There is Nothing Like a Pandemic to Change the World (3/28/2020) - In times of peril, people need a feeling of security, camaraderie, and the sense that things will be all right, that “we are in it together.” It is for that reason that thousands of people slept in Tube stations, requisitioned buildings, and damp basements during World War II, and why we take shelter in communal facilities today. It’s not because it is the safest place but because we need the comfort of people around us. That is what makes this pandemic so difficult. It is a time of fear and uncertainty when our need for reassurance is strong. The timing is equally challenging – that we are confined in springtime, at the end of our seasonal hibernation, seems particularly cruel. Our efforts to exert a measure of control over our environment lead us to do what we can in our personal space. We are cleaning out cabinets, closets, and junk drawers. We are sprucing up backyards, porches, planters. The parking lots of home improvement stores resemble the Christmas rush as we take on “essential” household repairs. How will this experience change our demands upon the urban realm when we do emerge from our soft confinement?  Will we want more/different spaces for social interaction or improve the ones we have? Will moving the homeless into housing for the duration of the pandemic improve their lives and inspire us to find permanent measures? Will we finally recognize the toll we have placed on the environment and take strides to reduce our destruction of natural resources? Will this extended period in our houses and apartments alter our conception of the ideal home? Will it be cleaner, greener, have more ventilation and more storage? Will we choose to live in expanded family groups after missing our children or parents in this enforced isolation? We will be changed by this event, in ways that are unimaginable right now but will emerge over the next decade. Let’s use the recovery to build the physical environment we want and a better future for everyone.
10 Things Architects Can Do While Self-Isolated (3/20/2020) - This is a time for organization, for accomplishing tasks we put off for a rainy day, and for creating possibilities for the future. During this period of recommended self-isolation, take time to consider options and use this period constructively. Make progress on your projects. Try another design option. It’s not a normal workday but it might be a chance to think laterally about a project. Are you considering issues of privacy, loneliness, resilience? Put it into your work. Do the everyday stuff you keep putting off. Catch up on correspondence. Update schedules. Empty your inbox. Do this in small chunks of time so that it isn’t overwhelming; it will soon be done. Clean up your workspace. We all have outdated brochures, samples, materials, paperwork. Take what you can to recycling and chuck out the rest. Make a list of products you want to learn more about and see if there are CEUs online. Which leads to…. Catch up on continuing education. There are 1000s of courses that count toward AIA, GBCI, and state licensure. Check out a subject you haven’t considered before: Equity by Design or Resilience and Adaptation. Do it now instead of waiting for December. We may be really busy in December. Do a drawing a day during the quarantine – it’s why we became architects, right? It might be a fond memory of a place you wish you were right now, a still life of the sad vegetables you got at the grocery store, or the wine bottles you emptied last night. It doesn’t matter. Just draw. Explore an abandoned building or site in your area. Imagine what it could become. Make a list of people who might contribute their expertise – call them your “dream team.” And then call them for real. We need good ideas right now. Reach out to your clients and find out how they are doing. Ask them about the impacts to their business. Don’t send out that email to everyone in your address book, personalize it. Drop them a postcard or make a call. There might be something you can do to help or learn useful strategies for your next project. While we are on the subject…. Be a resource for others. Architects have had a role in keeping people safe from disease throughout the ages. Access to light and proper ventilation, materials that are easily cleaned and don’t harbor germs, correct humidity, spaces for hygiene… all of these are things we understand. Make sure you know the science behind this outbreak and share solutions for sanitizing and separation with others. Polish your portfolio. Prepare project sheets, organize your standard forms, add to your website. Improve your social media skills and post regularly. Fine tune your graphics and update resumes. Photograph your projects while there are few people around. Don’t be too hard on yourself or your staff if you don’t accomplish much. It’s a strange period and we all need to stay healthy: relax, eat well, and focus on a healthy mind and body. Take care of your families, your neighbors, yourself. Health, safety, and welfare – we will have a chance to exercise these skills again soon.
Misguided Streets (2/19/2020) - Our city is considering converting a two-way street at the most visible and central corner of our downtown into a one-way street. There has been a great deal of research on this subject, and this type of street conversion has proven not to be a panacea for redevelopment – quite the opposite. In other cities the impacts of switching to one-way streets have included higher-speed traffic, more collisions, higher crime, lower mobility, and reduced economic growth potential. Many cities, including Biloxi’s Vieux Marche, are converting one-way systems into two-way systems, at great cost to the taxpayer. They anticipate that restoring the two-way street network will promote better traffic flow and improve the conditions for economic development. A few points to consider: 1. Two-way streets are safer. One-way streets often have higher actual (not posted) speeds, leading to more collisions and reducing pedestrian and bicycle safety. Designing walkable thoroughfares – a characteristic that our town is known for – depends on 2-way streets. 2. Two-way streets are superior in vehicular level of service: when drivers engage in inefficient circling on one-way streets they create more traffic. One-way streets confuse visitors, elderly, and rookie drivers. 3. Changing from one-way to two-way streets has been shown to increase growth in three sectors of the economy: arts, entertainment and recreation; accommodation and food service; and professional offices. These are the three major types of uses in the first block of our current Main Street; changing from two-way to one-way may have the converse effect of slowing or reversing growth in these sectors. 4. In one study, property values were shown to have increased when a one-way street was converted to a two-way street, over 5% in value. I don’t think we want to risk reducing property values. In order to create the conditions for slower and safer traffic, invite pedestrians and bicyclists, provide better mobility and increase the economic growth potential, downtown streets need to remain two-way streets.
CLIMATE ACTION (1/6/2020) - There is no more critical threat to our future than climate change. We are already seeing the effects in our daily lives – nuisance flooding, sweltering days, intense storms, out of control wildfires. These will continue to worsen, as will ecosystem collapse, biodiversity losses, and the necessary abandonment of areas that have repetitive and uninsurable risks. Can we design our way out of this? Architects believe that a different future is possible. We are in a position to address the primary issues affecting the built environment: mitigating carbon in the construction and operation of buildings and the underlying design of cities; and adapting to a future with greater climate variability of precipitation, hotter temperatures, more flooding and fires. In order to do this, we need a Climate Action Plan. Buildings are responsible for 39% of greenhouse gas emissions, by far the largest share; a shockingly larger slice of global emissions than transportation or industry. A total of 11% is embodied carbon in construction and 28% in building operations. If we succeed in designing buildings to meet net zero, the associated reductions will fulfill Paris Accord targets. The American Institute of Architects is working toward this goal and Allison Anderson is one of a dozen architects from across the country grappling with how a Climate Action Plan will guide the institute in focusing attention on this all-encompassing problem. The AIA is an army of 94,000 people. If we are successful at leading the profession, transforming the practice of architecture, and educating the next generation of architects, developers, clients (and the general public), we can make headway against climate change. The AIA is moving quickly and we expect to have a draft of the plan by February 2020. For more information on the AIA Climate Action Plan go to: https://www.aiacontracts.org/resources/77541-where-we-stand-climate-change
Choose Your Own Adventure (12/20/2019) - There is a persistent myth that sustainability and resilience overlap in most aspects. While that is true for certain things – a better building envelope improves passive survivability, renewables can provide power after a storm – in many cases, creating a more resilient building is more carbon-intensive than a standard building. At Greenbuild 2019, we shared some of the trade-offs that architects and their clients face in deciding which performance standard to prioritize. Ann Kosmal, our great friend, architect, and risk assessor who works for the GSA, joined Allison and John to determine the potential vulnerabilities affecting a site in downtown Davenport, Iowa. (Initially we thought to select a coastal site but wanted to recognize that inland flooding is much more common and accounts for more presidential disaster declarations than any other hazard category.) We talked through hazards – flooding, tornadoes, seismic risk – and let the audience choose the solutions to incorporate. For example, to address flooding they could select wet floodproofing, dry floodproofing, elevating the building, or elevating the whole site; each of these had implications on the building operations during and after an event, recovery time, and embodied carbon, as well as affecting the building form. A clear understanding of the hazards and vulnerabilities always affects design. A designer may be able to achieve both sustainable and resilient goals with one assembly; the solution the participants chose to manage stormwater was to collect and treat it for reuse as greywater; we combined it with the decision to elevate the building by embedding stormwater chambers in the foundation and allowing that volume to reduce the amount of fill necessary to elevate the first level. As we walked through the decision points differentiating sustainability and resilience, we didn’t lose sight of the relationship to scale, context, or other principles of design excellence. If a building isn’t objectively good, if it doesn’t function properly, isn’t flexible enough to sustain changes over time, or doesn’t appeal to the community, investments in sustainability or resilience will be wasted. Links to the resources we often use as a starting point to assess hazards at U.S. sites: https://toolkit.climate.gov/#climate-explorer https://coast.noaa.gov/slr/ https://asce7hazardtool.online/ https://hazards.atcouncil.org/
There is Nothing Like a Pandemic to Change the World (3/28/2020) - In times of peril, people need a feeling of security, camaraderie, and the sense that things will be all right, that “we are in it together.” It is for that reason that thousands of people slept in Tube stations, requisitioned buildings, and damp basements during World War II, and why we take shelter in communal facilities today. It’s not because it is the safest place but because we need the comfort of people around us. That is what makes this pandemic so difficult. It is a time of fear and uncertainty when our need for reassurance is strong. The timing is equally challenging – that we are confined in springtime, at the end of our seasonal hibernation, seems particularly cruel.…
10 Things Architects Can Do While Self-Isolated (3/20/2020) - This is a time for organization, for accomplishing tasks we put off for a rainy day, and for creating possibilities for the future. During this period of recommended self-isolation, take time to consider options and use this period constructively. Make progress on your projects. Try another design option. It’s not a normal workday but it might be a chance to think laterally about a project. Are you considering issues of privacy, loneliness, resilience? Put it into your work. Do the everyday stuff you keep putting off. Catch up on correspondence. Update schedules. Empty your inbox. Do this in small chunks of time so that it isn’t overwhelming; it will soon be done. Clean up your workspace. We all have outdated…
Misguided Streets (2/19/2020) - Our city is considering converting a two-way street at the most visible and central corner of our downtown into a one-way street. There has been a great deal of research on this subject, and this type of street conversion has proven not to be a panacea for redevelopment – quite the opposite. In other cities the impacts of switching to one-way streets have included higher-speed traffic, more collisions, higher crime, lower mobility, and reduced economic growth potential. Many cities, including Biloxi’s Vieux Marche, are converting one-way systems into two-way systems, at great cost to the taxpayer. They anticipate that restoring the two-way street network will promote better traffic flow and improve the conditions for economic development. A few points to…
CLIMATE ACTION (1/6/2020) - There is no more critical threat to our future than climate change. We are already seeing the effects in our daily lives – nuisance flooding, sweltering days, intense storms, out of control wildfires. These will continue to worsen, as will ecosystem collapse, biodiversity losses, and the necessary abandonment of areas that have repetitive and uninsurable risks. Can we design our way out of this? Architects believe that a different future is possible. We are in a position to address the primary issues affecting the built environment: mitigating carbon in the construction and operation of buildings and the underlying design of cities; and adapting to a future with greater climate variability of precipitation, hotter temperatures, more flooding and fires. In order…
Choose Your Own Adventure (12/20/2019) - There is a persistent myth that sustainability and resilience overlap in most aspects. While that is true for certain things – a better building envelope improves passive survivability, renewables can provide power after a storm – in many cases, creating a more resilient building is more carbon-intensive than a standard building. At Greenbuild 2019, we shared some of the trade-offs that architects and their clients face in deciding which performance standard to prioritize. Ann Kosmal, our great friend, architect, and risk assessor who works for the GSA, joined Allison and John to determine the potential vulnerabilities affecting a site in downtown Davenport, Iowa. (Initially we thought to select a coastal site but wanted to recognize that inland flooding is much…