Adapting to Changing Times: The legacy of old dairy barns

by Catherine Calvert, Director of Community Sustainability
VIA Architecture

Western Washington has an architectural legacy from its former dairy agricultural past which is both valuable and perplexing at the same time. This area was once considered ideal for dairy farming due to its gentle climate and lush landscapes, producing brands such as Carnation, which became synonymous with “contented cows” and healthy milk products in the early 20th century (1). As with so many forms of small-scale agriculture, the family dairy farm began its decline as industrial-scale enterprises began to dominate production in the post-WWII years. The agricultural landscape gave way to suburban development throughout the Puget Sound area, but in many places there remain visible reminders of this architectural and cultural past. The challenge now is how to preserve and adapt these structures, particularly barns and silos, to present-day uses. In recent months we have visited three former dairy farms that are each rising to this challenge in distinctly different ways.

Petersen Farm, Silverdale

The Petersen Farm in Silverdale is a 167-acre parcel that was farmed for 51 years as a dairy and subsequently a beef cattle farm by Gerald Petersen, who passed away in 2009. His estate has been working with the Great Peninsula Conservancy, a Kitsap-based non-profit land trust, to purchase the development rights to the property in order to maintain the property as active farmland in perpetuity. Last month, with local business and community support, the farm’s fundraising campaign met its goal to raise matching funds for a USDA Farm Protection Grant. This is one of the last remaining large agricultural parcels in Kitsap County, and preservation of the area’s farming heritage in the Clear Creek Valley is an important community legacy.

Petersen Barn (credit)

Peterson Barn (credit)

An interesting thing about this farm is that it contains portions of three homesteads in the area that date back to the late 1800’s, when the land was first cleared. One of the original houses built by the pioneering Levin family still stands on the property, as does the 1902 Holm barn, recently placed on the Washington State Heritage Barn Register (2). This makes for an interesting archaeology in considering restoration work, and how to be respectful to several simultaneous layers of architectural history. The barn, a gable-on-hip style with vertical stave wood grain silos adjacent, is in need of basic structural stabilization work before any new uses could be contemplated. Preservation and adaptive reuse of this structure is going to be a big challenge.

To read more about this project visit:

Kinnear Ambold Barn, Fall City 

Also recently placed on the Heritage Barn Register is the Kinnear Ambold Barn, part of an original 40-acre farm that served as a dairy until the 1940’s. Much smaller in scale than the Petersen property, a portion of this farm is privately owned, left to a Seattle business owner by an elderly neighbor in 2008, and the remainder being donated to the PCC Farmland Trust. Its barn sits prominently on the Fall City-Issaquah Road, and is noted as a prominent feature on this historic corridor in King County literature (3).

Originally built in 1910, this is an English Gambrel style milking barn with an adjacent concrete stave silo. Deeply buried in blackberries when the current owner took on the task of building renovation, the floor and foundation were decayed enough that restoration was not a possibility, and a complete re-build of the lower floor was the only way to save the building. Working closely with King County’s preservation architect Todd Scott, the owner hopes to modernize the structure to meet current codes while honoring the building’s original architectural style, and provide the infrastructure to suit a future commercial tenant. The site is ideal for who could develop a business catering to interest in local agriculture, or some kind of commercial enterprise that caters to the cyclists and sightseers that pass by frequently on the Issaquah-Fall City corridor.

Kinnear Ambold Barn, Fall City (credit VIA)

To read more about this project visit: (subscription required)

Tahoma Farms, Orting

One of the PCC Farmland Trust’s most recent conservation projects is the 100-acre former Ford Dairy in Orting. In 2009 this farm was transformed, through the purchase of development rights, into three organic farms including the 40-acres Tahoma Farms. The Ford Dairy had operated for over 70 years and had over 300 cows at its peak; the Tahoma parcel received the bulk of the building infrastructure from the former dairy, including a rambling collection of barns, sheds, silos, and paved livestock yards. The challenge for the current owners is that their production is focused on organic fruits and vegetables rather than animals, so they have little use for such a large amount of built space beyond basic needs such as office space, washing and storage rooms, and equipment storage.

Most of the buildings are in fair condition, consisting less of traditionally enclosed barn space like the Petersen or Kinnear Ambold properties, and more as a large and diverse covered area of pole construction with trusses and rafters. The opportunity is there to eventually develop these structures into uses that are compatible with organic farming, creating a potential agritourism destination and diversifying the farm’s income stream. The buildings are currently clustered together in a way that suited the dairy’s needs; the design challenge for adaptive reuse will be to keep the best of the structures and create space between them for other uses to flourish.

Aerial of Tahoma Farms (credit Google)

Tahoma Farms Barn (credit VIA)

Tahoma Farms former dairy structures (credit VIA)

To read more about Tahoma Farms:

What these barns share, despite different settings and circumstances, is the challenge of adapting to a change in context. All purpose-built for an industry that no longer needs them, through a variety of ownership strategies, funding sources, and commercial needs, each of them is likely to find its way back to an extended useful life. Here are some great examples of the reuse of barns and silos that could be used for inspiration:

NL Architects adaptive reuse competition, Amsterdam (credit)

Happy Holidays from VIA!

For over 25years, VIA has sent out holiday cards to clients, colleagues, and friends. Thisyear however, in the spirit of the season, we’ve decided to devote resources toa new holiday tradition that will give back to our communities.

Staff inboth our Vancouver BC and Seattle WA offices donated cans, scratched theirheads, and worked collaboratively on a “canstruction” project. After buildingtheir design, cans were donated to the local food bank. Play the videos belowto see what each office canstructed.

Wishing youthe very best for this holiday season!


The VIA Team

Monday News Roundup

Happy Monday! Let's start the week off right by catching up on the top headlines in sustainability and urban design:

Living in Vancouver comes at a price (The Globe and Mail)
With a fresh mandate and another majority on council, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson is laying out new priorities for affordable housing. 

How Planning is Like Growing Tomatoes (Planetizen)
An organic system is rarely the sum of its parts. Nothing demonstrates this as clearly as sinking your teeth into a store-bought tomato, writes Ben Brown...

In Copenhagen, gas stations are equipped for bicycle care (Springwise)
Norwegian gas company Statoil has equipped five of its Copenhagen stations with Cykelpleje centers dedicated to bicycle maintenance and repair.

The Benefits of Urban Forests (Planetizen)
This video explains how urban forests provide environmental benefits to densely populated cities that have felt a surge in health problems due to poor air quality.

A day in the life of a pop-up café (Sustainable Cities Collective)
For two years now NYC's DOT has been partnering with local restaurants to install pop-up cafés in parking spaces - creating vibrant public spaces the whole community can enjoy.

HopStop Infographic: Top Urban Travel Trends (Sustainable Cities)
Check out HopStop's infographic for insights into how commuters in more than 68 major metropolitan areas travel.

Addressing Climate Change Via Cities (Sustainable Cities)
This post takes a look back over the collaborative series COP17, discussing the best ideas explored and whether the agreement reached last Friday is enough.

Vibrant & Energy Efficient Social Housing Community in Scotland (Inhabitat)
Grödians, a vibrant social housing project, consists of 34 single family homes all traditionally designed but with major improvements for energy efficient design.

Folding Bikes Gain Popularity in Brazil (Planetizen)
Maria Fernanda Cavalcanti, a resident of Brazil, writes that folding bicycles "...have been catching the attention of urban cyclists everywhere."

Monday News Roundup

Here's what you missed last week from our Twitter Feed!

Transburbia: Tools for transforming suburbia (Transburbia)
An Evolving Repository of New Concepts, Processes & Tools That Can Help Transform Suburbia

Video: A Bird's Eye View of China's Rapid Urbanization (Sustainable Cities)
China's urbanization is happening at a pace never seen before. The following video shows a decade of transformation of 11 Chinese cities traced via Google Earth.

The Architecture of Banana Control (Sustainable Cities)
This article gives an introduction to the involvement of design for dissimulation or artificially inducing the fruit-ripening process. It is architecture pretending toward a condition of ideal nature.

Thoughts About Density (Seattle Transit Blog)
A response to both the oft-repeated notion that tall buildings and density are essentially the same thing, and the idea that what’s good for developers is perforce good for density and/or urbanism.

Bicycles and Chickens: A hidden side of Phoenix (Sustainable Cities)
A report of the third annual Tour de Coops, an event put on by the Valley Permaculture Alliance showcasing cool chicken coops throughout Phoenix. This year, an ingenious bicycle component was added to the tour.

Thumbs up for green architecture (Inhabitat)
While we’ve been talking about how cost-saving green architecture can be for some time now, a new nationwide government report has actually documented some impressive statistics that make it official.

Twin skyscraper design in Korea (Dezeen)
A design for twin skyscrapers in Korea attaches the two with a cloud-like pixelated cluster, dubbed "The Cloud" by Dutch architects MVRVD.

Raising Awareness of Renewable Energy - Not a bad idea... (Sustainable Cities)
Artist raises awareness of renewable energy with a public art installation in Durban. The sculpture is a giant interactive tree with lighting that is charged by numerous bicycles and solar panels.

Jan Gehl on Livability from the Moscow Urban Forum (Sustainable Cities)
This is a quick post to share a keynote presentation by Jan Gehl given at the Moscow Urban Forum. Gehl discusses urban livability, from reducing traffic jams to designing comfortable public spaces.

Monday News Roundup

Warm up this cold winter Monday with the hottest news and headlines from last week!

Sometimes all it takes is a little extra paint for placemaking (Planetizen)
Alyse Nelson describes the carefully placed and collaborative intersection painting of City Paint in Portland, OR as "community empowerment" at its core.

The promise of bike sharing to reduce emissions (Sustainable Cities Collective)
With the launch of NYC’s first system next spring, it appears that bikes and bike stations may become as widespread and popular as they are in Canada and throughout Europe.

2011 Holiday Gift Books in Architecture and Design (Daily Dose)
Just as the title implies, a gift list for design-minded just in time for the holidays.

Do we (still) need Vancouver? (New Urban Network)
Vancouver is known to have become one of the world’s most livable cities. This article discusses the many lessons we have learned (good and bad) from this great city as a model of urbanization. 

Why Montreal needs to tap into the "Development Charge" (Planetizen)
McGill University planners have released a report highlighting untapped sources of revenue in municipal funding. The most glaring of them: fees levied on developers to pay for city services.

APTA reports those who switch from driving to public transportation can save almost $10,000/year. But, in the real world, more Americans will take public transportation only if it becomes more plentiful and convenient.

Although urban planning used to be more connected with health, over the decades it has gotten more obsessed with separating uses and planning for automobiles.

A Simple Portrait of an Urban Place (Sustainable Cities Collective)
From time to time, a single image captures the look and feel of city life, and successfully depicts an urban place where people come together...

Achievement in smart growth honored by EPA (Switchboard)
One of the country’s very best, grassroots-led revitalizing neighborhoods and one of our most articulate city plans for a more sustainable future are among this year’s national honorees for achievement in smart growth.

7 Trends for Planning Post-Oil Cities (Sustainable Cities Collective)
In this post, Robert Bowen of Future Cape Town looks at the Masters Thesis of Allen Rhodes, entitled Planning the Post-Oil City, highlighting the seven trends identified and the opportunities they present for cities.

Friday Feature: Alex Sandoval

Since we last posted a Friday Feature, VIA has welcomed a wave of new talent to the firm. We start our series again by introducing one of our gifted urban planners, Alex Sandoval. Check back soon for more first-hand perspectives on what it takes to become an architect!   

Who are you and what do you do? 
I’m Alex and I’m an Urban Designer and Planner at VIA in Seattle. I went to architecture school back in Mexico City where I grew up. After working as an architecture designer for some time, I realized that I was most excited and interested about those large regional projects that influence the way cities are experienced. That interest brought me to Seattle where I did grad school in Urban Planning. It’s been 6 years already and I still have a lot to do in this amazing region.

What made you decide to go into your field?
I was born and raised in one of the largest cities in the world: the great Mexico City with a population reaching over 20 million people. I suppose growing up in such a dense and chaotic urban environment made me quite conscious of the issues and benefits of living in a city. This is why I decided that I was not going to have a career designing sprawling single-family communities but rather to be a proponent of dense and compact living. Just like we recently heard all over the news, the World’s population has reached the 7 billion mark and it is projected that by 2050 we’ll reach over 10 billion! According to 7 Billion & Me, the day I was born there were 4,331,448,959 people in the world and since then 4,363,658,538 more people have been born. With all these alarming figures all I can think is that we need to make the decisions now that will accommodate such growth where it actually makes sense; re-densifying our urban centers while still making them livable. Big challenge!

What did your family think of your chosen field?
They were very supportive however I was supposed to go into a career in medicine following my father’s footsteps.

Who is the teacher who had the most influence on you and why?
I had a lot of great professors and mentors, however, definitely the best professor I had was a close group of friends from architecture school. With these 7 guys we opened a little studio where we would get together after school to help each other out with our school projects, do some critique sessions and just overall talk and exchange ideas. We kept this little studio running for over 3 years and evolved it to a point where we were actually running a business submitting proposals and entering design competitions. At some point we were actually making money out of this so I’ll have to say that this true hands-on experience was definitely the best learning I had.

What was the biggest hurdle you faced along your educational path? (academic, financial, motivational, family or peer pressure, outside distraction, etc.)
Definitely financial; It’s hard to live on a student budget especially while pursuing a design degree. There are so many expenses, materials, software, books... not to mention all that coffee intake.

What inspires you?
I don’t believe there’s one true source of inspiration. I’d rather believe that through cumulative work we come up with the best design solutions. To me the actual wow moment comes at the end of the process when you look back and realize the amount of work you had to put on just to arrive at a particular design. That is truly inspiring.

What schooling is required for success in your career?
Urban planning is such a broad field that people from almost any career can be a part of the process; in fact, I would highly encourage anyone interested to include as many points of view as possible. It is important, however, that people that want to be an active participant have some technical skills. It took me 5 years of architecture school and 2 of planning to develop some sort of technical and design skills and I still have a lot to learn.

What kind of people are the most successful in your field? Are there any specific attributes?
Good communicators.

What is the best advice you were ever given?
No la forces (Don’t force it). Sometimes we as designers can be stubborn and get stuck in one design solution trying to figure it out right at the beginning without even exploring other solutions; however, I have learned that design is actually an iterative process and it is through this process of trial and error that we can come up with the best design solutions. It is through this back and forth process that design teams learn a lot and develop ideas that at the time may not be applicable to the project but can be recycled in the future for different projects.

Is your field growing? (ie. is there room for new entries and is there career growth?)
Big YES! I believe urban design and planning is something that is going to keep growing just as cities and municipalities are requiring more and better planning to accommodate population growth. Remember, 10 billion people by 2050, that’s a lot of planning!

What advice would you give someone considering a career like yours? 

Get involved. Urban planning typically requires a public process so it is very easy to become part of it by just attending public meetings, design reviews and public charrettes. Participating in these types of meetings can give students an idea of what this planning thing is all about.

VIAVOX tonight: Patrick Condon Book Reading + Signing

Please join us for an upcoming VIAVOX:

Book Reading + Signing: Patrick Condon’s
Seven Rules for Sustainable Communities
Design Strategies for the Post Carbon World

When: 5:30pm  Monday, November 28th 2011
Where: Seattle Coffee Works - 107 Pike Street, Seattle, WA 98101
Free; Open to the public. Light refreshments will be provided.

Patrick Condon, Professor at the University of British Columbia, will read samples from his latest book Seven Rules for Sustainable Communities:

Questions of how to green the North American economy, create a green energy and transportation infrastructure, and halt the deadly increase in greenhouse gas buildup dominate our daily news. Related questions of how the design of cities can impact these challenges dominate the thoughts of urban planners and designers across the U.S. and Canada. With admirable clarity, Patrick Condon discusses transportation, housing equity, job distribution, economic development, and ecological systems issues and synthesizes his knowledge and research into a simple-to-understand set of urban design rules that can, if followed, help save the planet.
No other book so clearly connects the form of our cities to their ecological, economic, and social consequences. No other book takes on this breadth of complex and contentious issues and distills them down to such convincing and practical solutions. And no other book so vividly compares and contrasts the differing experiences of U.S. and Canadian cities.

VIAVOX: giving a voice to current issues in architecture, planning, and design

Monday News Roundup

A roundup of the top headlines from art, design, sustainability and architecture:

The slow-track checkout lane at Finnish K-citymarket is aimed at the elderly, the disabled, and anyone else who wants a more relaxed shopping experience.

This sturdy tower designed by 24H Architects acts as a recognizable sculpture from all sides. It will serve as a housing program, new public space for citizens and a community health center.  

These assorted projects showcase her uncanny ability to portray ordinary objects in extraordinary ways

VIA's own takes a closer look at the success and cost efficiency of Issaquah's net-zero energy townhouse development.

ArtPlace America has issued a landmark series of grants dedicated to supporting the 'creative class' and enhance communities through the arts.

As seen on campus at the Minneapolis Art Institute

A fascinating bit of creative land use (Sustainable Cities Collective)
NYC's conceptual, subterranean public park attempts to pipe natural light underground
A return to community focused development is changing the design of neighborhoods across the country.

Monday News Roundup

Catch up on what you missed last week!

Architecture and design help the brain to recover (University of Gothenburg)
New research reveals that well-planned architecture, design and sensory stimulation increase patients ability to recover both physically and mentally.

Gorgeous oil paintings by Andrew Salgado (Colossal)

White and yellow themed health center debuts in Mallorca, Spain (Contemporist)

The Haunting Disappearance of Pine Point, Pop. 1200 (Switchboard)
A relatively normal small town for 25 years, Pine Point simply disappeared in the late 1980s after the local mining operation shut down. It exists today only as vacant streets, a cemetery, and the memories of its former inhabitants.

Corrugated Art by Mark Langan (Design Milk)
Hailing from a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio, artist Mark Langan creates three-dimensional sculptures using reclaimed corrugated cardboard.

Dune House, Thorpennes, England (Design Milk)
The design of 'Dune House' is a creative one – fashioned after the concept of a floating roof

Suitcases from the Willard Asylum for the Insane (Colossal)
A photography series showcasing the entire attic-full of suitcases left behind by patients admitted to the asylum who supposedly never left.

The amazing resurgence of the South Bronx (Switchboard)
New York City's South Bronx is making an astounding comeback. Not that long ago, the neighborhood was perhaps the country's most villified, a setting for all that had gone wrong in urban America...

TransLink awarded gold sustainability status by APTA

We have previously written about sustainable transit guidelines, including work being done by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) to set up “best practices” for sustainability in transit.
Just a few weeks ago, APTA recognized TransLink for its sustainability efforts, awarding it Gold Sustainability status – the highest level of recognition ever awarded to any North American transportation authority.
The following are just a few of the ways that TransLink achieved their gold status:
§  Having drivers turn off their buses when stopped for more than three minutes
o   Cutting diesel fuel use by 1.28 million liters (338,140 gallons)

§  Energy retrofits and energy efficiency improvements
o   Cutting energy use by 16%

§  Increasing ridership, adding 180 hybrid buses, and choosing less carbon-dependent transit options (such as the Canada Line)
o   Reducing carbon dioxide emissions per passenger kilometer by 18% 
“Marine Drive Station on the Canada Line" Photo Credit: Ed White

         Click here to read more about APTA’s 2010 annual conference,       and ways to include more sustainability in transit.

New Hire: Dan Bertolet

VIA Architecture has recently hired Dan Bertolet as an urban planner.

Dan is a planner and urban designer with a deep commitment to sustainable urban development. He holds a Masters Degree in Urban Design and Planning, as well as a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering. With over seven years of experience, Dan has worked on a wide variety projects including station area planning, town center redevelopment, Hope VI master planning, and market-rate mixed-use urban infill.

He will continue to head up Citytank, a blog that believes that cities are a solution, and strives to provide ideas that “help fulfill the promise of cities to both expand the human spirit, and sustain a thriving planet.”

Monday News Roundup

Happy Halloween! Please enjoy these tasty news treats and tweets from last week!

World's Largest Pumpkin Carved into an Awesome Creepy Sculpture! (Inhabitat)

Prefab, 10'x10', Affordable Homes (Planetizen)
Stación-ARquitectura Arquitectos has designed a modular home to house poor families in Monterrey, Mexico made from recycled materials.

How to suspend 2,000 dandelions from the cieling w/ out making a wish! (Colossal)
An unusual art installation by Regine Ramseier.

Jan Gehl on the Past 40 Years of Urbanism (Planetizen)
Famed urbanist Jan Gehl looks back at the writing and thought on how people use the urban environment -- including his own -- over the past 40 years.

Living Sustainably on a College Campus (Sustainable Cities Collective)
Tips for getting sustainable on campus.

Does Affordable Housing Have to Look Bad? (Planetizen)
lison Arieff explodes the unspoken myth that public housing must look cheap and unattractive, citing some stellar examples of affordable design.

On the Corner by Eastern Design Office (Contemporist)
This Japanese house designed atop a thin triangular lot ending up looking really sharp.

What do we really know about planning? (Sustainable Cities Collective)
Few would disagree with the need to simplify a planning system widely seen as expensive and unwieldy by both applicants and planning authorities. This article discusses the Localism Bill and the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).

Wanted: Food Lawyers! (Switchboard)
...Right now, my advice to law students and new lawyers is to consider how you can apply your skills to the fast growing local, sustainable food movement that seeks to fix our broken national food system.

Creating Places for People (Planetizen)
That's the title of a draft report from the Australian Dept. of Infrastructure and Transport presenting model processes for creating high-quality urban environments.

Walk 21 - Vancouver, BC

by Graham McGarva, Founding Principal
VIA Architecture

The 12th annual Walk 21 International Conference was held this year in Vancouver, BC from Oct 2nd to October 5th . These conferences work to “create a world where people are able to walk as a way to travel, to be healthy, and to relax.”

As the bi-pedal of poetry and mathematics were brought together, the Doctors (as in medical doctors who presented at the conference), emerged in the lead as advocates for active transportation.

Many of their presentations pointed out that they could do little, just help people with their pain when it is already too late. It is, in fact, planners who save lives.

Dr. William Bird, leader of the Natural England and Intelligent Health NGO’s in the UK, gave us the math “3-4-50”; the blunt fact that in our western world, three behaviors -- poor nutrition, lack of physical activity, and tobacco use -- contribute to four diseases: heart disease/stroke, cancer, type 2 diabetes, and respiratory conditions, such as asthma. These diseases result in over 50 percent of all deaths.

The World Health Organization's (WHO) September 2011 Conference on Non-Communicable diseases resoundingly concluded that despite global media concern over the transmission of communicable diseases (AIDS, SARS, Ebola virus etc.), in terms of impact and threat it is non-communicable disease that is the new global epidemic.

If this appears to be a circular reference of rhetoric that leaves you feeling at all cynical, then Dr. Penny Ballem, the City Manager for Vancouver, spelled it out in simple arithmetic. If education spending were kept at 27% of the provincial budget and health costs kept growing at 8% with a continued rate of revenue growth of 3%, then the health costs in 2018 would rise to 72% from 42% in 2005. Under the premise of a balanced budget, health costs would have vacuumed up all of the public purse.

Now that we had been grabbed by our purse strings, we were all paying attention.

The resounding conclusion of the poets and the doctors is simple: improving our health habits will lead to improved quality of life and result in significant savings to taxpayers.

1 in 6 people in North America have some form of disability. Walking, rather than obesity, is the issue. Despite the billions of dollars spent on advertising lean products, calorie counting means nothing if you don’t get off your butt. The best improvements are seen in those who go from least active to slightly active ( from there the geometric scale flattens out).

And as we collectively drag our buttprints across the sands of time Dan Leeming, Principal of Planning Partnerships in Toronto, reminded us it took 100,000 years to learn to walk upright and only 60 years to undo it.

Larry Frank, Professor at the University of British Columbia, translated this into the transportation planning perspective that the 350 calories in a pizza will get a cyclist 10 miles, a pedestrian 3.5 miles and an automobile 100ft.

Much policy has been based on "decision based evidence making." 99% of US transport funds have been dedicated to things other than ped/bike (active transportation).

The current leading edge of research, not surprisingly, is on the hidden health costs of transportation. The engineers are not necessarily the problem as the distinction is increasingly being made that connectivity is the key versus proximity. People’s perceptions are all important.

Gordon Price’s “Motordom” has become the defining reality of our suburban environments – with every message screaming impediment to the latent pedestrian that is trapped inside every car. And for a century each generation of children has been confined within decreasing orbits of autonomous locomotion.

We have corralled ourselves in and fattened ourselves up for the slaughter. It is up to us to rethink the boundaries that we place in the path of our daily lives. Thus walkability and connectivity are what the doctors’ prescribe for our health dollars, engineers for our transportation dollars, and urban planners for our design dollars.

In short, every curb radius counts.

It was a great conference, with lots of the multi-disciplinary enthusiasm without which nothing great will ever be achieved. So I ended my conference enthusiastically walking through the future that will be Surrey City Centre – the largest (and most walkable?) urban environment in British Columbia.

Monday News Roundup

Facebook App to Track Household Energy Consumption (Planetizen)
In early 2012, Facebook will launch a yet-to-be-named app that will allow 800 million users to access home energy usage information provided by their utility company. This 'Social Energy Application' will help users manage their energy.

For ultra-green dev't, how much flexibility is too much? (The Seattle Times)
Seattle planners already can bend some development rules for projects that promise to be extra-green. But how much flexibility is too much?
Norway Showroom Built from Re-Used Doors and Windows (Inhabitat)
Working around the theme of "Re-Use," a group of architecture students constructed this inspiring artistic pavilion made entirely from old windows and doors in Trondheim, Norway.
La Concha House (Contemporist)
La Concha is a home that has been remodeled from a 15th Century barn on the Island of Guernsey. The house was developed as a fluid, three-dimensional plan, inspired by ‘The Nolli plan of Rome’ 1748.
The wheel has revolutionized life on planet Earth. However, as scientists try to wean us off our fossil fuel dependency, engineers are developing new concepts for transportation that eschew wheels in favor of next-generation technologies.

DomestiCity: A Photo Essay (Sustainable Cities Collective)
This photo essay explores the ways in which people negotiate the use of their limited living quarters. The available space in or around one’s sleeping quarters is fair game for all domestics...

Roca London Gallery (Contemporist)
Cutting edge, technologically advanced, and futuristic are some adjectives that come to mind...

An Interview with Charles Eames (Herman Miller)
Some fascinating tidbits from a Q&A session with designer Charles Eames.

Bill... Meet Jane

By Catherine Calvert, Director of Community Sustainability
VIA Architecture

Being a lifelong glutton for continuing education, I find myself at the moment studying both Permaculture Design and brushing up on the seminal Jane Jacobs text “The Death and Life of Great American Cities”.  This has been an interesting juxtaposition, and one that holds more similarities than I might have expected.
Permaculture Design is based on the teachings of the Australian Bill Mollison, known for his pioneering work in the 1960’s and 70’s on natural systems design and the means of using these to create ecologically sound, productive landscapes and increase the resilience of human settlements.  Best known for its advocacy of  food production using horticultural means (“permanent + agriculture”), permaculture is a set of principles and practices that invite the discovery of patterns in the landscape, seeking efficiencies of complementary systems, and closing loops of inputs and outputs of materials and energy. 
Developed and popularized further by Mollison’s students such as David Holmgren, Toby Hemenway and others, the system has subsequently been expanded and applied to the “design of buildings, energy and wastewater systems, villages, and even less tangible structures such as school curricula, businesses, community groups, and decision-making processes” (1).  Permaculture is currently enjoying a growing wave of popularity, and is seen to be in strong harmony with ideas that support sustainability, relocalization, and the “creative descent” associated with peak oil and the transition town movement.
photo credit –
Jane Jacobs on the other hand was a strident New York-based journalist who became an outspoken critic of modern city planning in the 1960’s.  Despite having no formal training as a planner, she was a keen observer of the urban life of New York City and the ways in which it functioned when allowed to evolve in its own organic way.  Outraged at what she perceived as the arrogant intervention of master schemes to impose external order, usually intended to serve the movement of the automobile, she became a highly regarded urban activist who successfully led opposition to plans for building several massive freeway projects in the city.  In 1961 she published the seminal work “The Death and Life of Great American Cities”, which outlined a framework for urban vitality based on assessments of scale, function, safety, investment, and architectural infrastructure.

photo credit –
It’s not known if Bill and Jane ever met, or if they were even aware of the other’s philosophies and advocacy half a world apart.  I suspect however that if they had had a chance to compare notes, the conversation would have been very interesting.  Both philosophies developed in the mid-century period of general post-war optimism, therefore making both their work radical in its day.  They shared the acknowledgement of the “brokenness” of large-scale infrastructure, monoculture, and the imposition of scale-inappropriate patterns on our landscape.  Both developed their ideas from fine-grained, on-the-ground observation of systems that function holistically.  Their fundamental principles share some interesting parallels:

Jane’s City Planning Principles:
Bill’s Permaculture Principles:
To generate exuberant diversity in a city’s streets and districts, four conditions are indispensible:
Core principles for ecological design:
1.       The district, and indeed as many of its internal parts as possible, must serve more than one primary function; preferably more than two.
Stacking:  Each element performs many functions, and each function is performed by many elements.  Redundancy is deliberately built into the system.
2.       Most blocks must be short; that is, streets and opportunities to turn corners must be frequent.
Edges define areas, and break them up into manageable sections.  We are attracted to edges; these accumulate energy and are the most diverse parts of the ecosystem.  We need to select appropriate edge patterns for climate, landscape, size and situation.
3.       The district must mingle buildings that vary in age and condition, including a good proportion of old ones so that they vary in the economic yield they must produce.  This mingling must be fairly close-grained.
Collaborate with succession.  Living systems usually advance from immaturity to maturity, and if we accept this trend and align our designs with it instead of fighting it, we save work and energy.  Mature ecosystems are more diverse and productive than young ones.
4.       There must be a sufficiently dense concentration of people, for whatever purposes they may be there.  (2)
Use small-scale intensive systems so that the land can be used efficiently and thoroughly.  Close associations of species clustered around a single element (guilds) assist in health, aid in management, and buffer adverse environmental effects. (1) and (3)

Both philosophies are based in the idea of diversity as a fundamental measure of system health, and both warn against the pitfalls of monoculture and monotony: 

Bill Mollison:
"Although the yield of a monocultural system will probably be greater for a particular crop than the yield of any one species in a permaculture system, the sum of yields in a mixed system will be larger. Diversity is related to stability... which occurs among cooperative species, or species that do each other no harm. The importance of diversity is not so much the number of elements in a system; rather it is the number of functional connections between these elements. It is not the number of things, but the number of ways in which things work." (3)
Jane Jacobs (quoting a Eugene Raskin essay):
"Genuine differences in the city architectural scene express the interweaving of human patterns. They are full of people doing different things, with different reasons and different ends in view, and the architecture reflects and expresses this difference, which is one of content rather than form alone. ... Considering the hazard of monotony, the most serious fault in our zoning laws lies in the fact that they permit an entire area to be devoted to a single use." (2)

I am finding these parallels fascinating; the root of what both are addressing is the healthy functioning of sustainable systems, be they human systems, food production, natural environments, or dense urban settlements.  This kind of radical common sense is even more relevant today than it was 50 years ago, and we would do well to listen hard to their collective wisdom.

(1) Toby Hemenway, “Gaia’s Garden – A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture”, Chelsea Green, 2nd Edition, 2009.
(2) Jane Jacobs, “The Death and Life of Great American Cities”, Random House, 1961.
(3) Bill Mollison, “Introduction to Permaculture”, Tagari, 2nd Edition, 2009.