The Original Green Blog
This blog discusses in plain-spoken terms various in-depth aspects of Steve Mouzon’s proposition of the Original Green, which is that originally, before the Thermostat Age, the places we made and the buildings we built had no choice but to be green. The Original Green is holistic sustainability, and broader than Gizmo Green. If this blog interests you, please subscribe to it by clicking the RSS button to the right.
This started out as just another shameful story of a Department of Transportation ramming their over-engineered highway through a neighborhood, but the Flamingo Park Neighborhood Association just might be turning the tables on them in South Beach. Alton Road, on the West side of Miami Beach, is the battleground.
The Florida DOT decided to "improve" Alton Road, already the least walking- and bike-friendly thoroughfare on South Beach so that it can carry even more cars, and that they could travel faster. The design speed will be 40 miles/hour, but two of the lanes are wider than Interstate lanes, so you know how people will drive. And at 40 miles per hour, your changes of surviving if you're walking and get hit by a car are about 10%. The design speed of 30 miles per hour that the neighborhood is asking for reduces your chance of getting killed to about 50%. Which would you prefer?
The DOT is removing about 40% of the on-street parking. Problem is, on-street parking is what makes sidewalk cafes possible because you'd be insane to sit right next to speeding traffic without parked cars to protect you. And every car parked on the street is worth roughly $250,000 in sales each year to the merchants on that street. Force parking off the street, and bad things happen. If it's behind the building, it's a big heat island and you have to provide not only the parking spaces, but also the aisles in between, so it takes nearly twice as much asphalt. Move it to the side of the building and things get worse because now you have gaps in the urbanism, which is ugly and boring. Move it to the front of the building for the worst possible condition because a sidewalk running between a speedy thoroughfare completely kills Walk Appeal, meaning that almost nobody will walk there.
This isn't just theory… we now know both the measurable things and the ones that can't be measured which encourage or discourage walking. And walkability is the biggest single predictor of the chance of success and risk of failure of neighborhood businesses.
Walk Appeal is an even bigger problem than normal on Alton Road because almost half of South Beach residents don't own a car. They don't need them because South Beach is so walkable. So if you make Alton Road unfriendly to walkers and cyclists, you're cutting out almost half of the customers to Alton Road's businesses. For most businesses, losing almost half of your customers is the equivalent of a death warrant.
The Flamingo Park Neighborhood Association, and the Alton Road Reconstruction Coalition it spawned have been fighting the DOT's auto-dominant design every step of the way, and not just as NIMBYs. Some really serious New Urbanist planners live on South Beach. Andrés Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, two of the founders of the New Urbanism, have a condo there as well. The New Urbanists have therefore put out many excellent design counter-proposals along the way. The designers include Matt Lambert, Jason King, and Pam Stacy, all partners or employees at two of the most famous planning firms in the world: DPZ and Dover-Kohl. My wife Wanda is one of the core group of neighbors leading the charge, which also includes the designers plus Aaron Sugarman, Ben Batchelder, Ken Bereski, Mark Needle, Ron Starkman, and Tammy Tibbles, under the leadership of longtime neighborhood activist Denis Russ. Others have weighed in as well, such as nationally-known cycling expert Mike Lydon and blogger Kaid Benfield on Atlantic Cities, saying "this is what a Complete Streets campaign should look like."
But even with all of the excellent counter-proposals, the DOT did what the DOT always does: they rammed their design down the throats of the neighborhood, and in a particularly nefarious way that was downright dishonest: The DOT showed several options, and after literally years of negotiation with Flamingo Park, both sides (plus the city of Miami Beach) agreed on what is known as the "locally-approved option." But when they signed the contract to begin construction a couple months ago, it was with a design that nobody had even seen. And that design was worse than any of the options that they had shown. That's downright fraudulent and disgraceful.
So it seemed that all was lost. But Tammy just wouldn't let it go. She did a lot of research, and then put together a very effective case that the Bait-And-Switch the DOT pulled simply isn't right, and finally got the City Commission's ear. The stakes weren't as big as all of East Village, but this story is bracingly similar to Jane Jacobs' legendary fight against Robert Moses in the 1960s.
Now, the design of Alton Road is back in play. Part of the job is reworking the storm drainage, so it will be 2015 before the street-level work is done. The Miami Beach City Commission is holding hearings, and appears firmly on the side of the Coalition, with one commissioner noting that "the Commission should prepare for litigation if necessary."
So join the fight! This campaign just might set the pattern for other victories over tyrannical DOT's elsewhere. America was founded to put down tyranny, but DOTs across America act with complete impunity. The time has come for this to end. They can build highways in the country if they like because that's where highways belong, but when a state route enters town, it needs to behave in civilized fashion. For far too long, we've paid a price now totaling over a trillion dollars by letting highways ruin our cities and towns by being too big and fast. When they come into town, they should act like boulevards, avenues, and main streets, not country highways.
We need your help… please join us! Please sign the petition. Facebook it. Tweet it. Here's the Facebook page… please like it. Please follow their new Twitter stream. Please blog about it. Please tweet the blog posts. Matter of fact, I've started an Alton Road BlogOff, so let me know when you blog and I'll put it there. Right now is the crucial time, so please act!
Schooner Bay is a new DPZ-designed town in the Bahamas where you can look out onto the fields and onto the waters from which much of your food comes. It is a real fishing village, with a boat that goes out in the morning to catch the evening meals at the Black Fly Lodge. As the town grows, there will be more fishing boats. You enter town skirting the edge of Lightbourn Farm, which produces organic fare that feeds more than the town's inhabitants. Delivering food from the surrounding land and waters assures that Schooner Bay will remain a nourishable place. And these are two of the many things that Schooner Bay is doing to become the most complete Original Green place built in our time.
I was at Schooner Bay recently with my friends and colleagues Eric Moser and Julie Sanford, and we ate at Black Fly on Friday night. If you choose to eat indoors, the kitchen and the dining room are completely open to each other, so it's like eating at the "chef's table" inside the kitchen of a fine restaurant. But this was the Bahamas in late spring, so we ate out on the verandah instead. Black Fly caters to fishermen looking for the blazing-fast bonefish that populate nearby waters. That night, there was one fisherman at the lodge with no other plans, so we invited him to have dinner with us, along with Clint Kemp, Black Fly's general manager. The meal was nothing short of exquisite; the best I've experienced in a very long time. The fish had been caught just a few hours before, and the rest of the meal (except the wine) came from the organic farm. And chef Devon Roker's culinary craftsmanship is of the highest order.
The farm is a fascinating place, with about half of it devoted to a type of vertical farming I hadn't seen before. Row after row of poles are strung like a string of beads with lightweight pots, and then topped with irrigation hoses. The space between the rows is covered with landscape fabric to eliminate weed growth. This biointensive trick allows Lightbourn to raise far more produce than would be possible if it all grew on the ground. It's a hybrid hydroponic system, with water and nutrients delivered through the hoses to drip down through each pot, but the pots contain soil, not just water. So it's the best of both worlds, in my opinion: preserving the complexity of interactions (many of which we don't yet fully understand) that occur with roots in soil while retaining the effectiveness of hydroponics.
Until recently, Lightbourn Farm grew only vegetables. They are now beginning to branch out, as you can see from the free-range chicken I found exploring one of the Lightbourn buildings.
There are many more great stories to tell about Schooner Bay, and I'll be posting some of them over the next days and weeks. But for starters, check out The Schooner Bay Miracle, which chronicles the shocking lack of damage after the eye of Hurricane Irene hit Schooner Bay at her strongest point, with sustained winds of 125 miles per hour. Also, have a look at The Ecological Dividend, which lays out the millions of dollars of benefits that are accruing by building this town in an Original Green way. Be sure to check out Mainsheet as well… it's Schooner Bay's excellent quarterly publication that's mainly cultural reporting and articles on ideals of community-building. And then, do yourself a favor and make a reservation for one of the cottages… you really need to see this place.
2013 Barranco Award
I presented the 2013 Barranco Award at the beginning of the Friday morning plenary. Andrew von Maur was this year's winner, but he was traveling in Europe with his students. So Mark Moreno, a fellow-professor at Andrews University, accepted the award for Andrew. Here are my remarks.
Not So Big Meets the New Urbanism
I had the pleasure of hearing Sarah Susanka speak for the first time in the Friday plenary. I've spoken with her by email for years, and have contributed some of my photographs to her presentations, so this was a treat. Here are my tweets from her presentation:
• I have felt for so long that we have these parallel movements attracting similar people - CNU and Not So Big.
• I'm not telling you anything you don't already know, but how do we make these ideas simple enough that people see?
• We have to begin to bring the New Urbanism into everyday language so we can share what we know more broadly.
• I grew up in a little village in England; we walked everywhere. I walked to the grocery with my mother.
• The thought of children not having the ability to move around in their world seems so sad.
• I remember after moving to Los Angeles as a teen and walking two miles to the grocery at a local strip mall… in tears.
• "We must be the change we wish to see in the world" -Ghandi I don't believe we fully understand that phrase. More on this later.
• Architecture school tends to be fairly harsh, so people get hardened to fight to get their ideas across. At the University of Oregon, we didn't call them "juries," but rather "discussions." It was much more civilized.
• I and my partner started our careers by going to the local home and garden shows. America is desperate for design help, but they don't know where to go to find it.
• We all look for something big because we think it's going to make us feel better.
• The quality that people are looking for doesn't reside in bigness.
• Where's the edge of where we have enough? we'll never find it.
• More food, more shelter, more security… these things will never completely fill the void we feel.
• The feeling of home is a quality, not a quantity.
• The key is finding the sense of home in your own life.
• Community is a quality, just like home is a quality.
• It's an incredible gift to be able to connect with other humans in the creation of their communities and homes.
• Our thoughts are the architecture of our world.
• By continually telling people I was too busy, I was creating the world of "too busyness."
• I realized after years that if I didn't make a change to start writing, nobody was going to do it for me.
• I penciled my writing time into my own calendar. I felt very guilty at first, taking time from my architecture clients, but as I made time, support came.
• It is the simplicity of message that helps people enter what we do.
• You're not writing to impress your fellow colleagues with long words. Simplicity is what speaks.
• Beauty & Balance, Harmony, Home as Security, Sustainability, Well-Being.
• Not So Big can be any size, but it's about a third smaller than what you thought you needed.
• A Not So Big house has the quality of being lived in… not acres of space we seldom visit.
• When you're having people over for dinner, it's not the king and queen of England; it's Joe and Kathy.
• We all had some small spot we loved to hang out as a child… remember yours. This is what we long for but are missing.
• A map of a city tells us nothing whatsoever about the character of the city.
• A map of a house is a floor plan. It tells us very little about the character of the house.
• The information of whether this is a good house does not exist on the floor plan.
• The third dimension is how you connect people to what they're missing. I don't know what the equivalent is for the New Urbanism.
• Light to Walk Towards isn't just a near-death experience… we're literally programmed to walk towards the light.
• The front porch needs to be part of the natural flow within the house if it is to be used.
• I put the kitchen and the dining nook at the front to help activate the front porch.
• It's not a big deal to move a few pieces of furniture to accommodate Thanksgiving dinner because it comes around only once a year.
• Ceiling height variety can help shape space without building walls.
• Get The End of the Suburbs by Leigh Gallagher. It's due out August 2013, and has lots of good press for the New Urbanism.
• Not So Big Living means following your own heart.
• We must use language that communicates what we're really talking about.
• Simple language connects the dots for regular people. I was insulted when my publisher first asked me to write The Not So Big House at an eighth grade level, but it has spread broadly.
• It is critical to foster intermingling of the generations so that they can each teach the other.
• In crises, we learn what really matters, which is our connection with our neighbors - we need to design places that foster that connection.
• Our lives are being run by our stuff, and we have too much stuff, but the void we're trying to fill can't be filled by buying more of it.
• Is there a period in your life when some things are turned off? I don't open email until after lunch, for example.
• We really need to take back the parts of life that nourish us.
• When you look with the eyes of a student, everything can teach you.
• We live in an awesome world, but we're going so fast that we might not even see it.
• We're so busy with our thinking that we miss the big point.
• What is it that really inspires you? place your focus there. our thoughts are the architects of our lives.
• "The only way to change the world is to change yourself" is what I think Ghandi really meant.
• Our words have no effect until our lives back them up.
• When you embody what you're asking, the world changes with you.
• Stay clear on what it is that you're really longing to do, and place your focus there.
The Great American Grid Debate
This debate was the most entertaining session I think I've ever attended at a CNU! Paul Knight, Kevin Klinkenberg, Bill Dennis, and Howard Blackson squared off roughly on Lincoln-Douglass debate format, but with tag teams instead of one-on-one. Paul and Kevin took the position that the gridiron layout of cities is a good thing; Bill and Howard took the counter position. Here are the tweets of the proceedings:
• Bill: Making lines straight, as 19th century urbanism has done, eliminates diversity of streetscape.
• Bill: Build an unrelenting grid, and say hasta la vista to interesting man-made vistas.
• Bill: Uniformity of street width and direction is gob-smackingly boring.
• Kevin Q: Mr. Dennis, why do you hate America so much?
• Bill: There is nothing particularly American about the gridiron pattern.
• Bill: A boring street is one where you can tell well in advance what a street is going to be up ahead.
• Bill: Geometric fascism is top-down planning that decides that all streets will be straight.
• Paul: Please leave the doors open; there's a lot of residual hot air from Mr. Dennis' presentation.
• Paul: The grid is inherently walkable and provides a good level of connectivity, depending on block size, of course.
• Paul: The grid is inherently navigable. Never ask for directions again if the streets are numbered.
• Paul: The grid behaves as a yardstick if you know the distance between streets… so you know how far you have to travel.
• Paul: The grid is economical to plat and survey, and it allows you to do the most with the least land.
• Paul: Orthogonal blocks are ideally suited to the orthogonality of our lives… look at how many things are built of rectangles.
• Paul: The grid is the best way to accommodate the greatest number of land uses in a given area.
• Paul: The grid is appendable. as long as you know the increments, you know exactly how to expand.
• Bill Q: What is the proper range of block sizes?
• Paul: Ideal blocks are 200' to 600' on a side, with a maximum perimeter of 1800'.
• Howard: The fact that I use the grid, but not nearly so successfully as Geoff Dyer illustrates the grid doesn't guarantee quality.
• Howard: The grid descends from the Law of the Indies that were used to subjugate the New World and the imperial expansion of the Romans before that.
• Paul Q: Howard, let's pretend that you are presidential material in 1785: how would you have divided the Louisiana Purchase?
Howard: I would have based American expansion on greatest common good rather than greatest initial $.
• Kevin: I'm here to set the record straight: urbanism is about sociability - life in public.
• Kevin: We should focus on techniques that enhance neighborly places. The grid is proven to encourage people to stroll.
• Kevin: The grid is inherently a democratic device. it was promoted in the spirit of Jefferson's desire for citizen farmers.
• Kevin: Bill and Howard are promoting plans that are aristocratic.
• Kevin: Grids are inherently affordable, less expensive on all fronts, and they don't require great architecture to succeed.
• Kevin: The most important element is block size, not street right-of-way.
• Bill Q: Kevin, how committed are you to mediocre and bad architecture?
• Kevin: I have great faith in the mediocrity in most of my architect colleagues!
• Paul: The grid isn't just used by greedy developers. William Penn used it to express the virtue of equality.
• Kevin: Most things that frustrate us about the built environment is not the grid, but the implementation of what's built.
• Kevin: The grid that Jefferson created is a uniquely American phenomenon, and the most walkable places are usually gridded.
• Howard: The grid wasn't about urbanism; it was about efficient land subdivision.
• Howard: I don't think the high point of America was 1787; I hope we're still moving toward it.
• Howard: Even in San Francisco, you get into the city because of the interruptions in the several grids.
I made the following comment in the subsequent Q&A: "New Urbanists love to design "cranky streets," but they're not getting it right. Most New Urbanist cranky streets crank by 6° to 15°, but those cranks look more like a right-angle turn when you're approaching from the distance. The cranky streets in the old towns that we appreciate most usually crank 0.5° to 1.5°… beautiful on the ground, but almost imperceptible on a plan. The problem is that we feel pressure to design sexy plans. We need to detach ourselves from the romance of the plan, and care about the romance of the place."
The Western Grid, Applications for the Future
Howard and Kevin next joined joined Christopher Duerksen and Matt Lambert (moderated by Lee Sobel) for a more scholarly discussion of the grid. Mr. Duerksen, an attorney, was expert on issues of solar access, while the other three panelists fell firmly on the side of great streetscapes first.
I'm worried that this might grow into a bigger issue, and while I'm sympathetic to solar power, it should not be the trump card. Gizmos alone are not the solution, as any reader of this blog has read many times. There are two problems with oppressive solar access:
• The images Mr. Duerksen showed of places built to rigorous solar access standards look dreadful. All the buildings lined up like soldiers with photovoltaic roof acne. This is unacceptable. When there are solar panels or photovoltaics, they must be designed with the rest of the building to be lovable.
• Cutting down street trees for solar access in a warm climate means people simply won't walk. And when people don't get out, they don't get conditioned to the local environment and start living in season. Nothing we can do has a bigger impact than creating great outdoor public and private realms that entice people outdoors because when they get conditioned, they can leave the equipment off for much of the year when they return indoors. There is no piece of equipment so efficient as that which is off.
2013 Charter Awards
Kudos to Doug Farr and the members of the jury who revitalized the Charter Awards this year. Everything from the way the jury dressed at the awards ceremony (black & top hats) to the multimedia presentation of the projects to the re-branding of the awards (Global Award for Excellence in Urban Design) this definitely didn't feel like last year. And because they're serious about the "global" part, look for future awards that expand horizons of what New Urbanism is as far-flung projects with radically different regional conditions, climate, and culture find different ways of building sustainably.
Emily Talen was honored at the end of the Charter Awards ceremony for her herculean effort in putting together the totally-revamped Charter, which was the work of 62 authors. I'm honored to be one of them. Yes, the Original Green is now in the Charter!
The Peery Hotel
Andrés Duany reserved the entire Peery Hotel, not just as a place for colleagues to stay, but as a place to discuss and debate the latest issues. The problem with the official Congress is that it has to be set up almost a year beforehand to get all the speakers and continuing education credit lined up. So it's impossible that the latest ideas can be discussed at the Congress. The public spaces of the Peery (the bar, the restaurant, and the meeting room) are being used each evening after official Congress events are wrapped up to solve this problem by providing a marketplace of idea-swapping between anyone who stops by.
I presented the latest version of Walk Appeal at the Peery hotel. I followed a presentation by Rick Hall on transportation issues which in turn followed a raucous presentation by Dan Slone. Andrés Duany turned Dan's presentation into a debate across half a room, with lots of good-natured shouting and gesticulation.
Chuck Marohn set up a series of debates on behalf of NextGen that was completely hilarious. But the levity did a curious thing: because the scene was indiscernible from a comedy club show, it allowed exploration of subject matter not so often discussed amongst New Urbanists… because they just might be kidding. This is of great value, and the format should definitely be used long into the future.
Andrés Duany led off Thursday morning at CNU21 by laying out a far-ranging view of what the near future needs to look like, and what we can do to get there. Here's a selection of my tweets from that session:
• CNU has now held 10 more congresses than CIAM.
• CNU's great conflicts have always been conflicts of ideas, not conflicts of territory.
• LEED, while powerful, has become a dinosaur. It can barely move.
• I was for establishing standards; Dan Solomon was always against it, and he won. 3 years ago, I told Dan "we could have been LEED"
• Now, looking at how ossified LEED is, I say "thank you Dan Solomon for paralyzing my argument!!"
• Duany, to Edward Erfurt early this morning: "I don't think this talk is coming together." Edward: "Good. We need talks like that."
• Landscape Urbanism and Harvard have set themselves up as "not the New Urbanism."
• You're not a New Urbanist if you haven't read the Charter.
• Emily Talen said: "the New Urbanism is intrinsically top-down and bottom-up."
• The New Urbanism is the Charter and the charrette. Principles and practice. It has never been combined like this before.
• Urban Land has become a New Urbanist publication. Why do we need one when they do such a good job?
• The New Urbanism forges ideas, and others take them up. And that's the way it should be.
• We don't worry about taking credit; we want to see the work get done.
• We knew the greatest beast we had to enter as a virus was environmentalism. We didn't know how technocratic it would be.
• The virus is now inside the beast, but unfortunately, the beast is infecting the virus.
• New Urbanism could become just like 1000 other environmental organizations, and we don't need 1001.
• Becoming just another environmental organization would make the New Urbanism completely irrelevant.
• Nature was about beauty until about 1900, when it became scientific.
• The American environmental movement is the only environmental system in the world that doesn't include humans.
• American environmentalism began with the national parks. Every human that enters degrades the ideal.
• Defining humans as being outside nature leads to draconian environmental laws.
• No European environmentalism could ever say "you can't build on the hills," or in the woods, or near the river.
• American environmentalists say Times Square is horrible, but it hosts millions of visitors who aren't in Yellowstone bothering the bears.
• New Urbanism works to build places so enticing that people will willingly choose to live compactly and efficiently in the city rather than ruining the countryside.
• Nature doesn't care so much whether rainwater enters the aquifer here or a mile down; it doesn't hurt the little water molecules.
• We do not polemicize the visual green. If we did, you can't build Charleston again.
• If an ideology won't let Charleston be built again, I cannot condone it.
• You cannot achieve the extraordinary reward of street life by Landscape Urbanism, except by using PhotoShop.
• It's not our fault that New Urbanism becomes too expensive; that simply means there's not enough of it yet.
• "Locally widespread but nationally rare": environmental parlor trick for protecting species that are plentiful.
• American environmentalism is perpetually the overlord and the underdog.
• New Urbanists study success wherever it occurs.
• We know Portland's small blocks are good and Salt Lake City's big blocks are bad, right? look deeper, and we need both.
• The problem with Salt Lake City is that it's not today what Joseph Smith and Brigham Young had in mind.
• The problem with Salt Lake City today is that the original grid was infected with the DNA of sprawl.
• Nature doesn't begin as primal forest; New York didn't begin with 100-story buildings.
• The problem with the New Urbanism over the past 10 years was that we were bitten by the bug of financial protocols.
• Make many small successional deals, not one big deal.
• We absolutely need to deliver town centers at the beginning - the inaugural condition is a single-story town center.
• Everything of the New Urbanism in its first decade was incubated. we must restore that.
• Seaside has a comprehensive set of green measures, but they were all done because they were cheaper.
• "Environmentalism costs more, but it pays for itself in 8 years" is utterly biased to high-tech.
• High-tech environmentalism is absolutely going to crash. The Original Green will replace it.
• Code-writing was the least cool of the uncool, but those incredibly lean early New Urbanist codes were glamorous.
• Fat codes are bad because you can't amortize small projects.
• why has NextGen become tactical? Because they can't get things done through today's code burden. So they bypass them.
• The last act of the first generation of New Urbanists should be to deliver a world where the young can operate.
• Centuries do not begin when 00 clicks. The 20th century lasted until the real estate bubble of 2008.
• The real estate bubble. Peak oil. Climate change. All of this happened at the same time. It didn't have to… nothing tied them together… but it did anyway.
• The real estate bubble revealed the economic limits of the US permanently. Essentially, we're broke.
• It's not about oil running out. It's that energy is going to hereafter be more expensive.
• The problem with climate change is that it's so slow-motion, but there's a pall that we have lost the war.
• When people are depressed, they lose their idealism, but we can turn all of these problems into virtues.
• We can turn these into virtues, pleasures, joys, and meaningful things IF we avoid getting infected by the pall.
• We have to say that sustainability is adapting to the circumstances.
• The Now Urbanism
• Architects have no hope of achieving the Vernacular Mind; it's been engineered out of them.
• A new century. Protean CNU. Viruses & Membranes. The Vernacular Mind. Subsidiarity Process. Successional Growth.
• Interim Buildings. Light Green Tech. Pink Codes. Flexbuildings. Pod Practices.
• The SmartCode has flaws because it plugs into the existing system.
• CNU is based on the genetics of CIAM: separate firms pulling together to create a movement.
• If you get along, you're not noticed. The New Urbanism was noticed by ITE and ULI because we caused them problems.
• Adaptation has no friends and is in bad odor because it's considered to be giving up, but it's what will work, and what will give us hope.
• "Copyright - Use Without Permission" that's what we do to prevent our materials from being copyrighted against us.
• Lean Engineering = the Original Green.
• Let us rediscover real engineering that allowed the cities of the West to be built with little money.
• Lean Engineering = Light Imprint.
• Lean = the Subsidiarity Process.
• Subsidiarity: person-family-street face-block-neighborhood-municipality-state-nation-UN.
Decision should be made at smallest scale at which it makes sense.
• Today's true avant-garde isn't doing frivolous buildings, but rather lean ones.
• The model that's crashing next are the architecture schools.
• I hire people because of the firms they've worked in, not the schools they've gone to.
• We should self-certify the graduates of our firms.
PS: Here are my upcoming sessions… please come!
Original Green Hope for Architecture (with Clay Chapman): Tonight at 8:30 PM at the Peery Hotel
Agrarian Urbanism and the Mormon Block: Saturday at 10:45 AM, Grand Ballroom BC
Art Room: Design Techniques for Charrettes: Saturday at 2 PM, Murano room
I'm doing a CNU21 session Saturday on Agrarian Urbanism and the Mormon Grid, and I'm also participating in the Salt Lake City Interrotta, which examines the things you can do with the Mormon Grid, which is an enormous 660' on each side. Unfortunately, I hadn't even begun the drawing below, which is central to both events, before arriving. So I spent the first eight hours of the Congress camped out next to NextGen's Engaging the Plat of Zion jam session that explored the Mormon Grid as well. Please stop by Saturday at 10:45 AM in Grand Ballroom BC for the Agrarian Urbanism and the Mormon Block session!
I got the drawing printed and taped it onto the Interrotta boards as the sole late entry just in time for the opening plenary, which was excellent. Keynote speaker Richard Louv wrote Last Child in the Woods. The following are selected tweets from my tweet-cast of Richard's presentation:
• We give community associations power we would never consider giving to government. Even the color of your curtains is regulated.
• A community association in Florida actually banned children playing outdoors.
• Access to nature is exceptionally important to child development.
• I'm much more interested in nearby nature than the wilderness.
• People who once knew nature never lose what nature taught them, even in the densest of cities.
• Kids' time in nature has decreased 50% since the 1990s.
• For all of human history until now, kids have spent most of their waking hours in nature.
• Child abductions have been decreasing for 30 years, but you'd never know it by watching the news media.
• Preschoolers are the fastest-growing segment of the population in antidepressant use.
• Studies have shown that health metrics of people who sit for long periods of time are very close to those of smokers. Sitting is the new smoking. Especially for our kids.
• Studies have shown that the ability to learn goes up with contact with nature.
• Run on a treadmill and get healthier. Run outdoors (green exercise) doing the exact same mileage and get even healthier.
• Nature Deficit Disorder is a malady our kids have been increasingly suffering from for several decades now.
• There are many child maladies for which pediatricians should be prescribing nature.
• You don't get a bigger constituency by talking in acronyms, or just to each other.
• Environmentalism is in trouble. We need a new nature movement. Today's average environmentalist is 67 years old.
• A young hipster told me "All my life I've been told it's too late for the environment." New Urbanism says it's not too late.
• As of 2008 more people on earth live in cities than the countryside. This is a huge moment, and largely unremarked in the news media.
• William McDonough: "Environmentalism says: your carbon footprint is too big. The unspoken implication is that: "We'd be better off without you." That's no way to sell an idea!"
• William McDonough: "Sustainability isn't good enough, because it just means keeping things going like they are. Do you just want a sustainable marriage? Don't you want something better? Not just carbon neutral."
• The new nature movement is one that brings life.
I walked back toward the Peery Hotel with Tim Halbur for the evening debates, but neither of us had eaten, so we stopped in to the Market Street Cafe for a quick (we thought) dinner. Several of our New Urbanist colleagues were just arriving, so we got a big table. Just after ordering, someone on the other side of the street said "wow, look at that!" We all turned around, gaping at the scene above. The Grand America Hotel three blocks away where the Congress was being held, was bathed in sunset light, set off by a stunning rainbow laid against a dark sky thick with clouds. A good omen for a great Congress!
PS: Here are my upcoming sessions… please come!
Walk Appeal: Tonight at 8 PM at the Peery Hotel
Barranco Award presentation: Tomorrow at 9 AM at the start of the morning plenary
Original Green Hope for Architecture (with Clay Chapman): Tomorrow at 8:30 PM at the Peery Hotel
Agrarian Urbanism and the Mormon Block: Saturday at 10:45 AM, Grand Ballroom BC
Art Room: Design Techniques for Charrettes: Saturday at 2 PM, Murano room
Skeuomorphism - How Steve Jobs Hit What Walter Gropius Missed - But Now, Is Apple Throwing Its Soul Away?
How has Apple seduced millions while Walter Gropius and the Bauhaus left those same millions cold? Steve Jobs' passion for simplicity was legendary, and his esteem of minimalist Bauhaus design was immense, but Apple products are loved by masses around the world, while the Bauhaus is loved only by design geeks. What's the difference?
Simply put, Steve knew the difference between body and spirit, and Gropius didn't. Hardware is the body of a computer, while software (and more precisely, the user interface) is the spirit. There's no dispute that a body (whether human or machine) should be as lean as possible… but no leaner. In other words, low body fat but no anorexia. I remember the first time I held an iPod… its design seemed impossibly lean, but after less than a minute of turning the wheel and pushing the button, the question was "what else do you need?" So minimalist design is an indisputable virtue of hardware design.
Minimalism was a religion to Gropius; a creed to be applied to everything from buildings to typography. To Steve, it was a powerful tool to be used everywhere it makes sense. What Steve implicitly knew that Gropius and most minimalists since him have completely missed is the fact that a minimal spirit is rarely a lovable spirit.
And so Steve imbued the spirit (user interface) of all his Apple creations with lovable characteristics on many levels. That lovable interface began by setting people at ease with their machines by using ideas with which they were familiar and comfortable.
Apple designed things like a calendar icon that looks like a paper calendar, print icons that look like printers, and a note pad application that looks like a yellow note pad. Even the "desktop" itself that is the core of the Mac user interface was originally designed to look like a physical desktop. I call this "allegorical design" because the pixels on the screen are telling a story (an allegory) of something else that people are familiar with. Apple has used allegorical design to great effect for years to make its computers "friendly," as Steve often said.
It's not just that allegorical design is "friendly;" it's also highly efficient. Unless you're an experienced computer user, you might not know what a "directory" is, but everyone knows exactly what a "folder" is and how to use it. And while everyone using a computer is assumed to be able to read, it's still quicker to look for an icon that looks like a printer than to look for the word "print."
Minimalist design geeks make the mistake of lumping allegorical design into a larger term with a dark side: "skeuomorphism." Skeuomorphic design is the design of one thing to look like something else. It can be powerful, like Apple's desktop, folders, and note pad, but skeuomorphism can also be cheesy, like fake wood-grain panels on 1970's station wagons. Today, the charge of skeuomorphism is a high insult in most design circles. Even the word itself sounds nasty, like some terrible intestinal disease you might get in the tropics.
Today, skeuomorphism is under full attack at Apple. Jony Ive, Apple's awesome hardware design wizard, was handed the keys to the user interface kingdom at Apple last fall. Unfortunately, it appears that Jony, like so many minimalists before him, doesn't understand the difference between body and spirit, either. And so he's reportedly delaying the release of iOS 7 so that he can stamp out all vestiges of skeuomorphism. Amputating allegorical design in the skeuomorphism witch hunt just may rip the soul out of Apple stuff because what are you left with after you remove the allegories that have made Apple stuff so lovable for so long?
Apple stuff seduced us (until now) with bodies that were lean but spirits that were warm. Lean bodies and warm spirits are seductive, even sexy. A minimal spirit can't seduce. It can't even be understood unless you go to school to learn how to appreciate it. Saying "go to school" is no way to seduce someone. The inability to seduce leads to sterility… a frequent charge by non-design-geeks against Bauhaus architecture. Jony and Apple should urgently re-learn why Steve hit what Gropius missed… or run the risk of sterility themselves.
Nature has countless good lessons on how to sustain cities and towns… if only we would listen. Chuck Marohn's excellent Strong Towns post this morning flatly states that cities are organisms, not machines. I agree that it's more instructive to think of them that way. And that got me thinking about the fundamentally flawed things we do to (mis)manage them. Chuck traces the core disconnect to the transition from building, maintaining, and operating our towns and cities to paying others to do so.
Depending on the level of development in the area, it was only a century or two ago that the townspeople built and maintained the town. In my family, "house-raisings" were common occurrences, even in recent decades. My own house was built with much help from family and friends. But when we became wealthy enough, it seemed simpler to hire all the work done by someone else and spend all our productive time working on whatever our specialty was.
What we lost in that exchange is only now becoming clear: when we become experts in one thing and turn all other parts of our lives over to people who are experts in other things, we no longer have the authority to speak up when things get out of balance. And so the specialists get more and more efficient at doing their narrowly-defined tasks in near-ignorance of anything else. So we get arterial thoroughfares that are really efficient at moving cars, but nobody wants to live anywhere near them. We get volume builders that are really efficient at throwing up countless little vinyl boxes that cannot possibly be loved. And the whole mechanism of sprawl was one of the most efficient machines ever invented, but its excesses have literally become "cancer of the city." The good news is that there is a cure.
The time has come to question the underlying value that helped spawn all of this: efficiency. For decades, efficiency was used as a reason to do so many things that haven't worked out well. We now need to come to terms with the fact that, as someone once said, "an efficient Nazi is not a good thing." Efficiency simply means we're going really fast… but we could be going really fast in the wrong direction.
So if not efficiency, then what should we be looking for? How about looking for things that have been proven to work for a long time? The operating system of true sustainability that kept humans alive for all of human history before the Thermostat Age was something I refer to as a "living tradition." The heartbeat of a living tradition that pumps sustaining place-making principles to all the townspeople is four simple words: "We do this because…" If you put every pattern of place-making in these terms, then the streets, squares, and buildings we build might not be so efficient at moving cars or whatever, but they'll be far better places to live and work because you will have tapped the minds of all of the townspeople, not just the civil engineers, architects, and the like.
Put another way, if you want to tear down the gates to the specialties that their gatekeepers have guarded so jealously for so long, simply tell the people why. Why plant trees along the street? Why allow parking on the street? Why lift porches above the sidewalk, and by how much? Why set aside land for plazas, squares, greens, and parks, and how often? The answers to these questions aren't difficult… anyone can understand them. And once the townspeople know why, they'll take ownership of their neighborhoods and towns again… and we'll all be better for it.
I said that nature has countless lessons on how to sustain cities and towns, and re-starting living traditions is one of them. I have several more in mind, but what are the most obvious of nature's place-making lessons to you?
The best green measures are the ones almost nobody's talking about. If you're sick of hearing the same green building talk today on Earth Day, it could be because Gizmo Green is the only thing being discussed in most circles. Better equipment and better materials can never achieve sustainability for us because our consumption is increasing faster than the engineers can increase efficiency. Here are four unmentioned things that can do far more good than good engineering:
Drive Only on Special Occasions
The carbon footprint of your house isn't really meaningful until you achieve a good carbon footprint on all the things you do outside your house. Put another way, you could have a zero-energy house, but if you have to drive to work, drive to school, drive to shopping, drive to recreation, and drive to pretty much everything else as well, then you're not really achieving anything significant. So live near work to begin with, and then make sure you can walk to the grocery along paths with great walk appeal. If you can do these two things, then you can probably walk or bike to many other daily needs as well. And then what you do inside your home can be meaningfully green. Why would you want to spend a lot of money on green gizmos and then discover it's not meaningful?
Get People Outdoors
If you entice people outdoors into a great public realm or into a great series of garden rooms most days of the year, then the time they spend there helps condition them (whether they realize it or not) to the local environment so that when they return indoors, they may not need to turn the equipment on. If not, then they achieve a state I call "living in season," and it means that they can throw the windows open most days of the year. And when you do that, you discover that there is no piece of equipment so efficient as that which is off. There's nothing greener than being able to cut the equipment off for most of the year.
They call that boring white stuff we put on our walls "drywall" because so long as you keep it dry, you have a wall. But just as soon as it gets wet, it turns to messy mush. And even if it doesn't fall apart, it loves to host mold and mildew and make your family sick. This means that even if you get outdoors and want to live in season, you can't take a chance of leaving the windows open because if a summer thundershower pops up and blows rain in the window, you'll have lots of damage. We need to learn how to build durable and resilient buildings like our great-grandparents did so that the summer shower is no reason to call the insurance adjustor; you simply wipe down the walls that got wet and never give it a second thought.
Bigger isn't Better - Bigger is Worse - Smaller is Better
There should be no controversy here: if you build bigger, it simply can't be as good, but if you build better, it simply won't be as big. Spread $200,000 over 1,000 square feet and that's a $200/square foot house. Spread that same $200,000 over 2,000 square feet, and you've impoverished yourself to a $100/square foot house. But you can't just put people's lives in a vice… you must entice them by designing the smaller space so smartly that they choose it over the bigger, less intelligent design. And if they do, all sorts of good green things happen easily. To begin with, the space is a lot smaller, so it's easier to heat, cool, and light. But it's even easier because it's likely to be only one room deep in places, making daylighting and cross-ventilation no-brainers. It might even be more lovable as well. Embrace the luxury of small, and you'll be creating luxurious green as well.
Those are my game-changers… what are yours? What are the greenest things you know that nobody's talking about?
Architecture has changed irreparably in the past decade, but those who know how to adapt just might find themselves in a far better place in a few years. It has now been 8 years since construction peaked in 2005, nearly 6 years since the subprime meltdown, and close to 5 years since the big meltdown that really kicked off the Great Recession.
The End of Experienced Employees
Today, it appears that construction is finally beginning to pick back up, but it's too late for architecture as we knew it. More than half of the people working in architectural offices in 2005 aren't there anymore. Some are still unemployed, some have gone in business for themselves, but many have left the profession. And when people leave architecture, they rarely come back for three reasons: an architecture degree prepares you to do so many other things, it's such a stressful profession, and the pay is usually significantly lower than other professions like law and medicine. So if you're a firm owner, your former employees are likely either gone for good, or have started their own firms and are competing with you for work. So you can't simply gear back up with the same experienced people you once had.
The End of Trusting Clients
During the past 8 years that we've essentially been out of business, our clients have changed in several ways. A decade ago, clients were much more likely to accept the expert opinion of an architect. Now, they've all learned to Google. Just ask doctors about their experience with patients who know WebMD for a look at what a web-searching clientele means to another profession.
The New Frugality
Your one-time clients have become much more frugal over the past 8 years, and because the construction crash has now lasted twice as long as it takes to get a college degree, this new frugality is likely to stick. Just look at how the Great Depression transformed a generation of Americans almost a century ago, forever imprinting them with high frugality. When they do spend money, frugal people are more likely to buy products than services. They buy store-bought clothes rather than patronizing a tailor, for example. Frugal homeowners-to-be are more likely to buy a stock house plan than commission a custom design. Today, if you have only services to sell, you may want to start thinking about packaging useful things you've done into products.
Smaller & Smarter
When those homeowners-to-be build, they're facing a banking industry that has changed dramatically. Many banks have sworn off real estate lending entirely, whereas those who are still making mortgage loans are much more conservative. This means that your clients have a much better chance of getting a smaller project financed… so long as you design it to be smart enough that your client prefers it over a larger, less intelligent design.
Younger & Greener
Your clients have also gotten younger. A decade ago, most custom design clients were Baby Boomers, but they are now beginning to move out of the home-building market as they age, and are being replaced with GenX and GenY. These generations are much more concerned with building and living sustainably. As a matter of fact, if you're a Boomer architect, you may well be viewed as part of the sustainability problem because Boomers have consumed more than any generation in human history, not only because we were so large, but because we were so hungry as well.
Patience, Generosity, and Connectedness
Those changes would be enough to rock any profession, but there's more. Business is currently undergoing a change that I believe will prove to be as great as the Industrial Revolution 250 years ago. For that quarter-millennium, the prime virtues of business have been better-faster-cheaper, or quality, speed, and economy, if you prefer. I believe that the new age that is now dawning may come to be known as the Age of the Idea, and it appears that the three prime virtues of this time we are now entering may become patience, generosity, and connectedness. So this isn't just about remaking our marketing… it's about remaking ourselves.
The New Tools
Most marketing methods architects have used for decades don't work so well anymore for two reasons: First, the market is leaner, and the old methods worked best when there were lots of jobs to go around. Second, and less obvious, is the fact that we've all been vaccinated by spam against wanting to hear anything about your business. We turn a deaf ear to sales pitches just as quickly as we hit the delete key on a spammy email. The good news is that new tools are emerging that work much better, and again, for two reasons: First, you can reach far more people with tools like blogging, tweeting, online communities, video, etc. than you can by playing a round of golf. And these tools reach the places that are heavily populated by your younger potential clients.
I firmly believe that even though the Great Recession has been architecture's bleakest epoch of my lifetime, it also has the potential to be a great transformational event that can change the profession for the better. At least for those who adapt and transform themselves. What do you think?