Wednesday, March 31, 2010
The period of empire faded in the 1800's after the English had built a seafaring empire that colonized North America, India, Africa and Australia. Then from 1959-73, the Spanish Miracle happened under the dictatorship of Franco. Spain's dictatorship fell in 1975, and the monarch King Juan Carlos started its transition to democracy; it became part of the European Union in 1985. It has since grown its economy and reestablished its ancient links with China.
Yet in the midst of this prosperity, the 2008 financial collapse of its industry provided a familiar tale of over-reliance on construction and property investment as a growth mechanism. The economic analysis of this collapse is from the Elcano Royal Institute (Real Instituto Elcano), a private entity independent of both the public administration and the companies which provide most of its funding. It was established, under the honorary presidency of HRH the Prince of Asturias, on 27 December 2001 for the purpose of generating ideas on the international scenario and on Spain’s strategic options in international relations that are of practical use to politicians, the business world, academics the media and public opinion at large. The report, The Way Forward for the Spanish Economy: More Internationalisation (WP), states in part:
"Spain has reached a crossroads in its economic development and cannot proceed further along the same path. The short-sightedness of an economic model excessively based on construction has been brutally exposed by the collapse of the property sector. The choice now is between an economy that continues to be based on arms (labour intensive, unskilled) or brains (more knowledge-based and internationalised). In the medium term, the former will create more employment, but as Spain’s recession has shown more clearly than that of any other EU country this is not a lasting solution. No other European country, and probably no other developed nation in the world, has created and then destroyed so many jobs so quickly."
So here is a former global empire, with ties to China and Latin America, which fragmented in the early 19th century, and in the last 50 years has managed to restructure itself and participate in the modern European economic structure, celebrating its growing influence with the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona. Barcelona is home to famous architectural works by Gaudi as well as the Modernisme architects of the early 1900's, an incredibly colorful culture. Park Güell is probably one of the most enchanting public spaces I've ever visited around the world.
And Spain has famously lifted its profile with the Guggenheim Bilbao, by Gehry, to the point where an old industrial port city is taking on a new life as an arts and tourist destination; rightfully so, as I thought after an extensive tour of the structure and the city. I love the interactive page here, it brings back memories! The creative spirit also endures with La Salve Bridge and its new design by Daniel Buren.
This collapse has been a devastating lesson for an entire country to experience: that constant development growth is inherently unsustainable.
One that California needs to learn.
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
The proposed solution is to use a small solar sail attached to space debris and old satellites and drag them down into the atmosphere, where they burn up on the fall back to earth. Moving the debris and pollution down into our biosphere.
What about using a salvage yard in low earth orbit? It could provide a low-earth orbit platform for recycling and materials supply for providing industry outside of the atmospheric envelope, as well as conserving the metals used in the satellite construction which are already very highly processed. This is the essence of sustainability. We don't burn our trash in the back yard any more, why keep doing it out in the outer biosphere? Here's the online presentation of my low earth orbit base concept which could be used to develop industry and establish a foothold outside of earth's deep gravity well for interplanetary robotic launches and lunar mining processes.
Monday, March 29, 2010
Masdar is an energy company with venture capital backing that manages the Masdar Clean Tech Funds, a series of diversified venture capital investment vehicles focused on building portfolios of direct investments in some of the world’s most promising and pioneering technologies in clean tech and renewable energy. The concept video is here. It's a bit like living inside of a corporate industrial megalith of some kind, and I would imagine the social structure would be very different from that which is found in most older urban cities. Particularly since this is an Arab country under Muslim laws, and the entire city is privately owned and controlled. Render porn is by Foster, voice over by a Utopian fantasist. Is this how Brasilia got started?
The Masdar City site is here, being marketed at the world's first carbon-neutral, zero-waste city. A discussion, photos and information about Masdar City is also here at the Skyscrapercity site.
Jumping into real "space" is also part of Foster's portfolio, the Spaceport America in New Mexico. It's a fascinating structure with a look to future industry in low earth orbit.
Thursday, March 25, 2010
One unfortunate reaction to this situation by Sacramento is to try to keep the drug flowing, that is, the income from properties and their development - regardless of the need for more housing or development. Hard to get off the drug when the Feds won't go after the pushers, i.e. the banking sector. That's the worst thing that can happen when foreclosures are emptying out subdivisions and people are leaving the state. An article here in CP&DR makes the case that the State needs to resist the "housing cult".
There needs to be new kinds of investments, the kind that produces sustainable industries, clean energy and the reduction of the building industry that produces nothing but traffic and pollution. We're better off with investments that produce actual capital flows and innovative products, not boxes that create fake money and drain community resources with square footage that needs more and more maintenance and consumes water and energy. There's no productive activity in that, it's just building up a bigger and bigger environmental debt.
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
There are so many ways to bring natural environments into the urban fabric, from formal parklands and freeway lids, to pocket parks and sidewalk plantings. Then there's the more radical interventions to create connective spaces that are literally formed out of thin air to knit the fabric of pedestrian life into those hard, urban spaces. New York's High Line is a great example.
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
"Mark Jacobson, professor of civil and environmental engineering and director of the Atmosphere/Energy Program at Stanford, has been vocal about the need for a complete clean-energy transformation. This week, with the political world consumed by health care, his work offers a reminder that carbon pollution is a serious health problem. It makes traditional air pollution—such as particulates and ozone—more harmful, so it poses particular threats to the places with the worst air pollution—cities."
Another linkage here is that the energy used to fuel these emissions is largely coal. This is mined in rural areas, and mostly used to fuel power plants in the states east of the Misssissippi. The correlation is unmistakeable. The GHG emissions are from the power used to run cities, as well as the buildings that use the energy and create emissions and destroy the carbon sink provided by landscaping and natural terrain.
Monday, March 22, 2010
There's a fabulous way to see the urban texture and context of many of the world's most famous landmarks in Paris in panoramic very high definition. Paris 26 Gigapixels is the name of the biggest assembled panoramic image in the world. It's a fascinating online technical project, and the blog is here. There's a discussion and the diagrams of how the RAW images were stitched together, based upon a critical clear-day shooting from a tower on top of of Saint Sulpice.
It all started at the 360 Degree video blog. Thomas Hayden is what Grand Canyon river-runners call a "river rat". He was introduced to 360° video in a little ski cabin in Girdwood, Alaska, and brings lessons learned from five years experience specializing in 360° video production and marketing. Starting as a river guide/expedition leader on the Colorado Plateau for the legendary Holiday Expeditions, he has taken thousands of clients down the magnificent rivers of Utah, Colorado, West Virginia, Mexico, and Alaska.
Friday, March 19, 2010
The roots of these old log churches are found in North Russia, which have been captured in a study by professional photographer Richard Davies, who discovered a postcard series of unique fairy-tale style wooden churches and decided to undertake this project. The result is Wooden Churches, a series of beautiful photographs of these forgotten landmarks.
The wooden church architecture of Russia is unique. Built during the 18th and 19th Centuries, these iconic structures have weathered a storm of changes ever since, ranging from harsh winters to the churches' abandonment during the years of Soviet Communism. Many of the structures today remain in a state of tragic disrepair, damaged by vandals, neglect and the constant barrage of the weather.
Davies' photo collection perfectly captures the beauty and neglect of these amazing structures. The barren Russian landscapes, the sense of decay and the intricate architecture will make viewers feel like they've stumbled upon the remains of a fantasy civilization. The photos are a bid for preserving these amazing landmarks before they crumble to dust.
Also check out this great blog, Jilli's subarctic journal, Up in Alaska.
Thursday, March 18, 2010
Wouldn't it be fun to just go outside and play?
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
Referring to my previous post on fundamental harmonic structures, here's an example of how harmonics are related visually, as in art and architecture, and as the structure of music. Bach's Tocatta and Fugue in D Minor in this example. There's an underlying logic and meaning to creative patterns as shown in this piece. Others are at the Music Animation Machine. It's about patterns and how they construct themselves with wave interference such as one uses to create holograms. I'll leave out the Quantum Physics discussion for now. Or grab a copy of the Dancing Wu Li Masters that will take you through all of these concepts without laying any math on you.
Hint: just think of it as infinitely small bitmaps like you see in a pixellated photo. That's calculus...scary, huh? It's all patterns, which relate to each other in orderly fashion; refer to the Fibonacci sequence for the ordering principles in nature - and music!
Postscript: There's a great article and series at the New York Times that lays out the fundamentals of mathematical tools to describe what happens to numbers when they are manipulated in a very functional and graphic way.
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
A description of how these colonias typically evolve is here in a discussion of their encroachment in the Oaxaca Valley:
"Colonias tend to follow a basic developmental pattern. Once about ten families have settled in a given spot household heads gather to demand the basic services of water and electricity. In the meantime they live in wretched conditions: without electricity, on dirt streets with no sanitation or sewers, walking long distances to find potable water. The irregular status of the settlement means they have no direct access to public transport or services such as vaccination campaigns and other health programs. During a second phase, which may take years to emerge, residents begin to pressure for other services: schools, sewage, transportation, paved streets. Higgins labels these "mature colonias" (Higgins 1974) and notes they usually are associated with a process of housing improvements such as concrete roofs, brick walls, and more sturdy construction. Even so these improvements basically reflect do-it-yourself construction without regard to formal plans or regulations.
"Another component in colonia development is the land speculator. These individuals gain access to ejido or communal lands committees, and through corruption or pressure, arrange to have lands to which they have no legal right transferred to them for resale to families looking for homesites on the urban periphery. During a field survey in November, 1995, it was possible to identify plots, usually 200 square meters, for sale at 3000, 5000, or 8000 pesos under conditions where no legal titles to the land were available to the seller. Such plots, often with dubious or fabricated titles, are common elements in colonia formation. After the official declaration of Monte Alban boundaries in 1994 the occupation of land speculator became popular in the neighboring communities. Not only private manipulators but municipal presidents, vice-presidents, and treasurers as well as ejidal and communal lands committee members entered the speculation game.
"As for the families who create the colonias, it is obvious that one commonality is that they are poor migrants arriving from elsewhere. Nevertheless they are not all peasants from rural indigenous communities who have come to the city in search of work, as was the case in 1878 (Yescas Peralta 1958: 779). Today the majority are families from towns across the state (Rees, et al 1991) who have lived as renters for some time in the city of Oaxaca. Having accumulated some capital (Butterworth 1973: 220) and finding the cost of housing in the city center prohibitive, they opt to move to a nearby suburban area where they can purchase a low-cost lot and have the possibility of a home through owner-built construction. Land on the slopes of Monte Alban fits this need, for as ejidal or communal lands no longer in use those holding the use rights prefer to subdivide and sell parcels cheaply to low-income people who will not demand formal title."
So the form of governance, as well as culture, has a major impact on how sustainable land use happens, and how the preservation of the existing natural environment must be undertaken. In this country, it will necessarily involve radical land use reform as well as providing affordable living spaces in the urban areas for people who don't own property.
Monday, March 15, 2010
Paramount kept a lot of people working during the Depression, including my father, who worked in the photography studio, developing the stars' black & white photo prints that were autographed and issued by the studios. It was quite a publicity machine. He also ended up with a bit part in "The Great Waltz" after being a part of the hired cavalry run by Richard von Opel for the western movie genre. After WWII, he went into a "proper" career like so many other vets, moving out of Hollywoodland and into the real world.
Friday, March 12, 2010
The ACF has weighed in with a comprehensive system of benchmarking the impacts of human civilization and the public policies that drive increasing pollution and emissions from building costruction, product demand and energy production. In alignment with the Copenhagen Accord, they provide specific guidelines that require an accounting of natural capital in the fiscal balance sheet of business and communities. They also have a specific Climate Project page that covers climate change, since Australia is one of the countries seeing the biggest impact of this change, with record heat and drought during this decade.
This is an outstanding example of how local urban systems can be surveyed, calculated and benchmarked in order to communicate to the public and the government the impacts on the natural environment that have to be priced into the system. It's part of an evolving effort to develop the standards for "natural captial" that are accurate and realistic. These standards will necessarily incorporate the rapid energy descent scenario that is in the future as the supply of energy goes down per capita, worldwide. Remember those "Blade Runner" scenes?
Thursday, March 11, 2010
They're developing many other building technologies that allow structures to behave more dynamically and interact in an organic fashion, so quite exciting possibilities offer themselves. This moves the industry past a purely passive energy envelope form with enhanced systems inside; this actually creates an integrated entity that responds to the environment and collects light, energy and water.
Other examples of this idea are here.
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
Looking to our southern neighbor, we see some emergent urban visions that combine the best of these built approaches: a focus on the fabric of urban biodiversity and an integration of scale in the built environment. In Mexico City, the firm of Foster + Partners has proposed a sustainable urban development for a medical facility:
"Foster + Partners has revealed its designs for a 71-hectare teaching and medical facility in Mexico City upon notice of their appointment to the project. Campus Biometropolis masterplan in the south of the city will integrate care facilities with high tech teaching spaces, research institutions and laboratories and feature a vital new nature reserve showcasing the Pedregal lava fields as a highlight of the design.
"The wilderness area, together with enhanced landscaped zones, will account for half of the site and preserve Mexico City’s indigenous plants and animal species whilst creating an attractive landscape for the built areas."
More practial urban strategies for implementing sustainability to counteract the dramatic overconsumption of resources are Mexico City's Plan Verde as well as its plan for water self-sufficiency by 2020.
Tuesday, March 9, 2010
As a result of this development, SB 375 legislation in California supposedly crafted a form-based code to cut down on commuter driving, for what that's worth, to deal with greenhouse gas emissions as mandated by Federal Law. Proponents cite immense future population growth projections (not possible) and use cities like New York as a model of *form* (very large densities on Manhattan Island, dense suburban ring, exurban nearly rural). Los Angeles basin is flat and dense (thanks to Federal highway program that busted the Red Line), and this model is supposedly to be changed by SB 375 to move towards the NYC model.
Except that these RHNA assigned housing numbers and large transit-exempt projects will just make our current situation worse under SCAG's idea of "fair share" growth everywhere. This socialist effort out of Sacramento - implemented by regional agencies - seeks to spread growth everywhere. A REAL application of the form model concept would assign all the RHNA to LA's city center where there is already transit (light rail/bus) and the ability to develop the "zero energy/water footprint" in the rebuild of large projects that makes this size of population center sustainable.
The communities outside of Los Angeles would logically not need to accommodate any new growth at all under this "form model", and simply build a few good projects that are sustainable, shrink the built footprint (less building mass - not more), and restore open space and natural environment. Infrastructure improvement to return water to the aquifers is crucial, and isn't exactly rocket science. Neither are fuel-efficient hybrid cars and far lower consumption per person (save on storage locker fees, too).
So as far as I'm concerned, the whole thing is an excuse for untrammeled development to make our situation far worse than it is now, given our permanent water shortage and dwindling resources, which diminishes for everyone as population grows.
Monday, March 8, 2010
“It often happens that you upset the moisture and structural balance when you knock down or tear out trees,” said Mr. Lourie, the geotechnical engineer, adding that planting trees too close to the house can be harmful. “Plant them at least half their mature height away from the house.”
Landscaping should, as a rule, be installed so that water slopes away from the house and gutters should discharge at least five feet from the house to avoid oversaturating the soil. During droughts, experts recommend placing soaker hoses around the perimeter of the house and turning them on for 30 minutes a day. “The idea is to maintain a constant amount of moisture in the soil,” said Tom Witherspoon, a foundation engineer in Dallas. “If you can do that, your house will never move.”
Friday, March 5, 2010
This meltdown created by the mortgage and banking industry was part of the same irrationality. That part has hit severely, here at home and across the globe, since it was simply a giant pyramid scheme, unrecognized at the time by players too intent on huge rates of return. Also due to the repeal of Glass-Steagall by Clinton.
This blowup hit the home builders disproportionately, even as Sacramento is bent on busting CEQA in order to allow destructive development, albeit under "greenwash" terms.
They've lost their traditional market, especially since there's too much product now.
Also, as I drive around and see the local smaller commercial projects being built, I see large contractor names on the projects that you'd expect to see builder names on, particularly since small commercial construction is how the builders move up in the construction field.
This happens to the architects during severe recessions, too, the smaller firms get pushed out by the big guys running around and sucking up their work at competitive prices because they have the ability, due to their size, to undercut prices and carry stretched billables due to their larger lines of credit. They normally don't go after the smaller projects because the profit margins are low. But in times like these, it's just about keeping billable projects in the pipeline.
So SB 375 and RHNA allocations in California have turned into mechanisms to salvage the housing industry for the Realtors and home builders, and have nothing to do with reducing CO2 or even traffic, since more square footage generates more of both. In order to go to "zero footprint" it's more expensive and bigger-scaled than production housing can provide to the market. Our industry is predicting that larger firms and bigger urban projects will be the norm in the future. To quote an AIA position paper issued in January:
"Energy modelling will mature. Since buildings are a source of huge waste and inefficiency, experts will be sought to offer advice. Ninety-nine (99) percent of the built environment already exists in North America. So, although 2010's new buildings will be designed for energy efficiency, special attention will be given to the 99 percent that already exist. Architects and engineers will flood this space as the de facto renovation and energy experts."
Energy (power and fuel) accounts for the largest percentage of GHG's, so this is the only viable way to go. The way we design and restore the built and natural environment is changing drastically. This means that existing buildings will need to be recycled/rebuilt to significantly reduce energy and water consumption without tearing them down and wasting huge amounts of perfectly good building material. Nothing wrong with this future at all, except that destructive resistance to this necessary solution is being employed by the oil and building industries in the name of "job preservation". Which belies the implementation of energy strategies such as the one in the above photo of the photovoltaic assembly incorporated into the existing Mercedes Benz plant in Germany. Not only that, it incorporates employee feed back and energy improvement suggestions as part of its internal policies. The way to the future is here.
Thursday, March 4, 2010
Moving forward on the Chicago Climate Action Plan in conjunction with city government, Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill (AS+GG) has released the first phase of its Chicago Central Area DeCarbonization Plan. Targeting the Windy City’s downtown Loop area, the action plan aims to reduce carbon emissions 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, and then meet 2030 Challenge goals of 100 percent carbon emissions reduction in new and renovated buildings by 2030. The full article is here.
Our major cities in California are not developing "the big vision" in this way yet. If they did, it would absorb all the development and housing requirements needed regionally as well as contain the carbon issues in the very places where the most pollution is created.
Wednesday, March 3, 2010
Tuesday, March 2, 2010
It's about experimentation with intelligent structures and furnishings allowing feedback between the occupants and the space, which then provides information about the cost of using the space to the owner. This information can also interact with distant networks and provide opportunites to learn from disparate environments and cultures. The article goes on to say:
"We're at a very special point in design when a counter-revolution is about to happen, very similar to the 1920s, when [Swiss-French pioneer of Modern Architecture] Le Corbusier wrote that machine civilization was looking for its architectural expression," Carlo Ratti, director of the SENSEable City Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) told CNN.
"Today it's a digital civilization that is really about to find its architectural expression."
There's also the concern that this expression will fall victim to the corporate culture and dictate behavior, if it's not protected by freedom of choice and access to real information. Look what happened to the Internet, and subsequently the hard news media. Nobody knows what information to trust anymore.
Sort of like a ride at Disneyland - there's only one experience, and it's pure manufacture designed to consume money. The only feedback loop here is people voting with their feet, and buying Disney merchandise or not. Perhaps immediacy, transparency and individual responses will change the nature of this transaction, given that ownership is a real buy-in for individual behavioral change. Examples of how this works is here in an article about responsive building elements. Also check out a great site, Form Follows Data.
Monday, March 1, 2010
Well, the climate IS changing. And foreign supplies of energy do threaten the ability of the US to maintain a stable economy and makes it vulnerable to supply interruption, as we famously saw in the 1979 gas station lines that resulted from the energy crisis. It's important to realize what limits to consumption mean to our biosphere, and to move ahead with constructive action on it.
Using market forces is the most effective way to take this action, so public policy will have to shape them.
And as we all know, all politics is local.