By Parker Williams, AIA, member of the AIA Colorado Member Voice Committee 

Boring Architecture was the title of the presentation by HouMinn at the 2019 AIA Colorado Practice + Design Conference but their work is far from boring. The real meaning is to drill deep in architecture education, practice and design processes. 

Blair Satterfield of HiLo Lab in Vancouver, British Columbia and Marc Swackhamer of LoDo Lab collaborate on a variety of projects focused on multi-disciplinary partners and allowing generative processes to guide design through HouMinn Practice

They reject the heroic notion of the solo architect. They would rather advance design by collaborating and giving agency to communities they serve by empowering them with knowledge about design. 

As they set forth with a quote from architect and educator Tom Fisher, Director of the Minnesota Design Center, “Unless the design professions and design education take on the global challenge of providing safe shelter and secure settlements for every person on the planet, regardless of their ability to pay, ours will be a field much smaller and less relevant than it has been in the past.”

The collaborative duo’s work addresses a variety of subjects, from visualizing climate change effects on bird populations in Minnesota to digital technology creating structural members from discarded wood, and site specific installations that address user concerns. 

Zippered – Wood

Blair’s HiLo lab at the University of British Columbia “utilizes lowly materials in highly sophisticated design applications,” in this case they are drilling into the construction industry by creating on-site methods to reuse discarded 2×4 and other wood waste.  They use a combination of “high-tech equipment and software to generate work that can be produced through low-tech and low-impact means.” In this case zippered wood uses a combination of Xbox One Kinect to use facial recognition software to locate wood knots in the 2×4, then each piece is  custom milled using CNC to create a wood zipper with knots located in the teeth of the zipper. This new product is not only using reclaimed materials, but also is incredibly strong. 
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Photo credit by Blair Satterfield 



VarVac is an installation in the school of Minnesota’s Architecture building, a 1950’s modernist building that did not fill the needs of modern day staff and created an echoey environment in the reception area.  With a very limited budget and access to a vacuum forming machine, HouMinn creating a process with plywood and wire forms allowing the project to proceed without increasing the budget, but also give a certain uncontrollability to the design process.  This eliminated the costly need to make forms for the vacuum forming machine. This process resulted in acoustical panels with a dynamic visual pattern that helped absorb and diffuse sound. Mapping of acoustical hot spots allowed for the treatment of openings in the plastic panels to absorb sound with acoustical felt underneath the panels. 
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Photo credit: Ryan Lodermeier


Orbacles, a collaboration with the interdisciplinary design group called MinnLabis, is a project that directly addresses climate change in Minnesota by illustrating a changing bird population. Where climate change is causing birds to migrate more north, the state bird, the Loon is predicted to not be in Minnesota in 2080.  This visualizes bird species by colors and quantity, it also creates habitat for birds, giving Minnesotans a way to process how climate change is impacting them. 

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Photo credit by Marc Swackhamer