Granted he's won the Pritzker Prize and had a string of recent successes, but all the same we were more than surprised to get a forwarded White House press release from Morphosis today touting the appointment of Thom Mayne, one of the industry's gruffer individuals, to the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities. He is the only practicing architect on the list. Created in 1982, the committee, according to its website, brings, well, the arts and humanities into the White House. Headed by the First Lady, activities under the previous administration included an "unprecedented" cultural exchange with China, a "bi-national cultural communique" with Mexico, and the creation of the Coming Up Taller awards to honor school-age artists. Of the 24 other committee members, there is one other architect, Christine Forester, though she has left the field for marketing and branding in the 1980s according to the release. Noted green guy and urban thinker Ed Norten is also a committee member, as are other notables Teresa Heinz Kerry, Yo-Yo Ma, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kerry Washington, Forest Whitaker, and Anna Wintour. And despite our initial suspicions, a search of public records show no political contributions on behalf of Mayne.
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The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee released its energy bill today. The main talking point is that the bill sponsored by Barbara Boxer and John Kerry takes a tougher stance on emission reductions than the House bill, shooting for 20 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, as opposed to 17 percent. But the bills share some comforting similarities, at least for architects. Just like the house bill, which we wrote about in July, the Boxer-Kerry bill includes important measures targeted at buildings, among them stricter building codes and retroactive efficiency standards for retrofitted buildings. Along with the bill passed by the Senate's Energy and Natural Resources Committee in June, which called for other efficiency standards, Andrew Goldberg, the senior director for federal relations at the AIA, said the Senate stands to create strong, architecturally intensive standards Goldberg said one piece of the House bill that is missing is the GREEN Act, which encourages banks to offer better loans to sustainable projects. Because of the nature of the Senate, such provisions would actually have to be worked out in a separate committee, though Goldberg said he remains confident in the act's prospects. Another issue where the AIA is looking for improvement over the House bill is the allocation of funds generated by the sale of cap-and-trade credits. The Senate has yet to divvy up those credits—of which there could be more, in light of higher standards—but Goldberg is hoping for more than the 10 percent given over building related initiatives like training building operators and funding green public housing. "With the built environment accounting for 40 percent of greenhouse emissions in the country, we want to keep hammering home that buildings are the key to energy efficiency," Goldberg said. Which is not to say the AIA expects 40 percent of the cap-and-trade funds—improving the energy grid and using more renewable energy will go a long way toward addressing buildings' energy usage, though the feeling is buildings deserve more than they are getting in the House bill. Plus, building improvements not only mean greenhouse reductions but more of those vaunted green collar jobs.
Our dear friends Mike Bloomberg and Arnold Schwarzenegger and their pal Ed Rendell dropped by Washington this weekend, first to visit with President Obama and then, today, Meet the Press. They were in town to promote their two-month old partnership, Building America's Future, which seeks to promote the reconstruction of the nation's aging infrastructure along with its expansion into the future. Details on the White House meeting are scant. Newsday says it lasted an hour, and CBS News reports that the trio had a tripartite message for the president:
[Rendell] said the three men delivered three messages to the president and his team of advisors. One, that the president should take control of the infrastructure debate. Secondly, that a so-called “infrastructure bank” is essential. And three, that all funding possibilities should be explored. [...] "The president gets it," Bloomberg said. "This is about the future of our country. Whether it is transportation or water or other things, we need to invest now so that our children and grandchildren will have a future."According to NY1, there's still much work to be done:
Bloomberg acknowledged that infrastructure projects produce limited immediate jobs, but Schwarzenegger said that vehicular and mass transit systems need bailouts of their own. "We have maybe spent $900 billion to $1 trillion in the next five years, but we really should be spending $2.2 trillion in the next five years in order to keep up with the demand," said California's governor.You can also watch Building For America's press conference from the White House lawn on YouTube. If all that weren't enough, the three shed more light on their ideas during their Meet the Press appearance (transcript here). Rendell put it best:
MR. GREGORY: So, Governor Rendell, first of all, it was Governor Schwarzenegger who said infrastructure's not a very sexy word when it comes to building political will. What are we talking about here? Bridges, roads, what else? GOV. ED RENDELL (D-PA): Well, it's not just transportation infrastructure. First of all, high-speed rail. This country desperately needs to build a high-speed rail passenger system. We need to improve our rail freight system. But it's not just transportation. It's the levees that failed in Cedar Rapids and New Orleans. It's dams, it's water and wastewater systems. It's so much more. And the message is fairly clear. We started Building America's Future because we think this is about the future. We think it's about generations down the road. And unless we can rebuild our infrastructure, we're not going to be competitive. Unless we can rebuild our infrastructure, our quality of life is going to suffer. Unless we rebuild our infrastructure, things like what happened in Minnesota are going to repeat. MR. GREGORY: Bridge collapse. We took a poll, Building America's Future, and the poll showed the American people are willing pay for infrastructure improvements, pay more taxes, if they believe it'll be done in a nonpolitical way, if the choices made will be good choices based on cost benefit analysis. That was our message to the president. We're willing to support him. We think the infrastructure bank is terrific. We need to do it in a little bit bigger scale.Perhaps the most intriguing part of the group's work is its desire to drive infrastructure expansion through the issuance of bonds and the cultivation of public-private partnerships:
MAYOR BLOOMBERG: Yes, the amount of stimulus in the--the amount of money in the infrastructure package is a small amount. But Governor Rendell--who deserves all the credit, I think Arnold would agree with me, to putting this organization together--has talked about how you can leverage that money. And today it takes a while to get projects going. This president's willing to face the issues and he's going to have to work with Congress. [...] MR. GREGORY: Right. And we talk about private equity. There's so much money in this economy on the sidelines with nowhere to go and nobody wanting to assume any risk. So if there's this kind of private sector money, how would it work? If they--if private equity or hedge funds want to put up money for a light rail system, fast rail system around the country, what's in it for them? GOV. SCHWARZENEGGER: Well, it's a, it's a great investment. I mean, that's what--it's like when you look at British Columbia or other places where they have a public-private partnership, where everyone is happy. Businesses are happy, the people are happy, labor is happy, the politicians are happy. I mean, everyone is happy. We want to do the same thing. We should--the United States should copy that kind of a principle so that you can go out there and build. GOV. RENDELL: There's so many innovative ways to, to use the tax code to get private investment involved in this. There are innovative ways. David, we don't have a capital budget, a federal capital budget. We're the only governmental subdivision in the country without one. You could finance--for $30 billion a year, which these days is not a lot of money, you could finance almost $400 billion to put up front in an infrastructure repair program administered through something like the infrastructure bank.While public-private partnerships have, indeed, been a success in the past, they also pose problems, as recent hitches resulting from the recession have shown. Furthermore, to propose "leveraged," perhaps highly leveraged, deals with the same private equity and hedge fund firms that got us into the mess this infrastructure is supposed to get us out seems suspect. Just imagine what an infrastructure bubble might look like. Probably lots of bridges to nowhere. Where the coalition is headed from here remains to be seen, but if Bloomberg's similar effort, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, is any indication--to say nothing of his work reshaping the city's physical culture--it's due for a smashing success.
As if President Barack Obama hasn't already had enough problems with vetting his Cabinet, it now turns out Adolfo Carrión, the former Bronx borough president and newly minted director of the Office of Urban Policy, may have failed to pay an architect who performed work on his house. An architect whose sizable project the Beep happened to sign off on just months before renovations took place. The Daily News broke the story on Monday and has been following it closely ever since. But it was today in the Times that we got what we'd really been waiting for. No, not news that the Bronx district attorney's office is looking into the allegations, though that is good to hear, too. What we had yet to see so far was a good picture of the house, which, as you can see above, is none too shabby. (Google Street View just wasn't doing it because, as best we can tell, the house is down a long driveway.) To bring you up to speed, on Monday, the News alleged that Carrión had not paid his architect, Hugo Subotovsky, for renovation work dating to 2006. The paper also noted that around the same time, the architect had gotten approval from Carrión during the ULURP process for Boricua Village, a 452-unit, mixed-use development project that includes a new campus for Boricua College, the independent university serving a largely Latino student body. Two days later, Carrión acknowledged that he failed to pay the architect for the work, which entailed adding a porch and balcony to his Victorian house on City Island at a reported cost of about $36,000, including $3,627.50 in architectural fees. Carrión said he had yet to pay the architect because a "final survey" had not yet been filed with the city, despite the work being completed in early 2007. The same story also noted that Carrión had actually signed off on three of Subotovsky's projects:
In a second case, Carrión recommended approval of a housing development on St. Ann's Ave. on May 27, 2008. Two months later, he announced he was sponsoring $3 million in taxpayer funds for the project. Carrión approved a third project, an 8-story, 128-unit housing complex called Shakespeare Place, on Oct. 24, 2007.The thing is, if you know anything about the ULURP process, there should be nothing unseemly about a borough president signing off on a local architect's work, especially one, who, from the look of his site, practices almost exclusively in said borough. The problem is that Carrión should know better. For an honorable project like the Boricua campus and a hard-working architect to get sucked into a political morass is a shame. And yet, Carrión was out there today defending himself, claiming that he had done nothing wrong and would pay the fees in due course.
As if we haven't written enough about Barack Obama or schools of late (what can we say, we're in the tank with the rest of the press), we still can't help but weigh in on the Obamas' decision to send their daughters to the Sidwell Friends School. Sure, there's been tons said already about the school's Quaker values and its symbolic standing in D.C., even the hypocrisy of the choice. But what really matters--and hopefully speaks volumes for the coming administration--is the school itself. No, not the teachers. We're talking about the building, and the middle school in particular, which happens to be the first LEED Platinum grade school in the country. Here's what I wrote about the school in a Studio Visit last year with the firm behind the project, KieranTimberlake Associates (KTA):
The Sidwell Friends School has always fostered environmental stewardship, as befits the Quaker values on which the institution was founded. When it came time to renovate the dilapidated red brick middle school, administrators realized they had an opportunity to turn the entire school into a green classroom. "Everywhere the building functions environmentally, they wanted it to be an opportunity for learning," KTA senior associate Richard Maimon said. Among the features KTA included are a green roof that functions as a garden and lab; a graywater system that not only feeds a lush wetland but includes a diagram--which hangs near the wetland for all to see--explaining the system; and wooden louvres reclaimed from old wine barrels, which, like most of the material, are locally sourced. "It may be the only LEED Platinum school in the country, but the real point is to teach," Maimon said.Steve Kieran happened to be visiting the school on Monday, just days after the announcement was made, and said that everyone was thrilled by the news, including himself. "Sure, I'm proud," he said in a phone interview from the firm's offices in Philadelphia. "In this regard, it's probably the totality of the whole picture that's involved [that drove the Obamas' decision]. Certainly part of that picture is the whole greening of the campus and having the first LEED Platinum school." "It's a wonderful thing for us and the school, it's a wonderful thing for green design," he added. "Given Obama's stated agenda, it would be stunning if it weren't part of the decision to attend." While only Malia, 11, will start off at the school straight away as she enters fifth grade, her younger sister, Sasha, 7, has four years at the lower school to contend with first. We bet it's worth the wait.