Monday, February 22, 2010

Seven Green Trends for 2010

Ecohome Magazine reports on the Seven Green Building Trends for 2010.

Expected to be widely available in 2011, Powerhouse solar shingles install and perform like standard asphalt shingles while harnessing the power of the sun to offset a home’s energy usage. Unlike traditional frame-mounted PV panels, the shingles are installed flat against the roof deck; they are compatible with most new and existing residential rooftops.

Retrofits, solar power, and water conservation seen as some of the top issues this year.
The first weeks of the year always drive building pros to predict which green products and technologies will emerge and which existing trends will gain greater acceptance, and 2010 has been no exception.

Green building experts point to the drop in price of photovoltaics, a widespread introduction of super-efficient water heaters and windows, finalized WaterSense specifications and, of course, the struggling economy as major developments leading to this year’s biggest trends.

Here are seven hot topics that will impact the way green pros do business. (Click here for complete story).

1. Water Conservation
2. Green Remodeling

3. Solar Products
4. Zero-Energy Homes
- Much of the discussion around this subject involves pre-fab homes. The concept is a good one: like the automobile assembly line, creating the pieces to be put together on site creates less waste, provides for quality control, and centralizes skilled labor. However, until this idea gains traction outside of the high-end market, the advantage of economy can't be realized, and pre-fab homes will remain Dwell cover fodder. Builder/developer Onion Flats in Philadelphia proposes that pre-fab will be the way of the future for multi-family housing, and is pairing with a concrete company to develop pre-fab concrete units that will fit into a building like a filing cabinet.
5. Energy Modeling

6. Super Efficient Windows

7. Heat Pump Water Heaters

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Book Review: Wrestling With Moses

Wrestling With Moses: How Jane Jacobs Took on New York's Master Builder and Transformed the American City, by Anthony Flint, tells the stories of Robert Moses, who served for many decades in various appointed infrastructure-related posts in New York City, and Jane Jacobs, the activist and author of The Death and Life of Great American Cities. The book reads like a novel, if a very detailed one (I was hooked and stayed up late to finish it like a novel, curled up with book and my maps of Manhattan).

Flint parallels the early life and careers of both Moses and Jacobs, then describes a few of her most famous battles over proposed public works projects headed by Moses: a proposed road through Washington Square Park, an area of the West Village designated as a "slum" through the Title 1 Urban Renewal program and slated for demolition to make way for housing projects built by private developers (federally funded by the Title 1 program), and the proposed Lower Manhattan Expressway, which would have run through the Greenwich Village and the Lower East Side to connect the Holland Tunnel with the Williamsburg and Manhattan Bridges.

These neighborhoods, found to be "slums" by the government, where, according to Jacobs, in fact organically planned, active, caring, living neighborhoods. Jumbled uses, some vacancies and many imperfections, but far from "slums." Being designated as a "slum" by Title 1 could be self-fulfilling prophecy: government officials would find a neighborhood that had some physical imperfections, perhaps a few buildings that weren't up to current building or fire code, some vacancies, or boarding houses without a bathroom for each room, and the area would be designated a slum. This designation could stick for many decades even if nothing happened, and as a result banks would stop investing and businesses would not move in, so the neighbor would in fact go downhill.

Flint describes Jacobs' legacy of citizen activism and bottom-up action. Today it's hard to imagine such sweeping urban projects being planned without any citizen input (as anyone who has experienced the back-and-forth of the viaduct plans in Seattle can attest). I can't believe I have never heard Boston Mayor Thomas Menino's play on NIMBY (not in my backyard) when speaking about citizen veto power: BANANA (build absolutely nothing anywhere near anything).

Although the book is obviously pro-Jacobs, Flint does touch on a common criticism of Jacobs: that she does not take gentrification into account when discussing what makes great neighborhoods. One of the projects that she fought which is highlighted in the book would provide affordable housing, under Title 1 Urban Renewal.

"Jacobs was convinced the city was the best possible place for people to live, and in many ways gentrification proved her right. She argued that the problem was a matter of supply and demand-that there weren't enough urban neighborhoods, and if they were as ubiquitous as suburban sprawl, they wouldn't be such a precious commodity, and prices would come down."

We see this happening now. Not everyone can afford to live in Greenwich Village, or have a house in Capitol Hill in Seattle, but suburbs such as Kirkland are "urbanizing," realizing the appeal and practicality of a more urban zoning code with a mix of uses and less parking. Most suburban zoning codes are based on the outdated idea of the separation of uses from the 1920's, where tenement houses were next to leather tanneries. The most desirable urban neighborhoods have a mix of uses, all within proximity of the other and ideally combining all daily needs within walking distance.

It's hard to imagine the present day AIA (American Institute of Architects) supporting a plan to replace a street like this with an elevated highway (the proposed Lower Manhattan Expressway, which the AIA then supported). Broome Street in SoHo, with its wealth of cast-iron front buildings, is what some would consider an ideal urban street. (Click on image for photo credit)

Flint also points out the many good things that Moses made a reality: many state and city parks, beaches, playgrounds, parkways and bridges throughout New York City and Long Island. He includes a great point from Nicolai Ouroussoff, architecture critic for the New York Times:

"'Today [2006, when she died], the pendulum of opinion has swung so far in favor of Ms. Jacobs that it has distorted the public's understanding of urban planning. As we mourn her death, may we mourn a bit for Mr. Moses as well.' Moses vision, he said, however flawed, represented 'an America that still believed a healthy government would provide the infrastructure-roads, parks, bridges-that bind us into a nation. Ms. Jacobs, at her best, was fighting to preserve the more delicate bonds that tie us to a community. A city, to survive, must have both.'"

Monday, February 15, 2010

"Niche Design"--178 Square Foot Apartment

From the New York Times: a slide show of a charming 178 square foot studio apartment in Brooklyn, owned and outfitted by designer Zach Motl.

Cozy kitchen niche, with stained bead board from Home Depot. Photo: Robert Wright for the New York Times.

He goes against the logic of "less is more" and instead feels that more things, many of which he has been collecting for some time, make the room look bigger. It's very charming, but from a practical standpoint, I wouldn't want to dust around all those magazines.

Clever storage idea: Box spring from Ikea (Sulton Alsarp box spring with storage, $300 for queen size). Photo: Robert Wright for the New York Times.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

New Year, New Space: Under $500 Remodel/Makeover

Like many 20-something, first time home buyers, when we bought our first home a few years ago, an 840 square foot condo, the interiors were not exactly what we would chose for ourselves. When we moved in, we asked them to leave out the carpet, and instead spent a mad weekend installing wood floors. We recently spent another long-overdue mad weekend painting and tiling our kitchen and bathroom.

Before: with lovely fake-tile sheet vinyl, rubber baseboards and white walls.

After: Porcelain tile, tile baseboards, gold walls (my husband's choice!), and new accessories.
The inspiration for the "someday we should tile the bathroom...." project came when a pipe leaked in the kitchen and I watched in pain as a moisture damage repair crew tore into the wood floors we laid ourselves. We decided that tile would be more practical for the kitchen anyway, and this provided the push to finally replace the brown sheet vinyl flooring and rubber baseboards (yes, you read correctly, rubber baseboards in a new condo) with tile.

The quick makeover was exactly what the bathroom needed. I also replaced the light switch and outlet covers, towel racks, and shower curtain. I am usually wall-color-phobic, but allowed my husband to pick a bright yellow-gold paint for the bathroom. The bathroom now looks like it belongs in an urban condo, not a college apartment. The entire job cost under $500. Though there are many disadvantages, this is one of the great advantages of living in a small space: a partial makeover of two rooms can be done yourself, quite inexpensively, in one weekend.

An inexpensive way to update any room or the entire house: stylish light-switch and outlet covers.

The final product.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Tadao Ando: Here

In honor of my recent trip to Japan, we are showcasing some of the work of Japanese Architect Tadao Ando. Below are some photos from a past trip to The Modern Art Musuem in Ft. Worth, Texas.

“...pavilions that seem to float on the water...”
The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth's building was designed by the Japanese architect Tadao Ando. The Modern is located in Fort Worth's celebrated Cultural District, directly opposite the Kimbell Art Museum, designed by Louis I. Kahn, and near the Amon Carter Museum, designed by Philip Johnson. Ando's design, which embodies the pure, unadorned elements of a modern work of art, is comprised of five long, flat-roofed pavilions situated on a 1.5 acre pond. (Description from

Blurring the lines of inside and out.

No one can resist touching the smooth concrete walls. Ando's buildings are truly a treat for all of the senses.

The shallow water surrounding the museum provides a buffer of serenity from the noisy city beyond the site.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

"Melting" Drywall Keeps Rooms Cool

Developers think these phase-change materials could reduce the need for air-conditioning.

By Katherine Bourzac

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Building materials that absorb heat during the day and release it at night, eliminating the need for air-conditioning in some climates, will soon be on the market in the United States. The North Carolina company National Gypsum is testing drywall sheets--the plaster panels that make up the walls in most new buildings--containing capsules that absorb heat to passively cool a building. The capsules, made by chemical giant BASF, can be incorporated into a range of construction materials and are already found in some products in Europe.
AC killers: These acrylic microcapsules are filled with a paraffin wax that can absorb heat from buildings.
Credit: Peter Schossig

The "phase-change" materials inside the BASF capsules keep a room cool in much the same way that ice cubes chill a drink: by absorbing heat as they melt. Each polymer capsule contains paraffin waxes that melt at around room temperature, enabling them to keep the temperature of a room constant throughout the day. The waxes work best in climates that cool down at night, allowing the materials inside the capsules to solidify and release the heat they've stored during the day.

In some southern European climates, for example, the materials absorb enough heat during the day to save 20 percent of the electricity needed for air-conditioning. In northern Europe, where nighttime temperatures are cooler, a building incorporating the materials may not need an air conditioner at all, says Peter Schossig, an engineer at the Fraunhofer Institute in Munich, Germany, whose research group worked with BASF to develop the capsules.

The work is part of a push in the construction industry toward greener building materials that help maintain comfortable temperatures without using electricity. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, buildings consume more than 70 percent of the electricity generated in America, and about 8 percent of that is used for air-conditioning in homes and offices. Widely used lightweight construction materials including wooden framing and drywall enable contractors to put up buildings rapidly, but they don't store much heat, so temperatures inside fluctuate throughout the day.

For the complete story, go to:

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Tadao Ando: There

Tadao Ando is one of my favorite present day architects. My love began with a visit to the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts in St. Louis, Missouri, his first public building in the United States. Though my trip to Japan was short and unplanned, I did seek out a few of his projects in his native country. Architecture Week has called his buildings "a continuous play of light on concrete" and he is noted for his attention for materiality, particularly concrete.

21-21 Design Site, Tokyo, 2007.

Exterior view of sunken, 2 story gallery space.

Passage in the middle of the building frames the view of the modern Midtown Development to the West.

Roof and wall in one: drainage channels built into smooth metal roof.
View of gallery and gift shop areas, where the wall and the roof are one in the same.

Curtain wall reflection against Ando's signature concrete wall.

Times Gallery, 1991, Kyoto, Japan. High-end shops and salons arranged artfully on a compact city lot.

View from main entry, city waterway to the left and businesses on the right.
View from Main Street. (Click on photo for credit)
Covered public walkway.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Homeless Shelter that feels like a Home

A group of designers in LA have adopted rooms in a converted motel and are creating charming and upbeat temporary homes. This is such a nice surprise, seeing a great non-profit idea that actually comes to life. I hope we can spread this design spirit to other cities. It's wonderful to watch designers work with nothing and move away from the ultra luxurious designs of the upper class.

Doors of the East

In a country where space is scarce, and facade space in particular, the door is sometimes the only chance to make an impression. Also, private life in Japan is kept behind said closed doors. In the compact city of Tokyo, wood screens are closed, shoji screens are translucent, and the living space happens on the second floor.

Houses are crammed into the city side by side, and much like the American town home, the front door and space for the car are the only thing on the first floor, usually on a zero lot line, the front door almost directly off of the sidewalk. The front door then becomes an important expression of style to the outside world, the literal and figurative threshold between the very public and very private worlds.

Doors are unique in commercial spaces too, where very small businesses and storefronts have sliding doors to conserve space.