The Design Philosophy of Richard L. von Luhrte, FAIA

A recent article dives deep into RNL’s very own Rich von Luhrte on his 45-year career & his unique approach & design philosophy.

Spire Mixed-Use Residential . Photograph by Frank Ooms.

Spire Mixed-Use Residential. Photograph by Frank Ooms.

On the future of architecture in the next 5-10 years:
I am deeply concerned that design today is becoming commoditized, with buildings cranked out as product for ever-lower fees and increased production. Major decisions are being made about the design of buildings long before an architect is on board.
Our profession is at risk of being absorbed by the developer, the contractor and the banker. So if we as architects wish to have a seat at the table, we have to be willing to venture outside our comfort zone, and take a more active leadership role in projects at an earlier stage.
I believe we must become outspoken advocates for the built environment if we are to avoid just providing ‘decoration’ on a building that others have essentially defined before we are ever at the table. It’s not enough to sit at a desk drawing buildings.  We have to be a visible, active member of the community and a key player in the orchestration of a project. - Modelo

Day 12: Big Data & the Designer

Big Data is a general term for data sets that are so large and complex they need algorithms to analyze them.

These data sets include any and all information collected from cell phones, security cameras, internet searches, and credit card purchases – basically anything that gives off a digital exhaust, which is almost every powered product in today’s world. The amount of data a person in the 15th century was exposed to in their lifetime is the same amount of data exposed to us in one day. Previously, much of the excess data generated would end up getting lost in cyberspace because we didn’t know how to analyze it or utilize it. Companies are now starting to see the value and power of big data and are using it to their advantage.

Big data is already being used within the design industry. When Brown University was trying to decide whether they should upgrade their existing engineering building or move off-campus to an innovation center, the architect used big data to determine how they should proceed. After analyzing twitter feeds, surveys, class schedules and other data, the architect found that there was a high level of collaboration between faculty members of different departments, as well as integration of engineering students across the entire campus. With this information, they made the decision to upgrade the existing facilities, rather than spend the money to build a new facility that would have been detrimental to the culture of the university.

 A similar example exists with Harvard University. During an evaluation of the campus plan, Harvard University insisted that they needed to reorient circulation towards the front door of a certain building. The architect utilized data from security cameras and an app called MyCampus to evaluate where the majority of foot traffic entered the building. They found that almost nobody used the front door, and with this information were able to convince Harvard to rework the entire campus plan.

Thanks to the combination of BIM design and GPS tools, we are not only able to construct a complete digital project in three dimensions, but also walk through an empty site and know exactly what room in the future building we are standing in. Virtual reality and augmented reality technologies are starting to have an impact in both design & sustainability realms, from driverless cars to supply chain management and protection of natural habitats. The power of using big data and other innovative technologies in the design process is the ability to take a project from “this is how it should function” to “this is how it will function.” Design as prediction, not preservation, and we are all futurists now.

Article By:
Cara Smeltzer
Rachel Bannon-Godfrey


4 Ways Architects Can Improve Their Presentation Skills

By: Katey Trepanier

In the architecture and design profession, presentation skills are just as important as good ideas and slick renderings. We need to value having a clear dialogue around the issues we spend countless hours considering. Truth is, most of us are not naturally good public speakers; and we need to treat it as a skill that can be improved. When you have a presentation looming, here are some things to consider:

1. Preparation

a. Practice your presentation.

Everyone knows that practice improves our skills, but we don’t always feel like we have the time or the need. Skipping practice is a missed opportunity. We spend months designing, then days composing our slides. Take a couple of hours to consider your delivery.

  • Sequence of practice. For a big presentation, you can use the tried and true method below:
    • Sit down on and make notes about what you want to say. Next, stay sitting and whisper your points out loud to yourself. Then, remain sitting but say your words louder.
    • Stand up and recite your presentation.
    • Face a mirror and rehearse.
    • Give your presentation to a trusted friend/colleague/family member, and then finally give your presentation for real.

This sounds time-consuming, but important presentations require repeated practice to ensure that you are comfortable when the time comes.

  • Examples of success. The very polished presentations seen on TED talks are the result of this level of practice. The typical TED talk-er will practice/recite their 15 minute talk about 200 times (that’s 3000 minutes of practice for a 15 minute speech).

A typical TED Talk presenter will have 3000 minutes of practice for a 15 minute speech.

b. Don’t drink caffeine beforehand.

Before speaking, our adrenaline is ramping up, making caffeine unnecessary. If you’re prone to getting jitters, caffeine will speed up your heart rate and make it more difficult to be relaxed.

c. Practice feeling embarrassed or vulnerable.

It’s normal to feel nervous about looking or sounding stupid when talking in front of groups; but the more you practice feeling vulnerable, the less it will bother you. Practice by going to parties where you don’t know anyone and strike up conversations, hold eye contact with a stranger on the street for an almost inappropriate amount of time, do karaoke, etc.

2. Organization

  • Keep it clear. Outline your upcoming points to the audience, provide the information, and then summarize. This method of organization will help you touch on everything intended, and stay on track.

3. Calm Down

  • Breathe. We all carry anxiety differently, often in our stomachs. Take a truly deep breath – one that will go all the way into the pit of your nerves, exhale slowly, and then feel your nerves lighten up. This can be done whenever the jitters hit – even while you’re presenting. It’s totally appropriate to take a deep breath in between thoughts, and could even make you appear more calm and confident to the audience.
  • Talk slower and louder. It’s typical to speak quickly and quietly when you’re nervous. Be aware of your cadence, breathe slowly and project your voice to the back of the room. Even if you are feeling uneasy, this will give the impression you are not. Eventually, you’ll make the audience feel comfortable with you, you’ll settle in, and will actually feel more relaxed.

4. Look the ParT

  • Dress for the occasion. You’ll feel more confident when you’re looking good. Leave your old leggings in the closet at home and bust out the outfits that you know you look good in.
  • Be positive. Positivity is contagious. Use positive words in your speaking vocabulary, nod, and smile – try not to be creepy about it. The more you connect with the audience, the better you’ll feel standing in front of them, and the better they’ll feel about having you speak to them.
  • Body language. Mind your eye contact, and practice your power poses – don’t feel shy about moving around and taking up space on the presentation floor. It’ll engage your audience. Keep your shoulders back, and focus on not letting your body fold into itself.
  • Follow an example. Find someone whose speaking skills you admire and act as though you are that person when you’re up there. Be confident. Eventually you’ll have more experience faking confidence than you’ll have memories of being a warbled mess. That’s when the persona of being a confident presenter starts to become real.

This kind of exercise encourages us to prioritize the people side of our profession. In an era driven by technology, emails, and videoconferencing, we want to make sure that the art of interpersonal relationships isn’t lost. Our success is determined not only by our ability to design beautiful spaces, but also by our ability to build a strong rapport with our clients.

The only power we ever have as designers: To Advocate

Foster's Droneport in Rawanda (Rendering: Foster+Partners)

Foster's Droneport in Rawanda (Rendering: Foster+Partners)

Norman Foster stepped into the fray of politics in the UK to combat what he called a short-sighted approach to airport expansion near London.  His message was specific, but also geared toward a much grander scale of thought - the design and investment in infrastructure is critical to our future chances of living better.  "Infrastructure," Foster says, "is not to solve the problems of today, but to anticipate the issues of future generations."  

Foster's recent work, dealing with anything from droneports in Africa to development on Mars, may sound far-fetched, but as described by Rowan Moore in his article for The Guardian UK, they begin to anticipate a new thinking on infrastructure's role in the livelihood and sustainability of our cities. Even though Foster see's his only power as an architect being as an advocate for change,  these explorations into solving the future's problems are perhaps among the best uses of the design community's creative energies.  


The wait is over. Lexus has released a hoverboard that uses magnetic fields and liquid nitrogen to carry a person without touching the ground. It requires a proprietary magnetic surface to hover over, but all that just makes it so much cooler. Stop reading and just watch the promotional video. Relevance to our projects? It doesn’t matter, it’s a HOVERBOARD. (Ok, this car-alternative doesn’t need bike racks).

Side note, the number of times the talent fall off the hoverboard is actually hilarious. They couldn’t have practiced more before filming…?

photo courtesy of

photo courtesy of

4 Ways to BIM Better


Everyone should learn to code. Or should they? In the architecture world, that translates into learning programs like Dynamo. It's the open source coding language, developed by Autodesk, which runs on top of Revit (in the same way Grasshopper works with Rhino). Use it to design the skin of your building... or just line up all the views on your sheet.

If the terms computational geometry and rule-based design excite you, Dynamo has an excellent Primer for getting started



Collaboration for Revit, or C4R, is the new offering from Autodesk which basically acts as Revit Server in the Cloud. No longer bound by internal company networks or location, a project team can now collaborate on Revit models with partner firms and consultants, without ever havingto exchange files. You can even use the Wi-Fi at Starbucks to work on your model. Bonus features include a built-in chat function, to keep everyone on the same page. (RNL is currently testing this add-on service with an out-of-state partner design firm.)



Autodesk this week announced Stingray, a real-time virtual reality tool that interfaces with Revit and 3ds Max. That's right - take your model from Revit into a live, rendered, game-like environment and have your client walk through it on an iPhone or favorite VR interface (Oculus Rift, anyone?). Make a change to the model in 3ds Max and have it show up in Stingray automatically. Just don't bump your shin on the coffee table while you're exploring your virtual design.

Image Credit:  In The Fold

Image Credit: In The Fold

Image Credit:  In The Fold

Image Credit: In The Fold



Revizto, the cross-platform 3D model review app, has changed their licensing model, making the base version of their product free! Revizto allows one to export a Revit or SketchUp model and fly through it on an iPad or Android tablet, or on a Windows PC or Mac. I'm looking for someone to test it out. If you're interested, e-mail

Image Credit:  Revizto

Image Credit: Revizto

Header Image: Dynamo


Let’s set the record straight from the start - I personally wouldn’t wear this. But, I imagine it would be cool as a dynamic, slightly terrifying, sculpture in a building plaza / lobby, growing spikes and changing colors depending on the air quality. If this is what the pieces look like for London’s air pollution, in Beijing it would resemble a medieval torture device.

photo credit: Steve McInerny

photo credit: Steve McInerny


Do Bike Paths Need Ride-In Toilets? YES. And other things. Read on for a discussion on how to make Bike Paths more functional. But focus on the ride-in toilets because, yes.

photos credit: MarkA on Flickr

photos credit: MarkA on Flickr


This one is for the Denver Water team currently wrestling with the size of the Eco Machine… An installation at PS1 in Queens aims to make water infrastructure into something visible, fun and provoking, versus “separate, smelly, fenced, invisible.” Note to self: don’t drink the water next time I am in Long Island.

“For many years, we’ve seen sustainability and political ecology as a kind of punishment,” … “Because we produce too much garbage or we don’t use the resources well, we have to be made miserable. We have to change our perspective to these crises. This is the time we happen to live, so we have to change our relationship to it, we have to create a culture and an enjoyment for it.”

“The Office of Political Innovation … focuses on how the built environment encourages certain behaviors over others … architects and designers should consider how to make positive social outcomes not only more accessible, but also more alluring, more fun.”

photo credit: Miguel de Guzman

photo credit: Miguel de Guzman


(aka How to have the most fun ever in our next planning charrette) 

Recognizing that most people understand 3D models better than 2D plans, Play the City, and Amsterdam and Istanbul based company has developed a ‘City Gaming’ tool to help in community planning sessions. This isn’t online video gaming we are talking about, this is old school ‘building blocks on a site plan’ gaming, and it works wonders for generating discussion, debate and identifying crucial interactions between community stakeholders.

‘The gaming environment “demystifies, softens and humanises what can be a very technical and often alienating urban design, planning and stringently legislative building control process.’

This article is a case study of how this was applied in a South African township- scroll down to ‘Playing the City as a Game’.

‘The game comprises a three dimensional representation of the KBD [the business district] and players have access to a library of over 600 game pieces which represent physical components of potential urban projects, for example; housing or office blocks as well as organisational components such as social networks or public support. Much like in an online game of Sims, players can create buildings and partnerships, moving them around the board and test out different ways to configure new developments.’

photo courtesy of futurecapetown

photo courtesy of futurecapetown