May 5, 2008

Another Critique

Here I will be discussing the first presentation of the second week of presentations. This group chose the goal of poverty and hunger, and a good realm of response - the Minneapolis area.

I thought it was a good first step to look at organizations that are already working on this problem, like Architecture for Humanity. This is a great organization created by Cameron Sinclair, and they use some very innovative ideas for dealing with the poverty and hunger issue. Examining organizations like these can help uncover practices that work, and ones that don't. This is crucial when coming up with a new plan, like this group did.

I had a slight problem with the second part of the presentation, which looked at projects that have 'failed' in their missions. The Cedar Riverside apartment complex was a focus of this section, and I don't completely agree with the criticism put forth by the group. Sure, the original idea for the project never panned out as envisioned by Ralph Rapson 40 years ago, with mixed income families4 living together harmoniously. But that doesn't make it a failure. As I heard Tom Fisher say at a lecture, the Cedar Riverside apartments play an important role in the local area as they offer affordable living for hundreds of low-income families. Converting these to condos or demolishing them altogether would force countless numbers people onto the streets. It would be helpful, however, to renovate the buildings, as suggested by one of the honors groups on Thursday.

It was very ambitious of this group to design a multi-use building for low-income families. I liked the general ideas that were presented, even if some of them may not be too practical. They had a plan for everything, and even went down into the smallest of details, like the brand of windows, and the solar panel fake trees. (I'd say mount the PVs in real trees, maybe fruit bearing trees) I was initially going to analyze the practicality of the different features of this designed community (I actually wrote them all down), but I realized that most of us in this class don't have a great depth of urban planning knowledge, myself included. So I'll be nice. This was a great effort, and I applaud this group for it.

I enjoyed the physical portfolio that the group produced. It was small and presented the information in a very effective manner. Good visual qualities.

All of the groups that presented in this class did a great job. This was a long process, with a vague requirements and a lot of creative control. It was very interesting to see the different angles taken by the different groups...certainly kept it from getting too dull. We all managed to pull it off, and it is a relief to finally be done.

April 24, 2008

Group #1

I think this project was very well intentioned. However, there seems to be a disconnect from its title and its contents.

With a title like 'Local Materials', one would a assume that the information would be based on the use of local materials in architecture. But the first section was all about saving energy and conserving water. Then we moved on to talk about green roofs. The third section of this presentation did a good job of explaining a few methods of how local materials can be used to contruct buildings, but I'm not sure how practical these techniques would be on a more global scale. The project ended by talking about the use of bamboo, which is really only grown in certain parts of the world. Not really local.

All of the information presented was factual and valid, but I think the title should have been something like "Sustainable Building Techniques" or "Redusing the Environmental Impact of Our Buildings". If this project were to stay on the topic of local materials, looking at some case studies would have been helpful. For example, the Aldo Leopold Legacy Center in Wisconsin used the trees on its own site, some of which were planted by Leopold himself, to frame the buildings. This is something that seems a little more realistic than building a cob house. Many LEED certified buildings are built with materials in their local area.

Each member of the group seemed to have good knowledge of the subject matter, and presented well. Besides the title/content mismatch, this was a good presentation.

April 3, 2008

Design Ideas

My group is thinking about designing a web page as our presentation format. This will allow us to use a paperless medium (our goal is environmental sustainability), present our information in a more interactive manner than a powerpoint, and make it available for the world to see.

Here are three ideas I came up with for either entry pages for our website, or what the site could look like:




Image sources:
Google Maps

March 13, 2008


There are numerous, almost infinite methods of presenting our term projects. Being that this assignment is as much of a design project as in informative, content-based one, the medium for our final presentation must be carefully chosen, and intelligently executed.

I think it is important to first analyze the millennium goal we are facing when choosing a format for our presentation. As ours is “ensuring environmental sustainability?, I am immediately drawn to mediums that don’t require physical materials, like paper, cardboard, plastic, etc. Why not set a good example? Here are couple types of electronic forms of communication:

The powerpoint presentation.

While this format is not entirely creative, it is a widely used and effective tool for presenting information. Powerpoint presentations that are carefully formatted, using custom templates and proper layout can effectively support the information they project. Here is a random powerpoint presentation that I think is pretty well done.


The website. This format may allow slightly more creative control than a powerpoint presentation, but they are still very similar. One advantage of designing a website is that our work would be available to the world, and therefore have more purpose than just a class assignment. In addition, this would be more of a design challenge.

The comic strip.

This is a format that I recently ran across on BLDG BLOG, and I find it to be an incredibly creative presentation format. The use of a comic strip allows for story based information, and if used in the right context, can be very effective. This format is probably not a possibility given our skills and timeline, but cool nonetheless. These strips are from a local firm called LOOM Studio, for a transit proposal.



Non-electronic presentation tools.

Probably the only non-electronic medium I would be satisfied using is an information book with the graphic qualities of a design portfolio. This would most likely entail the same visuals as a powerpoint presentation or a website, but in a more accessible, physical format. Here are some pages from a portfolio / study / presentation type book.



Image sources:

March 6, 2008

Phenomena and Me

I must say, when I think of phenomena, frameworks, clockworks, and the built environment shaping us as individuals, my perception of these subjects becomes very broad. I see things on a larger, more interconnected scale.

There is no doubt that that which surrounds and gives us shelter has profound, often unnoticeable affects on who we are, how we grow, and who we will become. How this happens as a whole is what I consider to be phenomena.

Let’s break down phenomena to reveal the interconnectedness that drives it. Several frameworks are at play here, the first being the economic framework. The unfortunate truth is that individuals with similar economic standing generally hang around each other. They generally share similar beliefs, values, etc. It is this tendency that directly affects our next framework – the social one. Social frameworks determine where we live, how we live, and yes, what we live in. (disclaimer: it’s really not this simple…but close) So depending on what kind of web you’re weaved into, the buildings you occupy may be much different than, say, a less-fortunate person in a developing country. It’s really dependant on many factors. Where are the clockworks? Add reproduction, and this cycle never ends. Children will continue what they were raised with.

But why does this matter? I could sit here and list all of the conceptual ways buildings can affect different people, but what it comes down to is our subconscious perceptions of our surroundings, and ultimately, we end up back at values.

For example, I grew up in a moderately affluent economic framework. The people occupying this system like a little distance from the city, and good schools. The resulting social framework is one that is slightly conservative, and tends to build row upon row of large, traditional homes. Pick a floor plan from a catalog. Out of this phenomenon come people like me.

I take the home I live in for granted, even though I work hard to afford it. I take the safety of my neighborhood for granted, as well as my health, education, etc. I’m not proud of these admissions, but I do recognize them. I am a product of my built environment.

The way I see the world may be completely different from a child born to a poor family in Ethiopia. Someone in this situation probably appreciates a dilapidated tin roof, as it’s better than no roof.

I think of things like these, and start to second guess whether I really need to add that second bath to my house, or should consider saving for a granite counter top.

But then again, a billionaire in California might wonder how I could possibly live comfortably in only 1700 square feet.
mansion tulips.jpg

Image Sources:

February 28, 2008

How to Get More Gooder

As I am largely unfamiliar with the details of the architecture program at the U of M, it is somewhat difficult point out missed opportunities or room for improvement with strong conviction. But I do feel that there are important aspects of architecture education that are simply not emphasized to the fullest possible extent.

When looking at the three major architectural interests of mine recently, I suddenly the epiphany of how they all fit together perfectly. How I had ignored this relationship before I cannot say.



The first interest is hands on experience. From what I can gather (or assume), a majority of formal architecture education is executed indoors, faces in textbooks or little wooden models. This may be a blatantly inaccurate speculation, but I’m fairly certain that there is not much interaction with actual building projects. I am a firm believer that first-hand experience is the best teacher. If I was freed from the constraints of the architecture program at the U of M, I would spend a lot of time in the field, getting my hands dirty, seeing how buildings actually stand up, and stay up. To paraphrase architect Michael McDonough, the architecture student who builds a straw bale house will ultimately build a better skyscraper.


The second, and overall most important realm of architecture to me is helping underprivileged people have safe, affordable homes. I’ve heard that 1 in 7 humans in the world live in inadequate housing (slums, refugee camps, etc), and that by 2030 that number will have increased to 3 in 7. This is a huge, looming issue that needs the urgent attention of designers. Is this type of work glamorous? Of course not. Will it pay the stereotypical ‘architects’ salary? Not likely. As far as I am concerned, who cares about those things? Architecture is about providing shelter, no matter what the scale.


The U of M seems to be encouraging and implementing social responsibility, which is obvious from this and other early architecture classes. This is a good start, but I wonder, do are students eventually required to help build homes for struggling families? I am not aware of this. I’ve seen the optional trips to New Orleans every semester, but it is my firm personal belief that every student be mandated to take one of these trips, or just simply help the people in our own neighborhoods. There is a need for good housing everywhere. Let’s follow the lead of Architecture for Humanity, the BaSiC Initiative, or Rural Studio. If we want to instill a sense of responsibility for the greater good in the world’s future architects, we need to ensure that they experience these circumstances and situations in person. If given more freedom in school, I would definitely spend a lot of time helping others with my skills. (Assuming I have skills.)

Lastly, for this blog, I have had a recent interest in reused and recycled building materials. Something like one quarter of all waste that goes into our landfills is construction waste. It’s not that these materials themselves are necessarily bad or unusable, but that there was no foresight to design these materials for easy disassembly or reuse. It also takes longer and generally costs more to take a building apart piece by piece. Why is this important? Because reusing or recycling construction waste can significantly lower the cost of new construction, while lessening environmental impacts. Win-win. This can of course help while trying to provide affordable housing for the less fortunate, but doesn’t need to be limited to just this scope.


This is a house made from temporary bridge sections used during Boston’s big-dig highway project. They were destined for the dump, but the VP of the construction company intervened, and the result is truly spectacular. I want to spend a lot of time on studying how materials can be reused or recycled, and how they can be designed in the first place with these concepts in mind.

To sum this blog up, hands on experience in the building of affordable homes with reused materials is the ideal focus of my academic and professional career.

Image Sources:

February 18, 2008


The first photograph of earth. I think it really puts into context the idea of earth as our only with finite resources and space. It’s the only picture that really has and influences my ideas on sustainability, because almost everything else can be deduced from this one image.

"If Mother Culture were to give an account of human history using these terms, it would go something like this: ' The Leavers were chapter one of human history -- a long and uneventful chapter. Their chapter of human history ended about ten thousand years ago with the birth of agriculture in the Near East. This event marked the beginning of chapter two, the chapter of the Takers. It's true there are still Leavers living in the world, but these are anachronisms, fossils -- people living in the past, people who just don't realize that their chapter of human history is over. ' " –Daniel Quinn, Ishmael

"Negligence is described as doing the same thing over and over even though you know it is dangerous, stupid, or wrong. Now that we know, it's time for a change. Negligence starts tomorrow." –William McDonough, Cradle to Cradle

"Gone" by Jack Johnson

A large player in the sustainibilty crisis recently is consumerism. This song can be interpreted several ways, but to me it's always been about all of the extra things we don't need, and returning to ourselves, finding happiness not in material goods, but in the things we need.

"Big Yellow Taxi" by Joni Mitchell

Counting Crows turned this song into big money, which is somewhat ironic. The song is fairly self-explanatory, but oddly upbeat for a song of such tragic substance. Plus she's always smiling.

February 14, 2008

Design Charrette This Weekend!

There are so many social design issues in the twin cities, it’s hard to choose just one to focus on and advocate for. Handicap access, spaces for religious rituals, affordable housing, and public spaces all need attention. What I want to focus on here is the affordable housing isue. I’m apprehensive to write about such a topic, given the generality and far-reaching scope of the problem. (Not to mention its shear obviousness and unoriginality…but only if originality is what we’re shooting for) I am not writing this just because of the state of our economy, the foreclosure crisis, and homelessness, but also because of an event that is happening this weekend.

There has always been, and always will be a need for affordable housing. It’s a problem that will likely never subside. According to the Wilder Foundation, on any given night, more than 8,600 people are homeless in the state of Minnesota. The widely accepted definition of affordable housing is 30% of a person’s income. By that definition, a person with a full time job, making the state median wage, would be able to afford an apartment around $400/mo. Anyone familiar with rent in the twin cities knows that this simply isn’t feasible. So the old saying, “Just get a job?, really doesn’t apply anymore.

We all know the trouble facing the housing market, with foreclosure rates at record highs. Predatory lending practices and changes in the real estate market have left many unable to pay mortgage payments, and unable to sell when faced with this problem.

A Wilder Foundation study also shows that between 2010 and 2020, the unmet housing needs in the twin cities will be 45,500 units. More affordable housing is now needed in the suburbs than in St. Paul. Senior citizens are become are larger and larger portion of the low-income demographic in the local area.

There are many local organizations with the missions of helping build affordable housing. Habitat for humanity and Urban Homeworks, Inc. are some examples. Unfortunately, many of these organizations and associations cannot afford designers to assist them. Luckily, AIA Minnesota is holding its 21st annual “Search for Shelter Design Charrette? this weekend, February 15-17. Architects, interior designers, students, and non-profit organizations come together for a weekend of brainstorming and design. All work is volunteered. There will be food and fun to be had.

Here is the website:

February 6, 2008

Thoughts on Cities

It is no easy task to put the energy, flow, and transformation of the city into a literary context that one can immediately understand or relate to. Metropolitan cities began as focal points of commerce and government, where the aspiration for power and prosperity drove their existence. They have always been places where vast amounts of not only raw energy like electricity are consumed, but also human energy. The crowded design of cities has allowed for more efficient distribution of energy, information, as well as swift movement within them. If cities were not this way, it is obvious they would not have become the expansive powerhouses of the global economy that they are today. That rhymed.

The major cities of today have become what they are through the very advancements and improvements they produced. Where once business relied on mail and telephones, Internet has taken over. Speed and efficiency are now the name of the game. Information flows effortlessly through complex networks of wire and fiber optic cable. Conference rooms have somewhat become obsolete. And while these have changed the ways cities operate, physically they remain quite similar, if just on a much, much grander scale.

Here’s an analogy:

Five days a week cities, like giant lungs of the economy, take a deep breath in, drawing ridiculous amounts of people from the suburbs to their respective workplaces.


They scurry to their cubicles, which we’ll call the hemoglobin of business. They keep the free market functioning, expending much of their energy into their work. They fill the skyways (veins), moving from building to building, company to company, the organs of the free market. Some are vital, while others are arguably appendix-like in importance or function. Just as manpower flows into the city, so do massive amounts of electricity. Consumers also flow into cities, basically providing food for the economy.


Of course businesses generally don’t physically eat the consumers themselves, just their savings. Immense transfer of people, energy, and information takes place all day, until the cities take a long breath out, spewing moms and dads back into the ‘burbs. After this people come back into the city, but for different reasons, and flowing has something to do with alcohol.


“What about outsourcing?? I hear you asking. Where does that fit into our analogy of a city as a living organism? Is this a loss of energy? I think it is more of a transformation than anything else. Jobs are lost to oversees labor, and while it’s not usual seen as a good thing, it is cheaper and keeps businesses competitive with one another. Let’s call it supplemental oxygen, since companies today would almost suffocate without it.


I can’t keep this analogy going forever, but the point I’m trying to make here is that cities aren’t just collections of buildings crammed together. Cities are built upon and for the interaction of people, businesses, and government. They provide the means of keeping living standards where they are. They help advance our societies. What I have put forth doesn’t even scratch the surface of the subject, but it is a brief and well-intentioned attempt. Here is where I would write a really deep, meaningful closing sentence, but I can’t think of one right now. Have a good day.