Monday News Roundup

The Importance of Cities to the World (Planetizen)
Neal Peirce expounds on the increasing power and importance of cities, a dominant message in the new book "Triumph of the City" by economist Edward Glaeser.

Our High Speed Rail Plan Should Look More Like China's (TreeHugger)
I don't want to perpetuate the US vs. China who-will-be-the-economic-superpower narrative that's already rampant in our press enough these days, so let's frame this one from another, even simpler angle -- China is doing a bunch of really great stuff in clean tech that we should be doing too.

New Solar Panel Array Doubles the Energy and Halves the Cost of Traditional Solar (inhabitat)
NREL just announced a huge breakthrough in making solar electricity competitive with fossil fuels as they unveiled the Amonix 7700 Concentrated Photovoltaic or CPV Generator.

Vancouver, Toronto, Calgary named among world's most liveable cities (The Vancouver Sun)
Vancouver topped the list of the world's most livable cities for the fifth straight year, while Melbourne claimed second place from Vienna and Australian and Canadian cities dominated the list's top 10 spots.

To gain housing, Pioneer Square needs a boost (Crosscut)
Seattle's first neighborhood, Pioneer Square, has essentially missed out on every major economic boom to hit the Northwest since the Gold Rush.

Annals of Cycling – 8 (Price Tags)
An occasional update on items from the Velo-city, this is part 8.

Ford Assembly Building Adaptive Reuse Wins AIA Honor Award (Treehugger)
Marci Wong of MarciWongDonnLogan Architects writes that their adaptive reuse of the Albert Kahn-designed former Ford Assembly Plant In Richmond, California has won and AIA Honor Award.

Peter Calthorpe on why urbanism is the cheapest, smartest way to fight climate change (Grist)
Cities may be the trendy topic du jour, but Peter Calthorpe has been talking about the benefits of urbanism since the 1970s. In 1993, he was one of the founders of the Congress for the New Urbanism, an influential national organization that promotes walkable, mixed-use, transit-rich development.

Eat your subdivision (Landscape Architecture Magazine)
Amid growing concern about food quality and supply, new residential communities incorporate sustainable farming.

'Reskinning' Gives World's Old Urban Buildings Energy-Saving Facelifts (Solve Climate News)
The practice of 'reskinning' exteriors of aging infrastructure can help retrofit entire cities to be 'more efficient' and 'more beautiful,' advocates say.

Can suburbs be reinvented for 21st century? (Crosscut)
To make suburbs fit into modern realities, we will have to re-imagine and re-engineer them.

Dreaming of a bike and family friendly city

by Jen Kelly, Lead Business Dev't Coordinator

On my drive to work this morning, an unusual scene caught my eye:

Right in the middle of downtown Seattle, a father was riding in perfect sync on a triple tandem bike with his two daughters. I caught up with them at the Spruce Street School, the only K-5 in downtown Seattle.

He told me that they live in Queen Anne, and try to bike to school at least 3 times a week. As we chatted, his oldest daughter stood a few feet away with a proud look on her face as he told me that they are also training for the Seattle to Portland bike ride coming up this July. I asked "Oh, you're preparing for the race?", to which he responded, "Yeah, the three of us are." (I did mention that these girls are in a K-5 school, right?)

p.s. STP organizers: you should feature this family in your marketing materials -- if they don't shame inspire people into participating, I don't know what will

In Europe, the following photos are not uncommon:

(kidding... this last photo was in Portland)

I know, I know, we're all getting tired of hearing about how great biking is in Holland, and Denmark, and even Portland. Although we may not have the ideal situation ( = flat) as some of these areas, there's no reason why we can't start adopting successful elements. Yes! Magazine wrote a great article, looking at what it would take to make biking less of a "recreational activity" and more mainstream:

In Utrecht, Holland, 95 percent of older students—kids in the 10 to 12 age range—bike to school at least some of the time. In the U.S., roughly half that percentage (50 percent of kids) walked or biked to school… back in 1970. Since then, the rate has dropped to 15 percent, according to the National Center for Safe Routes to School program.

Some bullet points of their success:
  • kids learn about biking and bike safety in school
  • in The Hague, the city works hard to separate bike paths from streets used by cars and trucks
  • access to safe, convenient bike storage
  • using color on the roadways to clearly designate bike lanes
At some point, we have to face the facts -- not only are oil prices are going to go up again, but our obesity rates have tripled in the past three decades, with one in three children currently obese or overweight.

There are campaigns out there that are trying to push us in the right direction -- Seattle has a new Walk, Bike, Ride challenge, and 6 months ago, Michelle Obama came out with the "Let's Move" obesity campaign. And although lists Seattle as the 7th family friendly city, they were really only looking at taxes, incomes, and total expenses to figure a family's ability to live a good lifestyle. But is that really all it takes to be family friendly? It's not saying much for our city that we only have one K-5 school, or that people don't feel safe in our downtown parks.

So -- I put it out to the rest of you -- what will it take for the scene I saw this morning to become a mainstream in Seattle instead of unusual?

Monday News Roundup

Tracking Growth in World Cities (Planetizen)
Mega-cities of 10 million people or more are getting a lot of attention these days. But smaller big cities are really where interesting and potentially hazardous growth patterns are occurring, according to this piece.

Who’s got the greenest house on the planet? (Grist)
It's pretty easy to determine the biggest pie, or longest fingernails, or fattest twins. But what about the greenest house? AOL's consumer finance site has a nice roundup of what, exactly, it means to have a green home.

In Charleston, an Affordable, Effective Alternative to Highway Expansion (DC.STREETSBLOG)
More street grid, less traffic: The Coastal Conservation League's proposal for Savannah Highway would cut congestion by reducing the number of curb cuts and establishing secondary roads for those traveling short distances.

Updating and Improving Philadelphia's Downtown Plazas (Planetizen)
Three public plazas in the center of Philadelphia are set to see much-needed makeovers, and soon.

Researchers Transform Contaminated Shipping Port Sludge into Safe Building Materials (inhabitat)
Swedish researchers have developed a process that can turn contaminated sediment in shipping ports into a cement-like substance that is safe for building.

NYC to Turn Sewage Into an Asset (Planetizen)
Could the 1.3 billion gallons of wastewater that New Yorkers produce daily be an asset?

How Green School Buildings Help Children Grow (The Tyee)
Students and teachers are more healthy and productive in sustainably-built schools, research shows.

Global Eco Cities Panel Explores Innovations in City Building (The Planning Report)
Discussion of a global eco-cities panel at VX2011, the VERDEXCHANGE Green Marketmakers Conference, held in L.A. in January. The panelists (including former L.A. City Planning Director Gail Goldberg, Dean of the USC School of Architecture Qingyun Ma, and AECOM Principal of Building Engineering Alastair MacGregor) imagined global eco cities of the near future.

Let's Be Smart About Intelligent Cities (Planetizen)
"Intelligent cities" is picking up steam as the new buzzword in planning and a potentially game-changing way of using data to drive decisions. But we need to be sure we don't lose the human intelligence in planning.

The future of the strip mall: downhill (Crosscut)
Suburban strips with huge parking lots are losing favor, thanks to economic shifts, rising gas prices, and more appealing pedestrian-friendly town centers.

U.S. News ranks Portland #1 for Public Transit (Oregon Live)
TriMet may be running on red ink, slashing services and in the middle of a nasty contract fight with its driver’s union, but Portland is still the nation’s best city for public transportation, according to a new analysis.

Friday Feature: Peter H

Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Peter Houseknecht and I am an Architect who has worked predominately on a wide variety of private development commercial projects. Many of these were hospitality projects in which I was involved with the Interior Design either separately or in addition to the architectural design. These projects included resorts, conference centers, hotels, restaurants and all other types of food service, casinos, country clubs, wineries and combinations of these uses. I also have experience with government projects of various types and some private residences as well. Currently I am the project manager for the Evergreen Line that is a new expansion of an existing transit line in metro Vancouver, BC.

What made you decide to go into your field?
Perhaps it started at a very young age with creating elaborate electric model train and racing car platforms with people, buildings, covered bridges, farms and streetscapes forming little towns complete with landscaping, snow and lighting effects. Some elements were model kits while other parts I built from scratch with balsa wood. My grandfather was passionate about model railroading whose hobby I shared with him starting as far back as I can remember.

What did your family think of your chosen field?
They did not really care one way or another so long as I was happy

Who is the teacher who had the most influence on you and why?
It’s hard to just pick one as there were several teachers but also employers, work experiences and clients that equally qualify as well. My first architectural graphics professor for teaching me to communicate graphically in a variety of ways as well as to think with a pencil or other drawing implement. My second year architectural design professor for really opening the door to what a building design entailed, how to approach it and to think about the sequence of events and hierarchal order of a design and the resulting experience of it’s inhabitants. My fifth year architectural design professor for sharing his great design mind in concert with an open mind, enthusiasm, sense of humor, flexibility and hanging in there – don’t let the bumps and obstacles get you down attitude.

Various employers for giving me a full breath of opportunities, tasks and responsibilities very early in my career. Others for expanding my skills and arena of practice particularly with hospitality work that combines so many uses, design talents and creative disciplines in a tightly interwoven and expressive project type full of imagination when at it’s best.

Client’s with which I enjoyed a truly collaborative and open minded relationship who allowed me the freedom and trust to practice our profession to its full potential without premeditative end results. This provided them with the full benefit our services can offer as well as resulting in a project exceeding their expectations with a lasting contribution to their business, their client services and their lives.

This in turn provided me with a truly deep sense of satisfaction that our hard work did mean something, it mattered, made a difference and realized an old school time dream – it did and can make the world a better place. Their excitement as a result of the open collaborative process without question has been the greatest reward of my career. Likewise other collaborative experiences, yes even including with general contractors, where teamwork and project goals were paramount with everyone pulling together with back support in lieu of stabs to make the best possible project were also deeply satisfying. The shear power and joy of true and fully committed teamwork is electrifying and restores hope in human spirit especially in today’s world.

What was the biggest hurdle you faced along your educational path? (academic, financial, motivational, family or peer pressure, outside distraction, etc.)
School was a really heavy and challenging workload – considered at the time to be second only to pre-med (persons on a degree track to enter medical school not to be confused with others experimenting with bio-chemistry and less certain of their major). There was a very high drop out rate and lots of all-nighters meeting deadlines. The constant work load and long hours in the studio challenged my commitment and motivation on more than one occasion.

During nights darkest hours yet again sweating, seemingly endlessly, over your design work while producing perfect ink presentation drawings and cutting 5-ply Strathmore board with razor sharp knives to produce pristine models, occasionally if still possible counting to ten hoping all your digits were still with you that by now are looking like the walking wounded and redoing any mistakes while strategizing how to shoehorn in some time for that rather inconvenient structural engineering final later this week that you haven’t nor could ever have studied enough for, all in hyper sleep deprived mode that is on the verge of answering the question of “just how long can a human being go without sleep before spontaneously collapsing into a coma” that was way beyond any military research on the topic, eyeballs ready to write you a “Dear John” letter, your bed a distant memory, unknowingly enacting the Walking Zombies before they were called such, occasionally uttering random thoughts and curses in what would at other more rested times be recognized as the English language but whose afflicted overtones are likely more recognizable to your Neanderthal ancestors than current day friends and family.

Without provocation a soft wave arrives in your consciousness that at this very moment “normal” people are perhaps sleeping –peacefully – free of stress or worries - but the real test is that at this very moment in time back at the dorm there is a party going on which is registering on the Richter scale. Knowing you could be right now in the heart of it all in the arms of someone you’d give your eyeteeth to be with - but no……..someone must take the high road and answer the call to save the world by learning to create the best environments for the spirit of humanity to flourish within taking that to new heights while your buds are out exploring the boundaries of how to flourish in any environment they find themselves in quite successfully and could not imagine in their wildest dreams anything of greater height educationally than what they were experiencing right now thank you very much and are having the time of their lives passionately pursuing their personalized Studies in Humanity curriculum. How do you spell - I really want to be an Architect!

What inspires you?
Most things in life qualify – it’s a matter of how open my mind is and how observant I am at any given moment. When the lines are open the magic seems to come out of nowhere and reveal itself in many and different ways – sometimes literal but most times in other ways. Viewing elements and activities through conceptual eyes tends to trigger a chain of ricocheting thoughts and ideas taking my imagination to new unrelated and unexpected places. At other times and more profoundly are ideas, thoughts, concepts or new perspectives that arrive in my mind as a seemingly unconnected package that appears out of nowhere. Likely just transferring from my un-conscious mind to the conscious dimension, but presents are fun.

Otherwise viewing other architects and artists work from any discipline usually gets my imagination flowing as does engaging in some form of creative activity regardless of the medium involved.

What schooling is required for success in your career?
I graduated with a Bachelor of Architecture degree from Syracuse University that was a 5-year program. I think that is still the typical program stateside although there are other paths. That was followed by a minimum 3 year internship working full time in the profession to be eligible to start taking licensing exams. My first license was earned in California which at the time had a 3 stage exam process that took about a year and a half minimum to complete due to infrequent scheduling and sequencing. The heart of it was a 5 consecutive day exam lasting up to 12 hours a day and a 26% passing rate.

Today I feel a Masters in Architecture is the current minimum standard I would recommend to someone considering the profession. I would also suggest including coursework in urban planning and business as well as other related design fields of the profession such as lighting and interior design. Computer proficiency in a variety of CAD and 3-D modeling programs is paramount as well.

What kind of people are the most successful in your field? Are there any specific attributes?
People who are well connected and architecturally talented followed by people who are well connected followed by people who are talented. Networking with peers and other people connected with the industry you want to practice in is important and getting involved with your community is helpful. An inner passion and natural heartfelt commitment to the profession is helpful as it is often more of a lifestyle than a job. It is a profession that should be chosen more out of a love and enjoyment of what it entails and one where that passion outweighs financial reward.

What is the best advice you were ever given?
Continue on and obtain your architectural degree as it is one of the best educations you can get - then go and be a politician or anything else but an architect. Well guilty as charged - I did not take the advice.

Follow your heart, your inner voice, your bliss and your truth. We’re working on this one – heh who said an old dog can’t learn new tricks and guess what – these are evolving and moving targets.

Follow the money – aahhh has anyone seen hide or tail of this – any hints – rumors - is there any left?

Is your field growing? (ie. is there room for new entries and is there career growth?)
Yes and no. No as this has become a profession that is amongst the first to be affected by any negative changes in the economy and one of the last to recover. So there are more and sharper spikes and valleys with regard to work opportunities than ever. I have lived thru several recessions with this being the worse by far with reports I have heard of general unemployment between some 9 and 14% but with estimates of 50 to 75% of architects who are unemployed.

Yes with there being more firms and people in the profession and in schools than at times earlier in my career. Also firms are less restricted to local or national markets than in times past with more opportunities to work internationally. During my college days and early professional years most architects in the USA were male and of Anglo origin. While that may statistically be the case, thankfully I have witnessed a vast change with many more women and people from all origins enter the field that has really enriched my life both professionally and personally a great deal.

What advice would you give someone considering a career like yours?
You need to love the work and most of what it entails, but it is a field in transition. Try to get a real world baptism into the profession as early as possible particularly during college by talking with architects, volunteering with a firm, engaging in work-study school courses and working at firms during school breaks etc. to help determine your passion. Then get the best education you can and work for the best firms you can particularly where you will get exposed to all aspects of the profession, which are quite varied. Keep an eye on and engage with new technologies, sustainability and issues of shifting from the current North American car oriented paradigm to a new model as they will all have profound impacts on the field in the years ahead as will current paradigms of architect-client-general contractor models change to something new.

Monday News Roundup

Do the words route or line better describe transit? (Human Transit)
The word for the path followed by a transit vehicle is sometimes route, and sometimes line. Whenever you have two words for the same thing, you should ask why.

Duany predicts decline of strict green building standards (Partnerships for sustainable communities)
Charlotte, N.C.–Decrying the high cost of "optimization" of development in a lean time, Andres Duany called for a return to common sense development principals that harken back to the 19th Century and predicted declining use of the LEED standards for building efficiency.

An Ideal City Doesn’t Exist: An Interview with David Gouverneur (Next American City)
A native of Venezuela, Gouverneur has made a career out of injecting environmental and social values into the process of placemaking. He was kind enough to take some time out of his sunshine and paper-filled morning to share his recipes for healthy cities.

The people of the texture world: adding people into renderings (The New York Times)
I happened to spend a lot of time looking at renderings, and found myself drawn to a recurring feature that, strictly speaking, had nothing to do with the suggested structures: the little human figures who inhabit the rendered world.

Building permits bounce back (video) (The Globe and Mail)
BNN gets analysis and insight into Canadas building permit numbers for December with Victor Fiume, general manager, Durham Custom Homes, and president, CHBA.

The Life and Death of a College Bikeshare System in Maine (The City Fix)
n 2007, a few students and staff at Bowdoin College started the Yellow Bike Club, an informal system of bikes left on campus and re-purposed for the shared bike program. Spray-painted yellow, secured with U-locks and repaired in an old shed on campus, the system of just a few bikes was born. Initially, there were seven bikes and about 50 members, now the program is in disarray.

Secretary of Energy Announces “SunShot”, Gives $27Million to Cut the Cost of Solar (inhabitat)
US Secretary of Energy Steven Chu just pledged $27 million in funding for nine solar energy projects that will help with his “sunshot” effort — a plan to cut the costs of solar energy by 3/4 in the next decade.

Landscape and Architecture Converging (Planetizen)
The Architect's Newspaper explores the "fertile new approaches to building" springing from the growing use of landscaping in contemporary architecture.

Car-Dependent Suburbs May Be Slums of The Future, Says Urban Planning Report (Treehugger)
A study released by the Planning Institute of Australia (PIA) in late 2010 found that "Australia will be forced to rely on huge quantities of imported oil unless it radically overhauls its transport and urban policies" according to The Age newspaper who reported on the findings.

Bikes for Boomers? Panasonic's Electric Bike for "Elderlies" (Treehugger)
If you take it for granted that bicycles are a safe and green part of the transportation system for all ages, then this makes perfect sense. Panasonic has just introduced an electric bike with 20" wheels and a "low floor design" that makes it really easy to get on, start with a boost and stand with your feet flat.

Princeton Plans Largest Solar Field for Any U.S. University (inhabitat)
Long a leader in top-notch academics, Princeton University is now a leader in green technology and clean energy. The Ivy League school announced last week its plans for a 27-acre solar field to partially power its New Jersey campus.

Friday Feature: Brian

Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Brian Kenny and I’m an architect in our Seattle office. I grew up in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. and moved to Seattle in ‘97 after graduating from Virginia Tech. I consider myself a suburban refugee - during summer jobs I spent 2-3 hours driving each day around the D.C. Beltway. That “drove” me (ha ha) to find a livable city where I didn’t have to do that and Seattle passed with flying colors! VIA is the fifth office I’ve worked in since moving here. My wife Lori is also an architect.

What made you decide to go into your field?
I was doomed from the start with a classic architect childhood: drawing all the time, unhealthy Lego obsession, treehouses, etc. Growing up in the 80’s I was always the “art kid” but also loved to take apart lawnmower engines, build models, launch rockets, and devour Popular Mechanics articles about the “World of the Future in the Year 2000!” (Are we there yet?).

What did your family think of your chosen field?
My dad worked for NASA and my mom was a librarian but they always supported my interests. While I’ve never asked, I’d bet they were relieved when I switched from being an Art major to the Architecture program.

Who is the teacher who had the most influence on you and why?
Virginia Tech had many fantastic professors who pushed us to find our own path in design and in life. But I continue to be influenced daily by my second-year studio professor Jay Stoeckel. Our very first day he shocked us by stating that he didn’t care if we ever became architects – his concern was our education. We learned of numerous alumni who’d used their design training to thrive in a wide variety of other careers and professions.

On our last day he said he’d tried to instill an attitude towards, and a habit of, self-education and pushing ourselves to our limits – this would serve us the rest of our lives. We hung on his every word because most were pretty profound…

What was the biggest hurdle you faced along your educational path? (academic, financial, motivational, family or peer pressure, outside distraction, etc.)
School was competitive so it was essential to learn to listen to what’s inside and not measure yourself against others. Also, as a generalist I seem to find everything interesting but in college I had to learn to focus.

What inspires you?
The world! People! Art! Science! Any and everything! (see above). To narrow it down, I love how wildly unrelated ideas can cross-pollinate to generate new ones. I try to encourage this when my mind is chewing on a problem but then picks up the scent of a solution when I’m not working on it…

What schooling is required for success in your career?
I earned a five-year BArch degree so I didn’t need a Masters, but there are also 4-year undergrad degrees where a Masters is required to get your license. Many people do a 3-year Master’s program after undergrad in something else. And then you have to earn a number of years of experience and take a plethora of exams before you can acquire your license and legally be considered an architect. But I feel that if you’re training, thinking, working, and acting like an architect then effectively you are an architect, just not a licensed one which is an important distinction to make in public.

What kind of people are the most successful in your field? Are there any specific attributes?
Stubborn but open-minded people! Also, architects have to work with a huge variety of trades and professions, not to mention your clients. This means your most brilliant idea won’t go anywhere if you can’t communicate it effectively.

What is the best advice you were ever given?
A few quotes I’ve internalized:
Advice is cheap.
Resolve to always be a beginner.
~ Rilke
The best place to be an architect is at a cocktail party…
~Ron Van der Veen, Seattle architect
Is your field growing? (i.e. is there room for new entries and is there career growth?)
Unfortunately opportunities have shrunk dramatically during this mother-of-all-recessions. Many architects are still out of work which has increased competition for new graduates. But before getting too gloomy, I’m very optimistic about the long-term demand for creative people to solve the challenges of of an urbanizing world.

What advice would you give someone considering a career like yours?
Architects make plans – that’s what we do. But to drop another quote, “life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans”. So by all means pour your heart and soul into your efforts, but also know that things will rarely turn out how you expect. And that can be a good thing!

European Transportation, a traveler's perspective Part 2 of 2

by Naomi Buell, Marketing Coordinator for VIA Architecture

If you read part I of this post, you will recall some of my conclusions about Paris and their transportation preferences – little city, little cars, huge metro system. This week I will be talking about my observations while in Belgium – trams, trams and more trams.

I will start with the first city I visited in Belgium called Ghent. It is a beautiful town and at night when the lights ricochet off the facades of the buildings it feels like something out of a fairy tale. The city still has much of its medieval architecture including Gravensteen castle, from which this picture was taken, which just adds to its fairy tale like nature.

The main form of transportation in the city centre appeared to be walking, bicycling, bussing and the use of the 4 tram lines. Many of the streets in the city centre were closed off to cars, likely because they are very narrow and made of cobblestones. However, as the picture below depicts, some of the narrow alleys are used by cars despite their difficult maneuverability. The cars appeared to be slightly bigger than those we saw in Paris which with alley’s like this did not make much sense. However, with a little elbow grease and the proper angling in of the side mirrors, we were ready to go.

Like many places in Europe, Ghent has entire bicycle parking lots. As there appeared to be lots of areas where cars couldn’t drive, bicycles seemed to be the obvious choice to navigate the narrow roads. It should also be mentioned that the cyclists ride in style. Girls will bike with heels or boots and skirts. I did not see spandex or reflective jackets as is common in Vancouver. I suppose Lululemon has not yet infiltrated the European market.

Upon leaving Ghent, we got a little lost and ended up in a small town called De Panne in Belgium. It turned out that there was a tram that went from De Panne, down through a number of different cities and ended up in Oostente, a beautiful seaside town which we were more than happy to visit. We were shocked that a tram would have such a long route but after about an hour, we arrived at our destination. I am not sure what the word ‘bad’ means in Flemish but I took this picture for pure comedic value, sorry West End I think you are beautiful but you seem to have made some enemies in Belgium.

While on the tram I noticed that people would listen to music or watch TV or youtube on their phones which would be fine had it not been for the fact that it was on speaker phone and billowing out through the tram. In Vancouver there are signs reminding riders to turn down their devices even while using headphones, I am not sure what people would have done had they heard entire songs and TV shows. Another frustration came from the signage on the tram. Although it had a sign which listed stop names, not all the stops were listed (I am guessing this was a result of having so many stops as the line was about an hour and a half long). At one point we heard the name of a stop so we tried to see how much longer we had but we couldn’t see the name of the current stop on the sign so we just hoped for the best. Despite this, the tram was very comfortable and smooth on the rails below.

At the end of our ride, which felt kind of like a longer darker version of the train that travels around Disney Land, we arrived in Oostente. We found a nice Chinese restaurant, yes Europe has amazing Chinese food, and a hotel and called it a night.

A few warm croissants here, some fresh mussels there and a warm chocolate Belgium waffle and it was back to Paris to prepare for our flight back to Canada. It truly was a planes, trains but little automobile experience.