Robert Harris, FAIA LEED Fellow and
partner at Lake/Flato Architects, on how to recognize and create beauty and place from an architectural
perspective. Aesthetic places bring emotionally connect to human nature.
People can enlarge their living experience by becoming aware of the
environment – inside and out.
Spatial Agency is a project that presents a new
way of looking at how buildings and space can be produced. Moving
away from architecture's traditional focus on the look and making
of buildings, Spatial Agency proposes a much more
expansive field of opportunities in which architects and
non-architects can operate. It suggests other ways of doing
In the spirit of Cedric Price the project started with the
belief that a building is not necessarily the best solution to a
spatial problem. The project attempts to uncover a second history
of architecture, one that moves sharply away from the figure of the
architect as individual hero, and replaces it with a much more
collaborative approach in which agents act with, and on behalf of,
In all the examples on this website, there is a transformative
intent to make the status quo better, but the means are very
varied, from activism to pedagogy, publications to networking,
making stuff to making policy - all done in the name of empowering
others. In Bruno Latour's terms, critical attention is shifted from
architecture as a matter of fact to architecture as a matter of
concern. As matters of fact, buildings can be subjected to rules
and methods, and they can be treated as objects on their own terms.
As matters of concern, they enter into socially embedded networks,
in which the consequences of architecture are of much more
significance than the objects of architecture.
This website is an extendable repository of examples of Spatial
Agency. The database is sortable into broad
thematic areas that group the motivations (why?), locations
(where?) and means (how?) of Spatial Agency. READ MORE >>
Nice interview with BNIM's Bob Berkebile in The Huffington Post:
Bob Berkebile encourages us to look to nature as our model for how to live sustainably.
Omega: For more than 30 years, you have been a pioneer in the sustainable design movement, and helped introduce the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standard that has become the benchmark for green buildings in America. How can new standards in sustainable design help to restore the environmental, economic, and social vitality of communities?
Bob: LEED was created as a voluntary educational tool for those who wanted to reach for higher levels of performance in the built environment, but, as it turned out, the industry was ripe for a new standard. When the United States Navy and the General Services Administration made it their standard for design and construction, others followed and it became a standard. I would argue that, by far, it has been the most transformative tool in the design and construction industry in my professional life.
Omega: You've been widely recognized for your leadership in the industry, including being listed as on of the top five role models for green and sustainable design by DesignIntelligence. Were you always passionate about the environment or was it something that evolved over time?
Bob: I always loved nature. My mom taught me about
observing the subtle but powerful forces of nature, and I try to bring
that to my work. I always look to nature to see how we can evolve and
change the way we build. Once, one of our buildings partially collapsed.
I spent an anxious night on the rescue team, wondering if somehow I had
caused this catastrophe. It was an epiphany. I became aware of
unintended consequences and the need to change the design and
construction industry to support life. This still continues to fuel my
desire for change. READ MORE >>
The latest issue of the excellent Perkins+Will Research Journal (Vol. 03.02) explores five diverse, thought-provoking topics: evidence-based design in healthcare; design of a modular student housing unit; analysis of information content in BIM; relationships between digital design and fabrication; and network challenges associated with BIM data sharing. Articles include:
“A Design-Based Approach to Collecting Evidence” – Diana Davis, Bowman Davis
Evidence Based Design (EBD) research analyzes the built environment through a very rigorous lens, one that takes its methodology from scientific protocol. Most environmental designers are not well versed in the utility of scientific methodology for demonstrating design efficacy, even though they employ a similar method of questioning.
“Performance-Driven Design and Prototyping” – Ming Tang, Ajla Aksamija, Michael Hodge, Jonathon Anderson
Discusses performance-driven design and fabrication as one of the emerging approaches in architectural design, where computational tools are used for integrated design exploration, analysis and fabrication.
“The Information Content of BIM” – Mario Guttman
The application of general information theory to pragmatic problems within the architecture, engineering, construction, owner and operator (AECOO) industry is explored in this article. Some basic principles about the nature of information and how it provides value are defined and applied to current issues in the use of building information modeling (BIM) and integrated project delivery (IPD) in design and construction.
To download the full issue, or individual articles, go here.
In a TEDx presentation this year, Dr. Anthony Atala demonstrated a laser printer that “printed” a kidney transplant using a patient’s own cells. Meanwhile, futurist Ray Kurzweil predicts that humans will soon be injected with robots the size of blood cells to fight off diseases before they spread inside the body. This is just a glimpse into a not-so-distant future when bio-scientific and technological innovation transform how ailments are diagnosed, treated and cured. Coupled with the rising demands of an aging global population, the developments will result in a health and wellness industry that hardly resembles what it is today.
I think that the environments of health and wellness will reflect these developments dramatically. The home will soon become a focal point for health services delivery, while mega-facilities will bridge hospitals to research labs to expedite care innovation in urban settings. And everything will be informed by greater knowledge of how the human body and brain react to those environments. There’s an amazing opportunity right now to recreate the experience of health and wellness in ways that the well, the sick and every person in-between can appreciate. READ MORE >>
Whether or not we are ready to conclude that today’s extreme weather events are linked to global climate change, it would be utterly irresponsible for us to ignore the possibility.
Failing to minimize and manage the risk is a dereliction of duty to everyone who is vulnerable. That includes us all in one way or another, as victims or taxpayers. Ironically, our own practices over the last century have made us more vulnerable. For example:
False Security: We have spent billions of dollars on dams, levees and other structures to protect lives and property from floods, the most common natural disaster in the United States. These structures have saved lives, but they’ve also produced a deadly false sense of security.
Many levees were built originally to protect sparsely populated rural areas and farms. Over the decades, people and property moved in, assuming the levees would protect them. But the levees do not meet the standards required for populated locations.
In reality, no engineer can predict with certainty what nature will do and no structure can guarantee our safety. There are countless examples, including those in the news today, of communities flooded despite the presence of engineered structures. But the most iconic example is Rapid City, South Dakota, which believed it was protected by dams. On the evening of June 9, 1972, a storm stalled over the city, dumping hundreds of tons of rain. One flood control dam was breached; the rain fell below a second dam, making it useless. Nearly 240 people died, more than 3,000 were injured and damages reached $165 million (more than $820 million in 2009 dollars).
Aging Infrastructure: There are more than 85,000 dams in the United States today; their average age is 51. In dam years, that’s old. The latest analysis by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) found that 15,237 dams are considered high hazards and more than 4,000 are unsafe. Overall, ASCE gave America’s dams a grade of D.
Levees got an even worse grade. There are more than 100,000 miles of levees in the United States; 4 of every 10 Americans live in locations ostensibly protected by them. The ASCE grades their condition as D-minus.
Deferred maintenance is part of the problem. Nearly 90 percent of dams and 85 percent of levees in the United States are locally owned. The federal government may have helped build them, but maintenance usually is the responsibility of the farms, drainage districts and communities they were built to protect. Many communities have not been keeping up; budget problems suggest they cannot catch up. READ MORE >>
How to think like a designer: Don't just observe the world, but draw upon what you know, interpret what you find, and look for unmet needs
By Luke Williams
There's a wonderful New Yorker article titled "The Eureka Hunt" (PDF). It's the story of a firefighter named Wagner Dodge who survived an out-of-control fire in the Mann Gulch in Montana in 1949. Thirteen other smoke jumpers died in the fire, but Dodge was saved by a brilliant insight. Fleeing for his life, he suddenly stopped running and ignited the ground around him. He then lay down on the smoldering embers and inhaled the thin layer of oxygen clinging to the ground. The fire passed over him and, after several terrifying minutes, Dodge emerged from the ashes, virtually unscathed.
What sort of a crazy person stops running from a fire and starts another one? Well, if you know certain things about fire and oxygen—knowledge that may have taken years to acquire—it's not as nutty as it sounds. Dodge had been a firefighter for many years and knew that fire needs three things to exist: fuel, air, and heat. By getting rid of the grass (i.e. fuel) around him, he took his chances with the fast moving fire and was able to save himself.
At first glance, insights like this one may seem to come out of nowhere. But in hindsight they make perfect, logical sense. What happens is that we (sometimes unconsciously) recognize patterns that enable us to see things in a new way. Albert Einstein put it succinctly when he said insight "comes suddenly and in a rather intuitive way. But intuition is nothing but the outcome of earlier intellectual experience." READ MORE >>
Interesting thoughts on design from the UK's Guardian...
By Justin McGuirk
Whenever I think of sustainable design, I think of the opening sentence of Victor Papanek's book Design for the Real World. It goes: "There are professions more harmful than industrial design, but only a few of them." Papanek, a designer himself, went on to call designers "dangerous", the producers of "garbage". And that was in 1972.
These days, designers have a rather different role as societal problem-solvers, leading the way to a cleaner, better future. But I suspect Papanek is still right. Notwithstanding this new conscientious breed, there is no getting over the fact that the majority of product designers earn their living supplying growth-dependent economies with novelties for our ever-more-insatiable appetites. Increasingly, many of those objects are being presented as sustainable. Perhaps packaged in brown cardboard with little green arrows on it.
"Sustainability". I have never much liked the word. "Sustainable" is not an adjective you would use to describe something you love. To sustain something is to keep it alive, pure and simple – more of a duty than a passion. Once, we aspired to reach the moon; now, we just hope to hold on to what we've got. Sustainability suggests the flatlining of human ambition. So I did a double-take when I saw a new book called Sustainism Is the New Modernism. If sustainability is boring, "sustainism" is just grammatically freaky (adding "ism" to a verb?). As you'll already have worked out, it yields the word "sustainity" (as in, from here to sustainity). Oh, and "sustainist".
This may sound like parody, but it's not. The creators of these terms, Michiel Schwarz and Joost Elffers, have presented what they describe as a manifesto for the 21st century. The book is a collection of aphorisms and slogans. Some of them – the catchier ones – were coined by others, such as Buckminster Fuller's "do more with less". Many of them are the authors' own, such as "not high-tech versus low-tech, but appropriateness and sustainable solutions". The book is lavishly illustrated, with new logos designed to signify organic, local or recyclable goods. It is sustainability rebranded. READ MORE >>
These top factors were consistent in 26 diverse cities survey – from Miami to Macon, Ga., San Jose to State College, Pa. Not even the worst recession in years changed people’s minds.
But why is knowing this so important to all communities – including Long Island and Greater New York?
How much we love where we live may also affect our town’s livelihood.
The Soul of the Community survey found a significant connection between residents' love for their community and the area’s local economic growth.
In other words, communities with the highest percentage of people with a strong emotional connection to their town had the highest local GDP growth rates over time.
Love and money may go together after all – at least when it comes to community vitality.
For now, the Soul of the Community research has not determined whether community attachment causes a higher growth rate - or vice versa. But previous Gallup research did find that companies with a higher number of people passionate about their job were more productive.
Local leaders can take the Soul of the Community research to heart. In today’s world - where communities are often transient or virtual - a sense of place still has deep meaning. READ MORE >>