Thursday, January 28, 2010

Thirsty Thursday Sausagy Linkages o' the Day

In the category of, "uh oh, know when to run away." A principal of a British architecture firm goes all paternalistic and suggests, "let us make all decisions."

The problem is that the majority of contemporary architects are merely sculptors who look at post-Katrina NOLA and Port-au-Prince as good news stories and a chance to experiment on the poor with their misguided self-indulgent visions. Do you want cities like this?

This is precisely where those exact people get all huffy and drag this into a simple debate about style, exclaiming that I would attempt to limit their brilliance with silly rules based on empiricism and proven regularities of urban economies and places. Once again, I am stylistically agnostic.

In a post entitled, "Gehry the Dinosaur," I suggest that architects should actually be limited when it comes to city building and broader issues, at least until its proven they have some understanding of complex interactions and dynamics of cities, beyond "big bridge, big building, big big big." Oedipus-turned-Edifice complex?

Although, it might seem that I am contradicting my own post on Representative Democracy on Design, the key is public engagement and education. Increased public awareness creates for a competition with the "credentialed professionals," which ensures the progress of a field.

Many architects don't like that however, because they know many of their experimentations will not fly. Only through a singular well-financed and misguided entity can they do so. In that vein, they construct an entire language that means nothing, and in effect create a self-defensive, retrenched in ivory tower cult. Seriously, transcribe Eisenmann or Mayne sometime. Their words literally have no meaning.

Or, perhaps it is currently just a British problem. Because while no doubt there still exists some vestigial remnants of the highway pigs at the trough and the Senators that oblige them, in our federal government. At least, today as I write this, the US federal government, HUD, has reached out to the CNU and asked for a list of all federal barriers to Smart Growth and Livable Communities. Hooray!
Vancouver Sun has an article on micro-condos, complete with picture of one with a Murphy Bed. Once more cities are ready for this market, these will emerge. I have written at length (here, here, here, and here)about the Millennial demand bubble emerging that will drive a trade-off between personal space forgiven for more social space, amenities, sociability, and urbanity.
Grist shows a graph from Architecture 2030 suggesting 75% of the built environment will be replaced by 2035. However, it should be noted that the author is mistaking this for normal in his assertion that "cities get remade more often than you think." While it is true to some extent that cities are constantly molting, this particularly accelerated building life cycle is entirely an American phenomenon, symptomatic of the same issues that brought down the banking industry. Delivering cheap crap to the American consumer, removing building restrictions and code oversight, and promising forever growth.

Personal anecdote: I served as lead urban planner and designer on a project redeveloping nearly 100-acres of low-grade garden apartments. These were built in the 1960's and were once a happpening, swinging singles area. Before they were torn down and the tenants were given money for relocation, there were families living in buildings where the ceiling joists were literally caving into the rooms, walls had rotted, etc.

If you think building materials and construction quality have gotten better, you would be wrong. Which is why Texas homebuilders lobbied a certain former governor very persuasively and effectively for removal of all liability from the homebuilder on the date of the purchase.

The next twenty years, suburban life ought to be pretty interesting when everybody's new home literally starts melting.

If you want to REALLY think about sustainability in a deep, meaningful, and transformative way, start asking how we can finance buildings based on life-cycle costs/performance, particularly in fields where developers typically flip their buildings immediately or shortly after construction.

FYI, the building I lived in in Rome was several hundred years old and the particular unit I was renting was on the market for $1 million. Think about the ROI on that entire building.
Pittsburgh conducted a study regarding cost savings switching street lights to LEDs and the results are...illuminating. (sorry)
the city, which spends $4.2 million annually on electricity and streetlight maintenance, could save $1 million each year in energy costs and $700,000 in maintenance costs with LED lighting.