Posts tagged with "Congress":

New federal act could give mass timber a big boost

Climate-change denial appears to be on the verge of becoming official U.S. policy. But all hope for reducing our carbon footprint is not lost. Case in point is the pending Timber Innovation Act, one of the rare eco-friendly pieces of legislation that enjoys bipartisan support. The bill (H.R. 1380, S. 538) seeks to establish a market for so-called mass timber buildings more than 85 feet tall that are built from panelized wood construction products such as cross-laminated timber (CLT) and glued-laminated timber (glulam).

“Building with wood benefits both rural economies and the environment,” U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan) said when she announced the legislation in early March. “This bill will help expand markets for wood products coming out of forests in Michigan and all across the country. At the same time, using wood for construction reduces pollution and incentivizes private landowners to keep their land forested, rather than selling it to developers.”

Architects who study the new wood construction materials say mass timber has economic, ecological, seismic, and aesthetic advantages over steel and concrete. “Photosynthesis, the process of growing a tree, absorbs C02,” explained New Haven architect Alan Organschi, adding, “Until it burns or decomposes, that carbon will stay in the wood like a bank investment.”

The concrete and steel industries are adamantly opposed to the Timber Innovation Act. More than 160 stakeholders from the construction, labor, and building materials sectors jointly signed a letter to the U.S. Senate opposing a version of the bill introduced last year. The letter questioned the fire and structural safety of mass timber and stated the bill would create an “imbalance in the marketplace by allowing the federal government to choose winners and losers.”

However, the bill’s supporters say the new wood technology promises to significantly reduce carbon loads in the building industry, which is currently responsible for close to half of the U.S.’s greenhouse gas emissions. A typical mid-rise concrete and steel building, because it relies on pollution-generating resource-extraction industries, is responsible for emitting 3,210 tons of CO2 in its construction and lifetime, according to Timber City, an initiative undertaken by Organschi’s firm, Gray Organschi Architecture, that is supported by the Hines Research Fund for Advanced Sustainability at Yale University. In contrast, because trees are a renewable resource that sequesters CO2, a typical mass timber mid-rise building built from wood harvested from sustainably managed forest is responsible for capturing 4,720 tons of CO2.

Innovations in mass timber technology also resolve fireproofing and seismic issues that, until recently, were a major disincentive to using wood in large urban buildings, according to Yugon Kim, founding partner of the architecture firm IKD, who curated the exhibit Timber City at the National Building Museum in Washington last fall. “U.S. cities in the 1800s used to be made of wood, but then because of urban fires that started to change,” he said. “Now, because of products like CLT, we will be able to use wood in the centers of our cities the way we did in the past.”

Tall wood building construction is most advanced in Europe, especially in Austria, which boasts the world’s largest mass timber industry. An example of a commercially viable mass timber development that garnered worldwide attention is the nine-story Murray Grove designed by Waugh Thistleton Architects, which was built in London in 2009. It consists of wood load-bearing walls, wood elevator cores, and wood floor slabs. In addition to paying off for the environment, Murray Grove took only 49 weeks to build, whereas an equivalent-size concrete structure would typically have taken 72 weeks to build.

The mass timber industry is still in its infancy in the U.S. There are only several wood companies that make mass timber products, and local building codes generally disallow tall wood structures. The Timber Innovation Act seeks to change that situation by funding competitive research on mass timber technology at institutions of higher learning and by making funds available for a tall wood building competition and a wood innovation program for retrofitting sawmills in areas where there is high unemployment.

The pending legislation expands upon a federal program that established an earlier U.S. Tall Wood Building Prize Competition, which in 2015 awarded $3 million to support the construction of two such structures. One was Framework, a 12-story mixed-use building in Portland, Oregon, designed by LEVER Architecture, which is due to break ground this summer. The other was 475 West 18th Street, designed by SHoP Architects, an upscale residential building project near the High Line that was shelved in early March, reportedly in response to a market downturn for high-end properties.

Getting government sponsored research funding was critical to defraying added expenses associated with the extensive testing and research necessary to secure local building department approvals for building wood structures more than six stories, according to Thomas Robinson, founding principal of LEVER Architecture. “Whenever you are doing something for the first time it is more complicated,” he said, noting that a critical aspect of his project was demonstrating that exposed CLT and glulam can achieve a two-hour fire-resistant rating.

Given the increasing environmental concerns over the widespread use of steel and concrete, mass timber promises to be a more palatable alternative. “What the Timber Innovation Act does is make this an even playing field,” Organschi said. “We have these vast forest reserves which are not being utilized.… By using mass configurations of timber, we will get more carbon sequestration.”

Temporary congressional spending plan does not fund border wall

To those architects itching to build President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall: Maybe try again in September. According to preliminary reports, a forthcoming $1 trillion congressional budget deal to fund the continued operation of the federal government will strike a blow to several of the President’s key campaign promises, leaving controversial proposals like funding a border wall between the United States and Mexico, a long-touted $1 trillion infrastructure package, and the threatened de-funding of so-called “sanctuary cities” unfulfilled. Instead, the bill includes roughly $1.5 billion in new border security spending earmarked mostly for repairs and technological upgrades of existing elements, among other items. That amount is far less than the roughly $70 billion needed, according to a recent report by Democratic staff of the U.S. Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee. The report, released last week in anticipation of this week’s contentious funding negotiations, is not kind to the wall effort and cites that the review process for proposals submitted in late March is already behind schedule. AZ Central reports that the estimated $70 billion would cover only the construction costs and does not include the cost of land acquisition along the border necessary in order to build the wall or the cost of maintenance for the structure once—really, if— it is built. The reported $1 trillion infrastructure spending bill is another short-term casualty of budgetary negotiations. The Hill reports that congressional leaders had originally planned to fund new infrastructure spending by imposing a reduced tax on companies that repatriate earnings currently held overseas back to the United States. The solution was thought to have bipartisan support, but those efforts seem to be falling apart: A recently-issued one-page tax reform outline presented by the President did not specify how the money would be spent and congressional Republicans fear Democratic support for the bill would falter due to grassroots political pressure aimed at stalling the President’s agenda. The forthcoming budget agreement, however, has maintained a certain amount of funding for mass transit initiatives in Democratic-leaning states, including $100 million of the requested $650 million needed to modernize and electrify California’s Caltrain network. The proposal also fulfills funding promises for two extensions of Los Angeles’s Purple Line subway extension, improvements for New York City’s L Train, and a new light rail extension in Denver, Colorado. Congressional leaders must pass their proposed spending bill by May 5th in order to avert a government shutdown. Budget negotiations will ramp back up again over the summer in advance of the start of the new fiscal year on September 6, 2017.

The Saga Continues: Congress Rejects Funding for Gehry’s Eisenhower Memorial

Despite earlier indications of progress, Frank Gehry's design for a planned Eisenhower Memorial continues to encounter stumbling blocks. In November the US Commission of Fine Arts asked Mr. Gehry to make eight revisions to the proposal, a request that was then echoed and amplified in January when Congress turned down the Eisenhower Memorial Commission's request for $51 million in funding, a denial that was accompanied by a message imploring the architect "to work with all constituencies—including Congress and the Eisenhower family—as partners in the planning and design process.” The plan's most prominent feature, large metallic tapestries depicting the landscape scenes from the former president's childhood Kansas upbringing, has also proved to be its greatest sticking point. Some have suggested that the modern and outsize screens, coupled with the overall scale of the site, are not in keeping with Ike's humble and traditional image. The design has produced enough indignation in some circles that the National Civic Art Society launched a new competition for the commission courting more classically conceived memorials. Others have responded negatively to the narrative painted by the memorial, suggesting that the emphasis on the man's childhood found in the tapestries and many of the accompanying relief sculptures draw attention away from his later achievements as a public figure. Many of Eisenhower's family-members have been particularly vocal in their opposition to Gehry's vision. The closed process involved in the architect's initial selection for the project has come under fire for being undemocratic. The budget attached to the design has done little to assuage doubters, and Congress' leaves the Memorial Commission with $30 million in the bank for a structure estimated to cost over four times that amount. Though Gehry is to have responded to the CFA's request for adjustments, Congress was not impressed with the re-designs that bear a very close resemblance to their controversial predecessors. Some see more than a hint of ego in Gehry's stubbornness; an unnamed official affiliated with the Memorial claimed the largely unchanged plans reflected "tremendous arrogance." Responding to the latest development Representative Rob Bishop of Utah, chairman of the subcommittee on public lands and environmental regulation said, “To me this is very disappointing. It looks like tweaks here and there. It still means Gehry has not done what Congress asked him to do—to work with all the constituents, Congress, and the family.”

Senators, Congresswoman Back National Park Status for Chicago’s Pullman Neighborhood

Senators Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk, and Congresswoman Robin Kelly today announced their intention to introduce legislation that would make the Pullman Historic District Chicago’s first national park. Since last year, a movement to designate the South Side Pullman neighborhood a national park has gained momentum. Its historic building stock—full of Romanesque and Victorian Queen Anne style buildings by architect Solon Spencer Beman and landscape architect Nathan F. Barrett — was lauded by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The National Trust's president, Stephanie Meeks, cheered today’s announcement in a press release:
While the Trust has long supported these preservation efforts at Pullman, we are announcing today that we have named it our newest National Treasure. National Treasures are a portfolio of highly-significant historic places throughout the country where the National Trust makes a long-term commitment to finding a preservation solution. Working with the National Parks Conservation Association and many other partners, the Trust is pledging to stay involved until Pullman receives the recognition it so richly deserves.
George Pullman train-car empire birthed the planned industrial town that bears his name during the 1880s. After Pullman died in 1897,  the city of Chicago annexed the town. It averted demolition a few times during the 20th century, eventually gaining National, State and City landmark status in 1972. National Park status could bestow additional protections and make it easier for preservation groups in the area to get funding and assistance, in addition to a boost in tourism.

New York City Rep Velázquez Announces Bill to Improve & Protect Waterfront

Taking the podium at Pier 6 in Brooklyn Bridge Park, New York City Representative Nydia M. Velázquez introduced new legislation, called the "Waterfront of Tomorrow Act," to protect and fortify New York City's 538-miles of coastline. The bill would instruct the Army Corps of Engineers to come up with an in-depth plan to stimulate economic growth and job creation, update the ports, and implement flood protection measures. Sandwiched between Red Hook Container Terminal and One Brooklyn Bridge Park, a large residential development, the pier was an appropriate place for the Congresswoman to announce legislation that addresses the city's needs to bolster its shipping industry while also taking steps to mitigate flooding and ensure the resiliency and sustainability of its residential neighborhoods, parkland, and businesses. "I think the part [of the bill] that was the most exciting was about protecting New York City from future floods, and most importantly talked about hard and soft solutions. Different parts of NYC will need different solutions," said Rick Bell, Executive Director for AIA New York Chapter Center for Architecture. "This whole announcement talked about multifaceted approach." The bill is divided into four sections that propose flood protection and resiliency measures, a national freight policy, and "Green Port" designations and a grant program to promote the environmental sustainability of the shipping ports. The Army Corps of Engineers, in collaboration with the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, will be charged with coming up with a strategy to protect the waterfront from severe weather patterns and rising tides, including tide gates, oyster reef restoration, and wetland restoration. "Whether it is commerce, recreation, transportation, or our local environment, New Yorkers' lives are inextricably linked to the water that surrounds us," Velázquez said at the announcement. "Investing in our ports, coasts and waterfronts can improve our City and local communities." The timing of this bill is up in the air, but it will likely enter the conversation in September when Congress returns from the August District Work Period to discuss new legislation aimed at enhancing the nation's waterways.

Congress Meets to Consider New Bill Seeking to Eject Gehry’s Design of the Eisenhower Memorial

Congress held a hearing today to discuss the funding and controversial design of the Dwight D. Eisenhower memorial designed by Frank Gehry. Representative Rob Bishop is leading the charge with a new bill that aims to oust Gehry from the $142 million project and hold a new competition to find a more “appropriate” design. The Washington Post reported that the main gripe is over the massive metal tapestries encompassing the memorial, which would display images of Eisenhower’s early childhood in Kansas. The Eisenhower family has expressed that the grandiose scale of the design, specifically the tapestries, is out of touch with the former president’s character. Architect magazine live tweeted that there were few defenders of Gehry's memorial at the hearing except for Rep. Holt, and a fair share of confusion over what this bill entails and ultimately means for the future of the memorial.

A Boost in Federal Funds Expedite Hurricane Sandy Recovery Efforts

Now that Congress has passed the $51 billion emergency aid package, Mayor Bloomberg is forging ahead with the recovery plans. The City will set aside $1.77 billion in federal funds dedicated to rebuilding homes, businesses, public housing and infrastructure that were damaged by Hurricane Sandy. Bloomberg did, however, warn that it could likely take a few months for the programs “to be approved and implemented.” Since the storm, the city, in conjunction with FEMA, has helped homeowners in New York through its Rapid Repairs Program. In a press conference last week, Bloomberg announced that the city will create a $350 grant program to help owners of single-family homes rebuild residences that bore the brunt of the storm, and another $250 million dedicated to “enhance the resiliency” of multi-family housing units. New York City’s public housing sustained considerable damage during the storm, which resulted in up to $785 million in damage to 257 buildings in 32 housing developments. NYCHA will receive $120 million in aid to repair and prepare buildings for future storms by taking measures such as purchasing permanent emergency generators. The city will also provide $100 million in grants to over 1,000 businesses affected by the storm. Businesses will be able to obtain loans of up to $150,000 and grants as large as $60,000.  An additional $140 million will be spent on efforts to help build infrastructure for utilities and to jumpstart economic activity in the five business zones that are located in vulnerable areas.

Cuomo’s Buyback Program Could Reshape Coastline

Aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in New York. (David Sundberg/ESTO) New York's Governor Cuomo is moving ahead with the buyout program he first introduced in his State of the State speech last month. The New York Times reported that Cuomo is proposing an ambitious plan to spend $400 million to purchase homes damaged by Hurricane Sandy, and clear the land for wetlands, dunes, and parkland that will “help protect coastal communities from ferocious storms” in the future. The buyout offer will also extend to homeowners who live in vulnerable areas at risk of flooding, but that were not affected by Sandy. Cuomo intends on paying for the program with part of the $51 Billion Emergency aid package passed by Congress, and then will look to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for the remaining funding. In the meantime, Cuomo and his aids are waiting on the approval of federal officials. More details about the plan are expected in the next two weeks. (Photo: David Sundberg/ESTO)

Legislative Update> Transit, Biking, Walkability, Preservation & the Environment at Risk

It's becoming clear how Congress' approval ratings keep dropping to new historic lows—the latest Gallup Poll released yesterday puts it at a squat ten percent—when the legislative body continues to threaten policies not just architects but also the general public hold near and dear. Now, as key transportation bills that set funding for all national infrastructure--including roads, transit, shipping, pipelines, and even sidewalks--prepare for a votes in the House of Representatives and Senate as soon as the coming week, we're seeing transit, biking, walkability, the environment, and historic preservation all at risk. Here's a roundup of the latest: Among the chief concerns of the House's HR7 bill, otherwise known as the American Energy & Infrastructure Jobs Act, is that dedicated funding for transit, biking, and walkability is eliminated. That includes funding requirements for Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) programs that promote alternative transportation, such as sidewalks, bike lanes, and the Safe Routes to School program.  But that's not the end of it; Yonah Freemark at The Transport Politic has a great write-up of all the bill's problems. For instance, on why funding is being eliminated for transit, bikes, and pedestrians in the first place:
The members of the committee determined that to remedy the fact that gas taxes have not been increased since 1993, the most appropriate course was not to raise the tax (as would make sense considering inflation, more efficient vehicles, and the negative environmental and congestion-related effects of gas consumption) but rather to transfer all of its revenues to the construction of highways. Public transit, on the other hand, would have to fight for an appropriation from the general fund, losing its traditional guarantee of funding and forcing any spending on it to be offset by reductions in other government programs.
Highway cost overruns not covered by the gas tax could be paid for by up to $2 billion from drilling for oil in coastal waters, including areas in the Gulf hit by the massive BP oil spill,and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The New York Times recently blasted the GOP bill that Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, a former Republican congressman himself, called "the worst transportation bill I've ever seen during 35 years of public service." He also told Politico, "It also is the most anti-safety bill I have ever seen...It hollows out the guts of the transportation efforts that we've been about for the last three years." With a vote imminent, groups from Transportation for America to the National Resources Defense Council declared today a national day of action to get in touch with your elected officials and voice your opinion about the bills. AIA President Jeff Potter is among those concerned that current transportation bills are flawed. “While we are gratified that both the House and the Senate are moving ahead on transportation bills, there are some provisions that would take our communities in the wrong direction,” said Potter. “We urge Congress to continue working on a truly bipartisan bill that helps meet the design and construction industry goals: hold funding levels steady, support multiple modes of transportation, and account for the many enhancements that well-planned transportation projects can bring to communities throughout this great nation.” While the AIA praised the Senate for including provisions that assist in planning mixed-use communities around transit, it worries that by removing dedicated transit funding, those planning capabilities are jeopardized. From the AIA's official statement:
The AIA is concerned that provisions in bills that have passed House committees would hurt a community’s ability to plan. This is especially true for provisions in the Ways and Means bill that remove transit from the trust fund and provisions in the Transportation and Infrastructure committee’s bill that prevent communities from using funds for preservation and re-use of historic facilities.
Historic preservation is at risk in the Senate's S. 1813: MAP-21. Here's the gist of the problem from the National Trust for Historic Preservation:
Transportation Enhancements (TE), the single largest source of federal funding for historic preservation, is still under siege. ... MAP-21 (S. 1813) eliminates dedicated funding for TE, forcing the program to compete with other types of road projects that do not possess the same job creation or cultural heritage benefits as preservation-oriented TE projects. In addition, we anticipate harmful amendments that would further weaken the program. To make matters worse, the outlook for TE is even bleaker in the House. Current proposals not only eliminate the funding set aside but also eliminate the preservation-related categories of the TE program entirely. This is why it is critical to get favorable TE language into the Senate bill.
The National Trust has also called for concerned citizens to contact their legislators about the proposal. You can read more about the connection between preservation and transportation at the Trusts's Preservation Nation blog.