In LEGO, We Connect – A gallery review

If it isn’t already apparent from previous posts (and here and here), I’m a bit of a LEGO nerd.  I love those little bricks even if with two kids and a business I don’t get to build with them very much these days.  They’re beautiful, inspiring, and they’re the reason why I’m an Architect.

I’ve built some crazy things in my day (like this 7′ long spaceship) but I’ve been awful at photographing it.

Here's the OSS Pontbriand - a crazy spaceship that took up 9 months of my life.  Click for more pictures

Here’s the OSS Pontbriand – a crazy spaceship that took up 9 months of my life. Click for more pictures

The poor photography of my work was partially why I was intrigued to hear of a new photography exhibit focusing on LEGO photography.    The show was down at the Bryan Ohno Gallery and called “In LEGO, We Connect” and I figured it would be worth a visit. Honestly, I imagined it would be fun but nothing too world shattering.  Imagine my surprise then when a few of us from Board & Vellum swung down a bit late (thanks for letting us in guys!) for the opening night and saw the work.  I found it all really inspiring in the way it manipulated an apparent sense of scale and took you on a little ride.  It was fun, gorgeous, and just a blast to look at.  The three artists are from Seattle, Helsinki, and Stockholm and bring unique approaches to a fun medium.

Here are a few of us with one of the talented artists, Vesa Lehtimaki

Here are a few of us with one of the talented artists, Vesa Lehtimaki 

In particular, the work by Shelly Corbett stood out to me as playful and gorgeous.  You should check her out on Instagram as well at XXSJC and while you’re there, don’t forget to follow boardandvellum too!  Her “I Robot, 205” is one that I just can’t stop looking at. Gorgeous.

I Robot, 2015 48” x 35” Monotype Archival pigment print on paper

I Robot, 2015
48” x 35” Monotype
Archival pigment print on paper 

The show is open until April 11th down at the Bryan Ohno Gallery (521 Main Street, Seattle WA 98104).  I can’t recommend it enough.

In LEGO, We Connect


At Board & Vellum we support each staff member having his or her own voice because we are of the opinion that collaboration between different people yields a richer outcome than following a singular way of thinking. You may notice this on our blog; different characters emerge in our posts as we all regularly contribute. With this post, I am formally introducing you to my voice.

After being in the office for a couple of months I have identified a unique position for myself. I simultaneously enjoy solving everyday architectural issues and pondering theoretical architecture. Also, as someone who recently finished my graduate thesis and continues to be active at the architecture school, I like to bring a critical view to the work that we do along with a bit of an academic perspective to our practice.

I plan to use my posts to keep readers informed about interesting events and lectures that we have attended, mention upcoming educational activities that you may find enriching, and discuss critical issues related to the work that we do. It is my hope that in providing a window into a world that can sometimes be very separate from the public eye, architects and non-architects alike can find common interests and spur a dialog.

Today I will share with you an anecdote from an undergraduate final presentation that I recently had the fortune of attending as a guest critic. In the presentations, some students mentioned a material or two with which they envisioned their proposed buildings being clad.

Some said:

Wood because it is warm, concrete because it is solid, or glass because you can see through it.materials composite

(Lancaster House. MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects, Thermal Vals. Atelier Peter Zumthor and Partner, Helvetia Headquarters. Herzog & DeMeuron)

These are observations that we all make regarding typical building materials, but when discussing material one must account for the subtleties of time and its effects on our buildings. Some of these young students left out this important factor in discussing material choice. Wood can seem warm, but some species silver in the sun. Concrete is easily stained by water that has run over rusting metal or act as a host for mosses (especially in our Northwest climate). And as a professor of mine drove home in an essay during my tenure in graduate school, the experience of glass is as much a result of the reflections it casts as its transparency. Consider this element of time when you imagine your next project. The state in which you imagine your building may only last an instant; embrace the weathering and changes that occur over time and enjoy your building for much longer than an instant.

The Modern Day Artist Salon

Spring Festival photoshoot for Vogue Italy, June 2000 by Steven Meisel

Spring Festival photoshoot for Vogue Italy, June 2000 by Steven Meisel

A salon is a gathering of people under the roof of an inspiring host, held partly to amuse one another and partly to refine the taste and increase the knowledge of the participants through conversation. –Wikipedia

The salons of the early 1900′s were probably hosted by rich debutantes who enjoyed bringing famous writers and painters together. I’d like to think that a modern day version would gather an eclectic group of artists and celebrate the multifaceted. I happen to know a number of individuals that are really good at doing more than one thing: Architects who design fashion out of trash, lawyers who take amazing photographs, and actors winning roller-derby tournaments. Maybe it’s just the people I attract. After all, I am an actor/singer/writer/fashion designer/blogger (most of which is actually useful during my work-week here at Board & Vellum).

The other kind of creativity I find truly inspiring is when someone comes up with a totally new way to share art. Would you believe, there’s someone in Seattle who hosts art exhibitions in her apartment? There’s even a group of individuals who create temporary events in empty retail spaces celebrating all things creative. This is a great city.

The Oracle Club

Jenna Gribbon, Fine Artist, and Julian Tepper, Writer, founders of The Oracle Club.

I learned about The Oracle Club from the TV show Gossip Girl. Season 5, Episode 20 “Salon of the Dead” (please don’t judge). It’s a modern day gathering space/salon for artists and writers offering annual memberships operating out of Long Island, New York. I’m determined to find something similar in Seattle.

The 20th century salons of London and Paris brought together great thinkers all in the name of rich and inspiring conversation. We may not have a proper salon in this town (If i’m wrong, please email me), but we do have some amazing galleries, theaters, and happenings to be devoured with the same gusto as Virginia Woolf and the other members of the Bloomsbury Group.

An Island Nest

Mercer Island is the playground for more than 130 species of birds. From the tiny hummingbirds suckling nectar from garden flowers to the majestic ospreys and bald eagles that hover high atop the Island, many birds have chosen to make this beautiful urban island their home, to build their nest and to raise their families.

Hummingbird A hummingbird picture from photographer Judith Roan’s Mercer Island backyard  

With its natural beauty, great residential neighborhoods, successful school district, and easy access to both Bellevue and Seattle, Mercer Island is also a favored location for our species, to settle and build a nest.

When we were approached by a family planning to build a new home in Mercer Island, in which to raise their two young children: inspiration came naturally.

We separated the house into two wings that lift up; ready to take flight! The two wings were then stitched together with a circulation core, embellished with a steel staircase and large windows capturing the views. Creating two wings allowed us to separate the public activities from private spaces. While the North Wing of the house accumulated cooking, playing, working and entertaining, the South Wing included all the sleeping areas.

House 3D

The contemporary shape was situated on site to utilize the precious Northwest daylight optimally, and to maximize the incredible views: Lake Washington and the Seattle skyline to the West, and the Bellevue skyline and Cascade Mountains to the East.

On the exterior we experimented with different siding materials, such as Silbonit (an easy-to-maintain integral colored cement panel system), turned the metal roofing down on the South wall to ground the house, and brought warmth to the composition with clear cedar horizontal siding accents.

Four-foot tall sacked concrete walls slice through the front yard creating an entry with privacy, acting as a neutral backdrop for the planting strip. The Westerly gardens include a private seating area where the afternoon sun will shine, and a vegetable garden to the South. The Eastern garden is sheltered from street with mature shrubs, hence providing the perfect family backyard.

Natural wood, hot rolled steel, and white stone were blended harmoniously to create a calm and modern interior palette. With an exterior envelope designed based on “Passivehaus” principles, radiant floors, and a smart natural ventilation approach, this house provides a comfortable, allergy-free indoor environment for its occupants.

Construction is slated to start in April 2015. Can’t wait to share finished work!

Look up! Architectural Terracotta Everywhere

Ever been walking along 3rd Avenue in downtown Seattle and happen to randomly look up at Cherry Street only to see a bunch of walruses staring back down at you, complete with tusks the size of your head? No? Well, let me tell you, you’re missing out. Or maybe you just have yet to be introduced to the intricacies of the terracotta Beaux-Arts polychromatic style that permeated the building culture of Seattle far into the 1930s… or maybe I’m just a hopeless romantic student of architecture, awed by the masterful craftsmanship of elements far too expensive to pay for nowadays with our blue-collar budgets…

Link to the National Park Service listing for the Arctic Club Building:
Such was not the case after the Klondike Gold Rush of the Northwest between 1896 and 1899. Lesser known perhaps than the California Gold Rush of 1849, such prospectors who were lucky enough to strike it rich banded together in 1908 and founded the Arctic Club of Seattle, and commissioned a building to document their exploits, designed by local architect A. Warren Gould (no, not the same Gould as the University of Washington’s Gould Hall, named after Carl F. Gould) in 1916. Gould ornamented the third floor façade with (I don’t know how many there are – someone comment to this post and solve the mystery!) multi-hued walrus heads to celebrate the frozen tundra which provided these prospectors with their discovered wealth.

Arctic Club entrance

Entrance to the Arctic Club


Arctic Club Walrus corner

Polychromatic Terracotta Panels


Arctic Club Walrus

Close-up of a Walrus Head Gargoyle

Expounding the beauty of terracotta goes far beyond the scope of this blog post. Suffice to say that this clay-fired art form diminished and fell to the wayside during World War II, bowing to more economical and mass-produced forms of ornament in building stock. But for the basic understanding, it is quite similar to clay brick, which is a product fired in a kiln and sometimes glazed and colored to taste. If you’ve got ceramic tile in your home, you’ve got the bones of terracotta. Artisans, largely anonymous to this day, crafted the molds that created these walrus heads, and many uncounted other fantastic ornaments around our great city. If the industry of terracotta were alive today (and don’t get me wrong – several facilities still manufacture terracotta for unique purposes and high-paying clients) these artists would be celebrated with the Michelangelos of their time. (Seriously, like any artisan they were undervalued with what they bring to a society.)


Architectural Graphic Standards, Third Edition 1941

Historic Seattle Link to a past event:


Historic Seattle, a non-profit I’m a proud member of, recently held a great lecture, film show, and panel discussion with a myriad of fine experts in the history of terracotta in Seattle, including a structural engineer named Mark Morden from Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates that actually helped design and restore these aforementioned walrus heads to the Arctic Building after years of substandard maintenance. Check out this detail image, and then a more in-depth paper on the restoration!


For those of you less interested in the chemistry, mathematics and engineering of such artforms, just remember to look up the next time you’re walking through downtown Seattle. Many, many examples of our rich terracotta industry still exist, from the Woolworth Building on 3rd and Pike (now Ross) to the landmark Smith Tower (formerly the tallest building west of the Mississippi, dog-gonnit!).

We’re surrounded by our past, so you can’t help but embrace it. Do yourself a favor and appreciate the things that last – even if you don’t like each style, I hope you can appreciate the workmanship and pride our ancestors put into this tangible world! :P

Thanks for listening. Tune in next time for more of Robert’s Ruminations, or Mech’s Musings, or whatever people at Board & Vellum end up calling my endless rants on bygone eras. :P


Image 01 (Exterior) with people

What is an ADU? What is a DADU? Why does everything have to have an acronym? Some of these questions will be answered in this post and the acronym question can be answered, ironically, in another post by our fearless leader Jeff. Personally, I try to avoid acronyms at all costs but sometimes they’re unavoidable. OK, enough about acronyms, let’s get back to what this post is all about: ADU’s and DADU’s.

An ADU (accessory dwelling unit) is a separate living area within a house, often with a full kitchen and separate entry.  A DADU (detached accessory dwelling unit) is a separate living space that is not attached to the main house. DADU’s are often called backyard cottages or mother-in-law apartments.  I was talking about these with my mom the other day, and she said “you’re not going to stick me in your backyard storage shed!” Ha ha. The funny thing is, there are a lot of great designs out there and you wouldn’t believe it, but they actually are the size of a shed.  Lots of people use ADU’s and DADU’s for all kinds of things such as art studios, offices, play areas, or apartments that get rented out.  You may be thinking that these are not really “living spaces”, but the City of Seattle classifies a “living space” as a heated space. If you have heat in your studio or office it is technically a “living space.”

Here at Board & Vellum we love designing small spaces. It’s a fun challenge to fit lots of program into a confined space. Not too long ago, a client came to us wanting a DADU and this project had quite the program.  We had a footprint of about 340 sf to work with and a lot to fit into it, so we had to use every single square inch.  The clients wanted a workshop, office, kitchen, full bathroom, dining room, yoga studio, and bedroom, with a reading area / dressing area. A very ambitious project!

We quickly realized that we didn’t have enough room to make all those different spaces, so we considered how we could use the space outside versus the inside space. The solution for the workshop was to install 2 large swing doors that concealed a workbench and tools. The bench could be pulled out and used on the driveway, turning the driveway into the workshop (see above first image for workshop doors). For the interior, we designed one large open space that can adapt to fit the clients’ needs.  It’s not easy to do yoga while working in an office, reading, and cooking all at the same time, so what we came up with was a sliding wall.  Yes, that’s right: a wall that moves.

Image 02 with peopleIn the above image you can see that we tucked the kitchen under the stairs and used all the void space for storage.

Image 03 with peopleWhen the sliding wall is pushed toward the kitchen, an island folds down creating a work surface. Behind the island is a TV on a swing arm that can be viewed from the dining table. The office is tucked behind the sliding wall, and there are 2 large built-in cork boards with a small desk.

Image 04 with peopleWhen the sliding wall is pushed all the way back against the bookshelves, it really opens up the space.  Now there is plenty of room for yoga.  You can also see in this image where we located the bathroom. We were able to fit a shower, sink, toilet, and washer and dryer.

Image 05 with peopleHere is another image of the kitchen with the dining table and stairs.  On the back side of the stair landing (where the lady in the pink shirt is standing/ staring at the wall) we have more storage under the stairs.

Image 07 with peopleUpstairs is the 230 sf loft with a sleeping and reading / dressing area.

Image 06 with people Here you can see the other side of the loft.

I’ve summarized below what we were able to fit in our 340 sf footprint or 570 sq ft:

in 340 sf (main floor) we have:
- Yoga studio
- Office
- Kitchen
- Workshop
- Bathroom
- Washer and Dryer
- Dining Room

in 230 sq ft (loft) we have:
- Bedroom
- Reading Area
- Dressing Area

Bring us your small footprint challenges!

Local Art

First Thursday Art Walk is happening this week.  We encourage you all to go out and support the local artists in our neighborhoods around Seattle.  While wandering through the many studios in Georgetown, the International District, Pioneer Square, Belltown, Ballard, etc. you might just get inspired to create some artwork yourself.  Here are some wonderful local resources that you should know about to help you along the way:

1)      Pratt Fine Arts Center – Interested in glassblowing, metalsmithing, printmaking, stonecarving, or wordworking? Pratt is your one-stop-shop for classes in all of these mediums and many more. I confess that I am biased towards Pratt as I have taken well over a dozen classes there since 2011. Classes are open to beginners and seasoned professionals alike so don’t be shy, jump right on in! I had no prior experience in any of the beginning classes I have taken there. Pratt is located in Seattle’s Central District. Be sure to attend their spring open house on March 28 for demonstrations in all of their class studios!

Pratt collage

Clockwise starting from left:  Bronze pour during the Pratt biannual open house, guests attending the annual fine art auction, glass artist in the hot shop

2)      Gage Academy of Art – I’ve been following this school on Facebook for a while and wish I could muster the courage to take a class here… the examples of student work are outstanding and, honestly, a bit intimidating!  Gage is geared towards training in drawing, painting, and sculpture.  While classes are available for all levels of ability, I get the impression that many of the students at Gage are BFA and MFA grads pursuing continuing education throughout their professional careers.  Gage Academy is located in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood.

Gage collage

Clockwise starting from left:  Exterior of Gage Academy, painting student work, sculptor in action

3)       Pottery Northwest – This is the place to go to learn about ceramics!  I haven’t taken any classes here yet, but I hope to do so eventually.  Like the previous two schools, Pottery Northwest also offers classes for all skill levels.  And once you’ve started practicing on your own, check out the amazing Seattle Pottery Supply for all of your project needs.  You don’t need to be an experienced ceramicist to shop this store; I’ve purchased a variety of raw materials and tools for use in my glass projects there.  Pottery Northwest is located at Seattle Center north of Belltown and Seattle Pottery Supply is located in the SODO district.

Pottery NW collage

Clockwise starting from left:  Exterior of Pottery Northwest, student work, vessels being fired in a clamshell raku kiln

Now that you know about these amazing, local, non-profit art schools, it’s time to enroll in some classes.  Perhaps I’ll see you in one!

2015 Seattle Home Show

Have you ever been to the Seattle Home Show? The “Nation’s largest consumer home show?” Me neither. But this year our firm partnered with the AIA Seattle to populate their booth, which gave me the opportunity to check it out. Here’s what I learned:

Anyone who’s thinking about remodeling their existing home – or building from the ground up – should take advantage of this event. Wouldn’t it be helpful to get the perspective of an Architect before you hire an Architect? I’m here to tell you that twice a year for 9 days at a time, a variety of Licensed Architects man the AIA booth for 6 hours a day (8 hours on weekends) just waiting for your questions. We’re talking local, successful, creative and award winning architects – like those from my firm – answering your questions for free! Well, for the price of admission, which is $12.


Of course there’s also the A to Z Exhibitor List of product reps who will tell you everything you need to know about installation of your new closet system or how much it could cost you for a new roof – it’s a wealth of information. Follow the Home Show on Facebook to be in the know for the announcement of the fall event.

Board & Vellum, your advocate for great architecture, big or small.

Todd’s Top 5 Eye Catching Items



(Editor’s Note: Welcome to our new continuing series, B&V’s Top Five! Each Month you’ll learn about a few awesome things B&V’ers are excited about.)

  1. ART:  While recently in Honolulu, HI I attended “POW! WOW!: Exploring The New Contemporary Art Movement” open house and discovered Brian Mashburn and his incredible art.  I was fully engaged with the level of detail and the utilization of foreground/background imagery and couldn’t look away.
  2. TRANSPORTATION:  No matter what mode of transportation you utilize there are numerous innovations occurring within the transportation field.  As an avid cyclist and car enthusiast I’ve selected the Denny bicycle and the BMW i8 car just for a few of the outstanding innovations currently going on.  Both of these products are trying to reinvent, reuse, and refrain from excess material/resources in order to make it easier, lighter, adaptable and more fun to use.
  3. FURNITURE:  While traveling to work one morning I stumbled across the Copper Real Good Chair.  Not only do I love copper but I love the modern look of this chair while allowing the chair to patina and age with time.  It is also is a great example of flat-pack furniture.
  4. 3D PRINTING:  3D printing is going wild right now and people are exploring all types of things they can print.  Anything from clothing to buildings.  Innovation within this field seems endless and exciting.
  5. KENETIC SCULPTURE:  This is also another area with a lot of exploration currently; just one artist exploring this is Ned Kahn.  I love how his particular installations capture the dynamic qualities of the environments in which it exists.  He is able to visually showcase the movement of elements in a way that can be understood easily and artfully.



A Visit to the NUCOR Steel Plant

You might ask why an architecture firm working predominately in single-family residential is interested in steel. Looking around your house you might say, “I don’t even see any steel here.” But the reality of home construction can be deceiving. The wood framing members are joined by steel nails and nailer plates. You may have steel windows depending on the age and budget of your house. Some of your homes may even have steel structural members at particularly large openings, heavily-loaded columns in your basement, or if you have a large cantilever hanging out past the line of your foundation. These elements are all covered and concealed. Additionally, there is one major steel component unseen by most unless you kick around the job site while your foundation is being poured, rebar.


Steel rebar allows us to rely on our concrete foundations, slabs, and walls. Concrete is a wonderfully strong material in compression (think crushing) but fails quickly and easily in tension (think pulling apart). Since building are subjected to constantly fluctuating conditions—whether moisture, temperature, or loading—things move. We like to use concrete in compression but because of fluctuating conditions and some principles of structures concrete elements are sometimes stretched, pulled, or bent, and then we need steel!

tension compression

Steel rebar can be found in almost all modern applications of concrete. Round bars are bound to one another with wire and assembled into cages that are floated within the concrete while it hardens. After the concrete has cured, the steel is permanently set. Ribbing or texture on the outside of the bars acts like teeth to bite into the hardened concrete and keep it from cracking apart while subjected to pulling and bending.

An invaluable resource for architects and other professionals in the construction industry is to physically handle materials and see how they are made. Luckily for us, we have a top-notch steel plant in West Seattle producing over 800,000 tons of steel products annually, of which 85% is rebar. Knowing this, a crew from Board & Vellum took a trip to tour Seattle’s NUCOR Steel plant recently to understand what goes into this critical building material that keeps our buildings standing up while almost never being seen.

1940 plant aerialthree amigos

Just over the West Seattle Bridge in an area affectionately called Little Pittsburgh, NUCOR has been rolling out steel products since 1904. Since then, this NUCOR location has grown and evolved to produce steel with the most current processes and technologies. Another thing we like about what they do is almost everything from the plant is 100% recycled!

In certain industries, like automotive, requirements are such that only newly produced steel can be used. This is not the case in the building industry. The grade of steel is very high in building products but not so high that it requires virgin steel. In addition, there is so much steel being produced and used in cars, buildings, cans, and other applications that there is a constant supply of scrap steel. Train cars and truckloads drop off heaps of scrap metal all day long every day of the week at NUCOR, and this is where it begins.

Loads of scrap coming from all over the region, including across the border in British Columbia, are delivered to the plant and scanned for radioactive materials or other such contaminants that would make handling dangerous. The safety requirements at NUCOR are so stringent that if there is any radioactive material detected within a train car or truck load, that whole shipment is sent back to where it originated. The safety manager giving us the tour tells us this can happen sometimes multiple times in a day, but it’s all part of keeping workers, end users, neighbors, and the environment safe.

scrap yard

After passing contamination inspection, the scrap metal is hauled to the on-site scrap yard. The scrap yard is an open-air covered region of the plant (one of three covered steel plants in the world) spanning multiple acres. Here large spools of spent cable, car chassis, maritime sprockets, and enormous steel plates are sorted into piles based on metallurgical properties. The yard is managed by a giant gantry crane equipped with two round, pickup-truck-sized electromagnets. From here the material is gathered to start making new rebar and other rolled steel products.

For any given order, a recipe is devised dictated by the requirements of the end product. Each product requires a specific grade of steel and a maximum allowable amount of added alloys. These standards are critical so that we know how structures will perform and can design for those conditions. In the end, this makes our buildings more efficient in terms of material and also in the final price to our clients. The gantry crane operator gathers whatever is needed from the scrap yard and drops the recycled material into a large bucket on its way to the furnace. The furnace is where the real fun begins.

melt house

Somewhere between a post-apocalyptic Matrix nightmare and an enormous welding booth, the furnace is almost always running. Our guide puts in perspective the energy required to run this process saying that the monthly electrical bill at NUCOR Seattle is close to $2 million. From behind blast-proof glass we hang out with Phil, the most senior employee at the plant who has been working his way up from the floor for 45 years. Phil is now the senior furnace operator. He sits perched above the melt-house floor in the control station with blue and green plastic shields placed strategically to keep his retinas from burning out the back of his eyes. Here, he uses what looks like a modified fighter plane control to deliver 40,000 lbs. of scrap at a time to the furnace pot. After three payloads are added to the vat, Phil maneuvers a three-headed electrode into the pile to start the melt. The furnace works on the same principle as an arc welder. An electrical current travels to the electrode head and is held off of a conducting material just enough to create an electrical arc which superheats and melts the metal, but in this case there are three electrodes and each is larger than a Seahawks linebacker. Delivering a high dose of electricity and heat to the vat, Phil keeps the furnace around 3200°F. At this temperature, the scrap metal melts completely and can be fully mixed to produce a consistent mixture. During the process Phil pulls levers and hits touch screens that also add various metals and oxygen to purify the mixture. Slag, a byproduct made of impurities is then dumped off the top before the steel mixture is poured into billets in the next step.

hot billets

The molten steel is formed into billets, large, square-shaped bars cut to different lengths depending on weight needed for a specific order. In order to keep the process continually moving, the cutting mechanism actually travels with the steel as it is being pushed out of the furnace. This way it can take its time cutting accurately while the product is moved out of the furnace, making room for the next superhot batch of steel. Once the billets are formed and cut they have to cool, but not because they are too hot, but because they are not magnetic at high temperatures. Billets are about eight inches square and 32’ long, meaning they weigh roughly 9000 lbs. EACH. To handle these pieces of steel the plant once again needs to use electromagnets, but until the billets cool to a modest 1100°F they cannot be attracted to the magnets, so they sit on a steel track that has cold water lines running through it to keep the entire setup from deforming and dropping all the newly formed billets off the rails. At this point, the billets are also marked with an order number that codes them for what product will be rolled from them in the final stages of the process.


When the billets have cooled to temperatures that allow them to be handled by another set of magnets, they are brought to the finishing building. Here, another furnace reheats the steel to temperatures that make it pliable for forming into end products. Once the billets are glowing a bright orange they are sent through a series of rollers that gradually take the square forms down to round rebar, all the way from 8” squares to rebar that is 3/8” in some cases. We watch this process from another control room that sits overlooking the roller assembly. Behind the controls on this side of the plant is Charlie, Phil’s brother and the second most tenured employee at NUCOR Seattle. Charlie pulls a different set of switches and touchscreens to control the shape change, feed speed, and cutting of the rebar that comes off the line. He tells us the glowing steel is traveling fast and that when this process was worked manually it would sometimes catch a worker and send him clear across the warehouse. This is another point where our guide reiterates the safety measures taken at the plant which include getting workers as far away from hot, moving parts as possible.

In the final steps, the rebar is bundled with coils of wire and tagged for shipping and end use. At this point, the rebar is finally at a temperature that you can touch with bare hands or even stand near without fear for losing your eyebrows as it leaves the plant.

The Board & Vellum trip to NUCOR Steel was fun and valuable. So often in this profession we discuss building materials, lifecycles, and holistic understanding of what we do but are not often able to see the cycle in action or watch the processes that go into what we receive on site. One take-away from our NUCOR visit is that we can all be more committed to understanding the entire lifecycle of our materials and buildings. The supply chain for building steel is almost entirely recycled from the waste stream. In addition, the byproducts from processing the steel are either recovered and disposed of safely (particulates are collected in large dust-hoppers) or collected and used in other industries (slag is solidified and crushed to be used as a higher-performing road pavement alternative to asphalt). These big-picture ideas are ones to consider in making better performing buildings.

We thoroughly enjoyed our afternoon at NUCOR and suggest that if you are at all interested in seeing the process for yourself that you schedule a free tour as well!

(photo credit: Mike Siegel/Seattle Times)