online media

[With the new website, there is no longer a built-in blog for CoStudio Architects.  So if things are a bit more tangential (as this article is), this may be a better place to post. There will be articles on the website, as well, but this will be home for things a little farther afield. This is also going out as the first installment of the CoStudio Architects Newsletter.]

The EntreArchitect community on Facebook started a discussion about recommended podcasts. Since this is a group for (primarily) small-firm and sole-practitioner architects, some of the top recommendations (starting with the Entrepreneur Architect podcast itself, and also including Business of Architecture podcast, Archispeak podcast, and the Archinect podcast) are not going to be high on the list of most non-architects, but non-architectural recommendations were also requested. After a brief answer to the question, I wanted to expand a bit more on some of my favorites, and share them with non-architects and architects alike.

In the past couple years, I have assembled a set of podcasts that are my regular rotation. Although I was a long time getting to podcasts, once I figured out I could listen to some of the over-the-air programs I sometimes missed, and when I was regularly commuting while I was working for another firm, I started using the time to listen to things by choice, and so developed the habit of being a regular podcast listener. Several of these are radio programs that I’m just time-shifting so it’s more convenient for me. These are programs that I think will have broad appeal to architects and non-architects alike.

99 Percent Invisible []
The title comes from a quote by Buckminster Fuller, “Ninety-nine percent of who you are is invisible and untouchable.” The show examines how design (not just architecture, but typography, acoustic design, graphics, and more) is a part of everything we encounter in our lives. This show has become a juggernaut; producer and host Roman Mars has turned a little show about design into a whole blossoming media empire called Radiotopia. (Frankly, I haven’t delved into the other Radiotopia programs too much yet, but I’m sure there is more awesomeness to be found in there.)

Quirks and Quarks (CBC) []
A long-running science program on CBC Radio, it could be subtitled “All Science Things Considered.” Each hour has a handful of stories about hard science research and new discoveries. Not just the stuff that breaks through, like New Horizons or the Large Hadron Collider (although those are there, too), but everything from dinosaurs to deep space.

On the Media (WNYC) []
This is another one of the first programs I started with. I’ve been a longtime NPR listener and supporter, and I started listening to this program as an over-the-air broadcast from my local station. But it’s aired at inconvenient times, and I’d often miss part or all of it, so this was one of the first shows I started following as a podcast. The show is not a straight news program, but discusses the news, as well as other media issues, with a critical eye that harkens back to the days when NPR news programs offered thought-provoking content (which I find to be less and less the case these days). Far and away the most informative and critical program about news and the media landscape.

Spark (CBC) []
A program about technology, “tech trends, and fresh ideas.” This has been the first place I’ve come across a number of new technologies, Like other CBC programs, it’s currently on summer hiatus, but that gives you the opportunity to catch some past episodes.

Reply All []
On the Media had a spin-off show called tl;dr for a while. The program was chiefly about Internet-specific topics and focusing on that growing segment of the mediascape. The two hosts for that show moved on and are now making a similar program as a podcast.

Note to Self (WNYC) []
A new-ish program, previously called “New Tech City.” They did the Bored and Brilliant project with NPR earlier this year, which was a compelling series about re-engaging your creativity and unplugging from the constant connection to our smartphones. Even if you don’t go for the whole show, I highly recommend the Bored and Brilliant project to everyone. Bringing some mindfulness to how you are using your smartphone (and other tech) can be an enlightening step to help regain some focus in your life.

My podcast app of choice is CarCast for Android operating system.  It is simple, minimal, and the basic functions can be fairly easily accessed if you are driving. “Optimized for use in a daily commute, it features big buttons, large text, remembers last played location.” It’s free, or you can get the paid version which is identical in features, you just contribute a couple bucks to the developer; absolutely worth it, to me.

[I was reminded of this old article of mine after seeing John Robb’s recent post about cold frames. I’m sure there are better DIY instructions out there, but some people found this helpful and maybe a repost will be useful to some more.  (EDIT: Added comments at the bottom about angles and sourcing materials that I also posted on Robb’s G+ article about this.)

This was an article I wrote several years ago for Green Options, and was probably one of my most popular pieces. (GO eventually turned into a number of different blogs, including Green Building Elements, where I wrote for a couple years, and you can find the original there.)  It’s a longish piece, as well, since it’s DIY instructions, so I’m tucking it behind a cut. The links didn’t copy over (and are probably out of date, for the most part), but I’m tracking down a couple of the images and adding them back in. I had a nice hand-drawn diagram illustrating the construction, and I need to see if I still have a copy of that somewhere that I can add in here to help make this more useful.]

Weekly DIY: Cold Frame

This weekend we got the first tantalizing taste of spring as the weather was clear and bright and temperatures rose well above freezing for the first time in months. Snow melted (though not entirely yet), and started the thoughts of summer gardens in mind. But nighttime temperatures are still falling below freezing, and it’s far too early to put plants in the ground, unless you provide a little assistance.

If your garden has a spot with good access to the sun throughout the day, you can use a cold frame to start your plants earlier in the year than you would otherwise. A cold frame is a very simple item. It is really just a small greenhouse. Daytime sun will warm the air and the ground inside, making it easier for plants to start growing. Nighttime temperatures inside the cold frame may fall back close to outdoor ambient temperature, but the extra heat gained during the day and the wind protection the enclosure provides will help keep the plants alive even if there is an overnight frost.

Building a cold frame should be a simple project. An elaborate structure is not required. It should cost little or nothing to build and nothing to operate. Plants can be started close together while they are small, and then, as they get bigger and the weather gets nicer, they can be moved out of the frame and put into the garden. (more…)

I was reminded of the various other outlets I have for work that you might be interested in (if you are someone who is reading this blog regularly to follow my work). There are several other sites where I’m participating in one fashion or another that might be of some interest.

Yesterday, I was talking about the Arcbazar site that I have been participating in for some small project competitions. I also mentioned that the Arcbazar site doesn’t have a good direct way of sharing work. (If you’re on Facebook, you can ‘like’ Arcbazar and see the results of all of the projects, but even I don’t necessarily want to see all of that.) I will probably end up posting links to the project if and when any of my entries ever wins an award. Otherwise, things will probably just be posted here as I see fit, like I did with the last set.

If you are interested in finding more of my work, not everything is getting filtered through the blog, so you can also check some of these sites, as well:

Tumblrcornellbox – collected works of art, architecture, photography, and design; stuff that I like. The p s proefrock blog (this blog) is also now set to auto-post to this Tumblr.

TumblrSpeedGraphicBellows (aka Phlat Phield Photos) – this was my first experimentation with Tumblr. A series of photographs that I’ve been taking since Spring. The images are things that have texture or pattern, and things that generally are context-free and are somewhat monolithic (with a tendency to photograph

Houzzp s proefrock architecture – a website for residential architecture and remodeling.

Facebookp s proefrock architecture

Twittercornellbox 140 characters or less

[Originally posted at EcoGeek. This was adapted from the Remembrance of Ernest Callenbach that I posted yesterday. It also incorporates the fragment of an interview I had started doing with him for an EcoGeek of the Week profile that never happened. Since the interview is included in this version, I’m re-posting it here, as well, although some of what I’ve written repeats what I had in my first article. But for those unfamiliar with Ernest Callenbach, this may be a better introduction to his work.]

Ernest Callenbach died a couple of weeks ago at the age of 83. You may not recognize his name, but his book, ‘Ecotopia’ was an extremely influential early novel of environmentalism. It has been translated into a dozen languages and has sold nearly a million copies since it was first self-published in 1975. I would have to say that I am the EcoGeek that I am because of Ernest Callenbach.

Ecotopia‘ presents an alternative future where Northern California, Oregon, and Washington State have seceded from a collapsing United States that is choked with pollution. The new country has isolated itself from its parent country, and the book is presented as the journal of the first reporter from the US to visit, some 20 years after secession, to see how Ecotopians live. The Ecotopian lifestyle was more connected to the land, more interpersonal, and more conscious of environmental effects. It may not be a realistic possibility, but it offers a compelling vision for what could be aspired to.

I had a brief email correspondence with Ernest Callenbach for a possible interview for EcoGeek (to be part of the EcoGeek of the Week series). I had only done a few of these interviews; a couple of them went well; a couple others less so (and never got published). Ernest Callenbach was a hero to me, and I didn’t want to screw that one up, and I wanted to ask good questions. I have the first part of that discussion, but things telescoped and other things came up and the interview was never finished. What follows is that interview segment.

[This article was originally posted on Green Building Elements several years ago (April 2007). With the recent discussion about the concept of “open building,” I thought it would be good to copy it here for reference.]

The strategy of “open building” can be traced back to European and Japanese roots. While it has been widely adopted in those parts of the world, it is only relatively recently beginning to see any use in North America. However, an increased interest in pre-fabricated construction is helping to expand awareness of this approach to building.

The principle is to maintain a separation between the different aspects of the building in order to be able to make repairs and do upgrades with a minimum of interference with other elements of the building. Open building stipulates separate zones or chases for different functions and services. This will, for example, make it easier to change plumbing systems without needing to repair other systems that cross or interfere with access to the necessary parts of the plumbing system.

Open building also makes construction easier by minimizing the interference between different systems, so that the installation of different systems can take place at the same time, rather than needing to be staggered one after another. With each trade and system given its own designated area, the builders (and also the future remodelers or repairers) of those systems can do their work with much less concern about damaging other elements of the building.

Open building lays out six “layers” with different lifespans. They are:

  • Site – the location; building site itself. Timeless duration
  • Structure – the framework; the “bones” of the building. 100 to 300 year lifespan
  • Skin – the cladding. 40 to 100 year lifespan
  • Space plan – the interior partition walls. 10 to 30 year life
  • Services – electrical, plumbing, mechanical, and heating/ventillation systems. Updated every 1 to 10 years
  • Stuff – belongings and furnishings. Can change monthly

Open building is often incorporated into pre-fab systems. Concentrating all of the plumbing elements in one area, for example, helps to put all elements of that system in one area for easier repair access. It also serves to reduce the amount of plumbing material needed. If all water uses are concentrated in one area, there is less piping needed which can mean a reduction in the amount of copper or other material used in the construction. The benefits of engineered construction with pre-fabrication, rather than having all of the installation of the services done on-site, can make for better use of materials and better buildings.

Taken to its extreme, however, open building can become restrictive, forcing configurations on the building that do not serve the needs of the inhabitants. If other parts of the plan are forced into awkward configurations in order to accommodate the structure of open building, then the savings in that one area may be lost in other areas. However, there can be benefits to understanding open building even without wholly embracing the open building system as the chief principle for constructing a building. Looking at the building with an eye to the life cycle of the different systems can lead to a better building, and can help reduce later problems.

Buildings need to be built to meet immediate needs. But they also need to be constructed in a way that future needs and changes to the building are also given consideration. Much in the same way that we need to conserve resources for the use of future generations, the buildings we build today will also be used and re-used well into the future, and a longer-term approach to building is another part of building green.

Article: Reinventing the House (Fine Homebuilding reprint – PDF)

Several years ago, when I was writing for Green Building Elements, I posted a piece on the concept of “open building” which was a concept being espoused, at the time, by Bensonwood Homes. And the idea derives from earlier writing by Stewart Brand. In short, it is a principle that is based on recognition that different parts of a building have different lifespans, and attempts to accommodate that in the design. To quote myself from that earlier article:

The principle is to maintain a separation between the different aspects of the building in order to be able to make repairs and do upgrades with a minimum of interference with other elements of the building. Open building stipulates separate zones or chases for different functions and services. This will, for example, make it easier to change plumbing systems without needing to repair other systems that cross or interfere with access to the necessary parts of the plumbing system.

Last week, I found my name being cited on the Greenbuilding-list, from David Bergman, who has written a book (Sustainable Design: A Critical Guide for Architects and Interior, Lighting, and Environmental Designers). I had some correspondence with him when he was working on the book, but I didn’t think I had really contributed all that much; mostly I thought I had pointed him at Benson and Brand, but he was talking about it “based on a combination of Benson, Stewart Brand and Philip Proefrock’s writing on the idea.”  So apparently, I’m a source to be cited on this.

Even more, when I tried to look up the original article, so that I could link to it, the top two hits in my search were a couple of articles posted on Treehugger by Lloyd Alter that cite me on the concept, as well. I had no idea!

Bergman’s graphic is a nice combination of the nesting of elements along with the respective timelines for each of the six levels:

I still think the reasoning behind the approach is sound, but it needs to be balanced in application. Building lots of additional chases and access points for the different building components is more likely to result in adding on extraneous stuff, rather than reducing the amount of material in a building. Exposed ducts and services certainly allow for easy access and flexibility, but that aesthetic isn’t always appropriate.

With Bergman’s book due out in a couple months, I should maybe think about this concept some more, and have some additional writings about this as an approach to building. I’ll also get that original article reposted here in the near future.

I disagree with the analogy in Michelle Kaufmann’s statement, “building a house on site is like having your car built in your driveway. It’s not efficient!” Makes a pithy slogan, but I think it’s misguided.

This is in advance of a forthcoming debate between Kaufmann and Chad Ludeman to be held on Treehugger tomorrow (3:30 ET May 26; rescheduled from a week earlier).

Efficiency may or may not be served by prefabrication, but site specificity and orientation doesn’t matter for a car and is all too easily forgotten when you are doing prefabricated buildings. A car doesn’t have a north side or a south side; a car is mobile, and is a fundamentally mass-produced object. Architects, designers and homebuilders have all been trying to figure out the “house as car” model since the early 1900s. There have been lots of attempts at this, from mobile homes to Fuller’s Dymaxion house, but I don’t think anyone has ever solved it.

Of course, on the other hand, it’s not very practical to imagine that all housing is going to be crafted with site specificity. Fundamentally, I think that, as with many debates, neither perspective is completely right or wrong. There’s a lot that prefabrication has to offer. But I disagree with the absolutism of the premise, “Be It resolved that Prefabrication is a greener way to build.” Some degree of mass-production could be useful, but prefabrication could be as badly done as any other process.

Last month I posted a brief article of my own after seeing a Residential Architect magazine piece about some of the considerations in the ‘tear-down and build new’ versus ‘renovate what’s existing’ debate.

At the time, the only link to the article was to an online magazine which is an absolutely awful format. Fortunately, the article is now in a more normal and much more readable page and I’m happier to link to it than to the original. If you were intrigued at the time, but took my advice and held off, now you can read it.

While it is undoubtedly true that renovating what is already existing is usually a greener option, just as it’s true that LEED is not a good excuse for demolishing an older home. But sometimes what is old doesn’t work anymore. Maybe only part of the existing building is really valuable, and other solutions, including a more radical renovation or partial demolition and reconstruction, make more sense.

I’m not advocating for any one particular approach for every case. The point, I think, is that thinking more creatively can sometimes find some middleground solutions. The interesting cases are those where a part of the building is valued by the owner, but other parts of the building don’t work. Holding on to the important parts and yet being able to improve the building overall can be the greenest strategy.

Deciding whether to renovate or rebuild with an existing property isn’t easy. Architects face a lot of questions about these projects, as do the owners themselves. Determining which route to follow, or forging a middle way, needs a lot of discussion and evaluation of wants and needs. I came across a really good article (in my opinion) about the question of renovation versus rebuilding (ie tear-down) from the Jan/Feb 2011 issue of Residential Architect.

I’m somewhat reluctant to provide a link to this article* because the “read the magazine online” interface is so awful. But the information about renovating versus rebuilding is of interest, and this is a very good article about the pros and cons behind such a decision. Although the primary audience for the article is architects, I think it would also make for good reading for people who are considering renovation/replacement projects.

The questions in whether to try to renovate an existing building or to tear it down and rebuild can be complicated. The article covers a number of different conditions and cases, and discusses how the owners and architects arrived at their decision and how the project turned out. Some examples are cautionary tales rather than success stories.

This article also acknowledges the usefulness of preserving the materials and embodied energy of existing buildings, but without advocating for saving every last standing stick of framing.

In any case, here’s the link to the article. I should have this article in hardcopy, as well, for easier reading, at least for local friends. If I can find a better link to the content, I’ll add that in, too.

I had meant to post this last month, when things were cold and snowy and wintry.  And now, the weather seems to have broken, and temperatures getting above freezing during the day, so we’re having lots of snow melting going on.  It’s not as timely as I had originally intended, but this wood-burning stove is still a nice thing to look at.

From a carbon perspective, burning wood is not as environmentally unfriendly as you may think. While burning wood certainly puts carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, growing wood absorbs and retains the CO2, so it’s more carbon neutral overall than even so-called clean burning fuel like natural gas.

On TreeHugger, Lloyd Alter wrote about this stove by Bullerjan which was allegedly (though not very likely) “designed by Canadian lumberjacks.” Regardless of its origins, it’s still an interesting and appealing design.

Theoretically, I think this should work.  The tubes on the sides help conduct air along the furnace to warm the air. Air certainly gets heated up from the sides of a conventional wood burner, and hot air will rise.  But the tubes would, I think, create a more directed circulation, with a stronger draw and better circulation.

I’d like to experience one in person to see how well it works before I recommend it to anyone.  But for now, despite its alleged Canadian origins, it’s only available in Europe.

Next Page »