Want to Build a Sofa? Or a Hot Tub? AAP Alum Can Show You How

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Meet the University Architect

Ben Uyeda ’04, MArch ’05, is a DIY influencer with worldwide reach

By Beth Saulnier

The video, which runs a brisk one minute and 22 seconds, has gotten nearly 5.5 million views on YouTube. In it, designer and leading DIY influencer Ben Uyeda ’04, MArch ’05, demonstrates how to make a pair of nesting side tables using a bag of concrete, some water, and a pile of Legos—which can even be reused afterward.

“Use pliers on the Lego bricks that get stuck,” Uyeda explains as he disassembles the colorful form around which the concrete has hardened. “But be careful not to damage the bricks.”

A concrete table formed by Lego blocks
The simple concrete nesting tables are decorated with the impressions of the Lego bricks used to form them.

The tutorial is one of hundreds that the AAP alum and his small team have posted on his eight-year-old YouTube channel, HomeMade Modern, which has more than 1.5 million subscribers.

Uyeda—who’s based in Joshua Tree, California, and is sponsored by the likes of Home Depot and Ryobi power tools—also offers detailed instructions for his creations on HomeMade Modern’s website and features the designs on his Instagram, which boasts upwards of 300,000 followers.

There’s a video on constructing an outdoor sofa (7.1 million views); on making a wood-fired hot tub from a galvanized steel livestock trough (6.6 million); on transforming a shed into a solar-powered workshop (6.4 million); and many more.

Some require only basic hand tools, while others—such as a “floating” bed affixed to the wall (4.6 million views)—call for more advanced equipment, like a welder and an angle grinder.

But it started with a stool—specifically, one made in a bucket using $5 worth of materials (including concrete and a wooden dowel cut into three legs). It was the subject of one of the first HomeMade Modern videos; a few years later, Uyeda was invited to demonstrate its construction on an episode of the venerable DIY show “Ask This Old House.”

Since Uyeda first uploaded the simple design, the stool has been made by hundreds of thousands of people worldwide (including ice fishermen in Alaska, who don’t even need the concrete; they just freeze water in a bucket). He has received photos of it from fans on six continents.

“I’ve seen it used in Uganda to create seating for schools,” Uyeda notes. “I've seen people create small businesses where they make them and sell them.”

That humble stool—and the democratization of design and production that it represents—epitomizes Uyeda’s ethos as a maker: he takes pleasure and pride in demonstrating how useful objects can be constructed in a way that’s creative, straightforward, affordable, sustainable, and elegant.

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Admittedly, Uyeda finds it a bit odd that he has established a career as an influencer—since, he says, “I've never really thought of myself as is an evangelist for telling people, or suggesting, what they should do.”

Two "zip-stitch" chairs
Uyeda made “zip-stitch” chairs on an early episode.

But as he observes, being a maker is accessible to just about anyone. “Cooking is the most basic type of making,” says Uyeda, who compiled some of his creations in the 2015 book HomeMade Modern: Smart DIY Designs for a Stylish Home. “If you can cook, you can make.”

A Santa Barbara native, Uyeda grew up in a family of limited economic means; he learned to fix and make things at a young age, including (with the proper training and an emphasis on safety) the use of power tools.

“Neither of my parents went to college, and there were four of us kids, so they were economically motivated to be very DIY,” he says. “It was much more a way of extending the dollar than a creative pursuit.”

Uyeda enrolled as a freshman architecture student on the Hill at age 21, having previously taken classes at a community college and studied drawing in Florence, Italy. He went on to earn both a bachelor’s and a master’s from AAP—as part of his thesis research, he spent a month living unhoused on the streets of Red Hook, Brooklyn—and to lecture in the architecture program.

Cooking is the most basic type of making; if you can cook, you can make.

He later co-founded ZeroEnergy Design, a Boston-based firm focused on environmentally sustainable architecture, before shifting to his current career.

“Ben is very driven and highly energetic,” says one of Uyeda’s mentors, Milton Curry ’87, BArch ’88, a former AAP professor who’s now dean of USC’s architecture school. “He has established a company and a following, and is ‘influencing’—to use that terminology—in ways that are very provocative for someone coming from a traditional, old-line industry like architecture. His personality is perfectly suited for it: he’s very gregarious, personable, and optimistic.”

Uyeda’s current projects include collaborating on the development of a 65-unit hotel in the California desert; it grew out of a series he did on creating a home using shipping containers.

Ben Uyeda standing on the blade of a wind turbine
The wind turbine blades’ massive size makes them a disposal challenge—but it also offers intriguing opportunities for their reuse.

He has also been working to find creative uses for decommissioned blades from industrial wind turbines—transforming one into a dramatic, 30-foot-long outdoor dining table.

Made of steel and fiberglass, the massive blades can’t currently be recycled, and often wind up as trash when they reach the end of their useful lives.

“It keeps them out of landfill,” he says of reusing them, “and they’re visually spectacular.”

Viewers of HomeMade Modern may notice that Uyeda sports some unusual tattoos: a series of lines of various widths on his left forearm and pinkie finger that are both ornamental and useful. As he explains on his website, they’re the result of two years of planning and a 2017 trip to a New York tattoo parlor.

“I will always make stuff and I am always looking for a ruler,” he says, “so I decided to turn my arm into a ruler.”

All photos provided.

Published April 15, 2022; updated May 30, 2023

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