Craft in Architecture: The Making of a Coffee Mill and a Study of Form Generation

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Virginia Tech


The connection of craft and architecture is a subject that has interested me since I began my architecture education some seventeen years ago. Although my path led me away from, then back to architecture, craft and making has remained a passion of mine through the years; specifically, the role of the individual craftsman in architecture.

It is my contention that as we move further and further into a machine made world, we lose an understanding of, and an appreciation for variation. Everything in our lives is homogenous. People believe that coffee should taste the way that it does at Starbucks, and Starbucks became the monolith that it is by ensuring that their coffee tastes the same no matter where you are in the world.

The craftsman never strives for homogeneity or simple duplication; it is anathema to his being. The cabinetmaker knows he will never find two pieces of wood that are the same, and he knows he can never produce two identical products, no matter his skill. He finds joy in this, and he is fulfilled.

The barista, given control of the quality of the beansâ roast, the grind, the tamp, and the pressure of the extraction will never make two shots the same. This variation makes every cup a unique experience, and provides an endless opportunity to experiment and refine.

I began with a house, and a study of how one generates form in architecture. I ended with a handcrafted coffee mill and portafilter. I utilized the craft of cabinetmaking that I have studied for over a decade, to produce tools for the barista to take full control of his craft.

Whether a piece of furniture, or a shot of espresso - what the hands of a skilled craftsman can create when they are given the tools and the freedom to put their skills and intuition to full use, is something extraordinary, something unique, and something exceeding what the best machine can produce under ideal conditions. This is a lesson I strive to always remember, and one I endeavor to pass on to my children. Now more than ever this idea seems very much at risk of extinction.



house, espresso, cabinetmaking, craft, carpentry, grinder, portafilter, coffee, mill