Archive for September, 2007

Update for Class: week 4

September 26, 2007

Download file

The above link is a PDF of what I just submitted for “thesis class” tomorrow night. Its basically a thumbnail of each of the sections that will be in the final thesis – an introduction and my two known case studies, Usonia and the Weissenhof housing development. Also it touches on my planning to include some inspirational personalities in my studies – at the moment they are Soleri, E.F. Schumacher and my new hero, Eileen Gray. In essence its just the product of me sitting down and summarizing what I already knew. So … now I need to add some things that I didn’t know already.


That Will to Divest

September 24, 2007

Action creates
a taste
for itself.
Meaning: once
you’ve swept
the shelves
of spoons
and plates
you kept
for guests,
it gets harder
not to also
simplify the larder,
not to dismiss
rooms, not to
divest yourself
of all the chairs
but one, not
to test what
singleness can bear,
once you’ve begun.
– Kay Ryan

Northeast Neighborhood

September 22, 2007

So … it’s certainly not too early at this point to start thinking about site in this process. I had discussions about choosing a site with two different faculty members this week. Julia Robinson told me that I ought to be beginning and ending with the idea of site selection; that is, she thought that I should find a community in Minneapolis, study it, and then work from there to determine what kind of housing or community project would be appropriate for that place. Then Ozayr also mentioned the subject. He was much more open to a multiplicity of options at this point and to finding something outside of the Cities if that’s what suits me best. But with one thing and another I spent a lot of time thinking about it towards the end of this week. Then passing by a GDII review in the courtyard I noticed a pinup of group projects displaying neighborhood research as the beginning of some studio project. My attention was caught by the visually compelling display about Northeast Neighborhood. It triggered me thinking about the research I did on the area for BTR this summer and about what a diverse and interesting place it is. So this morning I did my grocery shopping on foot along Central Avenue. I went to the coop and to the Holy Land Deli and also an Indian grocery to pick up frozen paneer and I took my camera along. I was struck again by what a culturally rich place that area is. There are local food markets beyond what you imagine the market could support. There are community centers, a health clinic, a vet, a YMCA, high and elementary schools and a public library branch all within block of each other and accessed by 6 bus routes and a major city transit artery. It has a mixed income level and an a rapidly increasing level of racial diversity. A lot of potential really. Its also somewhere I like to go and have easy access to, which is not insignificant. This is more than a little a shot in the dark but I noticed an empty lot at Central and Lowry. Here’s a picture. So … I’ll see where that takes me.

The Trouble with Reading

September 20, 2007

When a goat likes a book, the whole book is gone,
And the meaning has to go find an author again.
But when we read, its just print – deciphering,
Like frost on a window: we learn the meaning
But lose what the frost is, and all that the world
Pressed so desperately behind
So some time let’s discover how the ink
Feels, to be clutching all that eternity onto
Page after page. But maybe it is better not
To know; ignorance, that wide country,
Rewards you just to accept it. You plunge;
It holds you. And you have to become a rich darkness.
– William Stafford

Dealing with Issues of Inertia

September 20, 2007

Well its clear that I spent the week swimming in a sea of uncertainty. I’ve been unhappy about it without really effecting any material changes. Part of the problem relates to schedule. I have to accept that from Sunday to Wednesday I will work on thesis related items very little or not at all. The pull of studio and the prep work for my other two classes is too demanding. So the impetus has to come in the Wednesday night to Saturday part of the week. Right now, actually. And this week I feel equal to the task.
I’ve been trying to get back to the basics of my interest – housing … almost full stop. Going back to ideas of housing that appeal to me. I read Gropius’ The New Architecture and the Bauhaus last night. It was interesting as a manifesto and as a portrait of what sounds like quite a cult culture in his school. Not too much about housing per se, but there was this. “… in the last resort mechanization can only have on object, to abolish the individual’s physical toil for providing himself with the necessities of existence in order that hand and brain may be set free for some higher order of activity? on page 25. That’s a pretty direct contradiction of Schumacher’s claim that the problem of production. Gropius’ main contention is a call for mass production and standardization. I don’t know if I can agree with that but it has to be somewhere to study. Ozayr recommended that I also check out Mies’ Weissenhof housing project. Along those lines I was reading about Usonia this morning. Now that can be tackled from the aspect of how cool Frank Lloyd Wright is … but that’s not my opinion. Its more interesting as a social collective – with architecture.
And this afternoon I picked up Paolo Soleri again. Now that is sheer madness but it has a wonderful overarching genius to it and I think will be a good inspiration to think outside the box. And to think on a grand scale. To be bold. So perhaps what I need to do next is to dramatically overshoot my proposed scale and see what delightful flights of fancy I can come up with to get started.

Eileen Gray

September 20, 2007

This is some reading I was doing last weekend actually but didn’t get down on the typewriter at the time. I don’t know how it will be useful but I have a feeling its something I want to apply. I’m particularly interested in her use and style of drawings. Which I feel might be helpful for me as I go on.
Gray said of her own work when it was displayed at the first exhibition of the Union des Artites Modernes in 1930, “House envisioned from a social point of view: minimum of space, maximum of comfort.? The house she’d designed had, “orientation of the main living space to southern exposure and view and of the bedrooms to the rising sun; segregation of private areas from public zones fo the house; and isolation of service spaces.? (269) By that, they mean the kitchen, which is a concept that wouldn’t fly today. But the house in question was designed for a bachelor with a housekeeper so naturally they would want their separate domains to be isolated. Contemporary ideas of housing (especially in my budget range) make those two characters into the same person.
She was a fringe modernist who questioned many of the ideals and style of her contemporaries. “External architecture seems to have absorbed avant-garde architecture at the expense of the interior. As if a house should be conceived for the pleasure of the eye more than the well-being of its inhabitants … Theory is not sufficient for life and does not answer to all of its requirements.? That is Gray directly from page 265.
Her Philosophy:
Again, Gray herself: “The thing constructed is more important than the way it is constructed, and the process is subordinate to the plan, not the plan to the process. It is not only a matter of constructing beautiful arrangements of lines but above all, dwellings for people.? (274/5) I couldn’t agree more.
She was critical of modernism’s too great need for order. “The poverty of modern architecture,? she wrote, “stems from the atrophy of sensuality.? The dominance of reason, order and math leave a house cold and inhumane without some mediation of instinct, intuition or sense they produce unlivable space. (275)
Her Methodology:
Gray used a “folded out? style of drawing where the elevations were arranged around the plan to give greater expression and emphasis to interiors. (This method was also used by de Stijl.) It tends to isolate each room from the whole plan which worked for Gray because her interest was in the multifunctionality of key areas in the building. Incidentally it was a huge departure from the rest of her modernist fellows who were focusing on the flowing of one space into each other. “Each room takes on attributes of an entire dwelling. This type of drawing articulates the principal of total concept of design wherein wall and window, furnishings, floor and carpeting contribute equally to the creation of a microcosm, a complete and private milieu.? (272)

This is from “The Non-Heroic Modernism of Eileen Gray? by Caroline Constant

Course Correction

September 13, 2007

Its interesting to me that from the time I rolled into school today around nine until now (at eight in the evening) with the exception of attending Robert’s class from 12:45 to 2:00 has been spent on thesis today. And yet I’ve accomplished nothing concrete. The morning was devoted to catching up my bibliography to my notes – a penance to pay for my dilatory behavior over the last few weeks of not keeping it up to date. Then I went to Wilson and picked up some books. Then I had a meeting with Ozayr and the Thesis-ettes. And that lasted until 5:20, time to go to the thesis meeting. Oh the waste of a day. However it has been useful in pointing out to me (at several intervals) that I’m on the wrong track. That’s ok. I’m not going to panic – just need to reassess and refocus.
Fundamentally here’s the problem. I still agree with the “thesis statement? but more and more I’m finding that the waste angle isn’t taking me where I want to go. The questions then are two (and, to quote Never Cry Wolf, the possibilities are many). Where do I want my thesis to go? And … What angle should I pursue next to get me there? I’m still sure it has to be about housing. Said housing must be small, affordable, efficient, sustainable and utilitarian. I’ve given waste management the forefront but I had some more heavily economic issues going in mid August. They never made it as far as the blog but I still have my notes. Perhaps that’s the next angle. It can tie in nicely with prepping for the Small is Beautiful proposal for Modern. Well … “only a pen can penetrate. I have one here. Lets go.?

Iteration the Second

September 4, 2007

Here’s a more recent and slightly abridged version of the first assignment. I’m not planning to work it over any more until I find out which thesis prof I have and what their methods are likely to be. In the mean time this is still my chance to make research hay while the sun shines.
The building industry is responsible for 35 percent of the waste generated in America each year.
It is still possible to startle friends outside the world of architecture with this statistic, but to design students and professionals it is old hat – so often dinned in our ears that it fails to shock. It has become a byword, a fact. It ought not, however, to be taken for granted.
Construction and Demolition waste in America totaled an estimated 136 million tons in 1996, as compared with 133 million tons of landfill in Municipal Solid Waste in 2005. But of that MSW stream, a further 97 million were diverted to recycling and composting solutions and another 33 were burned for energy harvesting. In the public sector waste management has improved dramatically over the last 30 years; the situation is not perfect, but there is a sense of progress and a common goal that is actively being approached.
So far the building industry has not seriously tapped the potential of waste reduction, although industry in general has proved that great advances in sustainability are possible. The automotive industry has had its first zero waste auto plant up and running for over a year, turning out Subaru’s by the thousand in central Indiana while generating only a bi weekly dumpster of office trash. In America we recycle roughly 25% of our building waste (mostly large scale debris ground into fill for further construction projects) while in Germany and Belgium more than half of construction waste is recycled and in the Netherlands an average of 75% of C&D “waste? is reclaimed. This lack of activity and innovation here can only be due to a lack of interest. The American construction industry does not have effective incentive to change its approach.
Thesis Statement
Too often, sustainability is viewed as a good thing … for those who can afford it. But what good do a few LEED certified houses really do, when only 1% of American houses are designed by architects? The majority of people continue to live in homes built by contractors, largely uninterested or unaware of the potential of sustainable design. They would regard it as an impractical luxury. Since the focus of the popular press and even of architectural trade literature is often on high tech, high end solutions to environmental problems this isn’t surprising.
There are, however, many simpler options to reduce building footprint and environmental impact. Prefabrication, whole or partial, design for deconstruction, adaptive reuse, use of standard dimensions and simply reducing the size and scale of the building all involve reducing architecture’s contribution to the waste stream. Few, if any, of the above options make a building more expensive or more technologically complex. Waste reduction is a simple, effective and cost effective way to make a building greener. By approaching green design from the angle of waste reduction, it is possible to make it more and more immediately cost effective. My thesis proposes that environmentally friendly building techniques can be universally accessible when they are grounded in sound business theory and sensible waste management.

The Role of Economy

September 3, 2007

Backtracking to my re-reading of Small is Beautiful. I’m still not quite sure how this comes in but I know its important.
“One of the most fateful errors of our age is the belief that ‘the problem of production’ has been solved. Not only is this belief firmly held by people remote from production and therefore professionally unacquainted with the facts – it is held by virtually all the experts, the captains of industry, the economic managers in the governments of the world, the academic and not-so-academic economists, not to mention the economic journalists. They many disagree on many things but they all agree that the problem of production has been solved; that mankind has at last come of age. For the rich countries, they say, the most important task now is ‘education for leisure,’ and, for the poor countries, the ‘transfer of technology.’? E.F. Schumacher began Small is Beautiful with those words in 1973. The book seems to be ahead of its time (not only because the 1975 paperback was printed on 100% recycled paper, a fact advertised on the fly-leaf before the author’s name or the title of the book. It is no longer revolutionary to claim the continued existence of the ‘problem’ but the issue is far from the forefront of daily affairs. We could now say rather that the problem of production has been exported to China. But despite our continued enjoyment of cheap goods from omnipresent Targets and Walgreens stores, it is very clear to anyone who is looking that the associated problems have only been delayed and are accruing interest rapidly as we neglect them.
[I need to address briefly some of the associated problems but don’t want to get side tracked by the issue. As a first source see this article in Foreign Affairs September/October 2007.]
Schumacher argues that we have placed too much faith in the cult of finance as a way of judging our decisions and actions. When we allow economists to pass judgment on every activity (Schumacher goes further and says they deliver a “verdict? of “economically sound or uneconomic?), we give undue power to a field that ultimately has little to do with human health or welfare or happiness. He reminds us that John Stuart Mill one of the first political economists regarded his own specialization as very limited. He regarded it “not as a thing by itself, but as a fragment of a greater whole; a branch of social philosophy, so interlinked with all the other branches that its conclusions, even in its own peculiar province, are only true conditionally, subject to interference and counteraction from causes not directly within its scope.? [Continue this quote he goes onto some interesting other criticisms here.] Economy was never intended to be the only factor in our decision making. As Mill says, economy is so entangled in its sister disciplines that none of its decisions or ‘verdicts’ are valid if viewed in a vacuum. We make a grave mistake when we let economists be our moral compass. Keynes, another foundational economist acknowledged the danger of this but saw it as a means to an end. When he says, however, that “avarice and usury and precaution must be our gods for a little longer still,? I feel repulsed rather than persuaded.