Category: - Akertoys
 
[Jennifer]       For those of you dying to know the answer to last week's "What's It?"...  The photo is a detail of a stairwell at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, designed by architect Louis I. Kahn, constructed from 1960-1966.  You might recognize some other views of this project:
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In the original post, Adan's hand is on the handrail/guardrail.  The entire rail is fabricated of stainless steel – that's part of why it's looking so great even though it's been exposed to sea air for the past 45-50 years.  (Kudos go to David for noticing a slight amount of rust forming on the steel.  Extra points for your optimism that something non-brick could be possible at UVa.)  The toprail element is a custom fabrication of extruded stainless steel.  If you look closely, you'll see that it's similar to a standard structural shape known as an angle used in many applications in building construction (brick lintels, &c.).  My guess is it's an L3x5 modified to have a +/- 1" diameter round bulb flaring from the top flange.  It's sized such that your hand fits around the top curve nicely.  The shape is strong enough to provide the required structural support for the guardrail, and the custom profile allows it to function as a handrail; it's both in one.  It's an elegant move and an excellent example of the economy of means architects and designers struggle to achieve.  

This was a custom fabrication job.  The shape has a consistent cross-section, meaning it likely was fabricated as an extrusion of stainless steel drawn through a die.  Custom extrusions can be prohibitively expensive, but become more achievable if you're making a lot of that custom shape.  The design team that developed this detail knew they could use this shape as the handrail on every stair throughout the project.  Also, it seems as though they had an amazingly supportive patron and client in Dr. Jonas Salk.  
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You can learn more about Lou Kahn in the documentary "My Architect," made by his son, Nathaniel Kahn.  Nerds can learn more about the technical details in the book Louis I. Kahn: Building Art, Building Science, by Thomas Leslie.  

BTW, Adan says "Hi."  He misses posting blog updates, but he's busy bringing more power to the electrified baritone ukulele and other fun stuff in development here.  Cheers, all.  
 
[Adan] Well, as Nancy correctly guessed in the comments, our "What is It Wednesday" challenge image did indeed depict an implement intended for human-powered boat propulsion.  In this case the object would most correctly be referred to as a sculling paddle.
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Here's a bigger picture, laid out in the freshly-mown grass.


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Here's how it's intended to be held.

"Sculling," in the context of paddling rather than rowing, is a cool trick that lets you move continually forward without removing your paddle from the water.  You just slice from side to side, in a figure 8 motion (more like ∞ actually), and each time you reverse direction you tip the blade slightly so it's always "climbing."

The customer is a very experienced fisherman (actually has "fishing consultant" on his business card) and came to us with an image in mind of what he wanted.  We helped him clarify the image, added dimensions that matched his specific use (from an elevated chair on a fishing boat), and of course I tried to apply a little some of the experience from my years of kayaking :-)  We iterated three times to get to this one, which seems to be a pretty fine product.  The customer can now maneuver his boat along a riverbank with just his one hand, while he occupies his other hand with the various tasks of fishing.
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This image shows the blade contours.  It took a little wrangling to teach Jobot how to get those nice slicing edges to taper down in a varying angle all the way around the blade perimeter.  It turned out pretty great, though.  I'm delighted.

The wood, by the way, is cypress.  It's supposed to be fantastic for prolonged exposure to water.  To quote from the Wikipedians, "Bald cypress wood has long been valued for its water resistance thus called 'wood eternal'. Still-usable prehistoric wood is often found in swamps in New Jersey and occasionally as far north as New England although it is more common in the southeast." The customer is going to use this one without any finish at all, and if it starts to show adverse affects he'll add a spar polyurethane or some such magic material.  It's a crazy light wood.  It's like working with the world's strongest styrene foam.  Just holding it with my left hand while sanding left some alarming divots from my wedding ring!
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Another image of the blade contours.  Pretty huh?


Anyway, hope you like it.  We have the customer's permission to reproduce and sell this product (his primary interest for the moment was to have a few for personal use), so if you have a burning need for one (or similar), do feel free to let us know.


And of course, let us know anything at all you feel: comments, hurrah!  And, finally, if you'd like, feel free to follow @Akertoys on Twitter.