The most recent set of flashy renderings of Apple’s new headquarters in Cupertino, California make the goals of the building unmistakably clear. With a design from Norman Foster, the tech company’s mothership is depicted as a pristine white ring nestled in a large site strewn with greenery. When we look at the images that include […]Read more
Imagine a group of dedicated architects banding together to march up to Capitol Hill and lobby for our government to create new mandates to increase the average home size in the country. It is hard to wonder what the argument would be. ‘Two car garages just are not enough.’ ‘That second guest bedroom really comes […]Read more
Critics of proposals to make our country more sustainable often suggest that such measures would raise the prices of products and make it more difficult for the nation to do business–forcing our coveted Gross Domestic Product downward. This argument would suggest that it isn’t possible, or at least very difficult, to reduce the amount of […]Read more
Talking about the “power grid” in the U.S. can bring to mind images of high tension wires strung across massive metal towers and hefty brick buildings with large smokestacks built in the mid-20th century. For a lot of our electricity infrastructure this picture would be accurate. Our power grid is showing its age–not only in our continued reliance on a dirty fuel source, but in the plants that burn it as well. The boom of building coal-fired generation in this country spanned from the 1960’s to the 1990’s when new capacity turned to natural gas. While most of the natural gas plants we have are less than 20 years old, 71% of their coal-burning cousins have been around for over three decades. These older plants represent not only the dirtiest, but often least efficient components of our grid–sometimes with net efficiency as low as 33%.
Fortunately, we are at a pivotal point where the nature of how we produce power is changing. COOKFOX Architects along with landscape architecture firm Terrain are working together on a new breed of power facility in Salem, Massachusetts that questions many of our infrastructural assumptions not only in functionality, but urban presence and response to the local community. The Salem Harbor Station exemplifies the near term transition that we need to encourage in order to take quantifiable steps in improving the rate of pollution and carbon emissions attributed to our power supply.
One of the biggest dangers of coasting along in the mentality of business-as-usual is that inefficiencies can become cemented into the forces that are considered to be essential to our daily lives. At some point, rectifying the problem can require more time and effort than most are willing to stomach. Our tendency to allow historical experience to evolve into present-day gospel can lead us to miss opportunities for innovative improvement, especially when it comes to sustainability.
Let’s take one of the pillars of American energy usage: our cars. Every living American can look back on the constant of gasoline serving as the energy source for our mobility. Meanwhile we have watched cars become more efficient over time, bolstering our confidence in the system. As part of this mindset, the bulk of our efforts in increasing efficiency have revolved around the puzzle of how to make cars get more miles for every gallon of gasoline they consume. But what if instead of doing more with gasoline it was actually more efficient (maybe much more) to burn oil to create electricity and use it to power cars instead? Perhaps the cultural constants that we assume are the best solution actually don’t hold as much as water as we think.
As it turns out, it is true. Read more…
In less than a year since its devastating run-in with Hurricane Sandy, the City of New York is already adopting new measures geared towards higher levels of urban resiliency. Yesterday, the City Council approved the first batch of proposals from the Building Resiliency Task Force, marking the first step for updating codes that leave the city better equipped for future storm events. Read more…
I spend some time highlighting aspects of sustainability that are passed over because they represent truths that we don’t want to accept. People don’t want to hear that we are car-dependent. People don’t really like to hear that their purchasing power matters so every purchase they have counts towards shifting a marketplace. No one looks forward to being told that he is part of the “environmental problem.” However, when it comes to the discussion of sustainability, even stalwart climate hawks have to saddle up with an inconvenient truth of their own. Greens are also part of the problem. Naturally I include myself in this group, so the title is really “We Are Hypocrits.” It hurts a bit, but it’s true. Read more…
Our migration to more sustainable buildings is an evolving process that requires a consistent combination of goals, results and critiques. Without any one of these components, we run the risk of stagnation and dampening our progress towards more ecological responsibility in our buildings. However, it is important that the level of effort and investigation put into criticism is commensurate with the amount contributed to the process of designing the results in the first place. When sustainability is critiqued (and it should be) it has to be weighed as a series of components and relationships rather than being boiled-down into one or two metrics to make its retention more palatable.
Sam Roudman’s recent New Republic article condemning Bank of America’s Tower at One Bryant Park that sped through the blogosphere is indicative of one of the largest hurdles that our culture faces for sustainability: the propensity we have to shrink its definition down to fit into sound bites and online rants at the expense of removing large portions of its meaning and resulting importance. Not only does this diminish the progress we have made, but it perpetuates an inaccurate idea of what we are striving for in the first place.