Archive for July, 2009

Beware the Eco Fascists

July 30, 2009

book ten shades

My post earlier this week for Digging in the Driftless about has started me thinking about my impetus to devote myself to green design.  I returned from my time abroad on fire with ideas about how Americans could reshape our residential architecture to be more like the places I had visited.  I wasn’t interested in making houses in the Midwest look like a cottage in Cornwall or a bungalow in the Philippines; I wanted to emulate those buildings in the way they suited the lifestyles of their occupants.  I wanted to make the houses I designed behave the way those homes had.  I enrolled in a master’s program at a school known for its growing focus on sustainability.  When I got there I found a small cadre of other students who had chosen it for the same reason but, much to my surprise, a large number of our cohort had no interest in sustainable design.  To misquote Elizabeth Bennett, their feelings were so different that in fact they were quite the opposite.

The field of green architecture is changing very rapidly at the moment.  In fact, its  funny how rarely the words green and architecture are used in conjunction by anyone who is focused on that second word.  Architects are accepting the idea of sustainability only grudgingly and seem to feel that they are being forced to tack on compromises to their designs which may “be good for the planet” but will hinder the overall aesthetic.  This is an attitude shared by the majority of my fellow design students and, I suspect, by the majority of our peers currently practicing.  At the same time interest in and demand for sustainable design has blossomed in the public perception, spawning articles, documentaries, magazines and websites.  This popular movement really only further entrenches a large number of designers in their resistance to sustainability.  Most ironically, the enthusiastic cadre of young professors who worked so hard to integrate green ideas into every facet of my MArch program often only made my classmates want to put their fingers in their ears and yell “la la la.”  Humans are a highly illogical species.

Oddly just as I was thinking all this  I came across this book at the library.  Ten Shades of Green: Architecture and the Natural World, by Peter Buchanan deals with a lot of the issues I was just internally pondering/grousing about.  I’ve barely worked my way past the introduction (its slow going when you have to transcribe every other paragraph into your design notebook) so today I’ll quote mainly from the excellent preface by Rosalie Genevro.  Expect to see more of this in the near future.

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My Name in Lights

July 29, 2009

digging guest post

I had my first experiences as a guest blogger Tuesday for Denise Thornton’s Digging in the Driftless.  I wrote in my capacity as the architect of her future green home but in the interests of full disclosure I should mention that I am not only Denise and Doug’s “architect,” I am their daughter.  In her capacity as my mother, Denise has enthusiastically dragooned me into promising several posts for her (much more formal and serious) blog about the process of designing their house.  I expect it will turn into quite a series and get into a number of interesting facts, ideas and design strategies.  But for the first post I started from a more general perspective and addressed some of the reasons I got interested in architecture in the first place, remembering the experiences I had while traveling around the world as a junior in college studying ecology and development and learning how little I knew about this planet I call home.  Read the full post here.

Oh Billiard Parlor Walls Come A Tumblin’ Down

July 25, 2009

japanese tower 2

I was saddened to read in the Times last week that Kisho Kurokawa’s Nakagin Capsule Tower is slated for demolition and is only standing still because the depressed economy has delayed plans to replace it with something more “modern.”  The building is only 37 years old but has apparently not aged well.  Is this due to poor construction or to a lack of care on the part of its residents … and if the latter, is that poor maintenance a symptom of people’s dislike for its unusual form or merely of some general malaise; in other words, do we blame the building for its own state of disrepair?  Laying the issue of blame to one side, there is water dripping in the hallways and the place smells of mildew and the residents want it gone.  In America its easy to understand the argument that if the owners of an object tire of it, they are perfectly within their rights to throw it away and get something new and better.   And even though the building in question is not in America but in the heart of Tokyo there are very few voices calling for the preservation of a modern building, a building made from concrete blocks, a sky scraper that does not, as Sullivan recommended, look like a tree.  One of those voices is that of the architect himself.  Kurokawa is a name to conjure with but apparently even his pleading that they not knock down his buildings in his own life time counts for little with the people in question.  Architectural Record published a notice of the building’s sentence in April 2007 and is chillingly flip about the story:

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A Curse on Geographers

July 24, 2009

We want and earth to walk upon,
Not reasons to remain at home.
Shall we make journeys only to see
The same stars circling in the night?
Eat the same fish in foreign harbors?
Breathe the same air?  Sail across
These oceans only to discover
Our own island’s other shore?

Let the oceans spill their green from off
The edges of the earth, and let
The curving plain unbend itself
Behind the mountains.  Put wind back
Into the cheeks of demons, Voice
Pronounce your reasonable desire
And sing the round earth flat again!

Dana Gioia

Ender in Exile

July 23, 2009

book ender

I just finished reading Ender in Exile, the existence of which I wasn’t aware only yesterday.  This is what I love about living in La Crosse.  A new book comes out and (if I’m not the first person to request it and have it handed to me at the check out desk) they just stand it up with one of those little brackets in the new fiction area and I see “Orson Scott Card” emblazoned across its shiny cover in his characteristic typeface and grab it.  Actually it apparently came out last November so its not exactly new new but I’m still excited.  This is exactly what happened yesterday when I stopped by the library after work to pick up some other holds.

I walked home reading the first pages and did all my evening chores with one hand and the book in the other.  I would have been strongly tempted to read it straight through (good sleep on work nights be damned) had a good friend not called and kept me on the phone until long after my accustomed bedtime.  Even then I had to keep talking to her while I turned out the lights in the living room and carefully not touch the book while I got ready for bed.  Even picking it up to see how the paragraph ended would have been fatal.  Card has always been a page turner for me.  I remember reading one of the Ender’s Shadow books, curled up on my bunk in my dorm room, fully dressed in the middle of the day but unable to get up and do anything else till it was finished.  I did have the luxury of staying up all night with it then.

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Styles of Houses

July 21, 2009

residence scan 6

Here are a few drawings copied from John Milnes Baker’s delightful little book American House Styles: A Concise Guide.  There are too many of this kind of housing style taxonomies to count;  most are aimed at laypeople interested identfying the “style” of their own home.  I own several with varying degrees of good historical content and attractive drawings.  This one is a bit different, however.  The author is a residential architect and seems to have done a brisk trade through his career in applying various dream “styles” to pretty conventional house plans.

[ This is, after all, what most people want.  It was only this weekend at a pretty grueling family reunion in Middle America, WI, that I was cornered by second cousin in-law who asked a few mild questions about my design firm and then told me (as if sharing some secret and key piece of business acumen) that many contractors in cities just have a few house patterns that they build over an over.  “Well”, I was tempted to reply, “I imagine they’re producing a really quality product … and that its not contributing at all to the glut of ticky tacky crap that has sunk the American housing market as effectively as a pair of concrete shoes.”  One doesn’t doesn’t get to speak one’s mind at family reunions however.  Instead I just blog about it to the world.  I’m all class.]

In any case, Baker chose to do his guide to residential styles somewhat differently than the norm.  Instead of making sketches of existing houses from all over the country with their dates, locations and a little analysis appended, he included one floor plan at the beginning of the book and then demonstrated how it could be grown up from the ground in all the typical periods of American history.  Read the rest of this entry »

From the Earth to the Moon

July 20, 2009

moon walk 1

If you’ve opened a newspaper or (as I prefer) visited the New York  Times online today you’ll know that July 20th, 2009 is the 40th anniversary of man walking on the moon.  Its pretty hard to picture for someone my age.  The concept is both familar and strange.  I mean, astronaut was one of the dream professions I had as a kid (along with eye surgeon, history professor and secret agent); I’ve seen all the movies and visited the Air and Space Museum that the smithsonian and even wished to be sent to space camp for a while during junior high.  At the same time, however, despite the flights of fancy in my favorite science fiction, space travel has been pretty much dropped out of the popular agenda in my lifetime.  Every few years there will be images from the hubble or talk of martian data collection but we don’t seem to prioritize manned space flight anymore.   Its a shame I think, because getting ourselves off of this planet and looking back at it from a new perspective has a lot to do with our understanding of the value of the earth and how we need to take care of it (to the limited extent that we do understand that).I was home for the weekend and my family decided to celebrate the event by watching The Dish and Apollo 13, a perfect pair of movies that deal with our moon quest in different ways.

moon walk 4The Dish is a sweet and delightful little story about the Australian team that operated the largest southern hemisphere radio sattelite dish at the time to recieve the television images that were being sent by the Apollo 11 mission back to earth.  There is drama and struggle and many things go wrong but in the end they do manage to get the signal through and share Niel Armstrong’s adventure with the world.  As Sam Neil says at one point during the film, “this is science’s chance to be daring.”  Its beautiful and funny and I cry at the end every time I see it.

moon walk 5Apollo 13 is better known – the dramatization of what happened when we didn’t get to the moon.  Its a thrilling tale but despite the fabulous performances I think what I like best about it is the sense of wonder I always take away from what they accomplished using vacuum tubes and tinfoil.  The technology used in the movie is so primitive it is hard to conceptualize and this time through I started comparing the “computers” they were using to navigate their way to the moon’s orbit and back to my iPod.  I realized that if we hadn’t lost interest in manned space exploration – if we had continued as NASA assumed we would after Apollo 11 – we might be living life like the Jetsons already.

Check out this link to see the New York Times extensive section on the moonwalk anniversary.

On Certain Wits

July 19, 2009

When Moses in Horeb struck the rock,
And water came forth out of the rock,
Some of the people were annoyed with Moses
And said he should have used a fancier stick.

And when Elijah on Mount Carmel brought the rain,
Where the prophets of Baal could not bring rain,
Some of the people said that rituals of the prophets of Baal
Were aesthetically significant, while Elijah’s were very plain.

Howard Nemerov

Hello world!

July 16, 2009

I have just made the official transfer to wordpress but I’m still figuring out what I’m doing here.  So … keep waiting with baited breath long enough and I may actually post a couple of new items.  Meanwhile, goodbye Movable Type and the enveloping arm of the University of Minnesota sponsored blog … hello world.  Huzzah!

The Moon by Night*

July 7, 2009

night window

I love being able to see the full moon rise and pass across the sky from my window at night.  Sleeping with moon brightness on your eyelids has got to be one of the most glorious feelings in the world.  I’ve been missing this for the last two years since I moved out of my tent home in Biloxi and moved to a city with so much light pollution I had to determine the lunar schedule with my google calendar and then walk 7 blocks from my apartment to find a view of it.  Now I’ve got back at last.

Bless you, La Crosse. Hooray, east-facing window.

*also the title of a favorite childhood book by Madeleine L’Engle