Posts tagged with "Interviews":

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SCHAUM/SHIEH builds practice through agreement

The following interview was conducted as part of “Building Practice,” a professional elective course (and now AN interview series) at the Syracuse University School of Architecture, taught by Molly Hunker and Kyle Miller. On October 10, 2019, Kate Kini and Rachael Gaydos, students at Syracuse University, interviewed Troy Schaum and Rosalyne Shieh of SCHAUM/SHIEH. The following interview has been edited by Kyle Miller and AN for clarity. This year marks your 10-year anniversary. Congratulations! Can you talk about how starting a practice in 2009, the year after the recession, presented a challenge that may have limited growth? Troy Schaum: Both of us were teaching when the recession hit. Rosalyne was a Taubman Fellow at the University of Michigan and I was a Wortham Fellow at Rice. What we anticipated would be a brief foray into the academy was extended as a result of the macroeconomic situation in this country. We had to figure out how to work as architects without being hired to work as architects. So we started making our own projects—competition submissions and university-sponsored independent research projects and installations. It was only after we were invited to participate in the Venice Biennale in 2012, curated by David Chipperfield, that we started to get commissioned work. I don't know if those two things were related, but we started to pick up projects both in New York and Texas, and we very quickly had four additional employees. Our office size hasn’t grown a lot since then, but when we look at the numbers every year, it's been relatively steady, which is its own form of success. In response to the challenges of starting a practice at that time, have you used unconventional methods to promote your firm or to attract potential clients? Rosalyne Shieh: We began our practice in an academic setting with little opportunity to practice in a traditional manner. In 2009, by starting in the midst of the recession, there was little momentum to be lost and the work we made was unsolicited. I don’t mention this so much to bemoan, rather to state the conditions within which we set out and to explain why in the beginning, most of our work was speculative, invested in an alternate economy of ideas and discourse, one partially encapsulated from the macroeconomic situation that professional practice is embedded in. So we may have had a small audience tied to the academy, but we didn't have clients. We started by thinking about what it meant to make work that nobody was asking for, about what questions could be posed or offerings made through the framework of an architectural project. The parameters and conceptual territory of this early work were partly self-defined but also defined by our educations, conversations with our peers and collaborators, as well as things we were reading and looking at. This was an important incubation period for us, but it didn’t necessarily transition seamlessly into attracting clients and working on commissioned projects. Troy: What encouraged that transition for us was a desire to work at a certain scale. We were conducting design research and building temporary installations, but we were interested in engaging building[s] at a much larger scale. When we received opportunities to work on larger projects, we realized that the two of us couldn’t do it alone anymore. We had to build an ecosystem of people to support us. All of a sudden we had to develop an economy around the work in order to support the people that were supporting us. At that point, we found ourselves running a business. We didn't say “no” to a lot of requests, because you never know where certain journeys are going to take you. In 2012 or 2013, we were asked by some relatively young people in Houston if we were interested in designing a music venue. We made some sketches and renderings for a very small amount of money. We just assumed these people would go away and we’d never hear from them again. What actually happened was that they took those renderings all over town and raised significant capital to build the music venue. What also happened was that lots of people who build things in Houston saw the renderings. They didn't necessarily want to invest in a music venue but were very curious about us as architects. Developers would contact us and request a portfolio of built work. The problem was that we hadn't actually built anything! It’s a common and unfortunate catch-22, especially for a U.S.-based practice in its earliest stages. That said, some of them hired us anyway. How do you mediate between presenting your work to a broader public audience versus an audience of architecture students, colleagues, and other professionals? Troy: This is a huge issue for us, especially as we oscillate between our audiences. We're both teachers and we both have conversations with very erudite students and colleagues, and we have conversations with people who work out of the back of their trucks and know a lot about building things, but not so much about architectural discourse. The importance and role of communication and the ability to articulate ideas to many different audiences [are] primary to our understanding of architecture. You mentioned two audiences, but there are probably 20 audiences that we communicate with throughout the course of the day, from the people that are going to send us metal samples to the lawyers that are helping us draft contracts for our clients. Rosalyne: Also, communication is a very personal thing. You have to respond to who you're talking to. Depending on what it is that each person is able to receive or wants to talk about, you have to meet each other somewhere, and you both need to arrive from where you’re coming. I like to speak with my own voice across different conversations, but communicate differently given the situation or who I’m talking to. Troy: It's become very apparent to me that when we talk about audiences in school, we’re talking about collectives. And we're very interested in creating projects for collectives. There's a democratizing idea that architecture is for everyone. It is. But, one of the things that I underestimated was how powerful architecture can be for individuals­–our individual clients and the contractors who build our projects. What do you understand to be your responsibility as an architect? Troy: Wow, that's a difficult question! Our practice is both of our names for a reason. SCHAUM/SHIEH wasn't just a default. That decision makes the practice a very personal thing for us. I imagine there's certain ethics in our work. I believe we have a responsibility to use these professional tools and our ways of seeing the world to be as careful and reflective and deliberate about our decisions and our work, especially when working in cities and in public spaces. To be stewards of the resources that we’re given, to be stewards of opportunities that we’re given to shape cities–these are very important responsibilities. Rosalyne: I agree and would add that we hope our projects enrich the world and make more connections possible. That's the aspiration, at least. We hope our efforts lead to building more complexity into the world. One of the quotes that we come back to a lot is this one–it's included by Jane Jacobs at the beginning of Death and Life of Great American Cities, from Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.: “Life is an end in itself, and the only question as to whether it is worth living is whether you have enough of it.” He's talking about the vibrant complexity of civilization and Jacobs connects this to cities as an engine of that. There's an interest in the pursuit of what we do as architects, but also as people to contribute to more life for more people. Some architects believe that there should be a separation between being a citizen and being an architect, specifically in relation to political issues and attempt to be as apolitical as possible. With your office, it seems to be the inverse. How much effort do you put into making a project political? Does it come naturally from its inception? Rosalyne: That’s a good question, and it's one that comes up again and again in architecture: What is the relationship between architecture and politics? If being political means seeing and engaging structural inequality, I can't live in a world where those two things can be separated, because it would mean willfully denying a part of reality, if not my own then someone else’s, with whom I share this world. It’s not only an issue of what we believe, but it’s also about lived realities. There could be different reasons why people feel the need to separate these roles. It could be because the very act or idea of the work—its property—requires that its limits are circumscribed. One way to work on something is to isolate or bracket it from other things. Or it might be a matter of survival: the world can be difficult; maybe you’re at capacity with what you can handle, and creative work is a kind of expression that feeds you. Some might have the choice to separate the two where others don’t. Broadly speaking, people undertake creative work for so many different reasons. I would just ask whether your position to proceed in any certain way is predicated upon an invalidation of someone else’s, and if it does, I would find it hard to support. I do not require you to not be in order for myself to be. That said, work that is explicitly political is not the only way to be political as an architect or artist. Godard said: “The problem is not to make political films but to make films politically.” That might mean simply expressing or applying yourself without explanation. There's no way to escape this question. It's not fair actually, to say that those worlds should be separate. I can't say that every project we do is political; we're not a political practice per se, but I am who I am, who I am, who I am… whether it's an architect, an educator, a person in the world, a cis-woman, a Taiwanese person, visibly Asian, a daughter of immigrants in the United States, today. The tension of trying to hold all these things together is at the heart of my humanity. Troy: There's a certain disciplinary agenda in the work of some practices, and a legacy of a particular kind of formalism. This way of approaching architecture is very different from how we understand practice. One important role of the architect is to construct agreement. For example, when working on White Oak Music Hall, we found ourselves in scenes similar to scenes in Ghostbusters where we were summoned to the mayor's office at eight in the morning to be reproached regarding an aspect of the project that a certain constituency was not happy with. These explicitly political aspects of practice and this particular project necessitated engagement with a broad audience and a range of issues well beyond the purview of the discipline of architecture. I don't know how you practice any other way. It's beautiful that buildings have the ability to engage political issues, and that architects have the ability to engage political issues. What's been the most rewarding moment in your professional careers thus far? Troy: We recently had the opportunity to observe how powerful work can be for an individual. This positive impact is not something you can encounter until you build something. White Oak Music Hall was embedded in a lot of politics around how music is booked in this country. We created White Oak Music Hall and made a lot of sacrifices in order to complete that project. We were criticized by a portion of the local community, but also supported by many diverse groups within the community. Recently, after finding out that we designed White Oak Music Hall, a local musician said to us, “That space you've created—we didn't have a space like that. That's my temple.” There's an entire ecosystem of creative people that can now work in this space we designed. Rosalyne: I agree with that, and I'll give you pretty much the same answer, but in a more abstract sense. We’ve had that experience a few times with the projects that are out in the world, with both White Oak Music Hall and Transart. You talk to people, and you might not know them well, and they’re like, “I know that project,” and they share some story that gives you an understanding that the project somehow belongs to them. These are the moments when you realize that projects, once they are out there, belong to the world and not just to ourselves. It can come back to us through clients, contractors, or anyone really… when they share a sense of belonging to this thing that we helped create, and that’s a really special moment.
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AN kicks off its Building Practice interview series

For the next 14 weeks, The Architect’s Newspaper will publish interviews with emerging architects on the matter of building a practice that engages with the culture and politics of architecture through building. “Building Practice” was a course taught by Professors Molly Hunker and Kyle Miller at the Syracuse University School of Architecture in fall 2019. Students enrolled in “Building Practice” studied the work of 14 architecture offices through discussion, presentation, drawing, and model making, and conducted live interviews with the principals of each office. The interviews will be shared here, in series, leading up to an exhibition in Syracuse in April 2020 that will feature drawings and models of 14 projects—one from each practice. The list includes:
  • FreelandBuck
  • French2D
  • Independent Architecture
  • LAMAS
  • MAIO
  • MALL
  • New Affiliates
  • Only If
  • SCHAUM/SHIEH
  • Spinagu
  • T+E+A+M
  • The LADG
  • WOJR
  • Young & Ayata
“Building Practice” is an interview series that encourages emerging architects to share their experiences linking practical and theoretical forms of knowledge during the beginning stages of building a practice. The objective of this series is to study the manner in which the act of beginning initiates the development of a body of work that seeks to produce new forms of architectural knowledge through building. To evidence this production, the academic course and the interview series both highlight one project from each practice that has been either recently completed or is under construction. The projects range in size from small accessory dwelling units to multi-story housing complexes. Through questions related to the formation of the practices and development of the projects, the interviews reveal how these architects claim unique conceptual territory regarding form, space, order, materiality, and aesthetics, and convey urgent necessity for design to acquire meaning and value in relation to cultural, environmental, political, and social concerns. In doing so, these practices collectively partition themselves from previous generations of experimentally minded architects, while individually exemplifying their distinctive and inimitable affinities, techniques, sensibilities, and values. In surveying the ongoing efforts of young architects, “Building Practice” expands the reach of contemporary architectural design by introducing, to a broader audience, designers now more engaged in cultures of building. Pressing questions such as, “What is the responsibility of the architect?” and “What does it mean to practice architecture?” will be posed throughout the interview series. In asking these questions and others, “Building Practice” will uncover how architectural design practices are being constructed today. For a generation of architects more commonly associated with “speculative” or “academic” work, “Building Practice” updates the narrative, repositioning the most talented emerging designers as able and eager to make genuine contributions to the built environment and contemporary culture. “Building Practice” celebrates this new cast of architects actively mending the unnecessary divides between image-making and activism, design and politics, academics and practice.
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The Surveillance Technology Oversight Project wants to curb surveillance abuses

Without a suspicious eye or an advanced degree in software engineering, it can be nearly impossible to keep abreast of the evolving role surveillance technology has had in the law enforcement of the built environment. Biometric databanks, facial recognition cameras, cell phone trackers, and other watchful devices have been quietly installed throughout our major cities with shockingly little public disclosure and virtually no discussion with privacy advocates. New Yorkers deeply familiar with their city's streets, bridges, and subway system may still be largely unaware of the more than 9,000 surveillance cameras currently installed on top of them under the watchful eye of the New York Police Department (NYPD)—and those are only the ones either publicly disclosed or visible enough for the public to spot on their commutes. Their targets, their prejudices, and the malpractices they engender all remain shrouded in secrecy, resulting in discriminatory injustices too numerous for any member of the common public to challenge. With prior experience as a lawyer, technologist, and interfaith activist, Albert Cahn founded The Surveillance Technology Oversight Project (S.T.O.P.), a 501(C)(3), non-profit advocacy organization and legal services provider based in New York City in 2019 with the goal of addressing local officials’ growing use of surveillance technologies and serving the victims of surveillance abuse. Within the last year, S.T.O.P. has already stepped in to litigate against many recently uncovered abuses of surveillance technology and databanks; including the NYPD's misuse of mobile device forensic tools (MDFTs) and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's (MTA)'s use of facial recognition surveillance technology in the Times Square/Port Authority Subway Station. AN spoke with Cahn to learn about the extent to which surveillance devices have already become a common element of the urban fabric, and what organizations like S.T.O.P. can do to lessen their grasp on our personal information. Shane Reiner-Roth: How did your nonprofit begin? Why was surveillance chosen as a central issue? It came out of my prior work as a legal director for The New York Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a nonprofit organization that has worked for more than 25 years to defend constitutional rights.  In that role, I saw the alarming array of high-tech tools deployed by the NYPD that were disproportionately targeting that demographic. It seemed like there was an urgent need to make that our top priority. How do you determine an “impacted community?” Here in New York, the discriminatory habits embedded in surveillance systems mirror those found in more traditional forms of law enforcement. In other words, our group has observed the same patterns of policing that occur in physical spaces using analog techniques being replicated by digital techniques, including identity tracking systems and comprehensive databanks. The Gang Database, for instance, is a confidential record organized by the NYPD that lists over 42,000 New Yorkers as suspected gang members, about 99 [percent] of which are people of color. Oftentimes, the impact of these newly developed systems can engender forms of harassment just as significant as through conducted through stop-and-frisk. The people who are being constantly monitored may not know their lives are under a microscope. We’ve seen technology originally developed for the US military, including StingRay phone tracking towers and Counter-IED (Improvised Explosive Devices) equipment, deployed throughout the city without public disclosure. The public was not only uninformed of their presence, but they also didn’t learn the extent to which these technologies were potentially retaining their data, and they certainly didn’t have a say in how they were dispersed across the city. How do surveillance systems present (or conceal) themselves within NYC’s infrastructure? One of the most difficult parts of surveillance work is that much of the infrastructure is completely opaque to the New Yorkers being monitored. And even if they’re visible to the naked eye, we can’t know by looking at them if they’re running facial recognition, biometric analyses, or any other invasive methods of surveillance.  New York City has the largest investment in anti-terrorism surveillance technology in the country, yet nearly all of it goes unreported. Yet following the initial investment in the physical infrastructure of the city, there's a relatively low cost to add additional layers of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and surveillance technology on top of it. A common example is the ALPR, a device embedded into many of the city's bridges to reads license plate numbers and store them in a database that allows the MTA to charge drivers for crossing. How is the surveillance situation different in various parts of the world? We see cities all around the world grappling with this issue. The issue in China has become well known, in which its citizens can be automatically penalized for behavior its government doesn't find agreeable in the form of automatic reductions through their WeChat accounts. Suddenly, the wheels of a justice system are not only driven forward by AI, but they make it almost impossible to disagree or contend with what the algorithms decide. On the flip side, you have countries like Sweden that intentionally limit the data stored in their license plate reading systems. Their authorities have made it clear that they did not install their system for privacy breeching, even though they could use it to make personal information available to the police, they self-imposed limits as a matter of law through automatic image cropping.  Do you feel there could be a version of surveillance that is morally just? Like any form of law enforcement, advanced forensic systems can, of course, have potentially equitable outcomes—we have seen extreme cases such as with DNA matching to exonerate innocent people, for instance. The problem comes in when it's embedded in our infrastructure without the proper safeguards—when they collect data that is simply inappropriate to collect in a free society. How can ordinary citizens protect themselves against unwarranted surveillance when navigating the city? It's often the case that the people who have the time and money to invest in protecting themselves against surveillance are those who are also least vulnerable to its effects. The clients of mine who may be struggling financially or are undocumented are usually not able to invest the same level of resources. While individuals can always increase their odds of maintaining privacy by improving the security of their digital identities, none of us will be able to protect our privacy until we reform the laws and enforce better police practices. We need systemic reform to be truly secure in our privacy and reverse racial injustices perpetuated by unregulated surveillance infrastructure. Do you hope to broaden your work beyond New York state? There are already so many amazing activists operating throughout the world fighting the same battles we do in New York City. While S.T.O.P. will always be based here, we have offered advice on potential litigations strategies beyond our city and will continue this service in the future.
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Alaska’s Cold Climate Housing Research Center is rethinking how the Circumpolar North builds

The Cold Climate Housing Research Center (CCHRC) describes itself as “an industry-based, nonprofit corporation created to facilitate the development, use, and testing of energy-efficient, durable, healthy, and cost-effective building technologies for people living in circumpolar regions around the globe.”

Aaron Cooke, the architect who leads the Sustainable Northern Communities Program at the CCHRC in Fairbanks, Alaska, is at the front lines of helping northern communities in developing solutions for homes in extremely cold climates. Cooke spoke to Matt Shaw, AN’s executive editor, and Stephen Zacks, AN contributor, about technologies and prototypes being developed to conserve energy, recycle heat, rethink building envelope systems, stabilize homes situated on melting permafrost, and ensure supplies of fresh air. As the communities of the Circumpolar North adapt to climate change, their solutions hold lessons for carbon-neutral designs in the temperate zone while providing a pointed message about post-colonial regional design.

The Architect’s Newspaper: What are the main areas of research for the CCHRC?

Aaron Cooke: Our largest program is the Building Science Research program, which deals with testing and researching the suitability of different techniques and products for the physical environment and cultural environment of circumpolar peoples. We also have a design program, the Sustainable Northern Communities program, that aims to take some of the building research and find real-world or holistic building applications. We design prototype homes that we test with occupants living in them for various periods of time. Then we have a smaller program called Policy Research, which aims to aid policymakers and governmental entities but also looks at the code amendments that northern communities need to consider. Most northern places have small populations, so they don’t have their own building code; they’ll take a building code from the temperate region and add amendments specific to the physical environment in Alaska and the Circumpolar North. Between those three programs, we try and stay at the forefront of regional design for the Arctic and subarctic climates.

Can you talk about the challenges of the extreme terrain and cold weather in the north?

The north has two primary challenges that it has to face constantly. We have an antagonistic physical environment that is very hard on buildings. Oversights in detailing or failures to plan small appropriate details in construction do not fail small in the Arctic: They always fail big, because it’s a zero-forgiveness environment. But in addition to our physical environment, the north has always faced a postcolonial problem. Every Arctic country in the world is governed by a capital city that is not in the Arctic—and that goes for Russia, Canada, Alaska, everywhere. So, there’s underrepresentation in the design field, and in policy and building code. Importing technologies, assumptions, and best practices from the temperate zone without thorough vetting causes us as many problems as our physical environment does. The idea of what a home—or a public building or a school—looks like and how it should behave is often based on temperate models, and we then have to retroactively make them Arctic. There have been famous attempts to make an architecture for the north, but there's been very little impetus to create an Arctic architecture from the north. It generally comes at us from the south, and we have to manage it somehow.

Are there things that you’re learning from traditional methods of conserving heat that go into your research, or is the group mainly developing new technologies?

It’s generally developing new technologies, but it’s also giving a platform for traditional wisdom, because people have lived here for a very, very long time and have come up with innovative ways of building in the north. You’re trying to make traditional communities aware of new technologies applicable in a harsh physical environment, and then you’re also trying to be receptive and a good listener when people are saying what has worked or hasn’t worked in the past. As an example, we did an eight-sided house for a community in the Yukon–Kuskokwim Delta of Alaska called Quinhagak. It was a very windy place: Although it only got about 24 inches of snow a year, the snow would drift in houses to the point where you couldn’t get out of the windows or in the door. We did some pretty complex wind drift studies, and we came up with this eight-sided house. We went out to the community to see if they were interested in building a prototype there to test it, and they were. We gave an analysis of winds, vector diagrams of how we thought the snow would self-scour away from the house, and I remember being in the community building and saying, “This is the shape I think that would be best for this region.” Someone stands up and said, “We used to make our houses that shape, we used to know that. It’s only in the last 50 years that we’ve started making square boxes, and [snowbanks] started drifting in.” Some things we’re discovering, and some things we’re remembering, I guess.

What are some of the new technologies you’re developing or working with? Are they materials-based or are they wall sections?

I’d say a very large bulk of our work could be divided into three fields. One is envelope design: We need warmer envelopes, and we need materials that go together in wall design differently. Arctic villages often don’t have heavy equipment, so you’re trying to find materials that can be constructed without cranes or trucks, or any of the things that we assume are going to be on job site. We also are looking at how things are transported when we choose our construction materials. When I was in architecture school, I never once had a class on sourcing materials. We assumed that the materials are going to show up at site; we’d choose them based on how they perform once they’re assembled.

In our region, about 40 percent of overall construction costs are in shipping. But we don’t take a course on how to choose materials based on how they ship, and the shipping companies are smart: The barge season is short, the air strips are short, and if something’s heavier than it is big, they charge you by weight. If something’s bigger than it’s heavy, they charge you by volume. If the barge gets delayed, you don’t build next month, you build next year. Most of our economics can be boiled down to how we get our materials to site and how we select them based on their appropriateness for shipping. In envelope design, a big part is to create a materials package that can be shipped and easily brought to a very remote location.

Besides envelope design, we work quite a bit with foundation design. The Arctic is one of the fastest changing regions in the world. There are a million models, and they all contradict each other, but one thing is for sure: We have a lot less sea ice than we used to, and that is creating unprecedented coastal erosion that is forcing our communities to relocate. Land that has been permanently frozen since the last ice age is melting in very unpredictable ways and causing massive foundation failures. It’s not hypothetically happening sometime in the future, it’s happening to us now. Those are very expensive problems, so foundation design is something that we’ve been working quite hard on. One of the easiest things to get funding for is how to design foundations for the degradation of permafrost. The third tier of what we research is mechanical systems: how to provide heat. We’re always looking for heat that is more efficient, heat that is more clean and reliable. That’ll never go away, no matter how much global warming occurs. The Arctic will always be one of the colder places on the earth, and we’ll always have a winter in which we need heat somehow.

Are there solutions that you’ve come up with, or ideal systems that you’ve developed?

A paradigm shift has happened in foundation design in the Arctic during my short career. When I was studying to be a specialist in northern design, the basic rules for permafrost foundation design were if the ground’s frozen, keep it frozen, and if it’s thawed, keep it thawed—that’s foundation design in the Arctic. In the 1960s and ’70s and ’80s, when they were putting more modern and larger buildings in the Arctic, as we were urbanizing, most of the building failures were because the building was leaking heat into the ground around the base of the foundation and melting the permafrost, creating a sinkhole. The building then had this foundation failure, and that was why most of the emphasis was on keeping the ground frozen through installation. But now the permafrost is melting even if we do everything right. Even if we perfectly thermally isolate our building from the thermal regime of the soil, it’s still melting out from under us in many circumstances, and the circumstances aren’t something that we’re able to easily predict. Since the research center is focused mostly around housing, we want adjustable foundations that the occupant can adjust without specialized knowledge—very simple mechanical foundations that can be leveled as the ground drops away or floods or heaves.

What does that look like?

It can be as complex as a kind of a Buckminster Fuller–style space frame, where you’ve got triangulated points that can be hand ratcheted, or it can be as simple as car jacks on top of columns that are pounded into the ground. We’ve tested no fewer than a dozen types of adjustable foundations. We’re mostly looking at threaded rod and things that can be jacked with a cheater bar in a circular motion or with what’s basically a glorified wrench. We haven’t given up on trying to keep the ground frozen. For larger buildings, we’re still using thermosiphons and technology that takes advantage of state change and chemicals that have a boiling point around 32 degrees Fahrenheit so that they can move heat away from the ground. We’re also looking at ground source heat pumps—or geothermal, as it’s commonly called in the Lower 48—to move heat from the ground to the house for cooling in the summer and heating in the winter.

What does fieldwork look like? Is it mostly working with communities, or testing experiments?

It’s both. Almost every year we’re building a prototype home somewhere with a local construction force. We train the local carpenters on new construction techniques. Living in an experimental house means there needs to be quite a bit of follow-up. We try to make a good, close relationship with the occupants so when there are problems with technology, they can call us, and we can get on a plane and head out there. I always require a resident of the experimental home to be on the crew, so that they fully understand the systems that are different than the rest of the houses in the village. That way, we have an above-average success rate with new technology acceptance and more pride in the construction. It’s like Habitat for Humanity for building scientists.

What are the main differences between the prototypes and traditional buildings?

The prototypes always have an envelope that we’re testing that’s different than a two-by-six wall or a structural insulated panel, which are the two most common types of walls out there already. They always have a foundation type that we’re trying to test, whenever we know that the ground is going to be volatile. We’re also looking for new mechanical systems, because rural Alaska is by and large an economically depressed region. There are large rates of poverty and overcrowding. We’re always trying to lower the heating bill and create efficient mechanical systems and healthy indoor air quality, while lowering the amount people have to pay for fuel.

Are you going out to sites and living in extreme conditions yourself?

Oftentimes when we’re building a house in the summer season, and we’re in a village that’s small enough that there’s no real lodging, we’re just sleeping on the gym floor at the school while school is out and building with the local crew. This summer, we oversaw the building of 13 homes for a community that’s relocating entirely because their original community site’s falling into the ocean now that there’s no sea ice anymore. The fall storms have been eating about 80 feet of shoreline a year, and they’re being forced to relocate the entire community. In that case, when we were building the first prototype home over there at the new community site, there was nothing there. We were just basically camping and getting our water and dealing with our own waste, and trying to stay warm through the season. Sometimes it’s a very remote field camp, and then other times it’s just hanging out at the school at night.

Is there an ideal wall section that you’ve developed at this point—or if not, what are a few examples of improvements?

One thing that almost all Arctic and northern walls need to have in common that makes construction more challenging is you absolutely need a complete thermal break in the walls. That flies in the face of every stud wall we’ve ever built. Generally, a stud wall has a structured component, and then in between the structural components is insulation. But that means, of course, that the structure is leaking heat. At the inside, the two-by-fours are in the warm; at the outside, the two-by-fours are in the cold. That might get you through the winter in the temperate zone, but it absolutely doesn’t work in the Arctic. We’re always trying to make sure that nothing that touches the inside of the thermal envelope is also touching the outside of the thermal envelope. We’ve done walls where we’ve used two-by-four studs and then had a gusset plate made of something like PVC or OSB that holds the cladding up, and then we fill it with something so that the stud doesn’t reach all the way through the thick wall. We were looking at spray-applied polyurethane for a while; you can spray past the stud and make this adobe kind of shape as a way to avoid thermal bridging of materials. The double-wall that could all go up at once added efficiencies to the framing of thick-walled structures. We’ve also looked at an older Canadian technique, recently updated, which involves reframing a two-by-four wall, sheeting the entire outside of the wall in rigid installation, and lapping the joints, not allowing any of the framing to touch the outside of the wall. This is called the REMOTE wall technique, and it would be a good fit for temperate regions with hard winters too.

What are the main challenges to energy-efficient retrofits of existing buildings?

The retrofits are a large part of our work. When you create a giant impermeable coat over your old building, the first thing that almost always happens is your indoor air quality suffers. When we do retrofits today, we’re always trying to approach indoor air environment and thermal comfort at the same time, because the understanding now is that a lot of times when you add R-value to a wall, you’re tightening the house, and you’re going to have to come up with a mechanical solution to address ventilation and fresh air.

Are heat-recovery ventilation technologies a method for bringing in fresh air and ventilating moisture without losing heat in the process?

Certainly there should be no such thing as waste heat in a place this cold, and heat recovery ventilators have been one of the technologies that have made the most progress in the last ten or 15 years.

What is a heat-recovery ventilator, exactly?

It is a method of solving the problem of fresh air being colder. You’re in a house, it’s very cold outside—say it’s 30 degrees below zero outside—and you don’t want to open your windows. You want to keep all the heat that you possibly can in your building. What that means is the carbon dioxide goes up, and anything your furniture is off-gassing becomes more concentrated. You’re not getting the air changes that you need to be a healthy human when you’re scared of the cold air coming into the house.

There’s a branch of mechanical engineering that is concerned with taking your wonderfully warm but dangerously dirty indoor air and allowing the wonderfully clean but dangerously cold outdoor air to rob the heat from it without mixing with it. That’s the question: How do we steal heat from our used air and then get it out of the house so that we can get fresh, clean air inside, but have it be warm enough that people will use that system?

The prototype in Anaktuvuk Pass looks strikingly different than other approaches. Is there a break from the past that you’re exploring, or is there a radically new wall section that you’re trying out there?

It was a wall section that we had not tried before. Anaktuvuk Pass is fly-in only. They have no roads or barge delivery. Construction costs are extremely, prohibitively expensive there. We had been working with a spray-applied polyurethane applicator to see if we could create a wall that was a two-by-four steel structure that would be built inside out. We put the interior sheeting on the stud, and then we’d spray foam out and keep spraying past the foam to create that thermal break. The look that you see there—they’re a kind of dumpling, adobe look—is all based on the thermal requirements. It’s pretty far north. The other thing is that the residents there wanted to try a building where the foundation was on the ground. We use that polyurethane foam to create a raft, and the raft basically floats on the permafrost and bridges it if any movement occurs. The spray foam comes in barrels and expands to 30 times its size when it comes out of the gun. We can fit the barrels on the plane, and we can fit a lot more R-value per cubic foot on that plane because it’s going to expand once it gets to the site.

Can you talk about any problems that you might anticipate in the crafting of policy around the Green New Deal mandates meant for temperate regions that could have a potentially harmful effect on you?

Ten or 15 years ago, there were a lot of adaptations that needed to be made for, say, a LEED system when it finally came north. The research center tries to incorporate environmentally conscious building practices into everything we do—we’re the farthest north LEED Platinum building in the world. There are certainly things that don’t apply: There was a time when permafrost was considered a wetland by professionals from the temperate zone, and in the south, you can’t build on a wetland. Here that would mean you couldn’t build on 70 percent of Alaskan soils—think about a land area bigger than the state of Texas that you’re not allowed to build anything in. Simple things like that. The other thing is the passive house ideal: Getting to 90 percent off fossil fuels in the Arctic is possible, but for the last 10 percent, the returns are just not there. Ninety percent has to be good enough, and then we have to realize that sometimes our heating is going to have to come from somewhere else.

For all the theories of architecture and design, and all the isms out there—Classicism and deconstructionism, and all the isms that exist—I believe in regionalism in architecture because I live in a place where it’s necessary. Regionalist architecture manifests itself when and where it’s most necessary. It’s no mistake that it tends to be in places like deserts and the Arctic, places where if you ignore regional inputs to design, you ignore them at your peril. Your building will fail.

In your collaboration with the Royal Danish Academy, how did their experience in extreme environments and yours overlap or inform each other?

I try to work in a pan-Arctic sense because we are all trying to solve similar, difficult design problems, but we’re doing it alone because the polar region is spread-out with a lot of different governments involved. The centers of design learning are also very far from us. There is no accredited degree in architecture north of 60 degrees latitude in North America. You’ve got to go south to get your degree, and then come north and unlearn quite a bit of what you learned in school. The Royal Danish Academy’s Architecture and Extreme Environments program recognizes this, and it does a very good job of engaging underrepresented regions in design discourse.

I can remember taking my first construction methodology course while I was getting a master’s degree in Ohio, and we were talking about foundation design, and the professor—who was a very good professor, a good architect—was teaching us about how to get our foundations below the frost line. It was my first year of school, and I asked, “What do we do when we can’t get below the frost line?” He said, “Well, don’t build there. That’s a bad site.”

So, we have this familiar problem. We want to engage universities in our design growth. We want young, smart people to care about this place and move here or return here and practice architecture here. But again: Every university that is interested in saving the Arctic is located outside the Arctic, and this is a textbook postcolonial problem, right? We get approached by universities all the time; it’s very in vogue right now to save the Arctic. The icecaps are melting, polar bears are going extinct—there are plenty of reasons that Lower-48 universities are suddenly interested in us, and we need them. We need the attention of the young designers who want to solve some of the difficult problems we have. But the question is always, are you willing to send your studio here, or are you going to try and solve the problem from South Florida?

University architecture programs, from our small rural perspective, bring a lot of resources. The unspoken worry in Alaska is that we are very far from the rest of the world. A lot of disaster relief funding is federal. It’s been undeniably challenging that we’re the first part of the world to be dealing with these massive community shifts due to climate change, but it’s also good to be at the beginning of the process. The instant the rest of the population has to deal with it, too, there’s not going to be any money left to move tiny little Alaskan villages. Once New Orleans and San Francisco and Manhattan have a climate change problem, that’s the end of our help. We’re trying to figure out how to handle these moves now, and what we’re going to do when the resources to handle them get diverted to larger population centers. That’s the Arctic problem.

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AN Interior chats the future of workplace with Aaron Schiller

Since graduating from the Yale School of Architecture in 2013, New York–based architect Aaron Schiller, founder and principal of Schiller Projects, has completed a series of offices that are pushing the limits of what workplace design can be. Rather than create simple open plans or collaborative spaces with no direction, Schiller and his team analyze how businesses operate in order to deliver data-driven solutions that help employees work better. AN Interior’s executive editor Matt Shaw sat down with Schiller at his Hudson Yards studio to discuss. AN Interior: In your practice, workplace design is really more of a research process. What is the thinking behind that? Aaron Schiller: When we take on a new project, first we work with the company and all stakeholders to understand the core functionality underneath how they’re using their current space. The design solution is really that study; it’s analytical design. And out of this analytical design, we get to a new program. In a way, what we do is essentially community organizing within a workplace culture. AN: How do you think that is different from a typical client briefing on an office design? AS: It is about the level of investigation we get to. It takes real engagement on the side of ownership or leadership to commit to this path because it requires more time upfront, but it results in an analytics-driven playbook that looks somewhere between IDEO and OMA. Our workplace strategy and cultural engagement booklets have lots of infographics and charts. We don’t go into these workshops with just architects. We also bring in MBAs, data visualizers, people with experience in community organizing, or people with sociology backgrounds. We move in with the clients, we observe how they work in the space, and we get real data metrics behind it. They’re all distilled to attack the core issues of scale, duration, and frequency. In the law office we designed at Hudson Yards, they came to us and they said, “Look, we’re really collaborative, but we have a traditional space and we don’t like it.” We said, “OK, let us study you.” And we came back to them, and we said, “OK, you’re not going to be a trading floor, and you’re not going to be a traditional law firm anymore, either. Here is something in between that fits your model better.” Part of that was understanding that the majority of their collaboration—their meetings, so to speak—were only two or three people. So now we have a scale. They lasted 15 to 25 minutes, so now we have a duration. And the frequency is that these are 90 percent of all meetings in total. So now we know there’s a lot of what we call impromptus, and they happen all the time. So, we don’t create traditional dead spaces, which is what offices can largely be for a lot of companies. We’re not creating space for happenstance. We’re creating very clear multipurpose space. The great businesses are not getting rid of offices to be cheap toward their employees. They’re getting rid of offices to offer their employees what they think will be a richer working environment. Read the full interview on our interiors and design website, aninteriormag.com.  
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AN interviews Frances Bronet, the Pratt Institute’s new president

Pratt Institute began in 1887 in Brooklyn’s Clinton Hill neighborhood as an affordable college accessible to the working class of New York. Founded by industrialist Charles Pratt, whose company, Astral Oil Works, was absorbed into John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Trust in 1874, it was run as a charity for many years. It still had a Pratt family member, Richardson Pratt Jr., as president in 1990, the fifth family member to serve in that position. Its ninth president, Henry Saltzman, who served from 1970 to 1972, was an urban studies specialist, but other non–Pratt family leaders came from the fields of education and academia. Now for the first time, the school has selected a president, Frances Bronet, who has degrees in architecture and civil (structural) engineering. This, in itself, is a unique background for someone leading a design institute, but of course, she was also selected for her accomplishments in and out of design academia. In this interview, we questioned Bronet about her design background, what it brings to the school, and how it informs what she hopes to accomplish as the institute’s 12th president. William Menking: You’ve had a distinguished 20-year career as an educator before becoming Pratt Institute’s 12th president. You have degrees in architecture and civil engineering, and a diploma in management. This is not a common degree path to becoming a college president. How did it happen that you went from being a designer to a president? Frances Bronet: I have always imagined what it would be like to be the head of a think tank, from the time I was 17. I may not have known exactly what that meant, but at this moment we can all agree that leading a college would qualify. In Montreal, I worked in prominent, faculty-led architectural offices, and ultimately in a partnership with two colleagues. After graduating from McGill, I began teaching at McGill, Vanier, and Montreal Technical College in the evenings after working in practice during the day. It didn’t take me long to realize that I wanted to continue in the academy, and I came to New York City to study at Columbia University for grad school. As an engineer and an architect with solid experience as a teacher, I was offered a few jobs, from the University of Texas to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), as a tenure-related faculty member. It’s hard to believe when looking back, but I taught for almost 30 years. In my experience, the academy, somewhat like an ambitious office, offers an amazing amount of freedom. As a faculty member, you have an incredible bandwidth for experimentation, new ideas, and collaboration. In many ways, it is both an entrepreneurial environment and one that has manageable boundaries. As soon as I was tenured, I became associate dean (I was also a new parent!). This was a great experience. I love building relationships and brokering genius—and being in an administrative position lets me do that. There are certainly many architects who would avoid administration, but it can be unbelievably creative. And where else do you get to engage this extraordinary amount of intelligence and aspiration? I then left RPI to become dean of the School of Architecture and Allied Arts (now the College of Design) at the University of Oregon. Being dean across domains—from painting to architecture to public policy—gave me access to understanding the big picture. When an even larger university-wide landscape was made available to me as acting provost at Oregon, I couldn’t resist. The ability to take opportunities across disciplines and connect remarkable people, projects, and places was key, as was designing teams where the unexpected can unfold. From there, I went on to be provost at Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) in Chicago and now have the honor of being the president of Pratt Institute. The school has a massive external face, leading through design—and as an extreme extrovert, this position is perfect. WM: The next logical question is how did an architecture and engineering degree prepare you for your academic career? Did it give you particular and unique insights into design education? FB: Absolutely. Studying and working in these environments exposed me to various ways of thinking and unique modes of defining complex problems and solving them. I was impressed by how distinct expertise came together to make it all work. We all have different modes of learning and teaching, and people self-select these disciplines. For me, architecture, although tough, resonated with how I experienced and performed in the world; engineering put me in a place that was unfamiliar, so that very precariousness opened up a new universe. WM: Your resume highlights your publishing career “on multidisciplinary design curricula connecting architecture, engineering, STS (science, technology, and society), dance, and fine electronic art.” You’re now the president of an art and design institution of higher education. How will you expand or develop interdisciplinarity between schools at Pratt? FB: Ah! That would be the provost’s gig. And now that we have a strategic plan developed with all our constituencies, this very recommendation is central. I could guide, advise, and listen, but the provost is the chief academic officer. My work is how what is going on in the world impacts our strategic vision and how we share this beyond our own gates, building broad constituencies of support. We have 1,200 faculty members—many of whom have their own practices—already connected to the world at large and bringing the world here when they teach. How can these connections be magnified and supported? Many educational enterprises are building experiential, embodied, problem-based, and practice-oriented courses. Pratt has been doing this for more than 130 years. That is where we should take a leadership role. WM: What are the challenges of directing an art and architecture and design academy in 2019? How do you hope to change or expand the institute? FB: Some challenges transcend the institute—preparing students for careers that don’t yet exist, accessibility, including cost, and wellness, to name a few. But for us, it is that excellence will be measured by how a private institution works for the public good, from social and environmental to cultural metrics. We are part of the economic and social engine that has transformed our neighborhood into a new, creative economy. And we must do more to create an academic institution that can collaborate to make a more equitable, inclusive, and sustainable community. WM: What are the challenges and advantages of directing an institution of higher education for creative thinkers and makers in New York City? FB: The world’s best and brightest are here or are coming to New York City. It is also important to be aware that some great talent is outside of New York City, too. When thinking about the great diversity of this city, we ask ourselves, how do we represent the communities in which we sit? How do we collaborate with all this extraordinary talent and get out of institutional silos? How can we leverage our practice-based faculty, who bring both new ideas to their students and their students’ ideas to bear on their practices? There is an incredible opportunity to ask what are the key projects, and how do we partner and get involved? How are we part of a larger ecosystem? Climate change, rapid urbanization, ethical practice, and so forth impacting our world will require research, working across many disciplines, universities, and other organizations. This infrastructure can serve as a frame for true participatory democratic practice. Pratt is uniquely poised to do this type of engaged work and be part of this ecosystem. Our goal is to equip our students as cultural, environmental, urban, design, and education contributors and leaders. We are sitting next to one of the great new emerging developments at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. That’s where you’ll find our Consortium for Research and Robotics. It’s clear to me now that I was on the right track envisioning myself at a think tank. But in today’s world—with so much possible through technology and collaboration—we work in think-make tanks. There is so much possibility for partnership that, indeed, it will be the only way to address some of the most difficult issues confronting us. Designers are optimists. As Nobel laureate Herbert A. Simon said, “Everyone designs who devises courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones.”
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Outpost Office explores trampoline parks and more with Site Visit podcast

The founders of Columbus, Ohio-based studio Outpost Office conduct a lot of site visits. Not just for their own emerging architectural practice, established in 2014 in Ukraine, but as a way to have fun, educate themselves, and their peers. Ashley Bigham and Erik Herrmann are both assistant professors of The Ohio State University’s Knowlton School of Architecture. In their free time—which is few and far-between as academic practitioners—they host a clever podcast called Site Visit where they invite guests to give them tours of random architecture. The best example of how interesting and unpretentious this design podcast is lies in the fact that their first episode ever was recorded in Michigan’s #1 home improvement store.  The first eight-episode season was released last year and attracted nearly 4,000 subscribers. Now in its second season, Site Visit is expanding with more episodes and more diverse points of view. AN spoke with Bigham and Herrmann about the inspiration behind the podcast, how to get good audio of a building, and why they feel they could tour the same space over and over again and still learn something new each time. AN: First, the name. What inspired you to call the show Site Visit Erik Herrmann: We wanted the name to be simple and direct. No one has very much time these days, so we get right to the point. And for architects, it’s also a bit of a wink, which also clues you into the tone. Site visits are the things we do as architects when we leave the confines of the office and get out “into the world.” Site Visits are thrilling, but also a bit intimidating for young architects. You have to improvise, negotiate, and perform in all kinds of fascinating ways. You are often wearing a lot of hats...literally and metaphorically. Every site visit is different, so no one is exactly in their comfort zone. We wanted to produce something that was authentic to the medium of podcasts and wasn’t like a lecture, review, or interview which are the typical formats we get architectural knowledge from. These formats are usually about someone directly demonstrating their expertise. We wanted to cultivate a conversation amongst friends with buildings at the center.  In your roster of episodes, you visit a theater, a military academy, an architecture school, and downtown Denver, among other places. How do all these “architectures” connect?  EH: There are a lot of great podcasts on architecture, but they often tend to be academic and borrow a lot from the traditional formats we discussed earlier. Within that space, we saw an opportunity to try something a little different. There's a particular genre of podcasts we were attracted to that are essentially serialized conversations amongst friends that center around a shared experience. The podcasts Doughboys, which reviews chain restaurants, and The Flophouse, which reviews films, are two examples.  We then started talking a lot about things we genuinely liked to talk to each other about, which to be honest was buildings. But we’re also academics, so we can’t help but talk about buildings in terms of, to borrow Stan Allen’s terms, not only practice but also project. We wanted to find an approachable, straightforward format that allowed our guest’s project or more overarching theory of architecture to organically emerge while the conversation focuses on a specific building. So our initial intention was simply to invite someone who could help unpack a building for us and it worked! Through their choice of that site and their personal description of it, we’ve started to better understand how people see the world around them.  Do you have specific criteria for the sites you visit?  EK: Our guest always chooses the location. Our only rule is that it’s not a space they themselves designed. Our preference, though, is that it’s a public building.  Any highlights from Season 1? Ashley Bigham: Episode 1 with Ellie Abrons remains one of the favorites. We went to Menard’s, which is a midwest chain of home improvement stores, and it was a great way to kick off the podcast. In the beginning, we were worried that our guests would only choose signature buildings by famous architects. Menard’s is great because it is a very complex piece of architecture. It’s basically a fun palace. It’s a densely filled commercial space that has an impact on all people, particularly children. So many people in the Midwest love it and tell us they went there all the time as a kid. Anyone who has ever been into a big box store can relate to what we were talking about in this episode without even visiting that specific one. The episode also offers some insight into Ellie’s approach to architecture. What can listeners expect with Season 2? AB: Our first interview is with Anya Sirota of Akoaki in Detroit. She’s also a professor at the University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture. She took us to Airtime in Ann Arbor, which is an indoor trampoline park. Season 2 will also include our first live episode which we’re very excited about. We’ll be recording an episode live during the fall conference for the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture at Stanford. EH: We are highlighting a couple of other people located in the Midwest as well for Season 2, an architect and museum curator specifically. We want to expand the conversation to include a lot of new voices.  I noticed you had previously visited an inflatable bouncing park in Season 1 and a trampoline park in Season 2. How were you able to approach Season 2 premiere episode with a fresh perspective?  AB: We could honestly visit the same site every single episode because each of our guests would see it differently, and therefore we would too. What’s been the biggest challenge in producing a podcast on architecture? EH: With every episode, we’ve found it challenging to describe the architecture and the experience. I think that’s the hardest thing to do clearly with the audio format. We try to curb that by offering visuals on our Site Visit Instagram or the website, but when we’re recording it’s a constant challenge trying to remember to experience the space through your words, and not primarily through your eyes.  We also got a very interesting comment once from a friend of ours who is a lawyer. She asked whether we would ever bring on a guest who is visually impaired. People who are blind or are differently-abled might experience space differently than we do. It’d be fascinating.  Do you think you’ll venture into a third season? AB: I think so. When we started the podcast, we knew we wouldn’t have a lot of time to devote to it, but we’ve really grown to enjoy the conversations. We’re actually visiting with episode six guest Whitney Moon later this fall. She’s teaching a course on podcasts and architectural media at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee and we’re going to drop in and see what the students are up to. The show has a life long after the microphone is turned off. 
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Denise Scott Brown reflects on balancing architecture and urbanism

This interview of Denise Scott Brown is excerpted from Your Guide to Downtown Denise Scott Brown, an exhibit held at the Architekturezentrum Wien in Vienna, now available in book form via Park Books. The interview was conducted on May 22, 2018, before the passing of Robert Venturi in September, and revised on May 7, 2019, by Denise Scott Brown and Jeremy Eric Tenenbaum. Jeremy Eric Tenenbaum: What are your great achievements? Denise Scott Brown: I had to live through a difficult childhood, not given to self-esteem. I had to live through the tragedy of my [first] husband’s death. I had to find the gumption to do the things I needed to do and thought I couldn’t. Somehow I got through all that and made an oeuvre I feel proud of, sort of. Having said that, I think I’ve managed to find a way to live with uncertainty, which was difficult for me. And perhaps I’ve managed to help some others do that. Along with Bob, I think I’ve worked through issues of form and design and communication and brought all that together into “a beautiful table with four legs”—comparable to Vitruvius’s three-legged table. Out of that, I’ve tried to draw a beauty, but an agonized beauty. And the kinds of people I seem to associate best with are the ones with a certain striving for the same. That’s one side. On the other, I’m happy to have helped to define advocacy architecture and to have practiced some of it. I’m happy to have helped promote women in architecture. And now I end my career by trying to sum up what needs to be summed up. But I’m missing the thing I became addicted to, which was design. That was my great joy—but it was complex with me. I’m also very, very happy to have lived beside Bob and to have managed the sturm und drang—and to have jointly brought out work we could both be proud of. And to have produced a son who’s having a great career, who has found his passion, who will go on finding passions. We worked in this house all our lives. Now that it’s a home office, you find someone working in every room, tucked in a chair here or there. One of them said, “I’ve never been in a house where everyone there both lives and works.” So I’ve called this our Peaceable Kingdom—mostly peaceable. JET: The retirement that others look forward to is not the retirement you want for yourself? DSB: I’ve got too many things to do! All these people come to talk to me and I love talking to them. They ask why I don’t make room to smell the roses, and I say, the roses are right on my drawing board! I’m returning to the things I began early in life and had to leave off because of professional work—and hindsight makes them better. When he asked, I told our financial adviser: “Bob and I won’t go on cruises. We just want to go on being elderly academics.” He replied, “Well, if you do go, please consider going on a tramp steamer and not by the QE2 [the Queen Elizabeth 2 ocean liner].” So I keep asking myself, am I buying the QE2? We’ve tried to donate money to charity as much as we could. One great opportunity was an unexpected windfall. One day a voice on the phone with a South African accent asked me: “Is this Mrs. Ventuuuri?” He said I had an account in South Africa, produced from a very small investment my father had made for each of his children in 1945. By 1985 it had become a tidy sum. JET: This sounds like such a scam! DSB: It was a scam. He was a bounty hunter. He said, “You have to sign this document and let me take a third of the money.” And I realized there was nothing else I could do, so I signed—and he disappeared. The rest of the money waited in the account. I wanted it to go to students at my old school—some student whose teachers thought she could do better, a B-student who could be an A-student. When I was there, I saw our headmistress take kids who were, let’s say, raw and rough, and after they were with us a few years they would get into medical school. She believed academic intelligence is one kind of intelligence but not the only kind. She had ways of teaching people and maintaining students’ self-esteem. And she did it for me—she discovered things about me that she really appreciated and her appreciation really helped me grow. I hoped the school would still be like that, with that sense of community. So the school did what I requested: They found Gugu Ndlovu, daughter of a Zulu teacher. And she finished there and did very well, and when she applied to all the medical schools in South Africa, she got into every one. And for me...it was... [Silence. Denise cries. She clutches her dress with her hands, looking down.] Funny things are...moving. Some things are moving... So, anyway, nevertheless, I didn’t hear from the school for a while. But recently I met a young South African woman traveling with her Venezuelan boyfriend, both going back to South Africa. And I said, please, would you go to my school and talk to them? We arranged for the money to be placed with their bursary fund, to quickly go where it’s intended. And when that money is given, it should be given in the name of Robert Scott Brown. And so this is solved at the end of my life. It’s a nice story.
I have been a circus horse rider between architecture and urbanism most of my life. But reining together animals that have been tugging apart over five decades has made for a bumpy ride. My role as an architect and planner takes in more than physical planning or urban design. I have also penetrated beyond both architecture and planning toward the social sciences at one end and art and iconography at the other. When you have all these systems and all their functions and all their rules, it helps to understand Mannerism. Because these systems have to bend, some more and some less, to get something that works—but it’s also a way to look for beauty. That’s my view of functionalism. It has a moral component I uphold but an aesthetic component I love.
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Denise Scott Brown dubs herself "architecture's grandmother"

In a 2013 video interview now available online, Denise Scott Brown reflects on a variety of aspects of her career, from her youth in Rhodesia, to her professional career in the United States. In the video, author Jochen Becker asks her about the influence her personal life had on her professional formation for hismetroZones Global Prayers project. Becker asks about what she calls her "African perspective," which she says was informed by studying in South Africa under the apartheid regime. The interview then roams over her thoughts on modernism, her photography, and her experience with Las Vegas, Levittown, and Venice. She spends ample time describing her unconventional wedding ceremony to Robert Venturi, and she talks about her first interaction with a young Rem Koolhaas and her favorite building of his (she likes the IIT building, but not the CCTV tower). She also talks about the motivation behind the book she was writing at the time. "I've named myself architecture's grandmother," Scott Brown said. "My interest now is in putting architecture safely to bed before I put myself to bed."
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Find out what Freespace actually means to the Venice Architecture Biennale curators

With the launch of the 16th Venice Architecture Biennale, thousands of design-minded visitors descended on the Italian city to take in the national pavilions and ancillary events (and in some cases, to protest). This year’s theme, “Freespace,” encouraged architects to think outside of architecture as “object” and to contextualize how the natural world (light, air, the landscape) influences the built environment. Co-curators Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara of Grafton Architects broke down their intentions for the festival further in the interview below:
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Learning from the 2017 global timber tower audit

AN Midwest Editor Matthew Messner spoke with Daniel Safarik, editor for the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CT­BUH), about its “Tall Timber: A Global Audit.” The audit documented proposed, under-construction, and built tall buildings that use mass timber as their primary structural materials. The Architect’s Newspaper: What Prompted the CTBUH to conduct an audit of timber projects around the world? Daniel Safarik: We track all kinds of tall build­ing construction routinely for the Skyscrap­er Center database and for our Global News feed on our website. The first well-publicized tall timber building was Stadthaus in London, which was completed in 2009. We noticed what seemed like a spike in announcements of timber tall buildings being proposed and constructed about four years ago [2013], and everything that has happened since has re­affirmed this impression. When we saw the buy-in from the U.S. government represent­ed by the U.S. Tall Wood Building Competition, in October 2014, that confirmed the impression that this really had momentum behind it, so we committed to tracking the two resultant projects through to comple­tion. Unfortunately, the New York project was canceled due to market feasibility concerns, but the Portland project is now under con­struction. So the momentum began to build from that point, and we formed a Tall Timber working group in late 2014. The group started working on a design manual in mid-2015, and that effort has now gotten a turbo boost with the audit and the upcoming workshop at our 2017 conference, which is bringing together a lot of the key participants. Were there any interesting surprises once the information was gathered? The most striking thing was the diversity of construction methods that are being used to create these buildings, which are specific to local jurisdiction and the nature of the tim­ber supply in each region. Of course, herein lies the difficulty of generalizing about what’s going on in tall timber worldwide, as well as coming to a consensus about classification and best practices—that is our challenge. What are some of the interesting discus­sions happening around mass timber? It’s encouraging to see the range of propos­als, from both a stylistic and construction standpoint. The primary discussions revolve around fire safety and code, sustainability, and the feasibility of modifying fabrication techniques from mass production of stick-built single-family and platform-framed low-rise buildings to something that is workable for high-rise. What do you think the next steps are, or barriers to overcome, for mass timber to become a common building method? The foremost obstacle is local fire codes. Most fire codes prohibit wood structures from rising above five or six stories. Many codes stipulate that a building of this height must also have a concrete base, particularly if there are commercial uses on the ground floor, such as restaurants, or if there is vehi­cle parking, to give one to three hours of fire protection that would allow safe exiting before structural collapse. This is predicated on the assumption that wood high-rises would use platform construction, with dimension­al lumber such as two by fours, beams, and joists, similar to those currently permitted. The key to mass timber’s viability as a struc­tural material for tall buildings lies in its name. Massive wood walls and structural beams and columns comprised of engineered pan­els have demonstrated fire performance equal to concrete and, in some cases, su­perior to steel. Wood unquestionably burns, so there would be smoke issues, as with any fire, which would require proper sprinklering, pressurization, and other tactics used in tall buildings today. But mass timber has to burn through many layers before it is structurally compromised—basically it “chars” long be­fore it collapses. As more jurisdictions come to appreciate the aesthetic, economic, and environmental advantages of tall timber, fire codes are expected to change. The second-biggest obstacle is a lack of standardization of construction materials, methods, and definitions. There are many forms of mass timber, and a wide degree of variance in approach when it comes to sup­porting tall timber structures. Thus, there is a range of techniques, from assemblages of highly similar panels for both floors and walls, to complex column/beam/outrigger combi­nations, such as are found in high-rises of steel and concrete. There are numerous pro­prietary systems, and the connections be­tween elements also vary widely—often it is the location and orientation of the steel con­nectors between wood elements that can make all the difference in how long a struc­ture can withstand fire or seismic action, and thus determine its feasibility under local code. Are there any proposals, speculative or real, that you are particularly excited about? I like the one we published in the CTBUH Journal for Chicago: the River Beech Tow­er. It would be great to see that go up in our home city.
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Shanghai Talks> Carol Willis of The Skyscraper Museum on balancing dense development with open spaces

Last year I served as special media correspondent for the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat‘s September symposium in Shanghai. The topic was “Future Cities: Towards Sustainable Vertical Urbanism,” and among the many architects, engineers and other tall thinkers I interviewed was Carol Willis of The Skyscraper Museum. We discussed if there's an optimum height for tall buildings, and balancing dense development with open spaces. “You can have places that are characterized as high-rise cities,” she said, “that have opposing models of the way that land is used. The densification of space, the densification of energy…is complemented by the open space, public space, advantages of nature spaces that benefit us all.” Willis also wondered whether the current Asian boom in very tall buildings has an historical precedent. “The Chinese cities you see today that are growing their skyscrapers as an image of ambition and identity is very similar to the forces of capitalism that produced the Woolworth Building or the Insurance Company Building,” she said. “What I think is most fundamentally different between the Chinese cities and the American cities at the turn of the century is who controls the land.” You can read more on CTBUH's website and share the video from YouTube.