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Sustainable Environments and the Importance of Socially Integrated Communities

 

Author: Evangelos Limpantoudis, LEED AP

Lately everyone seems to be talking about the significance of sustainable living, the necessity for reducing our average carbon footprint, the importance of recycling, reusing, retrofitting, weatherizing, greening, and purchasing products made of recycled materials… (Notice they did not say do not buy as much, just buy different, but still a lot). Still, many people are very confused. The first question that comes to mind is: “Why is this my business?” After receiving their answer (that humankind is steadily moving towards extinction) their question tends to be: “Why me, I’m too small?” After they realize that they are one of the billions of humans polluting, littering etc., they realize that their contribution is significant enough. Then, the defense mechanism of “I’m gonna be dead by the time this happens” kicks in. However, if it does not, if they consider themselves not disconnected from humanity, then the natural reaction of many is to be concerned and seek ways to help improve the situation.

A few years ago this happened to architects. Not the professional architects of course, but students at various architecture schools. I was one of them. We heard about sustainable architecture, its purpose and its potential, and we were encouraged to jump in and start a new architecture movement for a sustainable future.

As I looked through all the guidelines of what was described as sustainable architecture, I noticed that much of the attention was on using a bunch of methods and materials during the design and construction of the building. What I did not see was guidelines that described how the architecture of our homes and our cities today could keep people from driving everywhere, having four cars per family, using endless plastic bags, replacing trees with pavement, leaving their lights and computers on all night, or buying a million different chemical substances that inevitably end up in our water. Nothing really made sense to me, and it felt like everyone was starting at the wrong place. But what was the right place?

At that point I decided to leave architecture school for a while. I left and returned home to Greece. I had missed my parents, but inside me there was the desire to isolate and reflect on this question, so I took off and went to Mount Athos along with my father. We stayed at a monastery where we always stay, and spent our time fishing and hiking. Between these endeavors, I would sit at the balcony of the dormitory and look at the courtyard of the monastery. I remember realizing that the monks seem to constantly be working. I had been among them before of course, but I had never taken an interest in observing their lifestyle. I also noticed that most of the monks were out working in the fields, and few were in workshops painting pictures (that would later be available for sale), or repairing the many structures of the monastery. I was amazed. This was a society of active, calorie-burning individuals, who produced their own food, walked to work instead of driving as they worked only a few feet away from where they lived, knew enough about pretty much everything at least at a basic level, which allowed them to repair the building, and expressed themselves creatively through artistic and spiritual tasks. Let’s sum up: a) Proximity of live/work/interract places, b) agricultural microeconomy, c) Physically active life, d) spiritual and creative outlets. To these, let me add “sharing” pretty much everything, from machines, to food, to each other’s skills. They also ate together while listening to scriptures.

I must admit, I am not a religious man. I have heard it several times from my grandmothers about my attitude towards religion. I must say, however, that there was something spiritual and beautiful about this small religious community, and when I say “spiritual” I mean so in it’s purest form, the most basic levels of living, where the life of the individual becomes impossible to distinguish from the collective life of the community.

The notion of sharing, living and working locally, helping each other, using and re-reusing equipment and materials, living off the earth and simply burning more calories than we intake, became clear in my mind as the basic guidelines for successful sustainable living. I realized that the secret as far as sustainable architecture is concerned does not lie in the scale of the unit as much, but in the scale of the community. Somehow it seemed impossible all of a sudden to achieve sustainable living in American suburbia. No matter how much we push ourselves to be optimistic about it, suburbs and sustainability do not go together. In essence, the suburbs in the U.S. are based on the opposite principles of what I described above. They are based on a culture of disconnection, of isolation from the street and the neighbors (and sometimes our own family members), fragmentation of life, lack of proximity, lack of integration of functions (what Jacobs described as eyes on the street – storekeepers keeping an eye on children playing on the streets – is missing), and most importantly, lack of sharing and Absolute reliance on the car, which means a) pollution (Hybrids included), b) sitting down for an extra two hours each day.

Considering how vast the “problem” (and to me it IS a problem) of the suburbs is, it is hard to ever imagine us in the Megalopolis transforming life for the better… Unless there is a return to the cities, and unless the suburbs slowly transform into actual communities like the one I described above, and unless the people realize that the essence and the only solution to returning to sustainability is in the building of communities, not the building of barriers, which so much of suburban sprawl is about. After we reach these realizations, and after we figure out how to deal with the suburbs, we can Start playing with composting toilets, recycled drywall and all the other techniques and materials that sustainable architecture proposes. Until then, we will still be sitting on a ticking bomb.

I keep photographs of the monastery and often look at them. Some call these monks anachronistic. I call their community “sustainable”, and call on us to use it as a model for the design of our own communities.

Instrumental Thinking

On Education: The Challenges of Instrumental Thinking

Olaf Recktenwalk is an Adjunct Professor of Architecture in the University of Oklahoma.

“But let me tell you a little something about your graduates. When they arrive at my office, I have to spend up to six months training them how to draft and how to letter correctly. What are we teaching them if they can’t perform these basic skills?” A recent comment at the gallery exhibition underscores the continual pressure on architecture schools to provide for real-world preparation. Is a good education not one which promotes skill-related problem solving driven by the demands of the workplace? Are such demands not evidenced by how major offices have recently begun to rank schools according to the productivity level of their graduates? Students that have been intent on exploring alternate modes of architectural knowledge and craft beyond those established by professional authorities are often marginalized in such an environment of production. Faced with an elective course, will a student explore “philosophy of Mannerist Architecture” or “Skill in Drawing Management?” If technique appears to be the outcome of the so-called pre-office years, why engage a liberal arts university at all in this process?

The question of current curricula’s ability to address the challenges of specialization cannot be clearly understood by elaborating on the divergence between practice and academia. Applicable in certain areas of science, the separation of theoretical and practical knowledge is not possible within the sphere of humanities. Based on a humanitarian discipline, an architecture studio requires communication and learning at all scales of making and therefore an interaction with architects, designers, and engineers who have those practical skills to offer. Yet it also needs poetic voices that can nurture a cultural and ethical environment in which students can formulate appropriate boundaries with which to work. The richer and more intense that environment, the less likely ideas are to get lost later on in the realm of productivity. Practical skills are to be absorbed over the lifetime of an architect’s career, and are much more efficiently dealt with in practice than in an educational context where the simulation of the theatre of reality is an ineffectual surrogate. Pushed to become a project with research based qualifications, architecture education draws its models more and more from the hard sciences. Swelling suffers defeat to housing, matter to material performance, and the creating of communicative environments to space planning. Hypotheses and frameworks of investigation provide a methodology of approach wherein raw material or ideas are never understood holistically, but inasmuch as they are useful to the objective model brought to bear on them. Conclusive instrumental knowledge becomes prioritized over what might be perceived as being feeling-based, idiosyncratic, or perhaps personal. Yes, at what cost to the material being dealt with, to the process of investigation, and to the concerns of the human beings involved in the creative act does such research come? Coming to the table with a pre-defined project in search of a definitive conclusion is much like seeing the world through a perspective drawing – the reality beyond is manipulated so as to be coherent, accessible, and even useful. As evident in the drawing technique, interpretations cannot masquerade as truths. Regardless of the strength of the description, the full richness of the world cannot be exhausted by any one perspective. Must such an objectifying move the thought of in opposition to the sensuous reality and the temporal conditions that got one there? If such thought takes us beyond us, must it do so at our own expense? What would it take to transcend without relinquishing the journey through material? In the middle ages, something got in the way of our experience of matter qua matter – namely significance. Matter was not considered to be a blank receptacle for external “research” projections, but came with its meaning already in place. Just as in the case of perspective, no projective techniques can lay claim to the concrete reality of real space. In subjugating the uniqueness of human creativity to a universal condition, the explicit advantage of an instrumental thought process becomes a clear disadvantage in the context of human-based architectural space. Only on a level of abstraction, where in the original situational nature of the world is translated into a system, does such an approach appear useful.

Current architectural education focuses almost exclusively on applicable technical subjects, while most of these matters are firmly in the hands of those better equipped to handle them. Surely architects should be home in such an environment, but they don’t have to imitate engineers or to claim authority in the subject. There exist concerns and areas of knowledge very specific to architecture, such as its cultural, poetic, and social role, that are seriously underrepresented in current curricula. Architecture education should confront what it is that uniquely presents itself within the discipline in lieu of a more dire understanding of the field as a form of applied engineering. Architecture is fundamentally a human discipline, rooted in practical life and characterized by typical human situations such as dining, walking or reading. That the weakest part of our current academic studies is in humanistic research, presents a significant paradox. Unfortunately, most schools of architecture, due to a lack of apprehension or of fundamental leadership, are in little position to take on such a task. Nevertheless, in many parts of the world there exist environments that continue to nurture an understanding of the unique cultural role of architecture.


 

Expert or Anti-Expert

Expert or Anti-Expert: Is that the Question?

Mark Jarzombek is an Associate Professor of the History and Architecture at MIT and the director of History, Theory and Criticism of Architecture and Art at MIT.


The modern notion of ‘an expert’ developed to a large extent in the second half of the nineteenth century in the context of the rise of Enlightenment bourgeoisie. By the 1880s, fields like geology, chemistry, medicine, engineering and related disciplines had begun to establish themselves with tell-tale manifestations like professional organizations, journals and annual meetings. Membership was not based on who one knew or on one’s aristocratic lineage, but on one’s ability to contribute to the field. It was a revolution of sensibilities that has all too often been forgotten in the wake of its success.

Without using too large a brush, however, I should add that the second half of the 19th also saw a remarkable interest in the liberated Ego, and I mean by that not the more limited technical definition coming out of Freud, but the broader, more psychological one with Max Stirner’s truly amazing and underappreciated book the Ego and his Own (1864) setting the tone. Holding the emerging expert culture in suspicion, he argued, for example, that the best violinists were not to be found in the Berlin Philharmonic, but on the docks of Hamburg. I mention this to remind us that expertise has to be seen outside of the insistent singularity that the work evokes. It is a historical formation and a unique by-product of the Enlightenment, and yet it is also through and through, dialectical, provoking its opposite at every turn of the clock. Frederick Winslow Taylor, for example, proposed the principles of scientific management in the same year, 1911, in which Wassily Kandinsky challenged the role of the art expert in the criticism of his paintings.

If expertise has a history that is relatively easy to identify because of its penchant for formalized discursive exchanges – not to mention its capacity to create communities around these exchanges -, the anti-expertise argument is just as tightly bound into the fabric of modernist thinking. In 1903, for example, the cultural critic, Wilhelm Uhde, was so convinced about the eminent death of art history, that he predicted that in the future people will no longer “want to whittle away long hours in the stagnant air of the archives writing catalogues”; they will want instead “to recognize the reality of the aesthetic will in the paradise of human creativity.” Such ideas were particularly attractive to American educators in the 1950’s (as I discuss in my book The Psychologizing of Modernity) when universities were looking for a uniquely American post-war ideology of authentic liberalism. Rudolf Arnheim, for example, wrote that one’s artistic sensibilities could easily be “drowned” by the flood of books, articles, dissertations, speeches, lectures, [and] guides” on the subject.

It would be wrong to see the history of expertise as a battle between the scientists and the artists, or as a struggle between academic and non-academic realities. Both want nothing more than to be seen as the legitimate formulated of the modernist episteme. When Kandinsky wrote the Pedagogische Skizenbuch, he was foreshadowing the notion that anti-experts so-to-speak can have their own standards of disciplinary behavior. It was as if the modernity of the Enlightenment, that had instrumentalized itself into something that we might now call “research,” (a word rarely encountered in academe until about 1890) encountered a different modernity that was based on a research for a rigorously grounded philosophically Ego. From Stirner, we go through Friedrich Nietzsche’s accusation that Immanuel Kant, of all people, was a bad philosopher because he was “too scholarly,” to Wilhelm Dilthey’s position that the historian’s history was less potent that the “history” that one can find in the poems of Lessing. For Edmund Husserl, the scientist’s science was weaker than the more encompassing science of “phenomenologists.” For Martin Heidegger, the knowledge of an urban technocrat pales in comparison to that of a Black Forest farmer. Closer to our time frame, we need only think of phenomenology, and its post 1970s appropriations of academe to see just how close in architectural education certain anti-intellectual trends still are.

At the heart of this is a legitimate and still unresolved crisis about the nature of intellectual production. Art history, in having separated in academe from art studio decades ago, might have won something in clarity, but I would say that architecture won something too by not yet succumbing to a neither-nor resolution of this crisis. It is a discipline where expertise – having come quite late in the game – is still in a struggle with its modernist shadow. In fact, architecture, it might well be said, is the last discipline in academe where expert and non-expert cultures (and its variously associated politics of exclusion and inclusion) still exist without many of the more common standards of disciplinary separation.

This significantly complicates the problem of how – and where – to locate epistemological gravitas in the field of architecture. Yet we have to accept that we are working in a space where the expert and the non-expert, the intellectual and the anti-intellectual, the historian and the designer, the academic and the professional, the disciplined and the purposefully un-disciplined, are, for better or worse – and in various combinations – bound up in each other’s destiny, leaving all of us in the state of uncertainty when it comes to understanding the scope and depth of architectural production. This does not mean that one must accept every brand and flavor of architectural thinking. It means, rather, that given the difficulties in understanding the shape of our discipline’s history, we have to be careful not to slide toward the easy answers.

A Starchitect’s Wisdom on the Profession

A few years back I attended Rafael Vinoly’s Training Program, which he so kindly hosted at the RVA offices. I was part of the first group as I recall, so RV’s teaching methods were a bit untested. However, the essence of the whole seminar (which lasted about 10 weeks or so) was unbelievably enlightening. During the seminar I kept many notes, which I thought I should share with you. Careful , my notes are raw and unpolished, so you might need to make lots of assumptions and stretch your imagination a bit to put them in the right perspective. Overall, however,I think they are extremely useful.

 

1.

– We are here to try and explain the relatively universal tricks of the trade

– Craft is the know-how of architecture. Some form by which processes are applied to make architecture

– It is not about learning about metabolism, but learning about cooking.

– By imitating and following, you can develop your own skills

– Tendency: to confuse talent with knowledge

– the way through which you learn composition is extremely dogmatic, which is what this seminar will also be

– Craft is the direct process of working

– Craft in NOT art – Craft does not contain ideologies

– Art > Esoteric involvement of creator is what is important. Tertiary factors/ people do not matter

– the fact that it is a job makes architecture different

– The approach that perceives the client as a pain in the ass is not correct

Q: How do you build up a position in the profession as a whole?

–          When architecture was completely about the application of dogmas the rules were totally clear. And within them you will be worse or better than somebody else

–          Constantly compare the simplicity of the recipes.

–          The virtue of a technique is that it is perfectionable. A recipe is what it is.

–          We should be interested in buildings that concentrate ideas, not on ideas that need buildings to express them.

–          Architecture is nothing but an extraordinary exercise that is regarding to how a building performs

–          If you are not extremely demanding in controlling the composition, things fall apart

–          The process of architecture is all about referring to precedent.

–          Honesty in terms of what and how you refer, makes the difference.

–          The understanding of whatever we refer to is important. For example it is one thing to design using columns, and other classical element and another to understand the essence of classicism

–          You cannot be confused about your beliefs, about the world, about ANYTHING

–          You MUST develop your ideas, clarify them, and navigate yourself through the ocean of competition. If not, then the experience might be very frustrating.

 

2.

Key Concepts

–          The essence of architecture is getting the job

–          When you get the job you must know how to handle it

–          Handling the job comes through a long process of learning from your mistakes

–          You must create the opportunities to learn, either by asking or by going for jobs.

–          Once someone somewhere gives you an opportunity, you must take it and use it. A) use it as an opportunity to learn, b) Use it as  a job (get paid). For example, in an office, learn 100% about the job you are asked to do. Keep challenging the job, but do not disprespect it by letting things fall apart. Find in the job something that will keep you learning/ moving/ working. The same with a real job. Find something that will keep you learning. Learn – Learn – Learn – and never forget what you learn. Nobody is going to “GIVE” you a job. You must chase it. You have to go for it as many times as you need to until you get it, and even if you do not get it, you will have gained work for your portfolio and experience.

–          Do not forget to always question the roots of a failure (of a non-success). Only through questioning can you reach an improvement

–          Do not forget that in the field of architecture no one knows anything and this important fact is what moves people that know something to higher places.

–          Knowing is EVERYTHING

 

3.

–          The fact that it is a business says something about what we deal with: Money and Design.

–          Architecture is a Profession

–          Architecture is a Business

–          Speculation in architecture is important, yet we must be aware of the fact that it IS

–           Q: How are you capable to understand work when you have and don’t have it

–          When you get the job, reality has a demoralizing effect.

–          “The more concrete the stuff gets, the less spiritual we tend to perceive them as being”.

–          i.e. when you know how to plan the trombone, and have just to  blow.

–          Work is an effort that has to include pleasure in it by virtue of its concreteness.

–          The business today is money intensive.

–          WORK: The most important thing in work is getting it.

–          Only in work is there the ability to make.

–          The profession is polarized around the large offices or the classy boutique firms. Most firms are stuck in the middle.

–          In order to get a job you must lose MANY MANY jobs. The most jobs you do not get, the more you will get.

–          The getting of a job: Philistine operation – selling of what you have to offer.

–          Define your position clearly in the marketplace

–          Position yourself in the market in which you can aspire to get a job, and try hard and all the time, again and again, to get it.

–          HOW à Find the marketplace à Find the job that teaches, you what you need to know à Find a job – a job is a job that pays you à Whatever job you get make sure you place your energy in the right places à be selective: Climb the ladder but be very conscious of your resources, i.e. time etc, whenever you jump and start an office it’s risky.

–          Must get 10, 15,20 million a year in order to begin.

–          Know where and what work is

–          Learn how to get it

–          People try once and not twice

–          You need to learn to play a lot of instruments at the same time

Rick Hauser – The Practice of Architecture in the Heartland

Rick Hauser is a co-founder and principal of In.Site:Architecture, in Perry NY.

To debate exclusively the role of specialization versus generalization in architecture and education marginalizes other practice paradigms that do not fit so snugly into either category. The “specialist” is still a generalist navigating the project through rough seas with a crew of even more specialized consultants. Likewise the generalist at his best has a specialized knowledge of a process and approach to design.

 

OUT THERE

In academic discourse and education, what gets lost is an altogether different divide – the socio-geographic divide. That is, there are those centers of fashion that tend to generate the high profile, high-budget, high design models of practice. And there are those of us who are “out there”. The challenges and limitations of architectural practice in these forgotten outlying spheres are unique. As a result, so are the opportunities. This sub-category of “generalist” deserves a title and some column width. We will call him the frontier architect.

In these borderland territories for architectural inventiveness, the pioneer realizes that the paradigms for practice proffered in school are irrelevant. While an intense design education provides this frontier architect with a methodology for approaching a wide array of projects, he finds he must look elsewhere for guidance on how to apply these principles. He can’t use the stars to guide him, for the star architects who make up the constellation of popular architectural discourse typically operate as specialists or elite generalists.

Unlike Metropolis-based relatives who must compete with numerous neighboring architectural ateliers for recognition and reputation, the frontier architect ranges in wide open spaces that encompass 20,000 square miles or more. He roams his territories rounding up the elusive like-minded patron, while recruiting a larger number of good-hearted clients who can be encouraged to suit up for some architectural adventure.

 

CHALLENGE AND OPPORTUNITY

The frontier architect has unique challenges within this context. As a pioneer he encounters a rough terrain that has not been tamed by others; its cultivated landscape is not immediately receptive to the seeds of architectural ingenuity. Furthermore, his language is not spoken. Academia typically has not exposed students to this model of practice. As a result many intern pioneers gradually assimilate completely into the predominantly conservative architectural culture. But while the frontier architect must acquire a new language and master a new terrain, he is learning it in order to understand its essential nature. A progressive practice can now grow – in local soil – from the ground up.

Highly constrained budgets are another universal challenge for which the frontier architect may not be prepared. With good reason, studio professors often take budget out of the design equation in order to help focus students on more “basic” issues. In practice of course, budget is always an issue. In the wilderness, it is always THE issue. The frontier architect must therefore deconstruct and rebuild his design sensibilities integrating the new variable. The constraints imposed by budget become the inspiration for creative use of mundane materials for inventiveness utilizing accepted construction practices, for prioritizing and culling programmatic requirements.

 

THE MASTER BUILDER

One challenge faced by the frontier architect to a greater degree than his urbane cousin will be a lack of interested or capable builders. The traditional model of design – bid – build puts frontier architects and skeptical contractors in opposition. Builders cast a suspicious eye on “unusual, hyper-detailed” working drawings. They decline to bid or they pad their bid. Or they bypass the bid and instead advise the owner on how to save money.

The frontier architect therefore recognizes at the outset, or soon after, that self reliance is the best way to assure that intentions are carried out. Design-build in which the architect also coordinates and participates in the construction – expands the very definition of “generalist”. In this the trend is moving in exact counterpoint to specialization. Architects in diverse territories “out there” like Brian Mackay-Lyons in Nova Scotia, Marlon Blackwell in Arkansas, Dan Rockhill in Kansas, and Rick Joy in Arizona have all recognized the necessity of taking the reins in the construction process.

While the “master builder” model may be either obsolete or unattainable, the spirit of self-reliance is strongest on the frontier. The architect has both the opportunity and the incentive to get involved in all stages from inception through construction. In fact, the frontier architect may find that true control of his own destiny can only result from being his own client, as well as his own builder.

In fact, design-build is a growing sector. Not only is the market becoming increasingly receptive and state legislation becoming increasingly accommodating, but the frontier client, basing her professional relationships on trust more than any other single factor, often prefers the simplicity of the arrangement. As a frontier architect, I neither dismiss nor embrace specialization in architecture. Architecture as a profession is sufficiently broad to absorb the “specialized project manager” as a response to certain increasingly sophisticated kinds of building projects and market trends; while the “generalist” flourishes in direct opposition yet in response to those same trends.

Architectural education must continue to turn out designers. It must continue to provide a grounded education that will be adaptable to different professional specialties and geographies. I believe architectural education is doing a lot right, but it must also convey to students the breadth of professional settings and opportunities, while offering to prepare students for different paradigms of practice.

Green Ethos – the Essence of Sustainable Architecture

Lately everyone seems to be talking about the significance of sustainable living, the necessity for reducing our average carbon footprint, the importance of recycling, reusing, retrofitting, weatherizing, greening, and purchasing products made of recycled materials… (Notice they did not say do not buy as much, just buy different, but still a lot). Still, many people are very confused. The first question that comes to mind is: “Why is this my business?” After receiving their answer (that humankind is steadily moving towards extinction) their question tends to be: “Why me, I’m too small?” After they realize that they are one of the billions of humans polluting, littering etc., they realize that their contribution is significant enough. Then, the defense mechanism of “I’m gonna be dead by the time this happens” kicks in. However, if it does not, if they consider themselves not disconnected from humanity, then the natural reaction of many is to be concerned and seek ways to help improve the situation.

A few years ago this happened to architects. Not the professional architects of course, but students at various architecture schools. I was one of them. We heard about sustainable architecture, its purpose and its potential, and we were encouraged to jump in and start a new architecture movement for a sustainable future.

As I looked through all the guidelines of what was described as sustainable architecture, I noticed that much of the attention was on using a bunch of methods and materials during the design and construction of the building. What I did not see was guidelines that described how the architecture of our homes and our cities today could keep people from driving everywhere, having four cars per family, using endless plastic bags, replacing trees with pavement, leaving their lights and computers on all night, or buying a million different chemical substances that inevitably end up in our water. Nothing really made sense to me, and it felt like everyone was starting at the wrong place. But what was the right place?

At that point I decided to leave architecture school for a while. I left and returned home to Greece. I had missed my parents, but inside me there was the desire to isolate and reflect on this question, so I took off and went to Mount Athos along with my father. We stayed at a monastery where we always stay, and spent our time fishing and hiking. Between these endeavors, I would sit at the balcony of the dormitory and look at the courtyard of the monastery. I remember realizing that the monks seem to constantly be working. I had been among them before of course, but I had never taken an interest in observing their lifestyle. I also noticed that most of the monks were out working in the fields, and few were in workshops painting pictures (that would later be available for sale), or repairing the many structures of the monastery. I was amazed. This was a society of active, calorie-burning individuals, who produced their own food, walked to work instead of driving as they worked only a few feet away from where they lived, knew enough about pretty much everything at least at a basic level, which allowed them to repair the building, and expressed themselves creatively through artistic and spiritual tasks. Let’s sum up: a) Proximity of live/work/interract places, b) agricultural microeconomy, c) Physically active life, d) spiritual and creative outlets. To these, let me add “sharing” pretty much everything, from machines, to food, to each other’s skills. They also ate together while listening to scriptures.

I must admit, I am not a religious man. I have heard it several times from my grandmothers about my attitude towards religion. I must say, however, that there was something spiritual and beautiful about this small religious community, and when I say “spiritual” I mean so in it’s purest form, the most basic levels of living, where the life of the individual becomes impossible to distinguish from the collective life of the community.

The notion of sharing, living and working locally, helping each other, using and re-reusing equipment and materials, living off the earth and simply burning more calories than we intake, became clear in my mind as the basic guidelines for successful sustainable living. I realized that the secret as far as sustainable architecture is concerned does not lie in the scale of the unit as much, but in the scale of the community. Somehow it seemed impossible all of a sudden to achieve sustainable living in American suburbia. No matter how much we push ourselves to be optimistic about it, suburbs and sustainability do not go together. In essence, the suburbs in the U.S. are based on the opposite principles of what I described above. They are based on a culture of disconnection, of isolation from the street and the neighbors (and sometimes our own family members), fragmentation of life, lack of proximity, lack of integration of functions (what Jacobs described as eyes on the street – storekeepers keeping an eye on children playing on the streets – is missing), and most importantly, lack of sharing and Absolute reliance on the car, which means a) pollution (Hybrids included), b) sitting down for an extra two hours each day.

Considering how vast the “problem” (and to me it IS a problem) of the suburbs is, it is hard to ever imagine us in the Megalopolis transforming life for the better… Unless there is a return to the cities, and unless the suburbs slowly transform into actual communities like the one I described above, and unless the people realize that the essence and the only solution to returning to sustainability is in the building of communities, not the building of barriers, which so much of suburban sprawl is about. After we reach these realizations, and after we figure out how to deal with the suburbs, we can Start playing with composting toilets, recycled drywall and all the other techniques and materials that sustainable architecture proposes. Until then, we will still be sitting on a ticking bomb.

I keep photographs of the monastery and often look at them. Some call these monks anachronistic. I call their community “sustainable”, and call on us to use it as a model for the design of our own communities.

The Frontier Architect

Rick Hauser is a co-founder and principal of In.Site:Architecture, in Perry NY.

To debate exclusively the role of specialization versus generalization in architecture and education marginalizes other practice paradigms that do not fit so snugly into either category. The “specialist” is still a generalist navigating the project through rough seas with a crew of even more specialized consultants. Likewise the generalist at his best has a specialized knowledge of a process and approach to design.

 

OUT THERE

In academic discourse and education, what gets lost is an altogether different divide – the socio-geographic divide. That is, there are those centers of fashion that tend to generate the high profile, high-budget, high design models of practice. And there are those of us who are “out there”. The challenges and limitations of architectural practice in these forgotten outlying spheres are unique. As a result, so are the opportunities. This sub-category of “generalist” deserves a title and some column width. We will call him the frontier architect.

In these borderland territories for architectural inventiveness, the pioneer realizes that the paradigms for practice proffered in school are irrelevant. While an intense design education provides this frontier architect with a methodology for approaching a wide array of projects, he finds he must look elsewhere for guidance on how to apply these principles. He can’t use the stars to guide him, for the star architects who make up the constellation of popular architectural discourse typically operate as specialists or elite generalists.

Unlike Metropolis-based relatives who must compete with numerous neighboring architectural ateliers for recognition and reputation, the frontier architect ranges in wide open spaces that encompass 20,000 square miles or more. He roams his territories rounding up the elusive like-minded patron, while recruiting a larger number of good-hearted clients who can be encouraged to suit up for some architectural adventure.

 

CHALLENGE AND OPPORTUNITY

The frontier architect has unique challenges within this context. As a pioneer he encounters a rough terrain that has not been tamed by others; its cultivated landscape is not immediately receptive to the seeds of architectural ingenuity. Furthermore, his language is not spoken. Academia typically has not exposed students to this model of practice. As a result many intern pioneers gradually assimilate completely into the predominantly conservative architectural culture. But while the frontier architect must acquire a new language and master a new terrain, he is learning it in order to understand its essential nature. A progressive practice can now grow – in local soil – from the ground up.

Highly constrained budgets are another universal challenge for which the frontier architect may not be prepared. With good reason, studio professors often take budget out of the design equation in order to help focus students on more “basic” issues. In practice of course, budget is always an issue. In the wilderness, it is always THE issue. The frontier architect must therefore deconstruct and rebuild his design sensibilities integrating the new variable. The constraints imposed by budget become the inspiration for creative use of mundane materials for inventiveness utilizing accepted construction practices, for prioritizing and culling programmatic requirements.

 

THE MASTER BUILDER

One challenge faced by the frontier architect to a greater degree than his urbane cousin will be a lack of interested or capable builders. The traditional model of design – bid – build puts frontier architects and skeptical contractors in opposition. Builders cast a suspicious eye on “unusual, hyper-detailed” working drawings. They decline to bid or they pad their bid. Or they bypass the bid and instead advise the owner on how to save money.

The frontier architect therefore recognizes at the outset, or soon after, that self reliance is the best way to assure that intentions are carried out. Design-build in which the architect also coordinates and participates in the construction – expands the very definition of “generalist”. In this the trend is moving in exact counterpoint to specialization. Architects in diverse territories “out there” like Brian Mackay-Lyons in Nova Scotia, Marlon Blackwell in Arkansas, Dan Rockhill in Kansas, and Rick Joy in Arizona have all recognized the necessity of taking the reins in the construction process.

While the “master builder” model may be either obsolete or unattainable, the spirit of self-reliance is strongest on the frontier. The architect has both the opportunity and the incentive to get involved in all stages from inception through construction. In fact, the frontier architect may find that true control of his own destiny can only result from being his own client, as well as his own builder.

In fact, design-build is a growing sector. Not only is the market becoming increasingly receptive and state legislation becoming increasingly accommodating, but the frontier client, basing her professional relationships on trust more than any other single factor, often prefers the simplicity of the arrangement. As a frontier architect, I neither dismiss nor embrace specialization in architecture. Architecture as a profession is sufficiently broad to absorb the “specialized project manager” as a response to certain increasingly sophisticated kinds of building projects and market trends; while the “generalist” flourishes in direct opposition yet in response to those same trends.

Architectural education must continue to turn out designers. It must continue to provide a grounded education that will be adaptable to different professional specialties and geographies. I believe architectural education is doing a lot right, but it must also convey to students the breadth of professional settings and opportunities, while offering to prepare students for different paradigms of practice.

Editor’s Notes – Confessions of an Exhibit Designer

Back in 2007, I asked Lee H. Skolnick, founder and principal of LHSA+DP for an interview. It was not an interview for DV, but for a job at his office. He gave it to me. As his employee I got to know his work and meet the man. It was not until two months after I started there that I found out I was working for one of the most sought after exhibit designers in New York and perhaps the United states. He is definitely a professional I respect, so I thought I would share something he shared with all of us in the office: an interview he gave back in 2006 about architecture, exhibit design, and the practice of design in general.

 

An Entrepreneur is someone who attempts to profit by risking initiative, also an inventor. One who recognizes opportunities and organizes resources to take advantage of the opportunity. Should I repeat that?

No! (Laughs)… you have a question?

Your firm did something innovative. You are an architect but you do not just build buildings. You don’t just design exhibits either. You seem to design experiences. Talk about what your firm does. What do they sell?

The world makes categories. You are an Architect, you are an Exhibit Designer, you are a Graphic Designer, and then even further subdivides it by saying you are an architect and you do such and such type of project. I never entered into doing this with the sense that these divisions were important or even necessarily valid. They are valid in the marketplace because the industries have grown up around specialties, but theoretically and philosophically there are very few differences between these categories. What we do is only secoFdarily responsive to the market, but primarily grows out of what each and every design is. On a practical level and from an entrepreneurial standpoint, yes, we need to look for potential projects and for opportunities and see how to capitalize on them, but that really is secondary to what drives me and my notion on the firm. My notion of the firm is that – you know the way you put it is certainly partially valid – we design experiences. Essentially, that we look at the world through the medium of our projects and think about ways to interpret information in specific circumstances. It could be someone’s home, it could be an exhibit, or an education program, but our language is design. If you think of an exhibit as a fundamental task, we are interpreting or telling stories about conditions of life or content and we are doing it through projects and the language of design – that is what we do.

It seems that you have picked a career that is steeped in competition from contractors and other designers. You now employ interior designers, graphic designers, architects, exhibit designers, and educators/ researchers. You do everything. How does the architect fight competition and maintain the right to dictate the entire design?

First of all it is very difficult. It is an uphill battle because there are very entrenched interests that protect domains. Firms put a lot of money, time and effort into strengthening their position and getting a return on their marketing investment to be seen as specialists. Whenever anyone is building a school, a particular firm feels that because of its specialty, it will definitely be asked to submit a proposal; we have done lots of schools, we know more than other architects about designing schools. Those architects get the schools. So, that’s the uphill battle – trying to get into one of those domains.

There is another area, more like the level we would like to be competing in, but we are really not: that of “star’ architects: Renzo Piano, Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid. There are many. Their work often cuts acrss the lines of building types, but they are recognized somehow as leaders in the field, artistically, and so they have carved out that niche for themselves. We are not in either. We might like to be considered in the 2nd one, but the fact is that the kind of work we do doesn’t have a signature style. We have a signature approach, and a signature approach is much more difficult to market than a signature style because a lot of people want to know what they are getting before you do the work. When I first started out, I had a friend who was an architectural photographer, Stan Reis, and he saw some of our initial work – particularly work of mine that was more cutting edge, avant garde, and he said this is what you’ve got to do. You’ve got to keep doing works that are very extreme and, number two, doing work that is recognizable as your style. And I said I am not interested in either one of those things. I am interested in looking at each project from the beginning and maybe the solution will be extreme, but if it is, it is not for its own sake, it is because the project suggests it. And in terms of having a style that repeats itself, that would be like the kiss of death, creatively.

Aileron is a center for entrepreneurial education in Dayton, Ohio. In the process of designing the facility you identified 13 characteristics of the entrepreneur and tried to embody them into the spirit of the building. Have some of these entrepreneurial characteristics been pertinent to your firm over its history?

Actually, possibly all of them. I’d have to think. Certainly the idea of the “journey”, the idea of thinking “out of the box”, “focus”; really many. I am trying to think if there are any that are not relevant to us.

“Out-of-the-box”; what is an example of that?

Well, thinking out of the box is something that refers to the nature of our firm. What I have described to you as our approach to practice I think is quite different from any other firm. In our actual processof working on projects we are always looking for not the immediately suggestible solution, but something which through our exploration for content, and then forming a narrative, I think our process is unconventional. It is both who we are and what we do that are out of the box. Again, it may be that is required or what is most advantageous if the situation calls for an unconventional aspect to it. But again, I think we are going to get there no matter what the solution is through out of the boc thinking. It is not about being extreme every time but about being meaningful.

You are working on a condominium development on Wooster street in Soho. Here is a project where the end result is they want to be able to sell it for the most money possible. That is a design challenge in itself, because you have to think about the results and you want it to be that, whatever that balances it. How do you approach that?

The parameters of a project for any architect, you know are manifold. Now there are technical issues, there are site issues, the program, the functional aspects of it. In the case of different types of clients there are other criteria. For a museum, in addition to the programmatic tangibles there are issues of education, enlightenment, cultural continuum. For the developer, the issue is how do you define your market clearly enough, and appeal to it so the project is attractive to the greatest number of people you seek; in this case very wealthy people, because the spaces are expensive. So, who are those people, What are their lifestyles like? What do they know or not know? What are they seeing in popular culture design or in the design world that would make this place feel not only an embodiment of who they are, but who they actually want to be and associate with. So, we are doing all that, but we are still taking it a step further to bring it into our line of thinking. I came up with a concept about Soho having a history of artists living there; that essentially the artist had been kicked out and the people who are going there are going there because of this sort of memory of this place being a hot bed of creativity, but in fact the people going there are the people who collect the art, who go to the museums, who go to the galleries and patronize the boutiques. So, I am trying to have the design and identity of the project all embody that, and interestingly for the first time we are establishing the design identity as well as the graphics of the project. That is pretty unusual. The marketing company, which is very successful, very well known, and know what they are doing, felt very comfortable in not hiring someone else to do that and let the architect do it. And I think it is the perfect example of us taking our approach and actually changing the process somewhat on order to create something that is very integrated. The identity and design, the marketing materials, the graphics, the website all conform to a concept, which is exactly our design approach.

The Architecture institution and exhibit design sectors seem, if you’ll excuse me, to marry the interest and training of you and your wife and co-principal Jo Ann Secor. How do you develop a market niche?

When I went to school I started to realize that what could differentiate great architecture from good architecture would be content. It would be having not an architectonic concept of space as central, but a subject matter, content/theme that all of the decisions relevant to space, design, layout, material, and detail can be measured against or inspired by. Something that has more meaning than just aesthetics or structure. Very fortuitously, as soon as I got out of school, one of the first projects that I got was to do an interactive exhibit for kids, for which Ann was the Project Manager. I had this incredible learning curve during that project and totally by chance, by fate maybe, I was asked to design something which was based on content and history and interpreting it to kids in an environmental way and an interactive way. Before I knew it, I was doing a lot of exhibit design and I was learning how to translate content into design, which had a tremendous effect on my architecture. When I was at Cooper Union, I didn’t feel like I was anywhere near the best student, I felt like I was near the bottom. People were just sitting at their desks designing these incredible, beautiful things and I was like, “how do they even know what to draw? How is it all just about structure and this is cool looking? It has no meaning, it is totally backwards. Not only that, I can’t do it; that’s not what I am good at. So, I found that once I knew what I was trying to do or convey – using the language of architecture to do that – I could be as good as them, or better than them, or at least different and do it in a way that I felt satisfied with. That is the genesis of how this firm adopted and developed the attitude that it has today.

How does the firm move forward from where it is now? In your all-staff meeting you talked about how you might extend your design skills to other fields – media, furniture, etc. How do you approach that jump?

It is perfectly in concert with the basic idea that design manifests itself in many media, but the initial approach and inspiration for the design is the same. So, then you could say that on one hand philosophically, and on the other hand entrepreneurially, or from a business standpoint, why would we not look to these other mediums/ Our graphic design department evolved out of our exhibit work. Initially we found out-of-house graphic firms and we were not happy with that. They did not have the same approach and so it was like pulling teeth sometimes to get it the way we wanted it, and so we started doing it in-house. We actually had a couple of tries at this that did not work out, we stopped and then we tried again and recently we have seen a tremendous benefit in having graphics in-house as being part of our approach. I wouldn’t be against doing media at some point. That is another interpretive medium. You know, it takes a tremendous investment and getting the right people. Right now, we say there are great people out there who do media. We can pick and choose the best or most appropriate for each project. In the best of all possible worlds, why wouldn’t we be doing that as well? Perhaps we are just not there yet.

After school you went to work for yourself very quickly. What did you see yourself doing when you left school?

I had no idea. I had worked while I was in school for some architects, and I have taken a year between Hamilton ad Cooper and worked for an architect. It was enough to convince myself that this was what I wanted to do. I was never happy with the work they were doing. I was impressed that they were doing it, but it was uninspiring. You know, I come from an entrepreneurial background. My father was literally an up-by-the-bootstraps business person, and I am sure subliminally I saw his life and lifestyle, dedication and independence. And naturally I thought that was what I wanted to be too. And I don’t think I thought about it consciously. But the thought of working for someone, following their ideas and their rules, you know it’s always sort of a pain in the ass. You know, like any teenage radical, I don’t want to do this just because you say that what I gotta do. So I think it was just natural for me to as early as possible get my own work where I could decide what I do, what I don’t do, how I do it etc. The irony of t is that I’ve worked in the field where you are absolutely answerable to the clients, where in fact I don’t have a boss, I have 50 bosses. But it’s different because I can at any time say ‘screw this, I don’t need this, I still have my firm’; it’s not like I’d lose my job.

It must have been difficult selling your design qualifications when you did not have a lot of work in your portfolio. Were museums a way of compensating for that.

Certainly. I realized early on through this serendipitous opportunity of designing exhibits that there were things that most architects never get to design. Most architects don’t get to do museums, and if they do, it is late in their careers. I had this wild idea, that getting into museum work really through the side door, as an architect, that I might get the opportunity to be considered for actual museum architecture at a much earlier stage in my career and that’s exactly what happened.

Why Architecture? It is not as salary friendly as some industries. There has to be a labor of love involved. What do you still love about it/

I always tell people who are interested in architecture not to pursue it unless they have no choice. Unless they believe this is THE THING they want to do. I don’t want to do anything else. I am committed to it. I almost do not care what rewards might come because they may not come, and if they come, they may be at a very different level than other careers thatrequire the same amount of intelligence and capabilities. If you want to make money, and you are smart enough to be an architect and succeed at all the different disciplines that you need, then there’s something else out there that can make you more money. If you are in it because you are just passionate about it and are willing to make sacrifices in order to follow your passion, then by all means do it. I would not discourage it. I mean I love it, but if you don’t love it, you are just asking for trouble. The reason I went into architecture was because when I went to a liberal arts college, I found every class more interesting than the last. I got very confused; I thought I wanted to be an anthropologist or a musician, or a writer or any number of things. But with Architecture I realized I would have to continue learning, for a lifetime, and it could embody everything.

What advice would you give to an aspiring designer, who has just set out on his/her own?

Travel. Definitely travel. Buildings and spaces and people; the experience is always different in person, and can’t be recreated in any other way. And construction – work construction – too many architecture don’t know how to actually build things when they first start out.

 

SOWING THE SEEDS FOR DOWNTOWN REVITALIZATION

Rick received his Master of Architecture from the University of Virginia in 1995, and worked for several architectural offices in Charlottesville, VA, before locating in western NY near his wife’s dairy farm. There he worked independently and as project architect with a Rochester, NY office prior to starting I.S:A in early 2001. He has taught at Hobart and William Smith Colleges and is the founder and manager of Perry New York LLC. 

For more information about Rick Hauser and InSite:Architecture please visit: insitearch.com 

For more articles from Rick Hauser’s click here to visit his syndicated column ‘Architecture Matters’

 

Any farmer or gardener will tell you, the success of the crop depends upon good planning, creating the proper environmental conditions, and preparing the ground. These same rules of thumb apply to the realm of downtown revitalization. If you are considering how to plant the seeds of a Main Street renaissance  in your community (and you don’t mind overextended agriculture metaphors), you would do well to heed the following fundamental insights:

1. It’s no use cultivating the ground if the environmental conditions are not met. The seeds won’t germinate. It’s that simple. And while in the field or garden you need the proper Temperature, Moisture and Soil conditions, I’ll suggest three environmental factors needed to get anywhere in the Revitalization process: Unity. Empowerment. Self-reliance.

 

  • Unity because Main Street is a point around which the whole comm-unity can rally. Downtown is not the sum total of a town’s success. But it is a visible barometer of economic health, a symbol of your city or village’s momentum, a recruitment and retention tool, and a new business incubator. Not everyone intuitively sees this. So your first job is to build unity around these ideas.  Your Council members, your Town Board, your Planning Board must be involved. Your business owners and building owners – from downtown and beyond – must be involved.  Your employees and employers, Village or City residents, Town and seasonal residents must be involved.  Otherwise you have at best a limited constituency and limited effectiveness; at worst you have factionalization, marginalization and failure. You must cultivate Unity.
  • Empowerment because the basis for success in our small communities is an example of that simple phenomenon: A citizen – with an idea and a willingness to work on it – shares it with a receptive group, where he can get the tools, guidelines, contacts and assistance he requires. There are plenty of ideas with no one willing to act. And there may be people willing to act but with no constructive way of doing so, or no sense of where to start. Any revitalization group is – first and foremost – an empowerment coalition. You must cultivate a spirit of Empowerment.
  • And, Self-Reliance, because every initiative underway must have this common theme – the belief that we can do it. That we do have the resources to accomplish many great things and to revitalize our Main Street district. That we have all the raw ingredients – the infrastructure, the history, the setting, the community spirit, the motivated citizens, the business commitment, the government support, and when the idea is right, the money to invest. It has certainly been my experience over the past fifteen years that community confidence is amplified when we claim ownership of our downtown. You must cultivate Self-Reliance.

2. You don’t plant the seeds until you’ve cultivated the ground. The first impulse of the revitalization-minded is often to gather together a large group of citizens and stakeholders and share a vision for the future. This is precisely wrong for the same reason you don’t poke seeds into crusty, rocky, weedy unprepared earth. Before going “public” comes the long, quiet process of cultivating those same citizens and stakeholders one at a time. Listen a lot, talk a little. Draw people into the process early. Adopt or adapt ideas and promise opportunities for involvement and change. By the time you call the public meeting to plant the seeds of revitalization proposals, you’ll have 40-70 owners, citizens and officials for whom revitalization istheir idea. The initiatives you enumerate will become their initiatives and any organization you propose will be their organization.

 

3. You won’t bear fruit until you’ve nurtured the seedlings. Even with nurturing, some will thrive based on local factors, and others will need to be “thinned out”. With revitalization, I’ve found that it is healthier to plant many seeds and cultivate many partners in the community. You then watch closely and invest your energies working with those partners who are truly committed and capable.

4. Address the weeds early on. Like weeds in a recently cultivated field, cynics in the community emerge quickly, before new ideas are fully able to fend for themselves. If not planned for they will choke out the revitalization effort. So, choose initiatives that will be tough enough to survive. Don’t allow a mood of cynicism to gain a foothold in your revitalization efforts. By identifying valid criticism quietly, during the planning stages, you can understand underlying motivations and address them.

But in the final analysis the only way to deal with persistent doubt is by Doing. Success neutralizes lingering cynicism. And an early, patient effort at preparing the ground and sowing the seeds for downtown revitalization gives you the best odds of success.

FARMING LESSONS FOR URBAN DEVELOPERS

by Rick Hauser

 

Any farmer or gardener will tell you, the success of the crop depends upon good planning, creating the proper environmental conditions, and preparing the ground. These same rules of thumb apply to the realm of downtown revitalization. If you are considering how to plant the seeds of a Main Street renaissance  in your community (and you don’t mind overextended agriculture metaphors), you would do well to heed the following fundamental insights:

 

1. It’s no use cultivating the ground if the environmental conditions are not met. The seeds won’t germinate. It’s that simple. And while in the field or garden you need the proper Temperature, Moisture and Soil conditions, I’ll suggest three environmental factors needed to get anywhere in the Revitalization process: Unity. Empowerment. Self-reliance.

 

  • Unity because Main Street is a point around which the whole comm-unity can rally. Downtown is not the sum total of a town’s success. But it is a visible barometer of economic health, a symbol of your city or village’s momentum, a recruitment and retention tool, and a new business incubator. Not everyone intuitively sees this. So your first job is to build unity around these ideas.  Your Council members, your Town Board, your Planning Board must be involved. Your business owners and building owners – from downtown and beyond – must be involved.  Your employees and employers, Village or City residents, Town and seasonal residents must be involved.  Otherwise you have at best a limited constituency and limited effectiveness; at worst you have factionalization, marginalization and failure. You must cultivate Unity.
  • Empowerment because the basis for success in our small communities is an example of that simple phenomenon: A citizen – with an idea and a willingness to work on it – shares it with a receptive group, where he can get the tools, guidelines, contacts and assistance he requires. There are plenty of ideas with no one willing to act. And there may be people willing to act but with no constructive way of doing so, or no sense of where to start. Any revitalization group is – first and foremost – an empowerment coalition. You must cultivate a spirit of Empowerment.
  • And, Self-Reliance, because every initiative underway must have this common theme – the belief that we can do it. That we do have the resources to accomplish many great things and to revitalize our Main Street district. That we have all the raw ingredients – the infrastructure, the history, the setting, the community spirit, the motivated citizens, the business commitment, the government support, and when the idea is right, the money to invest. It has certainly been my experience over the past fifteen years that community confidence is amplified when we claim ownership of our downtown. You must cultivate Self-Reliance.

2. You don’t plant the seeds until you’ve cultivated the ground. The first impulse of the revitalization-minded is often to gather together a large group of citizens and stakeholders and share a vision for the future. This is precisely wrong for the same reason you don’t poke seeds into crusty, rocky, weedy unprepared earth. Before going “public” comes the long, quiet process of cultivating those same citizens and stakeholders one at a time. Listen a lot, talk a little. Draw people into the process early. Adopt or adapt ideas and promise opportunities for involvement and change. By the time you call the public meeting to plant the seeds of revitalization proposals, you’ll have 40-70 owners, citizens and officials for whom revitalization istheir idea. The initiatives you enumerate will become their initiatives and any organization you propose will be their organization.

 

3. You won’t bear fruit until you’ve nurtured the seedlings. Even with nurturing, some will thrive based on local factors, and others will need to be “thinned out”. With revitalization, I’ve found that it is healthier to plant many seeds and cultivate many partners in the community. You then watch closely and invest your energies working with those partners who are truly committed and capable.

4. Address the weeds early on. Like weeds in a recently cultivated field, cynics in the community emerge quickly, before new ideas are fully able to fend for themselves. If not planned for they will choke out the revitalization effort. So, choose initiatives that will be tough enough to survive. Don’t allow a mood of cynicism to gain a foothold in your revitalization efforts. By identifying valid criticism quietly, during the planning stages, you can understand underlying motivations and address them.

But in the final analysis the only way to deal with persistent doubt is by Doing. Success neutralizes lingering cynicism. And an early, patient effort at preparing the ground and sowing the seeds for downtown revitalization gives you the best odds of success.


Rick received his Master of Architecture from the University of Virginia in 1995, and worked for several architectural offices in Charlottesville, VA, before locating in western NY near his wife’s dairy farm. There he worked independently and as project architect with a Rochester, NY office prior to starting I.S:A in early 2001. He has taught at Hobart and William Smith Colleges and is the founder and manager of Perry New York LLC. 

For more information about Rick Hauser and InSite:Architecture please visit: insitearch.com 

For more articles from Rick Hauser’s click here to visit his syndicated column ‘Architecture Matters’

BARELY LEGAL: HOME EDITION

by Rick Hauser

Rick received his Master of Architecture from the University of Virginia in 1995, and worked for several architectural offices in Charlottesville, VA, before locating in western NY near his wife’s dairy farm. There he worked independently and as project architect with a Rochester, NY office prior to starting I.S:A in early 2001. He has taught at Hobart and William Smith Colleges and is the founder and manager of Perry New York LLC. 

For more information about Rick Hauser and InSite:Architecture please visit: insitearch.com 

For more articles from Rick Hauser’s click here to visit his syndicated column ‘Architecture Matters’



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A handy, if unauthorized, subtitle for the New York State Building Code might be “The Absolute Least You Can Do Without Breaking The Law”.

This is not exactly inspiring. When it comes to energy use, “meeting code” means that you are building the biggest energy hog that you are permitted to construct. The Hummer of Houses, so to speak, a barely legal residence that contributes the most greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions allowable.

I have no objection to the NYS law. It sets minimum standards. Regarding energy use, it tries to contain gross negligence which would exacerbate environmental problems or tax our energy generation capacity. But their tool – the code – is a blunt instrument in this regard – a cartoonishly small, ineffective mallet against a War of the Worlds-scale enemy. (FYI, the enemy in this caricature is the potentially catastrophic effects of climate change; the cause is the increase in CO2 concentrations that has triggered global average increases in temperature).

Code compliance doesn’t usually result in the best return-on-investment (ie lifecycle) decisions regarding energy-efficient design and technology, nor should it. It’s not yet up to Big Brother to legislate best practices or compel us to be financially savvy.

At the other end of the spectrum from ‘barely legal,’ is the holy grail of greenhouse-gas emissions – zero. A Zero Net Energy (ZNE) building is one that – over the course of a year – consumes no more energy than it can produce. ZNE buildings – mostly homes – exist now. Superinsulation, energy-sipping appliances, a smart grid, consumer energy awareness, and perhaps $30,000 for wind turbines or solar arrays, will do the trick.

More broadly achievable might be if we set that as a 20-year goal, with intermediate benchmarks and a measurable way to chart our progress. Actually, Architecture 2030 has issued that exact challenge. They note that buildings contribute a whopping 76% of all coal-based GHG emissions and they submit that 2030 is an achievable nationwide goal for phasing them out.  For homes completed in 2009, their target for fossil fuel-based energy use was a 50% reduction over the published regional average, stepping up the reduction every 5 years until “carbon-neutral” new construction is achieved in 2030.

Can that goal be readily achieved right here in the Finger Lakes, right now? One year’s actual energy data at two 2009-built area homes designed by my firm indicates the answer is yes. Do we collectively have the willpower and the foresight to make this a priority? Time will tell.

SAVING OLD BUILDINGS STARTS WITH YOUR STATE OF MIND

by Rick Hauser

Rick received his Master of Architecture from the University of Virginia in 1995, and worked for several architectural offices in Charlottesville, VA, before locating in western NY near his wife’s dairy farm. There he worked independently and as project architect with a Rochester, NY office prior to starting I.S:A in early 2001. He has taught at Hobart and William Smith Colleges and is the founder and manager of Perry New York LLC. 

For more information about Rick Hauser and InSite:Architecture please visit: insitearch.com 

For more articles from Rick Hauser’s click here to visit his syndicated column ‘Architecture Matters’

 

lssAt a recent presentation to the Geneva Historical Society I mentioned in passing my experience helping save an old school from the wrecking ball. At the urging of members, I promised to write about it.

The old Leicester Street School sits at the high point in the village of Perry, in the middle of a residential neighborhood, a block from downtown. Its highly visible cupola is a landmark. Today the top floor of this 100,000 sf, neo-Georgian edifice has 24 light-filled apartments, including ten loft units with mezzanines in the former library. The other apartments retain original oak cubbies, closets and sliding, counter-weighted slate chalkboards. On the main floor, professional office space and a state computer-training lab occupy similarly-appointed former classrooms. Only a gymnatorium (I love that word!) still awaits that magical combination of concept, commitment and cash.

I had moved to Perry just after voters had rejected a proposal to abandon this 3-story, 1906 brick edifice, in favor of a new school on the edge of town. The Board of Education waited the required 90 days to put the identical measure back on the ballot.  In the meantime proponents of the new school made an impassioned case that the original building was unadaptable, unsafe and unworthy of additional tax dollars. Tours were given showing water damage to the foundation, holes in the floor, and tarps in the attic redirecting rainwater from the leaking clay tile roof. At heated public meetings, advocates of saving the old building were asked (rhetorically, I think) if they would stand outside and catch children jumping from the 3rd story windows when the inevitable conflagration came.

At the next vote, the measure to build a new school passed.

The morning after, it was clear that a few other things had happened too: First, the campaign had the unintended side effect of morphing a venerable civic structure into a dangerous, structurally unsound liability, in the public consciousness. Second, no one had given much thought (or allocated any funds) to considering what might be done with it next. The conventional wisdom was to tear it down as soon as the students moved out, and before the vandals moved in.

My first foray into community life was thus to form a “Task Force to Re-use the Leicester Street School.” We made efforts to assure that critics and skeptics – as well as advocates – were part of it. Without a doubt, the most challenging task was changing those perceptions. So I went on the road throughout our great state interviewing, documenting and photographing other school conversions. We shared these sweet success stories at public meetings, juxtaposed with the harsh alternative – a $500,000 demolition price tag (I told you it was a big building).

We compiled condition reports for the building (already completed by the district and concluding the building was sound), and a local photographer lovingly documented the interior and exterior. We made calls to hypothetical tenants and invented uses. We solicited letters of support from every agency known to humankind. Then we organized it all into multi-pocketed folders, called it a “Request for Proposal”, wrapped it in a bow, and sent it out to interested developers across the state.

These efforts succeeded more because they served to change the community’s state of mind, rather than because a particular developer responded. I believe we created a “sense of inevitability” that took on a life of its own. Two or three negotiations with developers fell through and it took two more years before buyers – a local attorney and his wife who had attended the school  – were found and the deal was closed. But by being proactive, the Task Force had time on its side, and built momentum towards re-use. Once the community came to consensus that this old school could become Perry’s greatest asset – or its biggest liability – the pieces were in place.

IMG_025My firm was fortunate to lead the design team that renovated the building, in which we learned much about the surprising adaptability of such buildings. We even had our office in one of those former classrooms for two years. I miss the high ceilings, abundant natural light, and of course those chalkboards!

As for the gymnatorium? If you have any good ideas, let me know.