Parts 1 and 2 of this series of posts introduced the idea of opening up a broader perspective on architecture, landscape, and urban design that I’m calling “a new humanism”.
Parts 3 through 9 outlined the first step – tracing out the evolutionary origins of innate skills, propensities, and motivations that lead us to respond to built environments the ways we do – from the competitive drive for individual security, survival and prosperity to the equally deep-seated cooperative impulses that lead us to settle in communities. They explored our powerful links to the natural world, the continuous search for order and orientation and the creativity that gives us a unique niche in every ecosystem we invade.
Part 10 now starts a series of eight posts that take a deeper look at “experience” itself – what is it like to be there – focusing on how the evolved mind that encounters architecture works in practice.
First though, a note about words: “Architecture” is simply a brief way to say architecture, landscapes, and urban places – “the built environment.” And I use the term “designers” as an abbreviated way to say “architects, landscape architects, land planners, urban designers, interior designers, and the decision-making clients and governments who direct them.” This does not, of course, imply a hierarchy of professions, but the word “architecture” has a general sense of an overall, organized structure of things. Likewise, I am not implying the common distinction between architecture as “high art” and “mere building”. We live in both – and mostly in the latter. The total built environment is the art and science that no one can escape.
“Encounters” is more complex. The whole body is involved. Like searchlights, all of the senses are continually seeking out information – promises of pleasure and opportunity, threats and trouble, orientation and aids to navigation. And forms, light, color, sounds, warmth and movement, become sequences of “cues,” signs and symbols that call up memories and beliefs, magnified by our body-state and linked-in emotions. The searches and these sensations naturally become interlaced, consciously and unconsciously, with other streams of thought and feelings already flowing, “in here”, along channels shaped by our specific role or purposes of the moment. In a sense, it’s like the theater with playwright, director/actors, and audience interacting to create “experience”.
Vierzenheiligen – a Bavarian Baroque church, a blaze of light immediately
engages the whole mind and body – and promises still more
I have mixed feelings about the sea of mail that inundates us around the holidays. Having worked with architecture firms for many years, I’ve had the card versus email greeting debate time and again (and, admittedly, landed on both sides over the years). But once in a while, I receive a card that reminds me what thought and intentionality can do for the “hard copy” format.
KieranTimberlake’s annual message of good wishes is a five panel, fold out card. On the one side there are elegant, muted-hue diagrams from five of the firm’s green roof projects, illustrating how the vegetation has evolved over time. The Middlebury College Atwater Commons project, for instance, is shown in 2003 and 2012; the other depictions vary in duration. All prompt careful study.
Entrance: As visitors enter the new Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science, they will be surrounded by lush landscaping that is built into the structure itself. The 250,000 square-foot complex is intended to act as a demonstration of ecological and sustainability principle, with the building harnessing energy from water, sun, wind and even museum visitors to power exhibits and conserve resources.
“There is no Plan B, because there is no Planet B,” said UN secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon at Stanford University earlier this year. In the decades since we first glimpsed Earth suspended in space and seemingly without boundaries, we’ve been learning to become aware of the fragility of life. We now know that the planet can quite happily continue without us. Bacteria and probably cockroaches will survive most disasters, but with a population of 7 billion and growing, it’s not so evident that our species can do the same.
Promenade: The open plaza of the new Patricia and Philip Frost Museum of Science will lead visitors to the Energy Playground and the adjacent Jorge M. Perez Art Museum of Miami-Dade County.
Life depends on energy for every necessary exchange. At each stage of that exchange, some energy is lost as heat or as increased disorder or entropy. Most of this energy comes from the sun. Life depends on how well we manage this exchange.
We live in that very narrow interface where conditions are hospitable to human life and, as the sun slowly runs out of energy; if we waste it, we hasten our demise. Of course, in geological terms, this is a long way off. We can, however, address the issues here and now and see what we can do to make our planet a great place for more of us to live – hence the importance of earth sciences.
Evening signage: At night, the new Museum of Science will be illuminated with various colors of light and signage, reflected on the planetarium and building structure.
We had modest goals when we first took on the “ideas competition” to design the office building of the future. All we wanted was to use the tight deadline–the discipline and structure that comes with a competition–to organize our ideas about the future of office buildings. In the beginning we saw this as a way to engage in an internal debate about a myriad of related topics. We began as we always do, asking many questions. This time, though, we went beyond our usual inquiry: Will there even be office buildings in the future? How will people want and need to work in an office 15 or 20 years from now? What impact will technology have on design and engineering? But we never once asked, “What will it look like?”
As principals, we calculate the risk against the rewards for our architecture practice. Naively, we guessed that this project would involve a few weeks of work for those staff members who weren’t fully employed on other projects. Our economic risk would be minimal. Our reward would be a 10-minute presentation to show our developer clients, inspiring their thinking about office buildings. With no clear vision of what could happen, we nevertheless pushed our team to reach for something beyond what they already knew. If we were going to enter this competition, then we were in it to win. Go big or go home.
The effect on the office was profound. We took the opportunity to look over the horizon, unfettered by the normal project restrictions and, in the process, energized everyone. Suddenly they all wanted to get involved. We engaged the best engineers to contribute their ideas. We decided to do a video (which we’d never done before). Most importantly, we would allow ourselves to dream. Suddenly the risk expanded far beyond a monetary risk. Now we were taking an emotional risk as well, pouring our hearts and minds into a collaborative effort and then, perhaps, ending up being disappointed with the outcome. When we announced to the office, over champagne, that we had been named one of four winners nationally, everyone cheered!
Data is becoming the designer’s new best friend. Urban designers, architects, and landscape architects – whether they’ve realized it yet, or not – will soon be integrating massive sets of data into every design they do.
Esri representatives show a 3D computer model of a skyline and view analysis at the GeoDesign Summit, courtesy of Esri
These fields are entering the age of geodesign, an emerging concept that melds the geospatial data of geographic information systems, or GIS, with simulation and design evaluation techniques. Through geographic analysis of the various streams of data relating to a project and its site, geodesign creates the potential for real-time vetting of design ideas within the grander context of the site. From hydrology and habitat to traffic patterns and energy regimes, multitudes of data are now easily available and nearly as easily integrated into the designs of the built environment. Designers can quickly know how a 10-story building would affect shadows, water stresses, parking demands, and solar energy potential in a neighborhood. Or how those factors would change if it were 15 stories. Or how such a project would be affected by 15 inches of sea level rise over the next decade.
The applications run wide and long – from weighing transit oriented development versus traditional development along an as-yet-unbuilt light rail line to assessing stakeholder support for various redevelopment schemes to analyzing the impact of a proposed roadway on the grazing patterns of wildlife in a national park. Planners, designers, and resource managers are using geodesign for all of these projects and more. Projects like these were highlighted at the recent GeoDesign Summit, a two-day conference held at the Redlands, California headquarters of GIS software powerhouse Esri. Example after example showed how geospatial information could not only inform the design process, but actually improve the way projects respond to and relate with that information.
As we wound down our a charrette, an exercise somewhere between a Top Chef “quick fire” and a game of “exquisite corpse,” we remembered seeing flickering pixels, oversized movable louvers, folding organ-like planes, and stretching ribbons. Our research yielded a number of innovative precedents –both theoretical and built– from architects and engineers experimenting with movable facades around the world. We had examined automated fins and shading umbrellas, tessellated screens and adaptive fritting from ABI, the homeostatic façades from Decker Yeadon, and the Aegis Hyposurface from Goulthorpe, among others.
But it was not enough that these façade components moved, either by means of carefully controlled computerized programming or by more rudimentary manual, hydraulic, or mechanical means. The movement that we were trying to describe was different. It had to be tied to performance. It had to respond to the sun. As Mike Hickok often said, it had to behave “more like a plant, less like a machine.” With our newly acquired understanding, how could we propose a future in which shading devices would deploy and contract biomimetically, like the artificial muscles we studied, in response to the sun?
Then we had a rude awakening. How could we even begin to tinker with these shapes with our limited experience, with the kind of software that had the capabilities to produce what we needed? Clearly we had found ourselves at the convergence of technology, media, and representation. We needed to make leaps in all three. As Lisa Iwamoto describes on her book Digital Fabrications[i], our design had to inform and be informed by its modes of representation and production. We had to go beyond, way beyond, the limitations of what we traditionally produced in-house and do it at the fast pace of a design competition. At once we were dealing with modeling software shortcomings, researching smart materials, studying artificial muscles, defining performance, contracting out the scripting of algorithms, buying software, and storyboarding the presentation to determine deliverables and staff allocation.
Rhino image of ribbon
Mike Fischer[ii], a fifth young designer was brought on board, contracted to work side by side with our team to help with computational modeling and scripting. We shifted to Rhino, a NURBS-based modeling software that would allow us to conceptualize, tinker, and control our shading strands. While developing the component, we needed to test it across the façade. Mapping it and remapping it to control its size, density, and openness required formulas–a lot of formulas–which we crunched in Grasshopper.
My Game Changers profile on Edward Mazria focused on the nature of the architect’s activism. How does an organization of less than five full-time employees have such a big impact? Ed’s genius was in reframing the issue of climate change as a design problem, with easily defined goals (not easy to achieve goals, but with a clear path forward). Just as important, Mazria’s group, Architecture 2030 encourages organizations to take ownership of the issue. There are no better examples than the 2030 Districts popping up all over the country. Each is a local response to a global problem. Recently I talked to Brian Geller, executive director of the Seattle 2030 District about the birth of his organization and the way forward.
Brian Geller, executive director of Seattle 2030 District
Martin C. Pedersen: Ed Mazria calls his group, Architecture 2030 a “seeding organization.” Your effort in Seattle is certainly a good example of that.
Brian Geller: It’s true. It’s interesting to note that when your “Architects Pollute” issue came out in 2003, I was in architecture school in New York, and it was something I vividly remember. That story had a big impact on me, on deciding where I wanted to go with my career.
MCP: How did the Seattle 2030 district begin?
BG: It started about three years ago. I was working as a sustainability specialist at ZGF Architects. I was working at the Seattle office. Bob Zimmerman, the managing partner of the office, had just come back from a conference in Chicago and was telling me about this de-carbonization study that Adrian Smith and Gordon Gill had worked on. Bob said: “It sounds fascinating. I’m surprised that Seattle hasn’t undertaken something like that.” I took that little nugget back to my desk and was thinking it over. It sounded like a great idea. But I thought that if we wanted to do something like that here, it seemed that a study was not the right approach. So I made this map. I started with Seattle’s steam distribution map. We’ve got a small district steam utility here in downtown. They were in the process of building a biomass boiler that would reduce the carbon footprint of their entire operations by 50 percent, and the heating-related carbon footprint of the two hundred buildings attached to them by half as well. There was other great stuff going on, too. There were a number of large building owners undertaking portfolio-wide certification, putting together important tenant engagement programs. The city was about to pass a disclosure ordinance, requiring building owners to benchmark their properties and disclose some of the data to the city. All of this stuff was happening, but it was happening somewhat siloed. So I took their map, put on the ten largest property owners and managers that I knew downtown, who were all doing cool things, and went to a few people in the city, and other architects and engineers, and said, “Look, this is what they’re doing in Chicago. They’re doing a study. But if we did something like this here, and instead of doing a study, invited these people on this map in, we would cover a lot of downtown. We could get all of these large entities measuring their progress the same way, united around one set of goals.” I told them, “You’ll get a lot farther together than you would on your own.” They’d learn a lot from each other. They wouldn’t be duplicating efforts. Hopefully, they’d be generating more work for everybody in the city. People liked the idea.
If something between $467 million to $504 million were about to be spent in your back yard, wouldn’t you want to know what those dollars would buy and add your voice to the discussion?
Map of the Gowanus Canal Superfund Study Area, courtesy EPA
Those dollar amounts reflect the estimated cost for cleaning up the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn, NY. The canal, an EPA (US Environmental Protection Agency) Superfund site, is an extremely polluted body of water with hazardous materials like coal tar, oil, metals, and other toxins. These contaminants are resting in the sediments at the bottom of the canal. The EPA’s job is to study the area, determine who is responsible for the contamination, create a plan for clean up, and oversee the clean up, which is paid for by the responsible parties. The EPA does this with the objective of removing risk to human and ecological (plant and animal) life in and around the canal.
January 23rd Carroll Gardens EPA Public Meeting, photo by Ryan A Cunningham
To help them achieve that objective, the EPA has defined a series of 9 criteria for evaluating the alternatives for clean up. Many of these criteria focus on common sense things like smart, efficient, and safe actions; but there is one very key criteria that you should care about, “Community Acceptance”.
January 23rd Carroll Gardens EPA Public Meeting, photo by Ryan A Cunningham
Community acceptance is what makes this a great time to speak up. Right now the EPA is in the Proposed Plan Comment Period, which is the time when the agency is required by law to take comments on its proposal for how to clean the canal; and they must respond to these comments in documented form.
Why comment? Here are a couple of reasons.
- Everyone is listening – Politicians, businesses, and the media are all watching very closelyhow the various groups involved, including the community, are responding to the plan.
- It’s on the record – Community groups, mission driven organizations, and concerned citizens not only can know they are being heard, but will actually see their comments (or similar ones), answered in written form by the EPA.
- Now is the time – The public comment period is the primary time that the community has to comment on the proposed plan. It’s open till March 28, and after that, there will be a lot less attention paid to the comments and questions surround the plan.
In the course of reporting my piece on Edward Mazria, I had a very interesting conversation with Andrew C. Revkin, for years an environmental reporter for the New York Times. Today he writes the paper’s Dot Earth Blog and also teaches at Pace University. A big admirer of Mazria, Revkin has an altogether clear-eyed view of the environmental road ahead. An edited version of our talk follows:
Martin C. Pedersen: First off, what’s your role at Pace?
Andrew C. Revkin: I am Senior Fellow for Environmental Understanding at the Academy for Applied Environmental Studies. And I co-teach three courses. One is a new course I’ve launched called Blogging a Better Planet. In the spring I co-teach a documentary production course, where we do films on sustainability topics, and an environmental science communication course.
MCP: You’ve been aware of Ed’ Mazria’s role in the environmental movement for a while. How would you characterize it?
ACR: His case—and it’s a good and simple one—is that buildings really matter. He’s trying to shift how we design them, and how we design architects, as well.
MCP: How does his advocacy differ from someone like Bill McKibben http://www.350.org/?
ACR: I think Ed is focusing on things that are imminently more doable. Bill is very good about building movements around numbers, but has not adequately articulated how you get there. In other words, besides yelling at fossil fuel companies. That may be something that needs to be done, but it’s not a path that will actually change a lot of things. Ed is working in a space where there’s a lot to be done, both on existing structures and on new buildings. There’s huge potential to make big gains.
In our previous post, “Tree Tag…You’re It”, we let you in on the details of what landscape architects call “tree tagging,” as well as my spring experience with tulip poplars, and some of the challenges we face in the field during the selection process. Here we discuss the post-tagging process.
The landscape architect’s job doesn’t end when she leaves the nursery. The trees we’ve selected must be maintained, cared for, and prepped in anticipation of delivering them to the project for installation. This multi-step process involves digging up the trees from the field, preparing each tree by its root condition, packaging, delivery, and finally, installation.
Tulip poplars (Liriodendron tulipifera) tagged in spring 2012 were alive and well at the nursery in the fall . . .and had grown over an inch in caliper in five months!
Digging trees is dictated by the calendar year and season, as well as by planned installation schedules, and even specific plant types.
Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichtum) trees tagged in the field are dug and balled in burlap by machinery in early spring, prior to the planting season.
A tulip poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera), for instance, isn’t a picky tree, but others certainly are. Trees we call “fall dig hazards” drop their leaves well into the season—they don’t go dormant until very late in the fall. These finicky species include hawthorn, sweetgum, cherry, and pear trees. (more…)
Interior lighting has a profound influence on our psychological and physiological processes, so say researchers. Light affects our hormonal and chemical balance, sleep patterns, productivity, and mood. With the incandescent bulb on the verge of extinction and the global push for energy efficiency, we continue to seek environmentally friendly lighting alternatives. But some new lighting technologies, such as the CFL bulb, contain mercury and other hazardous chemicals while they emit UV radiation, which could pose long-term health risks including cancer, depression, diabetes, and fatigue. As we spend some 90 percent of our time indoors, we need to find other design alternatives that promote a healthy interior and protect the environment.
Feng Shui, the ancient Chinese art and science, can help. The practice suggests that the strategic placement of light sources in a room can improve our health and wellbeing. The proper distribution of electromagnetic radiation transmitted by light is fundamental and Feng Shui strives to enhance quality of life by channeling positive (Qi) energy to create a perfectly balanced environment. In addition, the shape, material, and color temperature of a lighting fixture should be carefully considered in order to promote wellness. I designed the fixtures in this blog, following by Feng Shui principles, to counteract some of the most common illnesses that affect millions each year.
Depression Lamp Sketch and Photo
With an estimated 19 million Americans diagnosed with depression, an accent lamp may be ideal to counteract this psychological disorder as it focuses energy in a specific area of the room. The lamp would feature two nodes of linen burlap fabric encased in glass and connected by a stainless steel frame, in order to boost self-confidence and mental strength. According to Feng Shui, glass exhibits properties of slow, sinking “water” energy, also seen in those who are depressed. When glass is used in conjunction with linen fabric and a 4,000K LED lamp, the glass functions to cool down anger and stress. The north side of the living room and the southeast corner of the bedroom are optimal locations to achieve balance and reduce exposure to electromagnetic energy. (more…)
On a flight into Phoenix I was thinking of light as a metaphor for ideas. I thought of the city lights as a field of minds in a network of shared ideas. As I found my way to Taliesin West in northeast Scottsdale, memories ebbed and flowed with the illumination of the roads that, at each turn, gave way to an experience that embedded itself in my personal map of this metropolitan area in the Arizona desert.
There is always a moment before reaching Taliesin West at night where city lights disappear. Suddenly suspended in the darkness of the desert, I turned on my inner light—my knowledge of the place that has been embedded in my memory through living at the camp where Frank Lloyd Wright pioneered the principles of Organic Architecture. Slowly, the camp reveals itself through deliberate lighting, as ideas to be contemplated. I walked through this silent masterpiece, listening to the old ideas and observing the potential ones to come from Minding Design, a symposium on neuroscience, design education, and the imagination.
Last November the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation and School of Architecture hosted this full day symposium, bringing together the ideas and research of architects and neuroscientists in a series of presentations and panel discussions. Juhani Pallasmaa, Michael Arbib, Jeanne Gang, and Ian McGilchrist were the keynote speakers in a dialogue that explored the opportunities of cross-pollination between architecture and neuroscience. The range of discussions was impressive and left my mind saturated with seeds of light/ideas and questions to contemplate and assimilate into my own design process.
As a longtime subscriber to NASA News Services and a frequent user of Google Maps I get to see some thrilling and, often sobering, views of the Earth from space. For some time now, I’ve been watching the polar ice cap recede at an alarming rate while hoping that millions of others, too, are looking at the same images. It’s hard to deny that climate change is real when the evidence is right in front of you.
Image Credit: NASA/Aqua
Now we have another image to ponder: Snow Covered Desert. This phenomena, notes NASA, is “rare but that’s exactly what the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite observed as it passed over the Taklimakan Desert in western China on Jan. 2, 2013. Snow has covered much of the desert since a storm blew through the area on Dec. 26. (more…)