Point of View

September 2012

Letter from Ecuador: Final Assessment

09/28/12

Letter from Ecuador: Final Assessment

On their last day in Tingo Pucara, a cluster of engineers squatted around the exposed nub of a six-inch PVC pipe. One dangled a flashlight into the opening to illuminate the hollow. The vertical PVC tube joined perpendicularly into the grid of subterranean water pipes that crisscrossed the Andean village four feet below ground. Over the past week, we had hooked up a pump and electricity, checked the containment tank, and installed shut-off valves and water meters at each of the 26 homes that were to receive water. But today, several houses showed unnaturally low water pressure, and three houses were receiving no flow at all. Complicating things, the village was celebrating a wedding. Except for one reluctant guide, we were working on our own. Tingo is a small village in Cotopaxi,...

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Lil Wayne Comes Rolling Home

09/27/12

Lil Wayne Comes Rolling Home

  Big doings in New Orleans’s Lower Ninth Ward last night. Hometown rapper Lil Wayne—who in recent years has incurred the wrath of locals by moving to Miami and then (in an unpardonable offense) openly rooting against the Saints during their march to the Super Bowl in 2009—made an appearance at the Lower Ninth Ward Village for the opening of what is being touted as the first sustainable skate park in the United States. Sustainable Skate Park, photo by Maria Frank. The indoor skate park—which has transformed the formally down and dirty village into a smooth, bermed, death-defying obstacle course, only an orthopedic surgeon could love—is a collaboration involving Mountain Dew, Lil Wayne (who has a marketing partnership with the...

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Q&A: Barry Lewis

09/27/12

Q&A: Barry Lewis

Rockefeller Center When I found out that Barry Lewis joined the Open House New York 10th Anniversary Advisory Council, I was eager to get him to talk about his favorite city. His answers to questions about local lore, architecture, neighborhoods, money, people—everything New York—will amuse, entertain, and enlighten one and all. I, for one, am grateful to have someone of Barry’s commitment and enthusiasm on the New York scene. On the eve of OHNY (October 6th and 7th), here is what our very own New York mavin has to say about his metropolis. Dig in and enjoy! Photo courtesy Dianne Arndt Susan S. Szenasy: If there is one thing you could tell a friend from abroad about New York City, as it relates to the design (or lack of it) you encounter here...

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Ecomimicry: Principle One - Evolution

09/26/12

Ecomimicry: Principle One - Evolution

We all know the story of Charles Darwin. He took a tour of the Galápagos Island, conceived his brilliant idea about evolution, spent the next few decades working out the details, nearly got swiped by a young startup, raced to finalize his book on the topic, and in 1859 published On the Origin of Species, forever changing our understanding of how humans and all other species came to be.  The rest is (usually) history…or in the case of Darwin’s theory of evolution, paleonto-history. In terms of the theory of evolution, 1859 was only the beginning of the story.  Even today, the concept is hotly contested in the halls of academy and culture.  Intelligent Design versus Intelligent People you might say.  Of course, intelligent design isn’t about “design” as much as being a...

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Q&A: Lance Hosey

09/25/12

Q&A: Lance Hosey

A couple of weeks ago we received news that Lance Hosey, a former director with William McDonough + Partners and author of a new book, The Shape of Green: Aesthetics, Ecology, and Design (Island Press), had been named chief sustainability officer at RTKL, the global architecture, planning, and design firm. We wondered: what is a chief sustainability officer? So we reached out to Hosey, who was travelling in Asia, and asked him about his new job, the future of sustainable architecture, and his first impressions of China. Martin C. Pedersen: You were just named chief sustainability officer for RTKL. What does that mean exactly? Lance Hosey: I’m RTKL’s first CSO, a position we defined to signal the strategic importance of sustainability. Last year, market...

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The Green Team Part 3: A Second Life in the South Bronx

09/25/12

The Green Team Part 3: A Second Life in the South Bronx

What to do about massive amounts of contaminated soil?

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The Brilliance of Color

09/24/12

The Brilliance of Color

Recently I read an article about the most beautifully colored berry I have ever seen. At first I thought it was fake, one of those plastic berries you see in a sci-fi movie, the type of berry offered to the star ship captain by the scantily garbed alien, and as tasty as they are psychosomatic. Pollia condensata Berries, a little gooey around the edges, but what a brilliant color! Photos from Wired Science. The article explained that the Pollia berry was such a brilliant color because the membrane around the berry had a structural color, which was reported in a study conducted by the National Academy of Sciences. We normally understand color in terms of pigments; materials that reflect back a certain wavelength of the spectrum of light. So remember, a red dye turns things red because...

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Q&A: Paula Scher

09/24/12

Q&A: Paula Scher

Paula Scher is principal at the well-regarded New York City design practice, Pentagram. She’s held that august position since 1991, and during her busy tenure she even found time to redesign Metropolis magazine when we went from a large, tabloid size to a smaller format with the November 1999 issue. Paula has continuously given her special brand of identity design to such New York institutions as the Public Theater (a spectacular poster campaign that caught my attention when we were looking to redesign Metropolis), Jazz at Lincoln Center, and the New York Botanical Garden, among many others. Her knowledge of the city, form the inside out, also landed her on the Open House New York 10th anniversary advisory council. On the eve of OHNY celebrating its first decade of programs...

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Icon or Eyesore? Part 5: Debating the Value of Mid-Century Modern

09/24/12

Icon or Eyesore? Part 5: Debating the Value of Mid-Century Modern

        In our previous post, the Owner/Occupant Perspective, we identified the push-pull issues between these two factions in renovating mid-twentieth century modern buildings. Here, we explore Stakeholder Equilibrium as the value of these structures is debated, and the role architects play in this mix. Our experience in addressing the rehabilitation of this building type has grown over the years. In the process, we have found that our role as architects has expanded to include an advisory role, both before and during the design process. Because of our track record in identifying the value of these structures, we are frequently brought in to mitigate and resolve differences among those who debate a building’s fate, usually a structure...

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Q&A: P.D. Smith

09/20/12

Q&A: P.D. Smith

Reading Peter D. Smith’s latest volume, City: A Guidebook for the Urban Age, is akin to strolling through a contemporary city, wherein broad impressions are punctuated by specific and visceral encounters. The elements that make and shape cities and urban experiences, from the physical contours to the social interaction that takes place within their borders, are all explored in broad chapters such as “Where to Stay” and “Getting Around”. Short narratives highlight these well-researched surveys, topics that deserve their own explication on different elements of the city that we think we understand, but as Smith quickly reveals, we don’t. In the chapter on “Where to Stay”, we are given a brief history of the meaning of wharves then and now...

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09/19/12

"Cities should be like ............"

The planning profession has reached something of a critical juncture. This is not, of itself, a particularly interesting revelation; to hear planners talk about it, our profession is pretty much always reaching some sort of critical juncture, crossroads, etc. This time, however, we might be onto something. I recently finished plodding my way through editor Roger Elwood’s Future City, an early-seventies anthology of “new wave” science fiction takes on (wait for it…) the “Future City.” The contributions were unerringly pessimistic, forecasting a future of out-of-control urbanism roughly on the model of the South Bronx circa 1977, but With Added Fancy Computers. The contributions were also, and again unerringly, wrong. The archetypal City of 2012 hardly resembles the...

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Moving to Eliminate Energy Consumption

09/18/12

Moving to Eliminate Energy Consumption

When you compare those states that consume the most energy with those that consume the least, something jumps out at you. The states topping the list in terms of BTU per year are also the most populated states in the country: CA, TX, NY, FL, IL, PA and OH. This pattern holds true at the other end of the spectrum; the states with the least energy consumption are also the least populated. Vermont, the state with the smallest amount of energy used per year, has just over 60,000 more people than Wyoming, the least populated state in the U.S. The energy behavior of states is complex and can’t be over-simplified. There’s the amount of industry and manufacturing within a state’s borders, the dispersion of its population, the number of structures and size of buildings, the...

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Q&A: Laurie Beckelman

09/17/12

Q&A: Laurie Beckelman

Park Avenue Armory Explorer, photo by James Ewing. On the weekend of October 6th and 7th, Open House New York (OHNY) will celebrate its 10th anniversary of opening up our city’s great buildings, residential and public, as well showing off our parks, streetscapes, public works, signage, and views to the public at large. It’s a chance to experience the city, not just as a pedestrian or a transit rider—which, in itself, is a grand adventure of infinite variety that brings you close to people, places, ideas, and memories—but as a kind of “house guest”. I asked some members of the 10th OHNY anniversary committee to talk about their favorite city. Here Laurie Beckelman, founder of Beckelman+Capaliano, and a major contributor to New...

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Public Interest Design Takes Shape

09/17/12

Public Interest Design Takes Shape

For the past ten years, evidence has been collecting in publications and exhibits that a new field of practice is emerging. It uses design as a tool to serve the public, including those who cannot afford design services. And it’s becoming clear that we now have a movement, not just a collection of well-documented projects and well-meaning people.  This is a new field of practice. The name that best describes it as a profession is public interest design. While many other catchy and descriptive names have been used such as community design, social impact, humanitarian, and pro bono, only public interest design bears the systemic permanence of a profession. As this term enters the public discourse, will it be used by anybody to mean anything? Or, are there professional standards that...

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Tech and Sustainability Meet Up at Greenbuild

09/14/12

Tech and Sustainability Meet Up at Greenbuild

The “classic” Silicon Valley stretches from Palo Alto to south of San Jose, CA, about 20 miles south of San Francisco. Bay Area locals are mighty excited about Greenbuild coming to San Francisco in November.  The conference theme, “@ Greenbuild,” references the mindboggling array of Internet and technology companies headquartered in our backyards. You know Google, Yahoo, Twitter (co-founder, Biz Stone, will join us at the Greenbuild opening plenary), LinkedIn, Yelp, and YouTube.  Smaller social media outlets are also ubiquitous, including StumbleUpon, Reddit, Delicious, Yammer, Pinterest, and many more.  Of the 17 companies mentioned in a recent survey on social media for designers, all but one are headquartered here. (Tumblr hails from New York.  Rebels!)  We also have...

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Cities as Labs for Change

09/13/12

Cities as Labs for Change

Exterior of Brightcove's new Global Headquarters in Boston’s Innovation District, Photo courtesy of CBT Architects; © Mark Flannery Cities everywhere are entering a new era of unprecedented collaboration as well as competition. If they are to thrive, they need to be great places. Knowing this, local governments are working with architects, urban thinkers, technology mavens, and other key players in the private sector to design and construct sustainable buildings and districts as platforms for the future. A synergistic symphony of urban design and development is commencing, harnessing creativity, lowering economic barriers, and generating productive energy with healthy, inspiring environments. Cities, much like states in the past, are now becoming the laboratory for innovation and...

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Tale of Two Maps

09/12/12

Tale of Two Maps

If you want to peer into the future of architecture and infrastructure, try comparing the impact of two vastly different maps of the same place. For this post, I am using a map of the United States; but you could use just about any map of any country on the planet. Map of the United States Looking at this map, you will see what you typically think of as the United States, with the lines that divide the landmass of regions into our familiar states. These boundaries were politically inspired, and whether influenced by natural features or not, the lines don’t heed to the ecological realities on the ground or in the water. This process of artificially delineating land with straight lines continues as you zoom further into the map— states divide into counties and then cities,...

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Visiting the 9/11 Memorial in Lower Manhattan

09/11/12

Visiting the 9/11 Memorial in Lower Manhattan

Last weekend I went to check out the new World Trade Center; I’ve been following its rise from my window in Brooklyn. I was prepared to deal with hoards of sightseers and extra-tight security, this being the weekend before the 9/11 anniversary. Though curious to see the National 9/11 Memorial, I had not had a chance to do the required online application for tickets, so I was resigned to catch glimpses of it from the outside. But that was not the case. After taking a few shots of the Freedom Tower, which seemed to show little external progress from last year, I tried to peek inside, unsuccessfully. Other than distant views from the World Financial Center, the memorial site is very much screened off. So I attempted to flash my press credentials to get in. I was told that a few...

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A Taste of Bay Area Green

09/10/12

A Taste of Bay Area Green

Boucher Grygier Shipping Container House, Innovation and Transition tour, photo courtesy of Jan Grygier From giant redwoods to adaptive reuse, San Francisco is chock full of memorable sights – green buildings and beyond. At USGBC’s annual Greenbuild International Conference and Expo, held in San Francisco this November, you can sample from two dozen tours of buildings (and much more), specially curated by San Fran insiders. Every year, the Greenbuild “host committee” of volunteers from USGBC’s regional chapters organizes a series of tours to help visitors learn more about the community and the buildings and the culture of each host locale. This year’s lineup is really impressive. The tour committee, led by Lindsay Baker (Green Team Consultant at Mary Davidge Associates)...

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Places That Work: Rocking Chairs in Waiting Areas

09/08/12

Places That Work: Rocking Chairs in Waiting Areas

Air travel is a miserable experience these days and giving travelers some sense control makes the process somewhat less onerous. Some U.S. airports, for instance, provide rocking chairs for waiting passengers. These rockers offer another seating option to people, and having a choice, at least from a reasonable number of options, gives us a psychological boost. In St. Louis (pictured), there are enough of these chairs in each waiting area so that small groups can arrange themselves as they see fit – making eye contact or not, gathered around a young child, looking at images spread on the floor or on a computer screen as a client pitch is drafted. There is also a health benefit. Rocking in the chairs vigorously enough can release endorphins into your bloodstream, which boost your...

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Leading Green in Austin

09/07/12

Leading Green in Austin

I first met Lucia Athens when I interviewed her while working on Women in Green: Voices of Sustainable Design with Lance Hosey. She has been a leader in the green movement for many years and is currently a member of the Advisory Board of the SXSW Eco (of which I am also a member). Athens is chief sustainability officer for the City of Austin, Texas, which is the host city for SXSW and its offshoot, SXSW Eco (October 4 through 6).
 She’s a licensed landscape architect as well as author of the book, Building an Emerald City: A Guide to Creating Green Building Policies, published in 2010 by Island Press. She began her career in green building in the early 1990s, working on the development team for the City of Austin’s Green Builder program, the first such program in the United...

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Q&A: Maurice Cox

09/06/12

Q&A: Maurice Cox

About a month ago the Tulane School of Architecture announced that Maurice Cox had been appointed associate dean of community engagement. The title is an altogether apt one for Cox, who has spent almost two decades forging ties between design education, the political realm, and the public. Long associated with the architecture school at the University of Virginia, in Charlottesville, Cox served a handful of terms as city councilman and was elected mayor in 2002. He is a former design director of the National Endowment for the Arts, a Loeb fellow at Harvard, and is one of the co-founders of the SEED (Social, Economic, Environmental, Design) Network, an organization dedicated to public-interest architecture. I spoke to Cox, prior to the arrival of Hurricane Isaac, about his new job and...

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What's a land quilt?

09/05/12

What's a land quilt?

Ever have fond memories of feeling wrapped safely in a quilt? We all love the feeling of comfort and safety that comes with quilts, blankets and the loving hands that made them. And the quilting bee, a community of women working their craft, is well known in our folklore. Artists Tony Anella and Cara McCullogh of Albuquerque, New Mexico, have taken these ides of comfort, quilting, and community and applied them to ‘the land’. “The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land.” –Aldo Leopold The result is what they call, a land quilt: an interesting idea that combines public art, community gathering, and ecological restoration. Photograph by Robert Reck Photography The land quilt attempts...

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Lessons from Isaac

09/04/12

Lessons from Isaac

Last week I experienced my first New Orleans hurricane. I’d been through big storms in the northeast before—a number of times, one time on a small island—but this one felt different. Maybe it was the timing, so close to the anniversary of Katrina. Maybe I’ve chosen to live in an inherently vulnerable city. The good news: the levees performed well (thank you, Army Corps of Engineers), the bad news: the local utility company didn’t. Hurricane Isaac did, however, provide some valuable life lessons: 1. There are only two kinds of hurricanes. Boring hurricanes involve power outages, unrelenting heat, unrelenting rain, fierce winds, agitation, anger, dead cell phones, and acute internet withdrawal. "Interesting" hurricanes include all of the above, plus boats, helicopter...

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Q&A: Michael Rotondi

09/04/12

Q&A: Michael Rotondi

Image courtesy of Michael Rotondi, Roto Architecture. Michael Rotondi, prinicipal of RoTo Architecture, is well known for his architectural work and intellectual rigor. One area of his expertise is the design of sacred spaces. Curious about his thoughts on designing spaces for some relatively unknown religions, how he finds information about the religions themselves and their traditions, how or if he approaches the design of sacred spaces as opposed to secular spaces, Guy Horton and I designed some questions for Rotondi.  Here is what he had to say. Sherin Wing: First of all, do you engage in spiritual practice? Michael Rotondi: I came back to spiritual practice but not religious practice. I started reading [again] a lot about any society that had figured out how to integrate...

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Refurbishing a Palace

09/03/12

Refurbishing a Palace

Renovated gallery, All Images Curtesy of Toulouse-Lautrec Museum For 10 years, the Toulouse-Lautrec Museum in Albi, France has been under intense renovation. Based within a 13th century fortress, Palais de la Berbie, the museum expanded its exhibition spaces to better display the world’s largest collection of 19th century French painter, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Celebrating the projects completion, The Toulouse-Lautrec Museum held an inaugural ceremony on July 27th. The French Minister of Culture, Aurélie Filippetti was in Albi for the festivities.New museum auditorium, All Images Curtesy of Toulouse-Lautrec Museum Toulouse-Lautrec Museum has only occupied the building since 1922, so the previous 800 years of history complicated the renovation’s needs. Built by the Bishop of...

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Columbus Inaugurates Design Week

09/02/12

Columbus Inaugurates Design Week

My wife, Sarah Bongiorno, and I have been talking about the idea of a Columbus inaugural Design Week for several years in parallel with our desire to pursue a UNESCO City of Design designation for Columbus, Ohio. The idea of Design Week is not new, just new to Columbus. A “perfect storm” of sorts enabled us to align our vision for a Columbus Design Week with the vision of idUS, and the 200Columbus initiatives focused on the future of the city. We wanted to raise local awareness of the power of design thinking and the importance of designers to our local economy. 500 Idea Books were distirbuted around Columbus, Ohio in anticipaton of the Columbus Design Week. An Idea Book's 20 blank pages of  4.25"x5.5" is meant to be filled with visions of a future Columbus. An exhibition of the...

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Palladio via Eisenman

09/01/12

Palladio via Eisenman

Close your eyes and imagine a villa. You know, one with carefully proportioned walls, perhaps balanced along a systematic floorplan. Maybe the elevation can fold onto the floor - or superimpose the walls and roof plans to the exterior facade - and volumes match-up at invisible intersections. Any of this sound familiar? Architecture 101 anyone? Villa Rotonda Model overlaid with axonometric, Image by Peter Eisenman and Matt Roman In the 20th century, a villa like this would have to be Peter Eisenman’s. Bring it back 500 years and you’d have Andrea Palladio. Clearly inspired by Palladio’s life work, Eisenman’s built and unbuilt houses of pearlescent walls have greatly echoed Palladio’s timeless villas. Through the 1970’s, Eisenman produced well known villa conceptual drawings....

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