Archive for October, 2006


Thursday, October 26th, 2006

As I learn more about the design profession, I discover new resources. Today’s discovery is DesignIntelligence, the Design Futures Council’s monthly “Report on the Future” and self-described “repository of a vast wealth of timely articles, original research, and industry news.” Here’s what the Council says about itself:

The Design Futures Council is a global network of design community professionals. The mission: to explore trends, changes, and new opportunities in design, architecture, engineering, and building technology. Members include leading architecture and design firms; dynamic manufacturers; service providers; and small, forward-thinking A-E-C companies taking an active interest in their future.

The Council regularly publishes articles on future trends and management practices that affect the design industry, including “reports on financial management strategies, best practice case studies, and articles on fees, profitability, ownership transition, communications planning, strategic change, [and] achieving competitive fitness.”

Webcrawling, I found a full reprint of DI’s January 2006 volume entitled Fifteen New Directions Sweeping the Design Professions. (One must subscribe to get the full text of articles on DI’s website. I can’t remember where I found the full article.) In the first article in this volume, Current and Emerging Trends Reshaping the Design Professions, author James P. Cramer states: “At no time in history have the design professions played such an important role in pressing global issues.” He’s talking about the sea-change occuring in how business is done globally, evidenced by a proliferation of “new methods, processes, technologies, demographics, values, and behaviors,” and argues that design firms will need to reinvent and restructure themselves to keep up.

I couldn’t agree more (see my post The World is Flat). Changes wrought by technology, particularly the global connectivity made possible by the internet, and new competition from educated, talented, and ambitious workers in countries like China and India are changing how projects are done in the US and other nations that previously had a monopoly on design. If we don’t keep up with the technology and we don’t join forces with these new experts, we’ll lose.

The issue goes on to present 15 trends that the Design Futures Council identified after surveying top design professionals. The first of these is that “firms will be delivering genuinely integrated and more overtly collaborative professional practices in architecture, interiors, engineering, and construction.” The successful organizational model will involve integration of all disciplines needed to complete a project either by creation of a truly multi-disciplinary firm or through an inter-firm collaborative effort. The future, the author argues, will see architects, designers, engineers, and contractors sharing authority, responsibility, costs, and risks from a project’s inception.

This level of collaboration will require firms to adopt technology that will permit a seamless exchange of data and this involves another trend that the article identifies – Building Information Modeling (BIM). With current architectural, design, and engineering systems, separate files are created by the various project participants as they develop and complete their tasks and drawings and documents are then physically exchanged. Changes to one document might require changes to other documents and these changes must transferred manually to every drawing or document that might be affected. This cumbersome process has enormous potential for errors and omissions. BIM streamlines and decreases errors by maintaining all project data in one file that can be accessed by all participants and changes to one part are immediately reflected in all parts. BIM has been around for a few years, but only now is it beginning to catch on (see my paper on BIM written in September 2004 for a class.)

The most forward-thinking firms have already adopted this technology and others are poised to do so. Given the incredible changes in how business is done and the increasing pressure on firms to produce more in a shorter period, firms that fail to adapt their processes and organizational thinking to this trend will surely fall behind.

I haven’t learned or even seen BIM in action, but I have had some recent conversations with firms that are adopting the technology and they’re pretty excited about it. So am I. The design business is poised on the edge of something new – not only new technologies, but new ways of doing things, new hierarchies, new expectations, and new needs.

I like the thought of entering the design profession at a time when things are changing. It’s invigorating and that’s a good feeling.


Saturday, October 21st, 2006

I finished the model that was assigned in my Building Technology class. It is a composite model of a commercial interior and contains several building systems including (1) structural systems (concrete masonry unit wall, nonbearing metal-frame wall, open-web steel trusses, concrete floors), (2) a suspended acoustical ceiling, (3) electrical systems, (4) sprinkler system, (5) HVAC system, and (6) various finishes. This was so much fun!

Here are some pictures.

Here is the Process Book I created for this project.

Resources: Building product directories

Tuesday, October 17th, 2006

Here are links to websites with a lot of info on different construction materials and their manufacturers:

Tools of production

Wednesday, October 11th, 2006

Chris Anderson, in his interesting book, The Long Tail, says: “When the tools of production are available to everyone, everyone becomes a producer.” He’s talking in the context of the explosion in computer technology and internet access to software that allows ordinary people to create videos, music, books, and blogs on every conceivable topic, but the thought is an important one in other contexts as well. In effect Anderson is saying give people the right tools and they will produce. Because production – be it of things, service, or ideas – is key to business success, organizations that make it a priority to equip their employees with the right tools will be a step ahead.

So what are these tools? Technology, sure, but I would argue for a broader definition of tools to include opportunities to acquire knowledge, open communication channels, access to experts and stakeholders, and a sense of empowerment. In other words, employees need training, libraries and databases, a way to access the lessons learned from past projects, the freedom to express ideas and be heard, and to feel as if their ideas and efforts are valued.

Workplaces are also tools of production. This is not a new idea by any means – people have been trying to come up with the best workplace design for years, with mixed results – but most workplaces continue to be built on tired models. I googled “workplace design” and quickly found the following articles that discuss the productive value of a well thought out workplace: DJC News, Management Issues, and Building Design & Construction. Resources spent to ensure a supportive and empowering workplace are worth every penny.

Building Museum

Monday, October 9th, 2006

Recently I made a trip to the Building Museum in the Pension Building in Washington, DC to make some sketches for a class assignment. Here they are:

Pension Building, vault

Pension Building, tile floor

Building Museum, Green Building exhibit

Green roofs

Friday, October 6th, 2006

Last summer I downloaded Google Earth so I could locate my daughter’s new apartment in New York City. Google Earth, if you aren’t familiar with it, is a free program that will take you anywhere in the world – plug in an address and you have a aerial photograph of that place in a couple of seconds. Zoom in or out for a smaller or larger view. So I did, finding my daughter’s neighborhood and her new apartment building right away, nestled in a fairly solid block of other 4-story buildings south of Houston Street.

The interesting thing about an aerial photograph of New York City is the sea of flat grey and black roofs. A few trees struggle up between the buildings providing a spot of green here and there, but mostly you see concrete, stone, and asphalt. Mile after mile.

So I was delighted when the September 2006 issue of Metropolis appeared in my mailbox. Its lead article features green roof technologies, highlighting several pioneering projects in Chicago, Long Island City, Washington, Boston, and Liuzhou, China. This is a technology that deserves a lot more attention. Picture New York City as a sea of green rooftops and you begin to see the potential.

One of the projects Metropolis zeros in on is Silvercup Studios in Long Island City, just across the East River from Manhattan. Silvercup has installed the largest green roof in New York, using a system of membranes and planting modules manufactured by GreenTech.

Long Island City was once heavily industrial, but its buildings are now being transformed into other uses. Apparently the city has lots of flat roofs, more than 26 million square feet of flatness that could be outfitted with green-roof technology – over 55% of the neighborhood. Move the idea across the East River and out to other cities and towns and you would have incredible benefits.

Ponder these facts, taken from the article:

  • Percent of 2005 population living in cities: 49
    In 2030: 60
  • Rise in average global temperature between 1900 and 2000: 1 to 1.5 degrees F
    Between 2000 and 2100: 3-5 degrees F
  • Fraction of U.S. energy that goes toward cooling buildings: 1/6
  • Temperature of a conventional roof membrane on a 95 degree day: 158 degrees
    Of a green-roof membrane on the same day: 77 degrees
  • Heat loss of green roof compared to conventional roof: 18 percent less
  • Reduction in summer cooling needed for a one-story building with a four-inch grass roof compared to one with a conventional roof: 25%
  • Stormwater retention rate of green roof compared to conventional roofing material: up to 6 times greater

Green roofs provide great insulation for buildings leading to lower energy consumption and they reduce stormwater runoff, but they also decrease the temperature of surrounding urban areas, clean the air, look beautiful, and create rooftop living spaces for people and wildlife.

Unfortunately, green-roof technology is just getting going. Metropolis Executive Editor Martin Pederson sums it up:

‘The Green Roofing of America’ certainly has a nice ring to it, but the idea remains more wishful thinking than reality. True, there are more green roofs in operation than ever before, but the bulk of new construction is built without any environmental considerations at all. Still, in this era of dwindling resources and rising temperatures, it’s worth noting that even the most banal green roof (think grass) offers real and lasting benefits. Like hybrid cars, green roofs look to us like an ecological no-brainer: an obvious solution to intractable problems.

Basil in your basement

Tuesday, October 3rd, 2006

Basil is the essence of summer. If you’re a gardener, you grow it in your yard for flavorful pesto and you add it in handfuls to your chunky tomato sauce. If you’re not a gardener, but like to have the freshest ingredients when you cook, you buy bunches of basil at the market.

But what do you do in the winter if your local grocer doesn’t stock fresh basil? Dried basil just doesn’t make it. If you have extra from your summer harvest, you can freeze the leaves on a cookie sheet then seal them in a freezer bag, but with a little set-up you can grow a flat of basil in your basement.

First, you will need a little greenhouse in your house. This is not difficult, but you may need to run around a bit to collect your materials: flourescent lamp fixtures, full-spectrum grow-lights (natural light from a window isn’t enough), hooks to hang the fixtures, potting soil, flats (the plastic trays the plant nurseries use to hold the little 6-packs of annuals all summer) or pots, and basil seeds, all of which you can get at the hardware store. Basil seeds may be scarce once summer is over, but you can order them from a seed house like Burpee. You may also need chains or rope, cardboard or styrofoam, an extension cord, a power strip of some kind, a timer, and some plastic sheeting. You can buy pre-made light gardens from gardening catalogues, but making it yourself is a lot more fun.

Next, select a place in your house where a little dirt and water won’t do much damage and that’s big enough to accomodate your mini greenhouse. Two fluorescent lamp fixtures running side-by-side will provide enough light for a flat of seedlings. Flourescent fixtures come in 2’ or 4’ lengths. 2’ is enough for one flat. If you have room, use the 4’ length so you can keep two flats going. 4′ bulbs are easier to find anyway.

Hang the fluorescent fixtures from the ceiling or from a shelf (you need at least a foot of height between the lower shelf and the bottom of your lights) using hooks and ropes or chains. You could even hang them in a big cardboard box if your box is reinforced or strong enough to hold the weight of the fixtures. The lights need to be 2” above the plants as they grow, so either your lights or your pots should be able to be raised or lowered. Once the fixtures are up, click the flourescent bulbs into place. (Line the prongs up with the grooves on either end of the fixture, push the bulb up, and then turn it with your fingers until it clicks in place.)

If your growing area is cold, you will want an enclosure around the lights and flats to hold in the warmth. Plastic sheeting or pieces of cardboard taped loosely around your shelves work fine. It doesn’t have to look elegant. If you are hanging your lights from the ceiling, you will need to slip something rigid such as cardboard or styrofoam on top the light fixtures to hold the sheeting away from the lights themselves.

You will also need a waterproof surface to put your flats on. Line a low cardboard box with plastic sheeting or find a ready-made plastic tray of some sort that is big enough to hold your flats or pots.

Now the easy part: you are ready to plant. Fill your flats or pots with moist potting soil (dirt from your yard harbors diseases and weed seeds and doesn’t work very well). Make little ¼” deep grooves across the flat, about 3”-4” apart, scatter basil seed in the grooves, push a bit of soil over them, and tamp it down gently. Cover the flats with a piece of plastic wrap until they sprout. Put the flats in your greenhouse and plug the lights in. The lights will need to be on 16 hours a day. To make it easier, you can plug them into a timer.

Keep the soil moist by sprinkling it well when it begins to dry on the top, but don’t keep it saturated all the time or your seeds may rot.

Once the seeds sprout, remove the plastic wrap. Again, don’t let the soil dry out but don’t flood it either. When the sprouts start to develop their second leaves, thin them so they stand about 1”-2” apart in their rows. Keep thinning them as they grow and use the thinnings in your cooking. Once the plants get to be about 4” high, you can start to harvest them in earnest. It will take a few weeks to get to this stage, so start your flats early.

These winter basil plants won’t get big like your summer basil, so use the leaves when the plants are small. The plants will begin to elongate and look unhealthy long before they are big. The flavor is not as intense as basil grown outdoors so this basil doesn’t make very good pesto, but it is terrific for soups, light tomato sauces, and salads.

Start a new flat every two or three weeks for continuous harvest.

September ‘06 index

Tuesday, October 3rd, 2006