Update: Fulbright Ap.

September 6, 2009

Here’s a for-the-record update on my thoughts about this Fulbright application.  I’ve been contacting professors and professionals and a couple family friends in NL over the last two weeks and have gotten a couple of promising responses.  I’m also scheduled to meet with my former Dutch prof this Friday to conduct my Language Evaluation.  I’m in a sweat to recall as much as I can of grammar and vocab, and wondering why I didn’t give myself a little more time.  However, the sense of progress is satisfying as well as scary!

Background: I have been concerned with building codes and planning practices for some time.  This comes from my current job but also from the connection I made with the Gulf Coast region after it was devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.  During my first year of school I went down there for spring break as a short term volunteer.  We assayed the city of Biloxi shortly after the storm to assess the damage.  I was part of a pilot program of graduate students who returned the following year to work and study for five months in connection with the Gulf Coast Community Design Studio (www.gccds.org) supporting the reconstruction effort and specifically rebuilding a home which had been flooded to a depth of three meters.  It was an amazing experience to get involved with hands on construction during design school as well as working with an active design studio that was working under the constraints of so much immediate need and so little funding to help people not usually exposed to architectural design services.  When I came back to Minnnesota, I did my thesis on the problem of how to work within FEMA (federal emergency management agency) building codes to rebuild a development of several dozen units in the former flood zone.

Research questions: How does regulation and sustainability play into the Dutch design and construction process?  How engaged, interested and committed are the various stakeholders to the idea of energy conservation and sustainability and how do those interests play out in the completed building?  At what point are specialists consulted?

For example, regarding the role of specialists, American engineers receive approximately half the design fee that European engineers can expect.  For this reason they play a very limited role in the design process; typically a design firm will complete the building design using rule-of-thumb guidelines for engineered components and simply pass the designs over to an engineering firm for final approval and specific structural and mechanical component sizing.  This limits the opportunity to integrate technical innovation into new buildings. My understanding is that in Europe the architect/engineer relationship is more collaborative.  I would like to learn more about how Dutch and other European approaches function in this regard.

Methodology: My intended research method is mainly interview and observation.   I would like to pursue several case studies of buildings or developments, ideally studying both recently completed projects and others currently underway.  I want to gather information about the case study projects from as many sources as possible – getting the opinions and perspectives of all the interested parties; client, architect, engineer, planner, code officials, contractors and builders etc.

Aim: My intention is to compile as complete an understanding as possible of the process of building construction in the Netherlands today – from conception to the final brick.  This information will be of interest American architects, naturally.  But my goal is to use this information to work with American code and planning officials.  I hope that insight into the Dutch planning process may provide some specific points of improvement for the American code system.  Initially this information might be used at the municipal level (as the American planning system is decentralized).  With the help of a few such trailblazing communities guided by this research, in future it could be successfully applied on a larger scale.

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