cohesion of the separate elements is tenuous. I once voiced this criticism to a Washington, D.C. resident. He was horrified. What an affront to the city and it's most iconic building! Well, there you have it: the Capitol is an icon... it can hardly be criticized as architecture. As a symbol of power, it is unparalleled in the world. Perhaps it succeeds as architecture in spite of the architecture, because the building successfully communicates its role as the ultimate seat of power.  But a hot dog stand does the same thing in its realm; nobody would seriously call it architecture. This is a discussion that goes in circles without resolution. The Capitol is a prime example of the architecture of power, but it may or may not be good architecture. I believe it is nearly impossible to objectively see the Capitol, hidden behind its veil of political preconceptions and symbolism.

Finally, the interior of the Capitol building is, put plainly, a let down. Without question, other domed spaces are more impressive than the hall under the Capitol dome. Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, St. Peter's in Rome, the Duomo in Florence - all stand superior. Then we have the Senate and House chambers. When I visited, neither house was in session; it was easy to stroll through and get a sense of the architecture. Many state capitols are better designed than this national assembly. The Senate and House chambers are stuffy rooms, mechanically de-odorized as if there is some stench that needs to be masked. The windowless spaces, festooned with heavy velvet swags, felt like a funeral home. It was depressing to think that some of the most important decisions in the world are made in this environment. On a scale of one to ten, the Capitol interiors rate three.

Please don't think I am unpatriotic.

Aerial view of U.S. Capitol.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Knorr Architecture Published in Luxe

We are pleased to announce that another architecture and design magazine has picked up our work. Luxe (Colorado edition) features one of our recently completed mountain projects.  The 16 page article has great photos  by James Ray Spahn and a lengthy article explaining the project by Tate Gunnerson. We worked with two New York interior designers Elizabeth Brosnan Hourihan and Claus Rademacher to realize the owners' goals for a throroughly modern home. The builder was Mark Manley of Golden, Colorado.
Luxe magazine July/August 2016
The project is an extensive remodeling and addition to a home we originally designed for a different client years ago.  The original incarnation of this mountain home was published in The Rocky Mountain News.  It also won a Best Custom Home award from the Denver Home
Builders Association.
The Rocky Mountain News 

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Architects, Artists, and the Internet

A while back I wrote about paintings by architect Bruce Goff ("Bruce Goff: Architect and Painter"). The images of Goff's paintings were given to me by John Bowles years ago. A fellow architecture student, I've long been out of touch with John Bowles. He was an amazingly talented person and, for  a time, apprenticed to Bruce Goff in Kansas City. (Thus the Goff connection.) Like so many friends from the past, we did not keep in touch.

Now, a story about the power of the Internet.

John Bowles contacted me recently by email.
This is John Bowles, one of your architecture classmates... Well, this evening my family was gathered around the dining table talking about architecture... and my son did a quick search of my name and Bruce Goff's. Your blog came right up and we all were amazed to see Bruce's drawings. They are real beauties. You said on the page that I gave you slides of them - hmmm, maybe I did. Sounds familiar. But we all had to laugh to see the third one... that was one of mine.  In fact, it hangs in my house right now. Can't you see how rough it looks besides Bruce's? Might want to pull it from that listing on BG.  Anyway, it was a real accent to our after-dinner discussion. Thank you for adding surprise and delight to our evening. 
It is a pleasure to show this painting again and give credit to its rightful artist, John Bowles:

Painting by John Bowles.
I'm sure John will forgive my mistake. In fact, there are probably many paintings floating around by former Oklahoma University students that could be mistaken for an original Goff.  Bruce Goff, chairman of the school in the 1950s, used painting as a teaching tool.  A typicial assignment for freshmen architectural students would be to throw powdered tempera paint on huge sheets of wet construction paper. The resulting images were usually swirly abstracts that were totally unpredictable.  The paper would be allowed to dry overnight; the second phase of the assignment would be to "control" the swirly abstract painting by adding intentional paint, colored pencil, or other media. The point of this was analogous to an architect presented with a difficult site. The site is a "given" out of your control. Architecture is a way to control, augment, and even enhance the site.

This teaching tool was, as far as I know, invented by Bruce Goff. Later, it was famously continued by the legendary professor Dean Bryant Vollendorf. When I was teaching at Oklahoma University I adopted and adapted the same method for my students.  They produced many beautiful paintings.

John Bowles did not continue with architecture, but he carries on the teaching tradition with his family... the creative works of my children... will attest. (Soon I will conduct painting exercises for our kids - just like the ones that produced the pictures in your blog. And my youngest daughter and her husband are headed out to Arizona this coming weekend for their second annual trek to Arcosanti. They are so inspired by Soleri's ideas. They were absolutely shocked to hear I had already been there 48 years before!)
Best wishes to John and his family and thank you for continuing an artistic/architectural/educational tradition.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Another Architecture Article

Colorado Expressions
When it rains it pours. The work of my office is appearing in two local publications this month. The first is Colorado Homes and Lifestyles (see March 24, 2016 blog entry). Now a second project is featured in  Colorado Expressions, published by Terry Vitale. Soon a third project will be featured in Luxe. I'm being interview for that article on Monday.

The project in Colorado Expressions was a great opportunity to transform a dowdy 4000 square foot condo into a modern pied-a-terre. All interior walls were ripped out and we untied the knots of a convoluted, boxy floor plan. The article does not show the floor plan changes, but I think that tells the complete story of how radical the changes were:
Architecture by Michael Knorr.
We worked with interior designer Karyn McGowan, a frequent collaborator on our projects who always seems to "get it." The article was written by Claudia Carbone with photography by Ron Ruscio.
Living area.

Floor plan graphics by Kelly Morgan
Photography by Ron Ruscio

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Zaha Hadid, Architect, 1950-2016

With great sadness, today I heard of the passing of architect Zaha Hadid. An Iraq-born woman who lived and worked in England, she left an indelible mark on world architecture. Her designs broke the bounds of what a building should look like. I will never forget the first time I saw one of her designs: fresh, inventive, new.  She was moved to create as if no building had ever existed before, seemingly uninfluenced by precedent or tradition or shoulds or musts. Zaha Hadid's architecture was like free form jazz in a world of dainty minuets. Architecture has lost an important voice.

Her buildings are intellectually challenging; they speak for themselves:

Zaha Hadid

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Architecture on the Cover

I am pleased to report that a recent project by my office has made the cover of Colorado Homes and Lifestyles.
April 2016 issue. 
The April 2016 issue focuses on outdoor living. We designed this home in Cherry Hills, Colorado to wrap around and focus on a beautiful pool, spa, and patios. The article (written by Rebecca Gart, photos by Emily Minton Redfield) compares the home to a "five-star resort."  In a sense, this is what we strive to accomplish with all of our residential projects. Why shouldn't our homes feel as welcoming and exciting as a vacation place? A retreat from the ordinary world into one of accommodation and comfort. The author of the piece interviewed me for the article. One quote she chose is something I stand by as my design ethos:
There should never be a conflict between aesthetics and function. Solve the function first, and then figure out the most beautiful way to express that.
We work to achieve that goal in all of our work.

Thank you to Colorado Homes and Lifestyles for featuring our work.

Clients: Hud and Carol Karshmer
Interior Designer: Jill Firkins
Builder: Dick Tanner, Northbrook Consulting LLC

Monday, March 14, 2016

Great Architecture Requires Great Builders (Let's Talk About Competitive Bidding)

A question that regularly comes up with my new clients is how do I select a builder? accompanied by should we be getting competitive bids? I'm a firm believer in selecting a qualified builder right at the beginning as part of your design team. This should be done when your plans are being created so the builder can contribute his/her expertise in planning the project. This will be helpful in establishing the budget. The builder can guide wise choices in specifications, materials, and capabilities of local craftsmen. Obviously, it is impossible to obtain competitive bids at this stage because there are no completed drawings from which to bid. Of course, it's logical to wonder how selecting a builder so early will give you someone who is going to be cost competitive. Putting it bluntly, how do you know you're getting a good and fair deal?

If we are talking about custom homes (the bulk of my work) there are many ways you can find a builder that you can trust, even before you know the final cost. First, let's clarify some terms. Builder and general contractor are used interchangeably, but most builders of custom homes are more accurately described as construction managers. Few custom builders are actually in the field swinging a hammer, installing electrical conduit, or roofing the structure. They are subcontracting this work to (what should be) qualified, licensed subcontractors. The construction manager will coordinate the construction and will make a profit on fees or on a percentage of the estimated budget. (More on that in a moment.) Where the budget can be controlled is amongst the subcontractors. You want to be certain that your builder is getting competitive bids from qualified subcontractors and not just getting bids from the same people they always use because it's convenient for them. Determining that should be part of the client's due diligence. It requires checking builder references and talking to past clients. It also means that the bidding process should be transparent: all bids from subcontractors should be presented to the owner.

A client can certainly interview various builders (or construction managers) to determine who is best for them. But then choose one; don't make them fight for the lowest bid. The incentive in that scenario is to provide lowball prices using cut-rate sub contractors that may not be the best choices. In selecting a builder up front, there are three criteria you can use.


Most people have friends who have built homes. That can be a starting point for interviewing prospective builders. You can also get names of qualified builders from your architect or interior designer. Good references are important, but you need to dig deeper. Talk to other people who have had homes built by your prospective builder. Were they satisfied? Did they have any problems? Was the builder diligent in seeking the best prices from subcontractors (as described above)? How do they handle change orders?


There are many ways to set up a contract between owner and builder. Percentage of cost,  fixed fee, and combinations of those two. Some builders charge penalties on change orders; that part of the contract should be clear and understandable. None of these methods are good or bad of themselves. It depends on what you are comfortable with. When comparing builders, you want to know the details of their fee basis. You want to be sure they offer a business deal that works for you. Also, keep in mind that any proposal is negotiable in the details.


Finally, ask yourself how comfortable you are with any prospective builder. Constructing a house is a long term relationship. You want a builder who is honest, trustworthy, and true. Don't be misled by superficial gregariousness. You don't need your builder to be your BFF, but you do want someone you feel good about and can have direct conversations with during the good and the bad periods of getting your project completed. If you've done your homework on reputation and fee, then your gut feelings about who you want to work with are also important.

After all this due diligence, you might continue to wonder about getting competitive bids. I still think the answer is no. The bidding competition will take place anyway on the subcontractor level. The chief builder - the construction manager - is hired to get the best prices from the most qualified subs. For a more detailed explanation, Steve Jones and Bart Jones (my friends who own Merlin Contracting in Las Vegas, Nevada) have a great article on competitive bidding in their on-line newsletter. It is one of the best-reasoned discussions I have read on the subject. If you are about to build a new home or are just curious about the process, please click on this Merlin Contracting link to read more about competitive bids.

Building a new home can and should be a happy experience. Hopefully you have chosen an architect who can perform. Great architecture also requires great builders. Make your builder part of the design team as early in the process as possible.
Traditional home designed by Michael Knorr, built by Merlin Contracting.
Contemporary home design by Michael Knorr, built by Merlin Contracting.
Bart Jones & Steve Jones of Merlin Contracting.