[Editor’s Note: Opinions expressed in letters to the editor do not necessarily reflect the opinions or sentiments of the newspaper. AN welcomes reader letters, which could appear in our regional print editions. To share your opinion, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. ] Ready for some tough love, some bitter medicine? Looking back, we architects got our profession into some bad places with some serious mistakes. We were often so eager for fame and celebrity that we sometimes behaved irresponsibly. We did not use design in its best sense; we gave away our treasure. We were not always reliable regarding time and money. We handed over the leadership role in building to others who lacked the necessary skills and training, and who held no responsibility or liability. Left with less authority and control, architects instilled fear and distrust in our clients. We aided and abetted clients with unrealistic and unworthy ambitions. Specifically, when clients proposed projects where the scope, budget, and schedule didn’t fit together, we were so eager for the assignments that we did not blow the whistle, but jumped in feet first. I can think of three fine institutions with worthy missions and stellar reputations that committed virtual suicide. Those institutions (almost) betrayed their missions by creating inappropriate, overpriced Silly Buildings. The architects and the leadership of those institutions were co-conspirators and bad stewards. Their actions in pursuit of fame and recognition did irreparable harm to their institutions. We foolishly participated in competitions, an insulting process for selecting architects. What wise partnership was ever created by such a superficial beauty pageant? What smart client chooses an architect simply by how a building looks, without knowing what that architect is like to work with, or if they can execute the project well? What other profession gives its work product away for free? What bettor places a two dollar bet when the prize is two dollars? (And here often there is NO prize!) The field is littered with competition winners who end up losers: no built project, no fee, no valuable relationship. Competitions may have been a reasonable selection process in another time and place. They don’t work here and now. Competitions are abusive and counterproductive for everyone. The lack of self-worth actually begins with poor professional habits. Hiring young professionals without pay, or calling them consultants rather than employees, is illegal and unethical. We are not properly compensated for our services: we provide unpaid speculative designs for clients to try to secure assignments. We are not being paid on a timely basis. (These are circumstances under which no client would expect their contractor to continue working, but we do. Are we richer or dumber than the contractors?) We compete for projects by simply offering to do them for the lowest fees. This practice is unsustainable: if we continue to undersell ourselves, the profession will become a commodity. We allowed, even encouraged, the media to publicize projects whose main value is novelty and eccentricity, not quality. Maybe novelty is easier to spot and sell. While pandering to the public’s desire to stare ghoulishly at a highway accident, novelty hasn’t improved the work or the profession. Encouraging this bad behavior leads clients to ask for more silly buildings, which they (and society) often can’t afford. As young professionals, we are often eager to get a fast start, to break out of the gate early. We start before we have fully mastered the complex task of making buildings. It takes time to learn how to deal constructively and fairly with parties who have other agendas or financial interests. From these errors, we can learn what will lead us to a better future. First, let’s use design in its best, most holistic sense. Design is not simply about how the building looks on the outside (for that is simple). Design dictates how buildings are planned, and how they use resources (materials, energy, space, money, and time). Design informs efficiency, durability, and beauty. Let’s get the design and construction of our projects done on time and on budget. Let’s return to being our clients’ trusted advisors and partners. Let’s be more creative, not just about designing what we are asked to design, but in making new building types for the present and the future, not just the past. Let’s be inventive about the process of building, the largest segment of the American economy. The way we build now is antiquated and doesn’t work well, which leaves room for major improvements. Can you imagine a car produced the way we make buildings? You’d hire a designer, while another company puts together the components of body, engine, brakes, transmission, all made by other companies. You’d end up with a $3 million car that has never been prototyped or tested, and it wouldn’t run as well as a $20,000 Volkswagen. Yet this is how we make buildings! Let’s demand the fees that it takes to do great design. It does cost more to study more alternatives to get the very best one. It takes money to create better, more thorough, and accurate documents to build our designs, and to provide strong services in the construction phase. The client benefits. Better services result in better buildings, lower construction costs and fewer extras. Clients will learn that paying for increased services will make the buildings they own more appropriate and more durable. When we received the fees we deserve, we run better offices, with better staff and equipment, and fewer worries about money. Let’s sell these more relevant building types and these construction and fabrication processes not just to our clients, but to crowd-funding and to venture capitalists. Instead of working for a one-time fee, we would maintain ownership of our ideas and the income streams they produce. Our professionalism should be recognized. Why are we intent on measuring the energy a building uses (not even the energy materials and the building process consume), rather than the professional practice that created the metric? Let’s start a professionalism rating system to gauge architects’ service: firms would be rated by the appropriateness and usefulness of their designs, the timeliness and cost-effectiveness of their process, and the reduced risk to their clients. Let’s take back the leadership we once had in the building process, and again become our clients’ trusted, and compensated, partners. Paul Segal, FAIA Columbia University Adjunct Professor, author of Professional Practice: A Guide to Turning Designs into Buildings.
Posts tagged with "Columbia University":
RPBW’s active double skin facade kick starts a “new generation” of campus design at Columbia University
Columbia University’s expansion has been selected by LEED for their Neighborhood Design pilot program, which calls for the integration of smart growth principles and urbanism at a neighborhood scale.Renzo Piano Building Workshop (RPBW) is designing four buildings to be built over the upcoming years as a first phase of Columbia University’s Manhattanville campus expansion. The first of these four projects to break ground is the Jerome L. Greene Science Center, a research facility used by scientists working on mind, brain, and behavior research. The facility is ten stories wrapped in nearly 176,000 square feet of building envelope, consisting of transparent floor-to-ceiling glazing. “Columbia’s existing buildings are sited massively on the ground, and the campus— for many reasons—is gated. However, the new Manhattanville campus will express the values of this century: tolerance, openness, permeability, and transparency. It’s a new generation of campus design,” said Antoine Chaaya, the RPBW partner in charge of the Columbia project. An elevated subway track along the east facade generated 88 dB of noise, which needed to be significantly reduced for occupant comfort. To achieve this, the architects created a double skin facade system that was sealed from the outside. It represents the fourth double skin facade developed by RPBW, and the first to include active air circulation, according to Chaaya. “What helped us to create this fourth typology of double skin is the constraint: The fact that it cannot be permeable to the outside. It has to be sealed, and at the same time we have to fight against potential condensation. We solve the problem by active air circulation from the bottom to the top of the building.” The resulting facade system provides superior blast resistance and thermal properties, while reducing sound transmission by 45 dB. The cavity of the facade assembly is 18 inches deep, sized just large enough for maintenance access. Highly purified and dehumidified air is filtered three times and slowly cycled up vertically through the cavity at two feet per minute, a rate that ensures quiet operation and no disturbance to shading devices within the cavity. Air in the cavity cycles at a rate of six air changes per minute, managing heat gain and condensation buildup in the cavity. Variations in the facade are generated from functional responses to solar orientation due to orientation, honestly expressing the interior functions of the building. The result is a sophisticated building enclosure, abiding by a rigorously minimal design aesthetic while nimbly adapting to environmental criteria.
The David & Helen Gurley Brown Institute for Media Innovation is a busy hub of technology housed within a building from McKim, Mead & White’s late 19th-century campus plan for Columbia University. In subsequent years, the space, which occupies part of the eastern wing of the Pulitzer Building, was broken up into small offices. Marc Tsurumaki and his team at LTL Architects were hired to revamp the space for the Columbia branch of the institute, which is a collaboration between Columbia and Stanford Universities. Despite all of its high-tech screens, the institute’s facility really respects its history. Eleven double-height windows that had been partially blocked now bathe the room in natural light, although a scrim that covers the walls also serves as a shade to deflect daylight and prevent glare, a necessary consideration in a room that is always filled with people tapping away on laptops. Given the collaborative nature of the institute, the primary space was designed with flexibility in mind. It can host concerts, performances, workshops, seminars, and symposia, in addition to the more typical set-up that we saw today. Large walnut-topped tables are moveable but not easily moved – the architects allowed for flexibility, but only with intention. Although acoustical fabrics are used throughout (including hidden behind the scrim), additional nooks were carved out for greater intimacy. Small rooms dubbed “the garage” are nestled under the mezzanine level, which was located above the entrance to the institute to create an extended threshold opening up into the larger space. Niches along the northern wall of the room take advantage of its thick masonry construction. Waist-height walnut wainscoting gives the room a more human scale and links the niches to the larger space. The thick end-grain recycled walnut floor connects visually to the tables and wainscoting, and provides durability in an active setting. The scrim, which is suspended on a steel armature and hides HVAC and electrical systems, announces the institute’s purpose. Mark Hansen, director of Columbia’s branch of the institute told us that Mark Wigley, former dean of Columbia’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, and currently a GSAPP professor, talks about the space as both a laboratory that facilitates the cross-pollination of ideas among fellows, as well as a physical center that refers to and reflects the institute’s mission. This agenda is reinforced at the entrance to the institute, where a solid plate aluminum installation incorporates mirrored glass to reflect the surroundings back into the display. This subtle mirroring plays with the relationship of new media to the historic building. Join us tomorrow for a tour of another historic building: the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.
Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, & Preservation (GSAPP) has announced the creation of a new Center for Spatial Research (CSR) that will act as a focal point linking humanities, architecture, and data science departments as well as sponsoring a series of curricular initiatives built around new technologies of mapping, data visualization and data collection. The Center will be directed by GSAPP Associate Professor Laura Kurgan. The new center was made possible thanks to a $1,975,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, a foundation that seeks to "strengthen, promote, and, where necessary, defend the contributions of the humanities and the arts to human flourishing and to the well-being of diverse and democratic societies." The development of the center responds to the contemporary influx of information available regarding geolocations, spending habits, transit, and other activities in a local population. Subsequently, the CSR intends to aid scholars and citizens in understanding what is happening in cities worldwide—past, present, and future. The contribution means the university is now a participant in the Princeton-Mellon Initiative in Architecture, Urbanism, and the Humanities, launched in 2012. The grants seek to strengthen ties between programs in the schools of humanities and architecture with architecture studios becoming a pedagogic model for humanities, proposing large scale research on the questions that develop in dense urban environments. Such research would look into data about public health, transportation, economic activity, and demography. “Laura’s long standing pioneering work in visualizing data as an architect, with a deep commitment to engaging social, political and environmental issues, and a unique ability to draw aesthetics and ethics together, has been a critical inspiration to our school and to the field of architecture,” Amale Andraos, GSAPP dean, said in a statement. “This new collaboration with Sharon Marcus and the humanities is an important step forward for Columbia. We are very grateful to the Mellon Foundation for its embrace of this initiative, which will contribute not only to the fields of architecture, urbanism and the humanities but to the University as a whole.”
Could evaporating water be the newest renewable energy source? Columbia researchers harnesses the power of bacterial spores
A biophysicist at Columbia University has discovered how to tap evaporating water as an electrical energy source using a simple device made from bacterial spores, glue, and LEGO bricks. Ozgur Sahin’s findings operate at the cellular level, based around his research on the Bacillus bacteria, a microorganism commonly found in soil—and its implications could potentially be far reaching. In high humidity, the spores absorb moisture from the air, expanding up to 40 percent in volume. In dry conditions, the reverse occurs. “Changing size this much is highly unusual for a material that is as rigid as wood or plastic, said Sahin, associate professor of Biological Sciences and Physics at Columbia University. “We figured that expanding and contracting spores can act like a muscle, pushing and pulling other objects. We noticed that we could harness the motion of spores and convert it to electrical energy.” Sahin’s prototype generator is modeled after a wind turbine, which captures kinetic energy and converts it into electricity. Attached to the generator is a flexible, elastic rubber sheet coated in a thin layer of spores. Using a fan and a small container of water, Sahin’s team showed that dry laboratory air and the evaporating moisture from the surface of the water can cause the entire sheet to curl up and straighten, rotating the turbine back and forth to yield electricity. “The biggest form of energy transfer in nature is evaporation. Our climate is powered by evaporating water from oceans and we have no direct way of accessing this energy,” Sahin pointed out. In a paper published in Nature Nanotechnology earlier this year, Sahin and his team, ExtremeBio, consisting of collaborators from Harvard University and the Loyola University Medical Center, showed that these spores produced a thousand times more force than human muscles, and that even a little moisture from evaporation could trigger movement strong enough to be harvested. “The subtle phenomenon of evaporation has big potential. This may be an opening for a completely new energy platform,” said Sahin, whose findings also bode the possibility of developing environmentally benign batteries and engineering stronger materials that mimic muscular movement in robots and prosthetic devices. Pound for pound, the spores pack more energy than other materials used in engineering for moving objects, according to Sahin’s paper. The ramifications are simply enormous in terms of energy savings for the construction and other industries, as well as possibly circumventing the depletion of fossil fuels. In an online issue of Nature Communications, Columbia University scientists reported the development of two novel devices powered entirely by evaporation – a floating, piston-driven engine dubbed the Moisture Mill, which generates electricity and causes a light to flash, and a rotary engine that drives a miniature car. Both devices contain a thin layer of spores. When the evaporation energy is scaled up, researchers predict that it could one day produce electricity from giant floating generators on bays or reservoirs, or from huge rotating machines like wind turbines that sit above water.
The Associated Press has reported that Barack Obama's presidential library will be in his adopted hometown of Chicago. After months of speculation that the 44th President of the United States might site his legacy project in New York City—where he attended Columbia University—or his birth city of Honolulu, Hawaii, multiple unnamed sources cited by the AP and other publications say Obama and his nonprofit foundation have settled on Chicago, where he forged his political career. The University of Chicago, where Obama taught law, will host the library and museum. No architect has yet been named. The project is expected to cost hundreds of millions of dollars to build, likely spurring more development on Chicago's South Side. As the city from which Obama was first elected to public office and in 2008 first addressed the nation as its first African-American president-elect, Chicago was seen by many as an obvious choice. But in the long lead-up to the decision—made longer by the protracted race for Chicago mayor, which saw former Obama Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel spend millions of dollars to fend off an unexpected political challenger from the left—sources close to the president's foundation had raised concerns about the proposals from several universities around the city. The University of Chicago's winning bid benefitted from having friends in high places. Emanuel led the charge in Chicago City Council to cede public park land to the private library project, successfully lobbying for the same assurance from the state legislature. That move remains controversial, however, and the design team selected to realize the president's legacy of public service will have to contend with opposition from open space advocates in Obama's own backyard.
Georgia Tech announced this week that Scott Marble, adjunct associate professor of architecture at Columbia University and founding partner of Marble Fairbanks, will take the helm as the new chair of the university's School of Architecture starting July 1. Known for his expertise in digital design, Marble is an apt choice for the position whose interest in and study of new technologies in the field of architecture has been demonstrated both in his work as an academic and practitioner, which he further explored in his 2013 book, Digital Workflows in Architecture: Design, Assembly, Industry. During his forthcoming tenure at Georgia Tech, Marble will address the changing role of the architect and the necessity for a "common digital language." “It’s typical that an architect is known as a leader of big teams,” Marble said in a statement. “That’s still important to maintain, but I think the next generation is going to be less about the more historical model of the ‘master builder’ and more about what I would refer to as the ‘master collaborator.’” He will also tap his own professional network and experience "to establish a strategic and strong connection to industry that will create graduates who can become thought leaders in industry," according to the university's press release. In addition to "bridging the industry gap," he will make diversity a priority, seeking to make the program more inclusive and culturally engaged, not only in the academic setting but in thinking about the profession beyond the educational realm, where the gender divide is most apparent and troubling. Marble received a Bachelor of Environmental Design degree from Texas A&M University in 1983 and a Master of Architecture degree from Columbia University in 1986. His work has been recognized by the AIA and the Chicago Athenaeum.
Kate Orff, the founder of SCAPE Landscape Architecture, will head up the Urban Design Program at Columbia University's Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation. Fast Company reported that Orff will step into her new role in June, succeeding Richard Plunz who has lead the program since 1992. Orff is currently an associate professor at GSAPP and has become well known for her pioneering use of oysters to clean waterways and support coastal resilience. In June, SCAPE's Living Breakwaters plan to protect Staten Island with a reef of oysters was awarded $60 million in the Department of Housing and Urban Development's Rebuild By Design competition. And then in November, the project won the 2014 Buckminster Fuller Challenge.
Political action and its relationship to the printed page is the subject of an afternoon event at Columbia University on Friday, March 27, at 12:00 p.m. Three young architecture historians—Samuel Johnson, Simon Sadler, Meredith TenHoor—will present their research on artists, architects, and other creatives who use the printed page as a platform to advance positions in both thought and design. Felicity Scott of Columbia will respond and discuss how print becomes a site of spatial politics. The event will take place in GSAPP’s Ware Lounge. More info here.
Just six miles north of Renzo Piano’s highly-anticipated, High Line–adjacent, Whitney Museum, two other projects birthed from the same Italian brain are moving forward: Columbia University’s Jerome L. Greene Science Center and the Lenfest Center for the Arts. Speaking of brains, the nine-story, glass-encased Science Center is the future home of the Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Initiative. Construction-watcher Field Condition recently visited the building which is now almost entirely wrapped in glass. Behind that nearly-completed glass curtain wall, Field Condition reported that framing, piping, ductwork, and sheetrock installation are ongoing. Next to that Piano-designed glass box is the new Center for the Arts, another glassy Piano creation that has recently topped out. Both the Science Center and Center for the Arts are slated to open in 2016, making them two of the first buildings in Columbia's bourgeoning Manhattanville campus.
Architects, perhaps more than any other professional group, understand property and real estate and the role it plays in the construction of buildings. But it's not often talked about it in their monographs or symposia where they prefer to speak about their designs as internally generated or part of a closed history of architecture. A new website, House Housing: An Untimely History of Architecture and Real Estate, from Columbia University's Temple Hoyne Buell Center for the Study of American Architecture, hopes to help foreground the importance of real estate in the design, development, and construction of buildings. House Housing will attempt, as it grows in content and reach, to focus on the repetitious themes, tendencies, and actions of property relations on which architecture rests. Finally, it will broaden these themes by locating housing at the center of the current economic regime, with the United States as an influential node in a transnational network. This website could not be more timely or needed as a reference point in the discussion between real estate and architecture. Have a look!
Under Construction> Diller Scofidio + Renfro’s Columbia University Medical and Graduate Education Building
When an under-construction project is just a skeleton of its future self, its nearly impossible to gauge the impact of the finished product. Sure, you’ve got renderings, but as AN has covered before, those are usually chock full of visual embellishments like dramatic sunsets, hot air balloons, and so. many. kayaks. So while it's probably best to reserve judgment on Diller Scofidio + Renfro’s Columbia University Medical and Graduate Education Building until it opens in 2016, let’s just call a spade a spade right now: this thing is going to be a very dramatic, very zigzag-y addition to Washington Heights. Prolific construction-watcher and photographer, Field Condition, recently visited the 14-story tower which is currently a concrete structure unlike any other. Behind orange construction nets are dramatic, angular cuts that will form the building's “Study Cascade,” a staircase that runs the height of the building and carves out social spaces for students and professors. With the building topped out, the structure's glass curtain wall is starting to be installed. "The panels consist of a single pane of full floor-height glass, much like those used on the recent World Trade Center and Hudson Yards towers,” wrote Field Condition. “Vertical stripes of white frit have been applied in a gradient pattern to create zones of differing amounts of opacity.” Exciting stuff. Gensler is serving as the executive architect for this project.