It’s on!

October 20, 2009


This morning I walked up to the post office desk at 8:34 and asked the clerk to put my fulbright application on their fastest truck to New York.  He somewhat condescendingly informed me that it would go on a plane.  All the better!  The online form was submitted at nine o’clock last night and the hard copy will be in UN Plaza by noon tomorrow and it is all officially out of my hands now.  I’m tracking the Express Mail package via the website.

I’m taking deep breaths.

I had thought that getting the application mailed would leave me feeling light as a feather but actually I don’t think it has quite sunk in yet.  I’m still just nervy and tired from the last intensive weekend of proofing and editing and careful rewriting of my essays.  But now they, my forms, my transcripts, my language evaluation and three recommendations (very mysterious in their sealed and signed envelopes) are on their way across the country.  If you are interested in reading said essays I’m attaching them below.  If you find a typo or a mistake … don’t tell me.  What I’m looking for now is knocked on wood.  I am thinking of beginning an experiment to see if I can do everything in my life from now to next April with my fingers crossed.


the Netherlands, Translating Dutch Architectural Policy into a Model for Sustainable Building Practices

My interests in architecture and in sustainability began simultaneously seven years ago when I enrolled in Boston University’s International Honors Program during my junior year of college.  I spent nine months studying Global Ecology and Development in city and countryside of England, India, Nepal, the Philippines, New Zealand and Mexico. Learning in classrooms ranging from universities to a new theory of living.  I saw how the nature of people’s shelter shapes their lives.  I returned convinced that the places we live in have a profound effect on the lives we lead – within the walls and beyond. Good housing matters.

In September 2005, my first days of architecture school were darkened by news of the devastation associated with Hurricane Katrina.  I took an opportunity to lead a group of undergraduates on a spring break trip to Biloxi, Mississippi where we cleared the debris from flooded houses and performed a block by block survey of the damage. The next year I worked with fellow graduate students to form a pilot “study abroad” program to the Gulf Coast.  We designed mixed-use main street buildings in our studio while we calloused our hands managing a building reconstruction – from design and budgets to framing and dry walling.  Both projects required constant struggle with the city building code and with FEMA’s stringent new regulations.  Back at the University of Minnesota, I focused my thesis work on building in a flood zone.  FEMA required that new buildings in the area be elevated 10 feet above ground level, protecting them from future floods but shredding the urban fabric.  I waded through mountains of paper work and struggled for a year to mediate between the codes and design principles.  I am keenly aware of how complicated it is to create good quality housing and how many market forces, conventions, misconceptions and contrary regulations block the path to good design.  Regulation must fill a challenging role, protecting the physical foundation of society, repairing some of the damage done by misguided development in the past and leading us toward environmental conscience.  Innovative regulation is vital.

I have retained an interest in all things Dutch since childhood, when my father pursued a year of post-doctoral studies at TU Wageningen.  In graduate school, I took Dutch language classes in addition to my Architecture course work, and my interest grew as I learned more about the Dutch approach to the art of building which prizes gezelligheid – comfortable right-sizedness – over ever-bigger dwellings and which respects the needs of the environment.  When I visited the Netherlands for the first time as an adult, attending the TaalUni Zomercursus language immersion program in August 2006, I knew I had to find a way to come back and study Dutch building culture more fully.  Cross-cultural education is key to meeting global challenges.

I am strongly committed to changing the way American communities regulate their construction.  This is vital if we are to address environmental challenges and move our society in more community oriented directions.  As a Fulbright Fellow I can be an advocate and an ambassador in creating sustainable communities through an international exchange of ideas.


the Netherlands, Translating Dutch Architectural Policy into a Model for Sustainable Building Practices


American architects face a frustrating patchwork of disconnected building and zoning codes that can impede regional cohesiveness, undermine a healthy urban dynamic, prohibit historic building methods and stymie innovation.  Zoning ordinances originally intended to protect residential areas from industrial development have segmented many neighborhoods into isolated subdivisions.   But in municipalities across the United States, the regulation of building practices is beginning to change.  There is an emerging desire to enact new zoning and building codes which redefine the way homes, neighborhoods and metropolitan areas function, reflecting a growing movement towards “smart growth” and green building practices.

Building codes written to guard against life-safety hazards need not prevent innovation or ignore environmental standards.  A number of European countries have successfully implemented sustainability policies for decades, with the Netherlands in the vanguard.  I propose to research the effects of regulation on the sustainability of new construction in the Netherlands and to identify approaches that could help inform progress being made in the United States.

Much of the Netherlands was originally reclaimed from the sea behind a series of dykes and dams which require continuous maintenance.  The reclaimed areas, or polders, are the basis for the “polder model” of governance, a consensus-based approach which recognizes that each citizen bears a responsibility for maintaining the land.  This deep-seated understanding has made the concept of environmental responsibility easier to compass for both citizens and government.

The Dutch have a well-earned reputation for sustainable architectural design.  As early as 1901, the Dutch government was enacting legislation to ensure the right to quality housing, and the Netherlands was the first country to establish a national architecture policy.  This long term strategic planning is embedded in the structure of their governmental oversight; the national joint Ministry of Housing, Spatial Planning and Environmental Management simultaneously oversees issues of sustainability and development. Today many Dutch universities continue this commitment to develop environmentally sound design through active research.  The combination of an involved and receptive citizenry, cohesive national policy and active research make the Dutch approach a valuable model for sustainable building practices in the United States.

To carry out my research, I intend to affiliate with Universiteit van Amsterdam (UvA), and more specifically with the Amsterdam Institute for Metropolitan and International Development Studies (AMIDSt).   At AMIDSt, I am in dialogue with Assistant Professor Leonie Janssen-Jansen, whose research focuses on planning, governance, law and their impact on construction. Through my affiliation with UvA and AMIDst, I will gain access to academic resources, and knowledgeable colleagues.  I will participate in the AMIDSt research mission while advancing my goal of identifying emerging best practices that could be implemented in the US.

I propose to establish a solid understanding of Dutch planning policies and conventions by pursuing the following UvA courses during the fall semester: 1) Metropolitan Governance and Spatial Planning, which would provide background in European and Dutch policy, creating a counterpoint to my understanding of American systems.   2) Governance of Common Resources and Environmental Conflict, which, combined with my undergraduate study of this topic from an American perspective, will promote a comparison of the American and European approaches to how environmental resources are apportioned and regulated.  3) Additional language study with either a further session of the Nederlandse Taalunie sponsored course, or a segment of the UvA intensive language program designed to bring students up to the level of the Dutch language proficiency required by the university.

Throughout the fall I will pursue my current research into historic and contemporary Dutch approaches toward legislation and policy.  Taking full advantage of an excellent network of public transportation, I will expand my ongoing dialogue with professionals in design, construction and building regulation and also seek out new contacts in those areas. Based on preliminary research, I will select both current and recently completed construction projects as case studies for further analysis during the spring semester.

My research will focus on Dutch approaches to successful use of legislation for sustainable design.  I will address the following questions: 1) How does the interplay between regulation and sustainability facilitate the Dutch design and construction process?  2) Are members of the Dutch design and construction community primarily concerned with meeting te­­chnical specifications or with achieving meaningful sustainability?  3) How interested and engaged are the various stakeholders in energy conservation and sustainability practices, and how does this interest level affect the characteristics of completed projects?    Based on this investigation, I intend to compile a comprehensive survey that summarizes my understanding of the Dutch building design and construction process.

My research will address these issues from multiple perspectives using both observational and academic research methodology.  I will pursue case studies through on-site observation, literature review and informational interviews with all involved parties, including clients, architects, engineers, planners, developers, contractors, code officials, politicians and community members.  My aim is to compile an overview of how building policy affects sustainable building construction practices in the Netherlands today.

I intend to identify specific points which could be applicable to municipal building codes in the United States.  Upon my return to the United States, I will target local planning offices with which to develop these research ideas into a working proposal for domestic change.  Building on early successes, I intend to pursue an ongoing and long term interaction with local and regional planning agencies.

Movement toward improved building legislation will benefit from the support of practiced methods.  My academic and professional research should prove useful to a wide audience – encouraging energy-efficient and sustainable practices on a larger, more cohesive scale, and promoting a more eco-friendly and equitable built environment.


One Response to “It’s on!”

  1. Vincent Says:

    Interesting. My dad went to the University of Wageningen before he came to the US for graduate school. Probably around 40 years ago. Wonder if they ever met.

    Congratulations on sending your application!

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