Architecture and Other Stuff

After the rather–er–grim nature of my last post (which still needed to be written), I think it’s time for some less heavy stuff.

This is inspiring: People enhanced the environment, not degraded it, over past 13,000 years. (Science Daily) If we have a future on this planet, THIS is what we need to pay attention to. This is a good example of the Permaculture vision in action–not only do we farm in a way that doesn’t undermine the long-term viability of the ecosystems that support us, but actually enhances and regenerates them. Apparently some cultures did practice this.

Norway to invest $1bn to create 10 ‘bike superhighways’ (Treehugger). Los Angeles needs these.

This is an old article from 2007, but I just found it. It should come as no surprise that traditional buildings perform better than modern ones.  It’s a study by Adam Architecture, a UK firm that specializes in traditional buildings.

Not all ancient buildings were energy efficient, According to legend, Nero had a rotating dining room. People have dismissed this as imaginary, but now archaeologists think it may have actually existed, and they think they know how it worked.

I had no idea until recently that there was an organization called Students for Classical Architecture. They have an awards program which looks like it only started last year, but The gallery of winners for 2015 is amazing: Students for Classical Architecture Design Awards 2015. Is this the beginning of a slow paradigm shift? I think I need to start practicing watercolor. No rotating dining rooms, though.

In a similar vein is this very good article: Making Room for Traditional Architecture (Traditional Building)

The Atlantic published an exciting history of drywall, prompting Lloyd Alter to wonder if we should really be using something else? Before drywall, we used either wood or lath and plaster, which holds up better, breathes nicely, and lends itself to artistic expression in a way that plaster does not:

We wrote about the stuff a few years ago in How did we end up with drywall? and quoted TreeHugger hero Steve Mouzon, who wrote:

“They call that boring white stuff we put on our walls “drywall” because so long as you keep it dry, you have a wall. But just as soon as it gets wet, it turns to messy mush. And even if it doesn’t fall apart, it loves to host mold and mildew and make your family sick…. . We need to learn how to build durable and resilient buildings like our great-grandparents did so that the summer shower is no reason to call the insurance adjustor; you simply wipe down the walls that got wet and never give it a second thought.”

In the Atlantic, [Haniya] Rae…quotes Steve Mouzon, who describes how houses in New Orleans that were built out of plaster or wood panelling survived Katrina nicely, but that millions of square feet of housing built with drywall had to be bulldozed…

“Mouzon, the architect who worked in New Orleans, has experimented with building wood-paneling systems that remove the gaps between wallboards altogether. ‘At the beginning, tradesmen don’t like it because they’re used to running their lines in the walls wherever,” says Mouzon. “But, once they see the system, there’s less thinking they have to do because it’s more organized. After a few jobs, it’s pretty much a wash in terms of cost.'”

Is it time to hang up on hanging drywall? (Treehugger) Also from Lloyd Alter: Is toast the insulation of the future (!!) ?

Here’s a very cool piece of organic architecture: The Wilkinson Residence (Quiet Corner)

I’ve written a lot about the Great Migration and its effects this year. The Smithsonian has a long article describing the history of it which is very much worth reading: The Long-Lasting Legacy of the Great Migration. Really, I see the history of the twentieth century in America as a tale of three Great Migrations: that of African-Americans out of Dixie as described in the article; that of a more mixed group of people from the Old industrial heartland and Northeast corridor to the Sunbelt, and that of Mexicans from Northern Mexico into the United States toward the end of the millennium. We tend to focus on politics as if they somehow arise in a vacuum, but really history follows from things like migrations.

You can see the second Great Migration in the list of largest cities in the United States. Sun Belt cities are in bold. Here’s 1940:

1.) New York, N.Y. 2.) Chicago, Ill. 3.) Philadelphia, Pa. 4.) Detroit, Mich. 5.) Los Angeles, Calif. 6.) Cleveland, Ohio  7.) Baltimore, Md. 8.) St. Louis, Mo. 9.) Boston, Mass. 10.)     Pittsburgh, Pa.

Here’s 2012:

1.) New York, N.Y. 2.) Los Angeles, Calif. 3.) Chicago, Ill. 4.) Houston, Tex. 5.) Philadelphia, Pa. 6.) Phoenix, Ariz. 7.) San Antonio, Tex. 8.) San Diego, Calif. 9.) Dallas, Tex. 10.) San Jose, Calif.

Where I live went from #11 in 1960 to not even in the top 20. Why do I live here again??

Frivolous, but here are 24 examples of really crappy product design

Alternative ways of living: My American dream led to a trailer park. And I couldn’t be happier (The Guardian)

Here’s another: Leanna runs an organic farm part time in Upstate New York (BBC):  “Leanna left college where she studied engineering, with $22,000 in student debt. Like many Millennials, she chose to pursue her passion instead of a high paying job. Young farmers list student debt, access to land an capital as their main challenges.”

This Washington D.C. family operates on solar power without the electric grid: Living Off the Electrical Grid in America’s Capital (The Atlantic)

Here’s a “chicken tractor on steroids” to help build organic soil. Of course, many farm animals literally are on steroids today 😉

It’s a not uncommon argument in environmental circles to hear that animal husbandry is inherently inefficient. After all, when you feed animals on grains and other food that could instead go to feed humans, you inevitably end up losing calories and expending more energy than you otherwise would for the same amount of plant-based food…But many permaculturists have a slightly different view: If animals are treated as part of a holistic landscape, using resources that would otherwise go to waste, and if we make sure we use every possible output from those animals—not just meat, eggs and dairy—but poop and even their natural scratching behaviors, then surely they can help us be more, not less, efficient?

We all know that McMansions are crap architecture, as well as energy inefficient. What makes them so aesthetically awful though? This post answers the question: McMansions 101: What Makes a McMansion Bad Architecture? (McMansion Hell)

On the same note, we know that living in suburbia is alienating and depressing, but we don’t know why. This article attempts an explanation: Why Suburbia Sucks (Quartz)

…[I]t’s been difficult to elucidate in specific physical terms what it is about suburbia that makes it so hostile to humanity. To someone with no training in architecture, it’s often experienced as a great, non-articulated existential malaise, like depression. You know it sucks, but it’s hard to say exactly why. The same holds true in reverse; North Americans who have not travelled abroad extensively and don’t have a clear basis for comparison can be tongue-tied when asked to explain what exactly makes a non-sprawl city street “charming” or “cozy.” It’s telling that we have no widespread cultural vernacular for why classical urban settlements, which draw on millennia of intellectual background and corpuses of architectural knowledge, are pleasant. It’s because Americans took that inheritance and unceremoniously discarded it, consonantly with the rise of the mass-produced automobile. It irks me that many of us know, on some level, that we live in a dystopian nightmare but can’t say what makes it a dystopian nightmare.

If one hopes to avoid broad vagueries like “Designed for cars, not humans,” and instead to get specific, then there’s no single linchpin attribute that makes suburbia what it is. It’s an interdependent constellation of misanthropic zoning rules, building codes, and planning guidelines. My aim is to list as many of these as I’ve discovered and been able to formulate.

Similarly, a not-as-good-article There may be an evolutionary reason suburbia feels so miserable (Business Insider) Also from Quartz: American cities are designed for cars—which makes life worse for everyone.

Here’s What Happens When You Give $1,000 to Someone in Extreme Poverty (NewCo Shift)

2 thoughts on “Architecture and Other Stuff

  1. I’m beginning to have a problem with “organic architecture” that goes beyond a tipi or yurt.. to wit, what are the property taxes on that thing? It’s gorgeous, but…

    I just had an encounter with someone his structure at the same price as 3-4000 s.f. McMansions. You can’t win for losing. It’s not ‘sustainable’ to have to fork out $10k p.a. in prop. tax, sadly.

  2. Crappy product design.. ha ha! I once had a client who insisted that his new toothpaste packaging should be yellow. Sometimes the designers have little choice in the matter.

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