Posts tagged with "Sustainability":

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So Much for LEED

Yesterday, the Times ran a decent though not totally honest and rather obvious piece on how a number of LEED buildings don't actually save much in the way of energy. The Federal Building in Youngstown, Ohio is taken to task for "rack[ing] up points for things like native landscaping rather than structural energy-saving features." Well, our dear friend and fellow blogger Chad Smith takes the Gray Lady to task for its disingenuity. Yes, LEED is flexible, maybe sometimes too much so, but that's precisely what makes it so good, Chad argues, or at least so successful. To wit:
4. One of the reasons LEED and green building is so hot right now is because LEED has been very popular. So like Wal-Mart bringing organic food to each of their stores everywhere, LEED has brought the idea of sustainability to the world of building in the United States. It's a huge success, but one that is not fully realized. [...] 6. The Times article implies that buildings can install a bunch of bamboo flooring and get a LEED rating. In fact, Renewable Materials is one of the hardest points to get in the LEED system. Basically it's bamboo anything, cork flooring, and like wool carpets...and that's it. As a percentage of construction, you'd need to cover every surface in bamboo to make it work. So no one is installing that much flooring in lieu of other sustainable strategies. [...] 9. Some LEED buildings are undoubtedly kicking ass on the energy consumption measure. Let's hear about those too?
Be sure to check out Chad's original post for the other six reasons on why LEED's so good. And just to prove we're not on the take from the USGBC, here's one of the first article's I ever wrote for the paper on the need for testing these systems once they're installed. Not only does this verify their efficacy, but it also helps maintain their efficiency. It was true (and underutilized) three years ago, and it's even more true today. Let's just hope Chad's right about five years from now. The more things change...
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On Plastic Plants

There is a lot to like about Chicago's Quincy Court, an alley turned public space outside the Mies van der Rohe-designed Dirksen Federal Building that opened this summer. The General Services Administration (GSA) initiated the project to help beef up security around the federal campus, and they can certainly be praised for hiring a design firm to reimagine the space, in this case Rios Clementi Hale of Los Angeles, instead of just bolting a bunch of bollards into the ground. And while the design has a certain whimsy, which may appeal to some, we're having a hard time getting over the giant plastic palms. According to the press release the "sculptural grove" mediates between the monumentality of federal campus and the smaller scale of State Street. The seating and tables are nicely detailed and the project's Pop sensibility is sure to change the way people think about this alley way. But in this age of ecological crisis, and in a city that has made sustainability one of its hallmarks and has worked hard to green the Loop, the plastic palms seem like the wrong message for the GSA to send. Real deciduous trees, after all, provide shade in the hot summer and loose their leaves in the fall when sun is welcome. Ken Smith's artificial rooftop garden at MoMA, which boasts fake rocks, plastic plants, and few environmental benefits, seems like a similar missed opportunity, a one liner that provides intriguing views for neighbors but does little to improve the hardscape environment of midtown Manhattan. Are we being too rigid in our thinking? Should we loosen up and go shopping for some silk flowers?
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Washington Lights

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has completed the installation of LED fixtures on the necklace of the George Washington Bridge. The 156 light emitting diode fixtures replace the span's mercury vapor lamps and are expected to save $49,000 in energy and maintenance costs annually. The LED fixtures have 80,000-hour, or 15-year, life spans, while the mercury lamps only lasted one year on average. The Port Authority also expects the new energy-efficient fixtures to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 220,000 pounds per year. The capital project was approved by the authority's board of commissioners in 2007 as part of an initiative to reduce green house gas emissions at Port Authority facilities.
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Class of 09: Will Work for Green Design

Friend of AN Ryan Lafollette sends this dispatch from the Windy City. Recent graduates of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s (SAIC) architecture and design programs are facing a challenging job market. For those employers looking for new talent, as well as for enthusiasts of design who couldn’t make it to the Salone Internazionale del Mobile in Milan, SAIC’s department of Architecture, Interior Architecture, and Designed Objects is currently showing its graduate design exhibition, Making Modern. While the scope of the projects vary greatly, each promotes sustainable design and living practices, and includes student work featured in Milan. Aiming to reduce costs associated with building air conditioning by up to 20%, Matthew Stewart designed and developed a system of precisely oriented brise-soleil using waste wood from lumber processing and building construction. Slightly more whimsical but with broad implications in the developing world, Taikkun Li created Tibetan prayer wheel generators, fashioned using old bike tires and fan motors, allowing tourists to lessen their impact on an already strained electrical grid. Daniel Sommer attempts to eliminate excuses about cycling to the office. He designed a compact folding hanger and garment bag system that easily slips into your existing messenger bag or carryall. In a competitive market, these innovative, cost-cutting, and energy-efficient designs may give these young practitioners that much needed leg up. Making Modern will be on display in SAIC‘s Sullivan Galleries, located in the Louis Sullivan designed Carson Pirie Scott & Co. Building, 33 South State Street, Seventh Floor, Chicago, through July 25.
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By UNanimous Decree, Urban is Green

A sublime piece of modern architecture, the United Nations Headquarters is a time capsule that preserves almost intact the spirit of the 1950s. From the head sets to the tapestries, which hide the most breathtaking views of Brooklyn and the East River, everything has the air of an early James Bond movie. On May 13th, however, the UN was looking forward to pressing environmental challenges and their urban solutions, as the host of the second part of the "Conference on Sustainable Urbanization in the Information Age," entitled “The Role of Infrastructure in Metropolitan Development.” Speakers from places and realities as diverse as Mexico, Estonia, Spain, Australia, Kenya, and the UK agreed that urban living is the greenest way to live. “Living well is the only sustainability,” concluded New York’s own Rick Bell, Executive Director of the AIA NY chapter, and that seemed to be the motto throughout the sessions. With the world urban population growing at an incredible pace (I was shocked to discover that my home country of Uruguay leads the world ranking with 91 percent of its population living in urban areas) speakers called for responsible planning, emphasizing the usual topics of density, public transport, affordable housing, and sanitation. What was a surprise, though, was the acknowledgment by many officials that governmental and sub governmental systems were inefficient and over regulated, impeding the implementation of better policies. Conflicts of governance and large bureaucracies, along with poor civic engagement and lack of private and public partnerships make it difficult for all these “good intentions” to be put to practice. When our planet is in peril, it is no surprise that major attention should be taken to cities, after all “urban centers are the ticking hearts of civilization,” to use words of Sarbuland Khan, of the Global Alliance for Information and Communication Technologies. Also cities are the epicenter of the catastrophic global economic crisis in which we are living, but nevertheless, it is important not to compromise sustainable practices for the sake of reactivating the economy. The US government’s promises to end the economic slump come in the form of a stimulus package for infrastructure, but the kind of infrastructure we plan will determine the way we live and use the cities of the future, so we must chose responsibly. Keynote speaker Under Secretary-General Dr. Anna Kajumulo Tibaijuka plead to consider this as an opportunity to instill principles of sustainability into infrastructure development: “The challenge is to integrate economic environmental and social policies to make our cities economically more competitive, ecologically more sustainable and socially more inclusive and gender responsive. It is important to recognize success factors and remove barriers to their replication… we need local action if we are going to achieve global goals.” It is high time we put aside political interests and start acknowledging that these challenges are not part of some dystopian future, but are right around the corner. Let’s just hope those with the power to make these decisions do so wisely.
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Go Green On the Go

As part of Earth Day New York’s annual festival, taking place today and tomorrow at Grand Central Terminal, Brooklyn-based eco-friendly buildings products supplier Green Depot is debuting their new Pop-Up store, which promotes the company’s Do-It-Yourself motto while providing sustainable building materials, products, and accessories to an commuter consumer-base on the go. Designed Colin Brice and Caleb Mulvena of New-York based firm Mapos, who are also the designers of Green Depot’s new flagship store on the Bowery in Manhattan, the Pop-Up store is a flexible and mobile space that facilities Green Depot’s design principle of easy, affordable, and gratifying green living and building. Drawing from the store’s original concepts, the Pop-Up store also features a series of visible “building slices,” which reveal the materials and supplies used in green building design, and interactive educational booths that allow green design to be accessible to all. The 1,000-square-foot store is made out of traditional scaffolding elements that are easy-to-assemble and can be arranged in multiple formations. After its run in New York, the installation will be packaged and shipped to Green Depot’s new Chicago showroom where the signage materials and floor fixtures will be reused, keeping with the company's philosophy.
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Koolhaas Flames Out, Shantytowns Inform

The announcement that Rem Koolhaas would be the keynote speaker for the “Ecological Urbanism” conference at the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD), which took place over three days last weekend, raised eyebrows, especially among sustainability-minded architects, landscape architects, and planners. Koolhaas had never shown any particular interest in the subject, and the fire at his TVCC Tower in Beijing was interpreted by many as a symbol of an era that had come to an end, ushering in more sustainable and responsible practices. Those of us who admire and respect his projects, but also believe that our profession needs to go green to adapt to the 21st century, were hoping his speech would redeem his formerly blasé attitude toward sustainability and provide some clarification of why this seemingly odd choice for a keynote was made. No such luck. Despite the disappointing keynote speech, charged with needless attacks against talented colleagues, including Renzo Piano and Norman Foster, and no definitive resolution as to what Ecological Urbanism is or should be, the conference added provocative ideas to the discourse on sustainable architecture and planning. Along with the usual urban farms, solar panels, wind farms, and bioswales, there were innovative proposals that advocated for changes in technological and programmatic aspects of the profession, from Mitchell Joachim’s radical houses made of meat and compact electric transportation systems presented by MIT’s William Mitchell to proposals for highrise cemeteries and prisons in the middle of Manhattan by Spanish architect Inaki Abalos. Probably one of the most enlightening talks, stripped from the glamour of sci-fi technologies or sexy images, was the breakout session on informal cities in Latin America led by Christian Werthmann, Associate Professor and Program Director at the Department of Landscape Architecture at the GSD. He conducts what he calls “dirty work,” a research initiative on upgrading informal cities. Despite the region’s slowing growth rate, lessons can be learned from the formation of favelas, barrios, or shantytowns. “The world has entered the urban millennium. Half the world's people now live in cities and towns. That in itself marks a historic transition,” said then UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, according to a 2005 UN-Habitat report. “But what will happen over the next 30 years is just as significant. According to United Nations projections, virtually all of the world's population growth will occur in the urban areas of low- and middle-income countries. How we manage that growth will go a long way toward influencing the world's future peace and prosperity.” Werthmann told AN: “There are two fields of operation regarding informal settlements. One is to retrofit existing informal cities, and the other is how do you control or guide the future of informal cities.” In Latin America, there are examples like Brazil, where the government provides informal cities with communal infrastructure: water, electricity, health, sewage, and roads. But there are no comprehensive strategies. Other approaches involve community endeavors and grassroots movements. But how can cities prepare for this to create healthier communities? “That is a harder task. Nobody wants to give away their own land so people can build on it,” he said. Favelas and slums have received a lot of attention in movies like City of God and Slumdog Millionaire, in which they are depicted as unsanitary and dangerous places. But there is more to them than violence and disease. Interestingly enough slums have many of the qualities that make thriving cities frequently promoted by urban planners: They are pedestrian-friendly, high-density, mixed-use, and made of recycled materials, usually debris from adjacent formal cities. “American and European cities could learn from these informal settlements as an example for low-rise, high-density development. They have an intensive street life, the public space is not much but well used, as opposed to the suburban model, which is completely inefficient,” Werthmann said. “There is a need for an in-between model, that is not the highrise of Manhattan or Sao Paulo.” The overall sentiment of the conference was that urban living is the most sustainable way to live, so it was interesting that the counterpart of retrofitting shantytowns—fixing suburbia—didn’t come up. It would have been nice to see more ideas like that and less of distant, zero-carbon cities for a privileged few, like Foster’s Masdar project in Abu Dhabi.
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Shovel Oh So Ready

Architect and friend of AN Jeremiah Joseph writes in with this report of the March 27 WORKac lecture, "Shovel Ready," at Parsons. Amale Andraos and Dan Wood, of the 2008 PS1 Warm-Up pavilion fame, tag team presented their work to a standing room only crowd. With a range of projects, from buildings to urban proposals, the duo showed the office's penchant for both intelligence and wit. Like many young offices most of WORKac's work is still in the realm of unbuilt projects, but with five competitions already completed in 2009 this office has no intention of waiting around casually for the work to knock on their door. Of the work presented, two New York buildings showed off the office's intelligent concepts executed through reduced forms. They push the ideas, but are careful to not allow overly exuberant design blur the intent of their work. The Headquarters' for Diane von Furstenberg in the Meatpacking district showed their aptitude for laying out simple concepts that are translated, quite directly, into built reality. The project uses the stair, one of the most commonplace and yet ceaselessly studied elements in architecture, to turn what could be a mundane office building into an object of both clarity and poetry. Starting at the ground floor entry the stair slips up through the old warehouse building to reveal in single moment the sky above. A relatively simple move, but deftly handled, it flips the reading of the building's dark brick exterior by lighting the interior and yet at the same moment pulls visitors sense of the space up, through, and out the roof. In their proposal for the Kew Gardens Library in Queens (a project soon to start construction) WORK ac inverts the interior methods of the Diane von Furstenberg HQ by wrapping an existing building with a new facade and roof. Expanding the building's footprint towards the street they apply a new double-bent gull wing roof covered with flora. The new form, boosting the height of the building and allowing clerestory lighting into the interior, is clad at the upper portion of the facade with pre-cast concrete panels and new, open curtain wall down to the street. It is important to credit New York City's Design and Construction Excellence program for allowing WORK ac produce a project like this. It may be a bit self-serving to suggest this project gives hope to the architecture community that it will be able to continue producing good/smart/important work during a time of economic turbulence. But with the likely (and potentially healthy) collapse of the opulent condo market, the program sends a positive message to the community-at-large that quality design benefits everyone, not just the wealthy few. Of the work shown it was interesting to see that to date WORK ac is strongest in their urban proposals. The Green Belt City competition for Las Vegas started off with clear-minded analysis of the site issues. By the middle of the presentation they revealed their OMA pedigree, a tendency to tackle problems as the witty prankster who actually does know best. Yet at the end they zoom past overly reduced forms and slight of hand design moves to produce something both smart and beautiful. With their final project, a preview of a competition yet to be made public, they showed an amusing foray into the world of paper architecture. The project, a tower in lower Manhattan, was commissioned as a real world study of an urban condition, but the architects believe they, the client, and the architecture community are best served by going for broke. With an appropriate suspension of disbelief they stack and pin-wheel a series of slabs composed of archetypal sections of the city's urban fabric onto a hyper-eco-energy-friendly core. Although little of this piece itself is feasible, WORK ac likeably reveals untapped potentials in tower design and brings to light the potential for subtler, real-world solutions that would be just as relevant and powerful. With the amount of work produced so far it is a good bet WORKac will continue to generate engaging architecture. A risk the office faces is becoming typecast as new eco-architects. Although this may help bring attention, and put work on their boards, it would be too narrow of a category for their talent. An exhibition on WORKac is on view at Parsons The New School for Design, 25 East 13 Street, Second Floor, through April 18. A second exhibition, called 49 Cities, will be on view at the Storefront for Art and Architecture, 97 Kenmare Street, starting on April 14.