All posts in Sustainability

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Small Wonder

SO-IL partners with MINI LIVING for a small-space prototype at Salone del Mobile
  What can you do with an unused urban plot of just 500 square feet? Quite a bit, proposes New York–based firm SO-IL with Breathe, the installation they created in collaboration with MINI LIVING at the 2017 edition of Salone del Mobile. Inspired by MINI's two-pronged principals of "creative use of space" and "minimal footprint," the three-story structure is made of a modular metal frame surrounded by a textile skin. The breathable, light-permeable fabric offers privacy while fostering a sense of connectedness to the urban setting. "MINI LIVING – Breathe brings its residents into direct contact with their environment," said SO-IL principal Ilias Papageorgiou. "By making living an active experience, the installation encourages visitors to confront our tendency to take resources for granted." The structure features six flexible rooms—a kitchen, shower, living and sleeping areas—capped by a roof garden that's meant to enhance both the user's quality of life and the surrounding ecosystem. In addition, the roof garden is engineered to capture rainwater to be used from the tap. Another notable feature is Breathe's flexible outer skin, which features a special coating that filters and neutralizes the air. The fabric can be easily interchanged to suit other climates should the modular system be installed elsewhere.
“The approach we took with MINI LIVING – Breathe extends far beyond purely a living concept,” says Oke Hauser, creative lead of MINI LIVING, the automaker's urban-living lab platform. “We view the installation as an active ecosystem, which makes a positive contribution to the lives and experiences of the people who live there and to the urban microclimate, depicted here by the intelligent use of resources essential to life—i.e. air, water, and light.”
MINI LIVING – Breathe will be on display at Via Tortona 32 in Milan through April 9, 2017. A further experiment in the small-living series will be installed at the brand's New York design lab, A/D/O, during the second half of 2017.
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Piping Hot

New geothermal system will heat and cool historic St. Patrick’s Cathedral
With the luck of the Irish, St. Patrick’s Cathedral has activated their new geothermal plant just in time for St. Patrick’s Day. The state-of-the-art system will use thermal energy harvested from underground wells to regulate the temperature of the Cathedral and its neighboring buildings. In order to harness enough energy to do this, ten wells were drilled to 2,200 feet on the north and south edges of the Fifth Avenue cathedral along 50th and 51st Streets. Those wells distribute heat to a Dedicated Heat Recovery Chiller, which then sends it out to the 76,000 square feet of cathedral for heating or cooling. Unlike most geothermal systems, St. Patrick’s system is able to heat and cool different spaces around the property simultaneously. According to a press release, a fully functioning system will be able to produce 2.9 million BTU’s of air conditioning per hour and 3.2 million BTU’s of heat per hour. To utilize the geothermal power for the project, engineers and designers had to manipulate the existing infrastructure while still adhering to strict historic preservation codes. The design and construction team included Murphy, Burnham, & Buttrick, Landmark Facilities Group, PW Grossner, Silman, and Langan Engineering, and Structure Tone of New York. “We conducted a feasibility study and found that a geothermal system let us meet our goals with the smallest impact,” said Richard A. Sileo, senior engineer with Landmark Facilities Group, in a press release. It was also noted in the press release that the Archdiocese of New York and St. Patrick’s Cathedral also hoped that choosing a sustainably responsible choice for energy, that the project could inspire others around the world to do the same. “A consistent ethic of life does not compartmentalize these issues. It prioritizes life and the preservation of life at every level,” said cathedral Rector Monsignor Robert T. Richie in a press release. “One of the most basic ways in which we are called to do so is through responsible stewardship of our natural resources.” The geothermal plant was completed February 2017 and is part of a larger restoration effort for the cathedral. To read more about what is coming for St. Patrick’s, you can visit their website here.
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Feel the Learn

Miami’s Frost Museum of Science by Grimshaw aims to be paragon of sustainable architecture
Miami’s new science museum will open its doors on May 8, 2017. The Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science (or Frost Science, for short), which sits Miami's Downtown Museum Park, is part of Miami-Dade County’s initiative to make Miami a “cultural hub.” The 250,000-square-foot campus—designed by London-based Grimshaw Architects, who worked with local firm Rodriguez and Quiroga—is divided into four entities: the Planetarium, Aquarium, North Wing, and West Wing, which will include exhibit space, the Learning Center, the museum’s Science Store, and a museum café. The building is designed to be an exhibit itself, with examples of sustainable building practices and local wildlife. A rooftop urban farm and “Living Core” will be dedicated to showcasing native vegetation, while a solar terrace of photovoltaic panels will supply the building with energy. As part of the museum’s Everglades exhibit, there will also be an on-site wetland. These features should help the project achieve its expected LEED Gold rating. “The technology, engineering, and sustainability features found throughout the museum rival those on a global stage and will inspire and motivate generations to come,” said Frank Steslow, Frost Science President, in a press release. “Our goal is that Frost Science will be an international destination and vibrant educational space that encourages curiosity and investigation.” On top of the building’s built-in experiences, the museum will also feature exhibits on the history of flight, from dinosaurs to aerospace engineering, and the physics of light, and will, of course, provide ample opportunities to engage with local wildlife at the three-level aquarium. The museum is currently in its final stages of construction, awaiting the arrival of its new inhabitants. For more information about the museum’s exhibits or to purchase tickets, visit their website here.
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It's Alive!

Georgia Tech moves forward with plans for a Living Building on campus
Georgia Tech has approved a 42,000-square-foot project for their campus that aims to pass the Living Building Challenge; construction could begin as soon as this fall. The project began when The Kendeda Fund (an Atlanta-based private foundation) gifted $30 million to Georgia Tech specifically for the creation and operation of a Living Building at the school. (A Living Building has passed the Living Building Challenge's (LBC) stringent standards, which range from energy performance to social equity). The school then hosted an ideas competition and selected a joint design from Atlanta-based Lord Aeck Sargent and Seattle-based The Miller Hull Partnership. The university’s Planning & Design Commission approved the scheme in December and the project has now moved into the design development phase. Despite its approval, the project has presented some challenges due to its lack of programming specifics. A committee of faculty members from Georgia Tech has been working with the design team to refine the program and make sure it addresses the needs of the university. For now, the building program consists of offices, labs, “maker spaces,” classrooms, study spaces, and an auditorium. The program is housed in two rectangular “sheds” joined by a large atrium and featuring a west-facing porch. The structure will be a post and beam system made of locally sourced glue-laminated timbers, adhering to the LBC's strict material requirements. In order to meet the performance standards of a Living Building, the project must also produce 105 percent of the electricity it uses through renewable clean-energy means. The current scheme will use a combination of radiant pipes for heating and cooling, a custom Dedicated Outdoor Air System (DOAS) for dehumidifying the Georgia summer air, and photovoltaic panels on the roof to generate almost 300 kilowatts of electricity. As part of the LBC’s Urban Agriculture requirements, the project must set aside a certain percentage of the site for agriculture initiatives, or 12,577 square feet in this case. Philadelphia-based Andropogon Associates, the landscape architects for the project, is proposing many strategies including pollinator gardens, blueberry orchards, medicinal plants, and edible vines spread across rooftop gardens and surrounding forest to help with water drainage and shading for the building. Lastly, the building will utilize a combination of “foam-flush” composting toilets and a greywater treatment system to recycle wastewater from the building on site for use around the campus. The building is currently expected to begin construction as soon as this fall. The Kendeda Fund has set up a timeline of the project on their website to keep track of its progress through the many design and construction phases. To learn more, visit the fund's project description and timeline.
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Green Machine

L.A.’s La Kretz Innovation Campus in is a one-stop shop for cleantech development

The La Kretz Innovation Campus (LKIC), designed by John Friedman Alice Kimm Architects (JFAK), is a new business incubation center in Los Angeles developed by the Department of Water and Power (LADWP), the Community Redevelopment Agency of the City of Los Angeles, and Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator (LACI), a nonprofit tasked to transform the city into a green-collar hub.

The 61,000-square-foot “sustainability factory” is located in a collection of single-story, masonry-and-bow-truss warehouses from 1923 in L.A.’s Arts District. The neighborhood, home to the Southern California Institute of Architecture and a growing number of creative industries, is well-suited to benefit from a “Cleantech Corridor” specifically zoned to support the green economy-related development now running through it.

The complex is meant to be a place where, as JFAK founder and principal Alice Kimm said, “Ideas for new goods and services can be birthed, researched, developed, prototyped, and pushed out to market from under one roof.”

The complex, measuring 290- by 200-feet, is carved into eight similarly sized warehouse bays mirrored about a central axis. The eastern four bays are dedicated to business incubation services: office spaces, meeting rooms, and lounge areas. The western half of the building contains maker spaces: state-of-the-art fabrication rooms with robots and wood shop tools.

While the exterior of the building has been left mostly untouched, the whole of the structure has been seismically retrofitted and its interiors upgraded with new surfaces and partitions. Upon entering the building, one discovers a waiting lounge demarcated by an abstracted triumphal arch. The area is wrapped on two sides by a luscious indoor green wall while white prisms—actually, light cannons designed to reflect sunlight indoors—descend from the ceiling above the adjacent reception desk. Spaces beyond contain an arrangement of single-height partitions and fully-enclosed meeting rooms, all sandwiched between polished concrete floors and the soaring, lumber arches of the bow-trusses distinctive to L.A.’s industrial architecture.

Kimm explained that daylighting strategies guided the design: “We staggered the placement of enclosed spaces so light could penetrate all the way through the building.”

The following bays provide more offices and lead to a semi-formal, wood-paneled amphitheater and cafe lounge. The lounge overlooks the new Arts District Park, designed by staff landscape architects from the Los Angeles Bureau of Engineering with JFAK, who designed a shade structure for it. The half-acre park features a playground and landscaping fed by a gray water–reclamation system designed by LADWP. BuroHappold was the mechanical and sustainability engineer.

The western portion of the building contains utilitarian conference rooms, laboratories, and fabrication spaces. Generously proportioned gypsum and glass partition–lined hallways snake along the main party wall at the center of the complex, connecting the business and fabrication spaces along a social core. These routes connect physically discrete spaces, giving the building’s interiors a sense relative impermanence that contrasts with the solid masonry walls and the elaborate truss ceiling above, now bedazzled with all manner of mechanical and electrical systems.

Kimm explained: “[With LKIC] ‘adaptive reuse’ meant that we had to make a building that had enough identity on its own, as a unifying architectural framework, but that would still allow the individuals to have their own voices. The project revolved around finding a balance and knowing when to stop.”

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Strategy Session

Keeping environmentalism alive during a Trump presidency
What now? Will environmentalists be able to make any headway in the next four years? That was the theme of a discussion moderated by veteran environmental reporter Andrew Revkin (now of ProPublica) at the offices of BeEx (Building Energy Exchange), a group dedicated to improving the environmental performance of buildings. The panelists were Marcia Bystryn, president of the New York League of Conservation Voters, and Michael B. Gerrard, director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University. “Is there a way you can see for environmental groups to engage the new administration, or is it going to be completely antagonistic?” Revkin asked. Bystryn answered that, at least with moderate Republicans, the conversation should be about the economic impact of various responses to climate change. “I’m not sure the ‘are you a denier or not a denier’ gets you anywhere, particularly in this administration. If you stick with 'you’re either with us or against us,' you’re locking yourself into a situation where you’re not going to move anybody.” And could there be common ground between environmentalists looking to build wind and solar “farms” and an administration committed to creating infrastructure?   According to Gerrard, “That could be a ray of hope, but [Trump] probably means oil and gas infrastructure.” Revkin thought there was a chance that upgrading the electricity grid, which is antiquated and vulnerable to hacking, might pass the new administration’s test for infrastructure projects. Conservation, as a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, was a constant theme. “The best energy is the energy we don’t use,” said Revkin, who referred to reductions in energy use as “negawatts.” The trouble, he said, is that politicians gravitate to high-profile projects. “You can cut a ribbon for a new power plant. You can’t cut a ribbon for negawatts.” Gerrard was pessimistic about conservation as public policy during the Trump years. “People going into the cabinet have as one of their objectives maximization of use of fossil fuels, which makes them not interested in efficiency,” he said. But Bystryn replied that “what the members of the new administration really want is to make money,” which suggests they might be willing to invest in renewables if the return on investment is there. As for the possibility of a national carbon tax—which some environmentalists see as the best way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions—Gerrard again seemed doubtful.  “The only prospect is if it were part a macro budget deal, as a way to solve the deficit [by bringing in new tax revenue]. But it’s not clear that the new administration cares about the deficit.” Revkin reported on a conversation he had not long ago with Bill Gates, who said that that resistance to conservation explains why he is focusing on new modes of energy production. “If it’s zero-carbon energy pumping into the system, it can be a leaking balloon and it doesn’t matter. That’s why I’m focusing on the big initiative,” Gates said, according to Revkin. But one questioner worried that “talking about innovation becomes an excuse for not taking action” in the present. Revkin responded that “it’s not an either/or issue.” He said innovation can extend beyond technology. “The biggest factor in reducing New York City’s water usage was installing individual water meters.” Similarly, he said, when it comes to conserving fuel, “People’s views change when they see a picture of their house with heat leaking out everywhere. Using those pictures to educate people is a kind of innovation.” If the federal government steps away from enforcing environmental regulations, the onus may shift to state and local governments. “We have an election coming up in New York City next year,” said Bystryn. “We should make clear that the mayor’s climate agenda is critical and force him to make that more visible. Similarly with the governor.” Gerrard discussed an investigation by state attorneys general into whether Exxon misled its shareholders about its climate change initiatives. Investor disclosure laws are a tool, he said, that can be used to hold companies accountable. “I think it’s important for people to support their states in these actions.” He recommended using the “state and local legal levers” to make buildings more efficient. “Traditionally the real estate industry has fought back.  So we need citizen activism to push back against pushback.” The conversation repeatedly turned to whether nuclear power has a place in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Gerrard said, “The economics of it are just horrible. It’s the most socialist of all energy forms. It requires massive government subsidies at every step of the way. It amazes me that a lot of people on the right favor nuclear power.  That’s mostly because it’s a macho technology, I think. Not because it’s economical.” Revkin, a longtime reporter for the New York Times, seemed unsure if climate change would ever get the attention it deserves from the public and from politicians. “I’ve spent 30 years writing articles in the presumption that if people are given more information they will change.” But, he reported,“among liberal Democrats climate change has finally climbed to number 6 on their list of priorities. Number 6. And that’s liberal Democrats.” One problem is that groups focused on climate change, which is a global concern, and groups with local environmental agendas, don’t always see eye-to-eye.  Scenic Hudson, dedicated to protecting Hudson River Valley views, may disagree with advocates of wind turbines in New York State. “If you love wind power, you’d better like transmission lines,” he said. “Because energy has to get from point A to point B.” Conversely, groups concerned about climate change might support fracking, which does its environmental damage locally, because natural gas burns much cleaner than the coal it generally replaces. Bystryn said that while New York has banned fracking, it might be “unwise” to try to stop fracked gas from coming into the state, as some have proposed, because “renewable energy is not ready yet to take its place.”
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Solid Landing

A new must-read book explores the divides within landscape architecture and urban design

Questions of environment, ecology, and climate have never more intensely occupied the cultural zeitgeist. According to editors Christophe Girot and Dora Imhof of the ETH Zurich, as scarcity, ruin, and a siege mentality drove the functionalism that dominated architecture of the post-war period, the profession of landscape architecture is still in the midst of responding to a decades-long environmental crisis, and has produced similarly functionalist design. They suggest (as Elizabeth Meyer has for years in her Sustaining Beauty writings) that recent landscape architectural production is too highly conditioned by analytics, abstracted from site, and producing works that don’t rise above functionalist responses to an environment in peril. 

Thinking the Contemporary Landscape, a 17-essay collection, attempts to set up a discourse between opposing ideologies, such as science and memory, power and territory, fact and myth, in order to present an all-encompassing theory of contemporary landscape practice. While this endeavor ultimately frays, revealing the unlikelihood (or frankly, undesirability) of such unification, the book itself is a must-read for landscape architects and urbanists. The editors wittingly construct a discourse about a schism in modes of practice, a reaction perhaps to the dominance in recent years of landscape urbanism and its hybrids. Despite the foregrounding of an environment in peril, they react to scientific positivism by advocating for a return to aesthetics, poetics, myth, and meaning. The current volume suggests other new identities. If we are to believe Charles Waldheim, landscape architect equals urbanist. Waldheim and James Corner in particular are intent on fomenting this shift in perception; beseeching practitioners to take control of urban design territory (presumably, before the architects and urban planners beat them to it).

Girot’s essay laments the modes of visualization epitomized by the “layer-cake” approach of Ian McHarg, author of the 1969 Design with Nature. He suggests that years of design with 2-D maps and collage have effectively broken down landscape thinking into abstract, and ultimately, meaningless, layers. Girot argues that the results of this diagrammatic thinking have stripped design of character, of local connections, and ultimately, of meaning. 

As a counterpoint, Corner argues for the preeminence of the plan, composite layers, and collage, suggesting they have the capacity to become “engendering machines” of “rich and unpredictable interactions,” a method that comes from ecology itself. Corner plays both ends of the spectrum, at once advocating for performance and form. In a mediated (and ultimately modest) position, Corner’s conception of “format” is hardly memorable. In the context of design reviews as long as six years ago, Corner declared that the University of Pennsylvania was about form and aesthetics, and Harvard was about performance. This dissonance of Corner’s recent commentary with his earlier writings manifests as some subconscious and uncoordinated id-war, a shift away from the working landscape and toward the “pictorial impulse” he earlier reviled (in New Operations and the Eidetic Landscape).

Recalling David Gissen’s Subnatures, Vittoria Di Palma’s intriguing discussion of aesthetics engages the wasteland as site of primal disgust and ultimately, subversive aesthetics. She revisits the picturesque and its power to give “a new prominence to aversive landscape,” (a topic explored by Robert Smithson in 1973’s Frederick Law Olmsted and the Dialectical Landscape), an apt aesthetic history to sample when theorizing the entropy, asymmetry, and gnarliness of the Anthropocene.

Other contributors reject the editors’ prompt of aesthetics altogether. Notably, Kongjian Yu, a practitioner of ecological design in China, argues powerfully for landschaft or the working landscape, suggesting that “the quality and beauty of the landscape has been detached from the notion of a holistic land system for living and survival, and has now become high art landscape design exclusively for the pleasure of the urban elite.” In a similar vein, Saskia Sassen’s critique eviscerates the blunt hand of capitalism that is currently playing out in the form of global land acquisition.

Rather than a clear way forward, the diversity of this volume evidences a fraught world in need of urban design leadership, solutions for the anxious environment of climate change, and rethinking the future of landscape’s territory and meaning in the 21st century.

Thinking The Contemporary Landscape Christophe Girot, Dora Imhof, Princeton Architectural Press, $45

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0 to Hero

Architecture at Zero’s net-zero energy competition winners announced
The 2016 winners for the Architecture at Zero competitionand the competition’s up-to-$25,000 prize—have been announced. This year’s competition focused on the development of zero-net energy (ZNE) student housing for the San Francisco State University campus in California. Entrants were asked to create an overall site plan to accommodate the erection of 784 housing units and attendant programs like a student services center, food hall, and child care facility. The schemes were also asked to address parking issues. Further, the competition brief compelled participants to develop the design of one particular building from their proposal to a greater level of detail in order to convey ZNE performance compliance and to provide documentation attesting to these performance standards. The competition is focused on fostering the development and proliferation of ZNE design due to an impending California state law requirement calling for all new single-family residential construction to be ZNE by 2020 with all new commercial construction to follow suit by 2030. Competition winners were appropriated based on two categories: those submitted by professional architecture firms and those submitted by students. Within each applicant category, winning entries were selected at the “special recognition,” “citation,” “merit,” or “honor” awards levels. Winners for student entries: Special Recognition Award: Sharing and Living by a student team from Tamkang University in Taipei, Taiwan.   Merit Award: Communal Operations by Steven Loutherback, Texas Tech. Honor award: Energized Canopy by Romain Dechavanne, Ecole Nationale Superior d’Architecture in Grenoble, France. Winners for professional entries: Citation Award: Piezien Circuit by Modus Studio, Fayetteville, Arkansas. Merit Award: Nexus by Dialog in Vancouver, Canada. Merit Award: Fog Catcher by LITTLE in Los Angeles. For more information on the Architecture at Zero competition, see the competition website.
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Metrophysics

Ecological urbanism to the rescue? Michael Sorkin Studio and Terreform explore green cities at SCI-Arc
In the exhibition Metrophysics, New York-based Michael Sorkin Studio and Terreform (both helmed by Sorkin) have brought their portfolio of eco-futurist-tinged urban designs to Los Angeles’s Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc) in Los Angeles, displaying a sprawling retrospective of the symbiotic architectural groups’ collective output from over the years. The work presented by Sorkin and Terreform—the latter of which is a 501(c)3 established in 2005 as a self-described “ ‘friend of the court’ dedicated to raising urban expectations and advocating for innovative and progressive ideas as widely as possible”—traces a broad stylistic and conceptual arc across time spanning from the mid-1990s through today. That arc hewed closely to the always-shifting focus of other ecologically-minded architectural firms: From dramatic landscape design in the 1990s to embodying technologically-derived formalism in the early 2000s and, more recently, a hybrid between the two. The exhibition, displayed neatly and semi-chronologically along a series of mounted display boards set atop wooden sawhorses, aims for grandiosity in content if not format. The collected schemes feature board after board of idealized eco-utopias. Some are depicted with Kazimir Malevich-inspired geometric abstraction, verdant, photo-realistic eye wash, or as techno-futurist blobitecture. According to the firm’s website, the body of work acts as a metaphorical extension of Terreform’s ongoing project, New York City (Steady) State, a “comprehensive investigation into urban self-sufficiency…intended to raise issues and propose solutions for cities around the world that seek to take radical measures to secure their respiration and autonomy and to achieve a more sustainably democratic polity, founded in the local.” As a result, each project presented uses the underlying notions of New York City (Steady) State to speculate on the potential for ecologically-minded urbanism in other locales. The works attempt to imbue their architecture with a sense of cosmological meaning by fusing the naturalistic geometries spawned by ecological, parametric design with old-school New Urbanism. New York City is, in fact, featured heavily across the collected projects, with a thoughtful and dramatically rendered vision for a transit hub in the Bronx from 2002 and the firm’s proposal for a temporary enclosure for the rubble at the former World Trade Center site from 2001 providing eloquent and compelling visions that stand somewhat outside some of the exhibition’s more general themes. Ex nihilo East Asian towns and business districts are also featured prominently in the collection of work, with the Penang Peaks project from 2004 (a horseshoe-shaped cluster of mushroom-shaped towers gathered around a body of water), Skyscrapers with Chinese Characteristics (an exploration that translates Sorkin’s collection of “scholar’s rocks” into tall buildings), and an Ecological Golf Resort for Australia from 2014 best showcasing the firms’ ability to generate a sort of contextually-based, ecologically-driven formalism. Central to the groups’ experiments are several notions due to be tested in coming years, namely that cities are in fact resilient and nimble democratic systems that can countenance the ever-growing list of maladies they face, including climate change, growing income disparities, and the ever-increasing flow of antiseptic global capital. Sorkin’s team implies with its research that both new and existing cities have the potential to overcome these stresses, but only if thoughtfully and ecologically designed. This will certainly be a challenge as a new era of incompetent authoritarianism takes hold globally. Terreform’s showcase at SCI-Arc, with its broad stylistic mantle and critical urban approach, has the potential to inject a dose of inspiration for a university in transition and city searching for a new moral compass. The cornucopia of drawing styles alone should provide fertile ground for the current generation of students hungry to cut and paste their way toward new modes of formal expression. And though the works in question vary greatly in terms of representational techniques, muses, and thought bubbles, Sorkin’s detail-oriented gaze remains consistent, whether it involves the tiny white ribbons representing pigeons drawn onto the firm’s Bronx transit plans or the technicolor landscapes of the Weed, Arizona project. The question—for after the exhibition closes—is whether SCI-Arc students will be inspired by techno-ecology and what a transition from designing at an urban scale to designing ecologically-driven urbanism might look like moving forward. --- Metrophysics SCI-Arc Gallery 960 East 3rd Street Los Angeles, CA 90013 Through December 4
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Location, Location, Location

From the Everglades to the Rockaways, this Brooklyn firm works with communities to design for resiliency

Walter Meyer and Jennifer Bolstad, founders of and partners in Local Office Landscape and Urban Design (LOLA), are earning a reputation for their innovative resiliency projects at the edges of civilization—coastlines and islands. With a multipronged approach that they describe as part architecture, part environmental remediation, and part community organization, Meyer and Bolstad are battling the effects of environmental change on cities and their populations. Managing editor Olivia Martin talked with them about LOLA’s approach to resiliency and future-proofing the planet—from working on post-Hurricane Sandy conditions in the Rockaways to remediating coastal areas of Florida.

The Architect’s Newspaper (AN): You say that resiliency is the new sustainability. Why?

Walter Meyer: It’s a new buzzword, so people confuse it and interchange it with sustainability as though they are the same thing. But sustainability is a derivative of Frederic Clements’s climax theory, in which a field, for example, will change each decade, from soil to weeds to shrubs to trees and then climax as a hardwood forest—this is a snapshot of nature in 3-D.

What emerged after World War II was a new theory of the natural cycles of time. Rather than seeking an equilibrium theory of nature, there is a disequilibrium, where nature is trying to balance itself and adapt to change. Those who can anticipate and respond to change quicker are the ones who have the upper hand.

The big difference is that resiliency is dynamic and changing, while sustainability is static. In terms of scale, sustainability is holistic and more big-picture, and resiliency is more local. So I think of sustainability as an old model but still an important tool.

AN: Do you have examples of where sustainability failed us and why it should no longer be considered the gold standard, so to speak?

Jennifer Bolstad: Well, a few years ago, I consulted on One World Trade Center, which is a very sustainable building [LEED Gold]. But when the mechanical system drowned in Hurricane Sandy and couldn’t be used anymore, the firm in charge ultimately decided it was cheaper to abandon it and leave several floors uninhabited rather than fix it.

Meyer: Also during Hurricane Sandy, all of the buildings that ran on photovoltaics failed because the city grid was down. So, literally, every single building with solar was down. This is because there is a law that if the grid goes down, you can’t back charge the line with your solar panels, because you’ll zap the workers trying to fix the grid. Since then, they invented a hybrid inverter that “islands” the building into a microgrid, so it can function independently off of the grid. There needs to be a dynamic relationship with nature, and we should be creating multilayered systems.

AN: You have a lot of work in Florida right now that deals with water management. How does resiliency factor into those projects?

Meyer: All of the articles written about Miami focus on the ocean and city. It’s all about the ocean—and that makes for good headlines. But what’s missed is that Miami’s most vulnerable areas are in the Everglades, on the west side of the city, because they have freshwater, five feet higher than the ocean, that can’t become diluted with salt water or else Miami loses its water source.

The area near Everglades National Park is particularly at risk because the main flow of the water runs north–south, down from Lake Okeechobee to Florida Bay, and a secondary flow of water runs east–west—like a spine and ribs. Originally, the secondary water flow moved through transverse glades and occasionally wet bogs and sloughs. Since the channels weren’t actual rivers, the city filled them in, and now, when it rains, the houses on those streets along these former sloughs flood. The homes are considered Repetitive Loss properties and the owners cannot collect insurance for the damage anymore. The buildings’ foundations are cracking, due to the water infiltrating the alkaline bedrock, literally melting it. We are trying to open up more options to the people who are stuck in these houses but don’t want to leave their community.

Normally, there is a lot of discussion about design activists, but we are more like community organizers—we want to engage the residents themselves. It’s a lot of listening and then designing and showing them what legal options are available, or creating new ones. One option is a CLT, a community land trust—where everyone buys into this idea, and you work with a public–private partnership, such as a developer and the county. For this neighborhood, it’s about creating high density along the edge of the vulnerable corridor, along the slough of the transverse glades, and doing this three blocks at a time.

If you can organize just three blocks—the center of the slough, a transitional, and a bank—then this creates a housing swap, where the residents can continue their normal lives and not have their schedules disrupted. So, for example, you can move out of the home into a temporary housing unit; then the home will be demolished and turned into a flood storage park, and you will have the option of moving or the right of first refusal to a new high-density, 40-percent affordable housing unit nearby. This makes more sense than simply moving everyone to higher ground because, then, those who are already at higher ground could be dislocated due to rising real estate costs—already Florida developers are looking at luxury housing inland—and this creates new levels of climate refugees.

AN: So, resiliency aside, is relocating more responsible than fixing?

Meyer: Well, that is what leads to climate gentrification; the issue of scale is a major one. If you take a holistic approach and just get everyone out of harm’s way, then you aren’t paying attention to the social fabric. For example, Staten Island was a state buyout project; the government essentially said, “We’ll buy your house, and you can take the money and run.” The problem with that is then the people basically had to move out to Newark because the buyout price point doesn’t acknowledge the gentrification, and $200,000 or $300,000 won’t get you another house in the city. In the Edgemere Urban Renewal Area, in Rockaway, the Department of Housing Preservation and Development and the Office of Recovery and Resiliency offered more options than just a buyout—such as housing swaps and other solutions at the neighborhood scale.

Bolstad: We focus on the built environment in a way that looks at how cultural issues touch the ecological issues. In the Florida project, people very much want out of their houses that are constantly flooding, but they still want to stay within a five-mile radius so they can be near family and keep their routines. It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach, even if you believe in a long-term retreat from those areas. Otherwise, you end up with people who are not there by choice, like when Robert Moses dislocated people in the Bronx in the 1960s and moved them out to the beach. Economically vulnerable populations ended up in environmentally vulnerable areas.

And it’s not just the built environment. Even if we aren’t preserving the area for housing in the long term, then the environmental situation needs to remain. That barrier [the Rockaway peninsula] is the first line of defense in the city and Lower Manhattan, and, without active management of the environment of that place, it risks the rest of New York City.

Meyer: I like to quote my mentor and city planner Ronald Shiffman when we talk about these issues: “These disturbances don’t discriminate, but our reaction to them can.” We want to make the most just city we can.

For more on LOLA's projects, see their website.

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Ice Cold

An ice-based system cools this Texas performing arts center

Keeping your cool onstage is no mean feat, but one that students and performers at the Marshall Family Performing Arts Center needn’t worry about, thanks to the implementation of the ice cooling system that Manhattan firm Weiss/Manfredi oversaw. The $26.5 million center, part of the Greenhill School in Addison, Texas, opened this past February. Page designed and installed the system, which involves storing ice and using it in conjunction with an air-cooled chiller as ice melts throughout the day, cold water is pumped through cooling coils in an air-handling unit.

“The system—even in a place like Texas—makes sense,” said Michael Manfredi, partner alongside Marion Weiss at the firm. “At night, when the outside temperature drops, the system can be replenished.” Weiss noted that the production of ice at night is more cost effective due to energy prices being lower at that time. “It’s a hybrid in some ways,” she said.

Thermal regulation for the performing arts center, which includes an expansive triple-height lobby, a 2,600-square-foot studio theater, a 2,500-square-foot rehearsal space, and a 21,000-square-foot proscenium theater, requires careful planning. Each space has its own schedule and has to be calibrated, with adjustments made in advance. “The building is designed with a high level of flexibility,” said Manfredi. “Each space can experience surges of 200 to 300 people at a time, and then just 20 at another.”

Weiss explained that “in performance spaces such as the proscenium theater, thermal ducts are located at lower levels so that they can be insulated by the earth and emerge around people's feet. Here, air is released very slowly so as to avoid noise pollution during production.” The proscenium theater seats 600 people: 450 at orchestra level and 150 in the balcony. Underneath these seats, an under-slab air plenum and diffuser grilles form a displacement ventilation system,which releases cool air as needed. Meanwhile, multicolored upholstery creates the illusion of a full venue, even when crowd numbers are low, ensuring that the performers never break a sweat.

Resources — Ice Cooling System: Mechanical Electrical Plumbing and Fire Protection: Page Resources: Glazing System: YKK AP Glass Supplier: Viracon Structural Engineer: Magnusson Klemencic Associates Acoustical/Audio-Visual Consultant: Jaffe Holden Lighting Designer: Tillotson Design Associates Civil Engineer / Landscape: Pacheco Koch Consulting Engineers

Theatre Consultant: Fisher Dachs Associates

Associate Architect: Page

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When the Levee Breaks

A grassroots organization starts an environmental movement in Iowa City

One might not expect Iowa City, a midsize heartland town of 70,000, to be on the forefront of urban sustainability issues. But Iowa City has everything to lose if climate change isn’t addressed. In 2008, a massive flood caused an estimated $64 billion in damage to the state, roughly equivalent to that caused by Hurricane Sandy. That flood was preceded by 239 tornados, which hit the Midwest over a nine-day period.

Iowa City, a UNESCO City of Literature, has a strong, culturally active citizenry, and now it is working to channel that energy into securing its environmental future. After the flood waters subsided, and the tornado damage was clear (damage from both of those events is still evident eight years later), a group of Iowa City residents began to seriously think about how design could be used to achieve a more sustainable urban center. “Ecopolis Iowa City” was organized to brainstorm urban restoration, biodiversity, local food, inclusionary and urban designs, renewable energy, and transportation initiatives for the future of the city. Initially holding informal meetings, Ecopolis Iowa City eventually started to sponsor forums that would use storytelling, music, and conversation to identify and generate ideas. From 2014 to 2016, the events eventually turned into a movement.

The city’s 2015 fall election saw a progressive council majority win for the first time in nearly 50 years. In spring 2016, Mayor Jim Throgmorton issued a “Regenerative City” proclamation. The proclamation set goals to “replant native prairies and trees to store carbon in the soils; expand urban agriculture; to power our city and neighborhoods efficiently through green building designs and renewable energy; to expand citywide recycling and composting through a zero waste ordinance; to make low-carbon transportation choices; to grow green jobs and support companies actively greening their operations.” By summer, the ideas from the Ecopolis Forums were worked into a proposed Iowa City Climate Action Plan.

The plan aims to expand and guide the regenerative city initiatives. Iowa City is already investing $60 million into raising a major route into the city above the 100-year flood level, but the plan calls for many more actions at different scales. From establishing protected “ecodistricts” to enforcing new sustainable building requirements, the plan may greatly affect the city’s future fabric. The plan sets greenhouse gas emission and transit diversity goals through 2030, with an eye on changing the way average citizens understand their impact on the environment.

Though the Iowa City Action Plan has not been formally adopted by the city, Ecopolis points out that the six million sandbags Iowa City residents filled to try and save their city in 2008 is a sign they are ready and able to make major changes. And with Ecopolis founders now on the city council, the time is better than ever.

This article was part of our Oct. 12 issue which focused on how water is shaping today’s landscape architecture and urbanism. Communities face deluges and droughts—for some, the stakes can be survival itself, but others see opportunities for decadence. To explore these stories from around the U.S. and the world, click here.