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More Than Desks: Christopher Reinhart

Welcome to part two of our "More Than Desks" series.

While the physical space and desks are a very important part of coworking, what we love even more is the community that has flourished within the space. We'll be highlighting the amazing things that Cowork Btown members have been doing at Cowork Btown and in the larger Bloomington community.

Today we're interviewing Cowork member Chris Reinhart. Chris is a designer, builder, and educator who specializes in socially and environmentally responsible projects. 


1. What sparked your interest in architecture?

I grew up with an engineer father who himself had grown up on a farm, and he transferred many of those skills to me. We spent a lot of time remodeling or adding on to the houses we lived in, as well as working on machines. From my earliest memories I was part of the process of imagining possibilities and then directly shaping the space that we lived in, and it had a deep impact on me. Also, I have been able to travel a lot in my life, and seeing the built environments in radically different climates and cultures has left (and continues to leave) a large impression on me. The built environment is where the limits of what is possible with technology intersects with our understanding of ecology and with myriad social, political, and economic forces -- it's an exciting space to work in.

2. Why the focus on eco-friendly design?

I'm a believer in the concept of right livelihood, so my goal has always been to do work that makes the world a better place for other people, myself, and other life forms. That feeling has driven the process of formal and informal education and work in a number of architecture, engineering, and construction settings. I have attempted to balance "conventional" work with "alternative" methods and materials. My longer-term goal is to help promote the diffusion of innovation in the architecture and building science disciplines here in Indiana.

3. Tell us about your interest in open source industrial equipment. Sounds pretty cool! 

Because I have had some interesting breadth to my experience related to natural building (building with cob, straw bale, straw clay, bale-cob, stone, salvage as well as working on two projects in Brazil, one was some bamboo infill work and the other was the deconstruction of a vernacular Brazilian home), I was hired for a rather quirky gig: a one-year contract with Open Source Ecology (OSE) to design and lead the construction of the first two Microhouse projects. My job was to design tiny dwellings that were modular, prefabricated with parallel processing, and were mostly made with compressed earth bricks (CEBs) created using OSE's open source tractor, soil pulverizer and brick press. They have more or less a life-size erector set of a handful of machines -- cool stuff. Working there (middle of nowhere Missouri) was like working in a third-world, mad scientist laboratory -- there was a sign on the door that said, "Civilization Under Construction," and that's how it felt sometimes. The place was permeated with big ideas, ambitious goals, and a collection of some of the smartest people I have worked with. It got me interested in open source hardware, which has since led to some graduate research in the possibilities for open knowledge principals to effect the discipline and practice of architecture. Now days, I serve on the board of advisors for the offshoot of OSE, the Open Building Institute, which has continued the work from the Microhouse project.

4. What project are you most proud of?

When someone asked Frank Lloyd Wright this question (and he is one of my favorite architects, btw), he said something like, "The next one." I have always resonated strongly with that. I have loved all my projects and it would be impossible to pick one that I am most proud of. That said, I am excited about my current projects, so I'll mention those, which are a farmhouse at Sobremesa permaculture farm (under construction) and a prefab-modular home with rainwater catchment and a solar array in Brown county (breaking ground now). I have also been working with a developer here in town on a high-performance tiny apartment/condo development on the B-Line trail across from the middle of the future Switchyard park.

5. How can Bloomington folks support your work?

Ask #1: You can come join me here at Cowork for the First Friday event in May. We will be hosting an architecture exhibition for a competition entry into the Department of Energy's "Race to Zero". A couple of my graduate architecture courses this semester have been about high-performance and green building, and I have been the student leader for a team competing in this DOE contest. We have had the pleasure of working with some great community partners here in Bloomington, including Loren Wood Builders and Griffin Realty, and a great academic team of talented professors and students. Our work will be on display including a physical model, presentation boards, and a slide deck. We'll also have libations and items for noshing, and it will be a merry discussion of technology and architecture.

Ask #2: If you know anything about machine learning, let's get a drink some time and talk. I spend most of my commuting time (10-15 hours a week) listening to podcasts about data science/machine learning/AI and imagining how it can be applied to architecture. I have a buddy (Zack Dwiel, a former Bloomingtonian, some of you may know him) with whom I have geeked out about this on the phone, but I don't have anyone here in town to bounce ideas off of.

6. What's your favorite thing to do around town?

Seeing live music or playing live music. Neither happens as much as it used to (or as much as I'd like to).

7. If you could be any animal in the world besides human, what animal would you be and why?

An owl. "The owls are not what they seem." And they can fly. 
Or a griffin or a dragon, if mythical creatures are allowed. Two more creatures that can fly, but the dragon and the griffin are rooted strongly to the ground, too.