31 December 2007

Last Call for 2007

As 2007 draws to a close, I think it's important to remember where we came from and where we're headed. I guess it's a little easier for me than some, since this is all visible on a map.

But more than that, we need to observe the world around us. What's going on, and why? Can events in Russia, or Pakistan, or China affect us? Moreover, how do events just down the street affect us? One question that I, personally, will be investigating is, how does our built environment affect us? Can we change the world, or even history or politics, with buildings? I think we can, and I'm going to set out to prove it with something I know a little bit about - sustainability. Until then, please have a look at this 2007: Year in Review by a fellow blogger whom I respect greatly, Geoff Manaugh, and enjoy this photo tribute to my past, present, and future. Happy Holidays!

the Cincinnati Convention Center, before Christmas

LA has big letters too: this "100" announces the address of the Caltrans building by Morphosis

Zaha Hadid's Contemporary Arts Center, lit up at night for a special event

the Caltrans building, lit up by day

my family's tree on Christmas day

Santa Monica's Christmas "tree" - made of shopping carts

21 December 2007


When I started this blog at the beginning of July, I did so for a few reasons. I was leaving my job as an architectural project manager at a firm in the Cincinnati area and going to grad school....in California. I figured that at least a few of my family, friends and coworkers would be interested in not only my cross-country trip to Los Angeles, but also my progress at USC and what exactly I was studying (apparently "building science" isn't very descriptive to most people). Additionally I had some things to say, and I decided that people might be getting tired of my emails with various links, pictures and mini-diatribes, dealing with themes ranging from how they could save energy in their homes to "look at how ugly this building is".

Well, here I am, 100 posts later. It's easy to think "how could I possibly have that much to say" but then I realize that I have about 100 random thoughts each day, so theoretically you are lucky that I haven't already posted more than this.

To everyone reading, all new and returning visitors, I would like to say the following: Hi! I'm Emily. Thanks for visiting! And welcome. Now let me tell you something about yourselves.

Since I started keeping track of visitors at the end of August, this blog has had:
-6,587 page loads
-5,098 unique visitors
-3,787 first time visitors (howdy, strangers!)
-723 visits from California
-385 visits from Ohio
-235 visits from New York
-182 visits from Kentucky

Now I can't tell who anyone is, or where you live on the street or anything like that. But Google Analytics gives me all sorts of fun graphs and maps to look at that gives me an idea of who is reading. It's important to me because it reminds me that there are people out there who might be interested in my school or my city, and that I should try to explain things whenever possible.

More fun facts (this is almost as fun as baseball statistics):
*The only state in the US which has not visited the wonderSphere is North Dakota. South Dakota and Alaska are tied for one visit apiece (perhaps they will all visit more now that I mentioned them).
*Besides the US, we have had visitors from 59 other countries.
Canada, the UK, Japan, and Belgium round out the top 5 in terms of views. The wonderSphere has even been viewed by people in Vietnam, Bolivia, Cyprus, the UAE, and ANTARCTICA (hi Clair!)! To my top 5 visitors, I would like to say: Hello, Allo, こんにちは, and Bonjour/Gutentag (sorry, I couldn't find a Flemish translation anywhere).
*Most of you spend only about a minute on the site at a time. (Fair enough.)
*Most of you visited through Internet Explorer or Firefox.
One of you visited via Playstation 3 (that's dedication!).

Your favorite entries on the wonderSphere are, in order:

1. Finding Your Footprint. This is far and away the most popular post I have made thus far, with over 1,900 page views. And if I were to pick one that I wanted a bunch of people to see, I would have picked this one. (Thanks to Andrew Sullivan and the Daily Dish for the shout-out)
2. Lessons from Cincinnati. This post cited Robert Campbell's Boston Globe article about Harvard's long term development plans and whether or not Cambridge could learn something from Cincinnati. I would still like to know why Mr. Campbell took a shot at one of my favorite Cincinnati buildings, but I've not had the time to take up the issue with him....yet!
3. My review of Otto's in Covington, KY. This post comes up on the front page if you do a Google search for Otto's. I'm still glad I gave it a good review....such good food! I hope those of you who read that post agree with me.

So, there you go. You already know so much about me, I thought it was fair that we talk about you, for once! One thing worth mentioning is that I really appreciate feedback....it's easy to just post and think that no one is paying attention, but my graphs tell me otherwise. Therefore, if you see something you like, or if you see something that you disagree with, by all means, leave a comment.

Thanks again for stopping by. Happy Holidays!

20 December 2007

"Unfinished Business" :: Advanced Environmental Systems :: Project #3

Third time's a charm, right? Well in my case, the third big project I had to complete in my very first semester in USC's Master of Building Science program was a struggle from the get-go. The class, Advanced Environmental Systems, focused on all aspects of lighting design, from daylighting strategies, to light fixtures, to real-life applications of both. I was pretty excited about this course: lighting design is an integral part of any building, and although I had dabbled in it while practicing, I never really got the hang of it.

We hit the ground running in this class. In our first meeting together, we created teams; in the first four weeks of class, our teams made models, tracked shadows in daylight, and discovered various methods by which we could get sunlight into spaces without creating glare or leaving dark corners (I'll give you a hint: it involves diffuse light).

Then we took our first stab at an actual lighting design in a space. OK, so I'm not used to this, right? When I had to select light fixtures in my former job, I would call my lighting reps and they would basically do this for me. I admit it. I am not a natural at lighting design. I did the best I could on this first project and learned about light fixtures from it, and then set my sights on the final - the competition.

The final project for this class was a competition, of our choosing, which had something to do with lighting design. Half of the class chose to design a light fixture, and the other half took another stab at the lighting design of a space. I chose the latter. The Saul Goldin Memorial Scholarship Lighting Fund awards were "established to encourage and recognize students in Southern California who have shown an understanding of and interest in light and it's effect on the Built Environment."

The competition this year is to design the lighting of a sushi restaurant. Since the competition is ongoing, and actually won't be decided until May, I can't tell you much about my entry or concept. I thought I might give you an image from my board but then I realized that was probably a bad idea as well. So instead I will show you one of the light fixtures I decided to use - the really cool chandelier pictured below - and tell you about a web site that I found very useful throughout my design process. It's called eLumit.com, and it's a search and specification tool for lighting design professionals. Basically if you have a particular type of light in mind that you want to use in your design, you can search for it on eLumit, and chances are it will give you plenty of options for fixtures. Then you can add it to your "project" and it will give you important information for the respective fixtures, like spec sheets and wattage. For an amateur lighting designer such as myself, it was a great resource to have at my disposal throughout the process.

Fabbian Lighting's Medusa chandelier

So, if you're still reading, first of all, give yourself a gold star, because that was a lot of information. Secondly, that concludes the posts detailing the 3 major projects that I worked on this semester. But....I had a 4th class. It was thesis prep. That is one huge project, and I'm not going to get into that just yet. I've got plenty of time to touch on it in the next 18 months that I'll be working on it!

17 December 2007

"Lessons Learned...the hard way" :: Advanced Structures :: Project #2

My second large project of this past semester was for my Advanced Structures class. Despite my initial concern about what exactly "advanced structures" meant, I really liked the class. The stated goal of the course was to develop an intuition about structural design, not focusing so much on the equations but what they represent and what they mean in the grand scheme of things. In this respect, I think the course succeeded. Also I was glad not to get so caught up in the math, because while it generally doesn't cause me too much trouble, I think the graphic analysis methods we practiced in the class were much more effective.

Ok, so the project, as I stated earlier in the semester, was to take a train station and redesign some piece of the structure of it. We chose Glagow Central Train Station in Glasgow, Scotland, because while it's a really beautiful station, it's also quite old, and in the theoretical scheme of things, it could use a structural update. Here, again, is what the original station looks like:

My partner for the project and I decided to go with a much lighter structural scheme....the original station has an all-glass roof, but it's supported by a lot of bulky structure. Since it was built in 1879, bulky structure was the best they had available at the time. So, we picked a particular type of cable truss which is both functional and attractive and we decided to adapt it to our conditions. We liked the cable truss both because it brought the structure outside of the space, and because the curve of it related to the curve of the existing (to remain) structure in the other half of the terminal.

Our final presentation consisted of our original board, which displayed historical information on the station; a new board, which had schematic design drawings and details that we designed; and our design and testing model, which I will talk about in a second. This is what the overall presentation looked like:

Now, about that model....my partner and I decided to use piano wire, since we were representing a cable truss, and metal tubes for the posts, because we figured we should keep the material consistent. This meant that we needed to solder pieces of metal together, which neither of us had done before. First we tried aluminum posts....and it turned out that you can't solder to aluminum at all. On to plan B, which involved soldering to brass posts. This worked just fine, and we finally managed to solder the piano wire together as well, but we didn't trust any of the connections, so once the solder had cooled completely, we covered all of the joints with 2-ton epoxy. Which took care of the joints nicely. On to the tensioning of the trusses.....throughout the modeling process, we discovered quite a bit about the design that we chose, and it turns out that it works better when the whole thing is pre-stressed. Which we didn't really do. So we tried to make up for it by putting a lot of tension in the anchor cables....with thread. Strike 2! Thread, even heavy duty thread, doesn't work in this application, so we had to use nylon instead. And this worked as well.

When it finally came time to test the model using weights on the testing stand, the model didn't break (thank goodness), but it deflected a LOT. But since most of the members in the model weren't acting as they would in real life, we expected this. It was a slightly stressful exercise watching such a frail-looking model deflect so enormously, but I learned a heck of a lot from the whole ordeal and I now know how to put together a model using metal a little bit better.

our testing model with 8 pounds of assymmetrical loading

In my last installment of the series, which could be called "My 3 Projects at USC FA'07", I will talk about frustration and the trials and tribulations of lighting design, and why I didn't sleep much in the last week. Stay tuned!

09 December 2007

A new perspective

This past Thursday evening, I was "installed" as the new Graduate School representative to the 2008 Board of Directors for the AIA Los Angeles. I'm pretty excited about this new position and despite my initial qualms about it, I am assured that I am, in fact, a full member, and I'm even invited on the retreat in January. I don't know how much input I'll be able to give, but I'm a talker so I'm sure my voice will be heard at some point over the next year!

The really cool thing about Thursday evening's gathering was that it was held at Los Angeles City Hall, in the 27th floor observation deck. For those of you unfamiliar with LA City Hall, it's the tallest building in the world to have received a seismic safety retrofit. In a massive $300 million project, they actually dug under the foundation of the building and put 537 base isolators down there. So in the event of an earthquake, the building should glide gently while the rest of the city around it has to fend for itself:

The view from the observation deck was killer. Fortunately I take my camera with me everywhere, and although night shots are nearly impossible without a tripod, the railing to protect me from jumping off served as a nice substitute. Here are some photos I took of my new perspective of the city...

Disney Hall by Frank Gehry

The heart of downtown

Caltrans building by Morphosis

06 December 2007

"Analyze This" :: Materials + Methods :: Project #1

In the first of three installments intended primarily to show that I have, in fact, been in grad school the past four months, and I'm not just pretending to be busy all the time, I will now present to you the first term project that was due for me at the end of this Fall semester. This is the "analysis of a building" for my Materials + Methods class, which I touched on briefly in a previous post. The building that I chose to analyze is the Science Center School, which was designed by Morphosis, and which happens to be right across the street from my own school. I chose the building because of its integration of landscaping as a material and because it was designed by Morphosis, of whom I am a big fan. The fact that it's within walking distance didn't hurt either since I am vehicularly-challenged.

I really enjoyed this project. Analyzing a building is certainly not new territory to me, but I've never quite taken it to this level before, where I interviewed the project architect and took a tour and built a bay model. The tour was especially fun since I got to frolic in the building's giant indoor bamboo garden, and get some perspectives that most people probably never take the time to seek out:

The presentation (below) incorporated 72 diagrams that I did comparing different aspects of the building, and included data, descriptions, and photos that I took. I was pleased with the way it turned out. And, believe it or not, I was happy to do the bay model (bottom). I was supposed to have done a bay model for my undergrad senior thesis but I never got a chance to, due to extenuating circumstances. So you could say this bay model has been 6 years in the making!

All in all, it was an interesting class that I could probably take over and over again and learn something new each time. In my next installment, I'll talk about lessons learned....the hard way :o/

03 December 2007

Brad Pitt + Pink = Hope

This is very exciting news! Today marked the announcement of a new organization, spearheaded by none other than Mr. Brad Pitt, called Make it Right, whose mission is to help rebuild the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans sustainably with help from housing "sponsors", and in doing so, give the residents there a new lease on life. According to their web site:
It is to be a catalyst for redevelopment of the Lower 9th Ward, by building a neighborhood comprised of safe and healthy homes that are inspired by Cradle to Cradle thinking, with an emphasis on a high quality of design, while preserving the spirit of the community's culture. The goal is to accomplish this quickly, so that the first residents can begin returning to their homes as soon as possible.

The goal is both innovative and inspiring. The initial stages are being deemed "The Pink Project", which will be a massive art installation in the Lower 9th Ward; the result of this endeavor will be 150 pink tent houses which will form a visual landscape to not only remind people of the void that still exists in the community, but also, to draw attention to the project through spectacle. The public will then have the opportunity to sponsor part of a home in the hopes that all 150 houses get "adopted" in full, and the assembled team of designers and community leaders will take care of the rest.

photo courtesy of Archinect

I encourage everyone to visit the web site for Make it Right and have a look at this remarkable project for themselves. This has been launched ahead of the holiday season in the hopes that Americans will remember their neighbors in New Orleans this Christmas. When you go to buy that $25 sweater for one of the people on your list, why not contribute $25 to one of the pink houses? You'll be able to say you gave the gift of a HOME to someone in 2007....which is rather incredible, when you think about it. You can even tell your friends that Brad Pitt told you to do it :o)

29 November 2007

Game Time

My every waking moment over the course of the past 2 weeks has basically been dedicated to working on final projects, which is why I didn't notice this going up on the Northeast corner of campus.....

....and it's also why I've been scratching my head every time I pass the statue of Tommy Trojan, which, on sunny days this week, has looked pretty much like this:

image courtesy of SeraphimC

Apparently, despite what it looks like, this is not, in fact, a prank by UCLA, but preventative measures taken by USC students to keep him from harm by any would-be Bruin vandals. Apparently our lead Trojan, needs, um, a protective sheath, as it were. OK, subtlety is failing me right now, so I will just come out and say that it's the biggest Trojan condom I've ever seen!

It's very exciting, I suppose, although I really don't have time to participate in the festivities. It's game time for me as well.....I'll probably be watching football on Saturday with my computer on my lap, while finishing up presentations for my materials, structures, and lighting classes. The difference is that the football team guys get a little break after this semester, but me? I get to start on my thesis.....no rest for the weary Trojan! ;o)

23 November 2007

When the old meets the new

I'm taking a break from the madness of grad school to mention some recent developments in architecture world. Remember the theme "old vs. new" when checking these out.....

First up, the German city of Hamburg is not new, but the J. Mayer H. Architects design for this competition-winning building certainly is. It reminds me of candy....or is it just that Thanksgiving has ended but I still have food on the brain?

This Renzo Piano skyscraper in Manhattan is not just another office building - it's the new home for the New York Times. The Times' architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff wonders in print what such a striking 21st Century building means to an institution that is struggling to drag itself out of the 20th Century.

And finally, in Beijing, workers are about to close the gap in the z-shaped CCTV building by OMA. So many new buildings are being built in the ancient Chinese capital because of next year's Olympics that one can hardly keep up. This one stands out especially because....well, have YOU ever seen anything like it before?

Now if only they could get that whole smog thing worked out, they'd be all set...

20 November 2007

Lessons from Cincinnati

A friend of mine alerted me to this Boston Globe article the other day, and I thought it was worth mentioning. In it, the author, Robert Campbell, muses about the new campus Harvard is planning on building in Allston, across the river from Cambridge. Campbell cites the building boom at the University of Cincinnati (ahem, my alma mater) in the last 15 years and wonders if Harvard can learn from the signature architecture program that UC developed in the 1980's. In fact, architecture fans will find a lot to look at on UC's campus, and the list of designers reads like a "Who's Who" in architecture:
"There's a superb music building by Henry Cobb, the architect of our Hancock Tower and Moakley Courthouse. A fine administration building by Leers, Weinzapfel, the Boston firm that won the national "firm of the year" award from the American Institute of Architects for 2007. A utility plant by Cambridge Seven. A frat symbol in the form of a 65-foot tower that looks like a Cubist totem pole, by Bostonians Machado & Silvetti.

There are major buildings by two winners of the Pritzker Prize, architecture's equivalent of the Nobel, Frank Gehry and Thom Mayne. Architecture buffs will recognize other names, like Michael Graves, Peter Eisenman, Charles Gwathmey, Bernhard Tschumi, George Hargreaves, Buzz Yudell, Wes Jones, Laurie Olin . . . The list seems endless."

Maintenance costs for some of these quasi-experimental buildings will be high, yes. Mr. Campbell and I agree on that point. I even agree with him when he says that perhaps Harvard should seek the urban energy that UC's campus has without necessarily making it into a "world's fair of self-expression by individual architects."

Where I take issue with the author, however, is in a postscript tacked unceremoniously on to the end of the article regarding Zaha Hadid's 5-year old Contemporary Arts Center building in downtown Cincinnati, which he says is "a bomb". Now, is that really necessary? I found it very odd especially because the article itself wasn't really about critiquing one particular building or another, but about lessons learned from the urban planning scheme of the University. And then he took a random jab at what I consider to be one of the best new buildings in the city....peculiar considering the CAC was designed to contribute to the city fabric by drawing people in on its "urban carpet". Perhaps there are lessons to be learned about urbanism in corners of the Queen City a little less obvious than architectural playgrounds such as UC's campus.

the CAC's urban carpet: image courtesy of Chris Daniel

Cincinnati's CAC: image courtesy of Chris Daniel

19 November 2007

An architectural paradox

On Saturday, I took a little architectural field trip to the BP Helios House, on the corner of Olympic and Robertson in Los Angeles. Helios House is a LEED Certified gas station - BP took the station that was originally there and renovated it to be more environmentally responsive. According to their web site, "It’s a kind of a conversation between BP and people who come into the station, a conversation about how we can both move up a notch on the greencurve....This idea grew out of BP's commitment to balancing society's need for energy with a responsible approach to the environment. It reflects our belief that small steps in the right direction can make a difference."

Some of the features on the Helios House which make it a little more eco-friendly are a green roof landscaped with local plants and grasses; a rainwater-retention system with a catch basin for onsite irrigation; use of recycled glass, tiles, aluminum, and completely recyclable stainless steel; motion sensors and photocells on lights; motion-activated faucets; and 90 solar panels on the canopy, enough to power 2-3 average American homes for a year.

The kicker, of course, is that it's a gas station. It's not a biodiesel station, or a fuel-cell powering station, or an electric car charging station, or even a cold-fusion creation station, it's a gas station. Which means that BP has essentially (if you'll permit me the embellishment) "put lipstick on a pig". This is not to say that the lipstick isn't pretty or that it doesn't get the job done, but it's still a pig. We haven't taught the pig how to use less gas or not use gas at all.....but to BP's credit, they have at least brought attention to the pig, er, challenge of the environmental issues that we face. And if this station makes a few people think about using less fossil fuels eventually, then it's done its job. Right?

Enough talk about pigs! Let's look at the pretty pictures....

I don't know about you but I don't think $3.39 a gallon is "good"

Someone had entirely too much fun with a 3D rendering program on this project

This sign should have a postscript that reads "So why are you here, again?"

Ooooh, fun

I will plant this postcard, just as soon as I'm done learning about fluorescent compact bulbs

18 November 2007

Green news round up

I am a current events junkie and although I don't like to admit it, CNN.com is one of the outlets I check regularly. They always seem to have the most sensationalized headlines, but are paying a lot of attention to environmental issues lately as well (Anderson Cooper, are you out there?). This morning I woke up to discover one of their top stories is Destination of 'recycled' electronics may surprise you. Recycling electronics, like old computers, microwaves, and televisions, is one of the biggest hurdles facing the environmental movement today, because while our technology is improving, the raw materials used to make these devices are frequently toxic for humans. Consider this:
While there are no precise figures, activists estimate that 50 to 80 percent of the 300,000 to 400,000 tons of electronics collected for recycling in the U.S. each year ends up overseas. Workers in countries such as China, India and Nigeria then use hammers, gas burners and their bare hands to extract metals, glass and other recyclables, exposing themselves and the environment to a cocktail of toxic chemicals.

image courtesy of the NYTimes

Meanwhile, the NY Times reported yesterday that the United Nations released its final report on climate change and the news is what we've been thinking all along; reductions in greenhouse gases need to start "immediately to avert a global climate disaster, which could leave island nations submerged and abandoned, reduce African crop yields by 50 percent, and cause a 5 percent decrease in global gross domestic product." According to the article, the IPCC scientists spoke more freely with their mission completed than they had previously, including Martin Parry, a British climate expert who was co-chairman of the delegation that wrote the second report:
"The sense of urgency when you put these pieces together is new and striking.....I’ve come out of this process more pessimistic about the possibilities than I thought I would.”

Finally, we are not without legislators trying to do something about reducing greenhouse gases. The LA Times reported on Friday that the city planning commission approved "one of the most ambitious green building programs of any big city in the nation, requiring large new developments to be 15% more energy efficient." Under the new rules, new buildings with more than 50 units or 50,000 square feet of floor area will be required to meet LEED certification standards under the ratings system established by the United States Green Building Council. This is a landmark decision in one of the largest cities in the country, since, according to the article, construction is the largest manufacturing industry in the nation, and "buildings account for 39% of U.S. energy use, 70% of electricity consumption and 12% of potable water use."

Is it any wonder then, that when we start to look at ways to slow the pace of global warming, we need to start with buildings?

13 November 2007

On hiatus

There is no real, acceptable reason for my lack of communication over the past several days except to say that I am tired. After a few "slow" weeks at school, we've ramped back up to where I now have so much work to be done that it fills all of my time. Add to that lectures and events at school, trips to the grocery store and trying to do laundry, and trying to do all of these things by bike, and you can imagine how blogging can slip to the bottom of the priority list.

This is an exciting week though. We are finalizing the design of our structures project, I am starting schematic design on a lighting competition project, and I am writing my thesis proposals. Also I am preparing to roll out labels for our waste receptacles in the school so we can start measuring reductions in the waste stream. But everything is still in development! So unfortunately, I cannot provide you with any pretty pictures of what I am doing, at least not now. In lieu of this, I will leave you with one of my favorite photos from Paris: underneath the Grande Arche.....

07 November 2007

Bumping our way down the stairs

Tonight at USC, I saw a lecture given by Dr. Chris Luebkeman of Ove Arup Associates in London. Dr. Luebkeman is the Director of Foresight, Innovation and Incubation for Arup; he makes a living out of traveling the world and connecting with professionals, academics, and fellow designers and engineers to talk about the future of the planet and how our development will affect that future. I've seen Dr. Luebkeman speak before, but not in person....he gave a talk to hundreds of thousands of people via a web cast as part of the Architecture 2030 Global Emergency Teach-In back in February.

He was as inspiring then as he was engaging tonight. Having seen his presentation in February, I knew what to expect. Some of my classmates were a little confused at the outset, since we are so used to seeing architects present PowerPoint slide shows of their work and the theory behind that work. Dr. Luebkeman presents information to you in such a way that you start to wonder where he's going with it, until you get lost in his anecdotes and 15 minutes later you realize you've been hanging on every word since then.

The main thesis of the talk was "building a sustainable future". This, of course, is probably a cliche, but it was presented in a way that would make us think about how we, as architects, are going to design and build going forward. In essence, here's a guy from an international company that is taking the time and the energy to visualize a built environment that operates in harmony with the Earth itself....and not only that, but they are taking the time and energy to help others understand the complexities and challenges involved. Arup looks at all aspects of our environment, from the largest scale of city planning to the minutia of glass detailing, and they have fashioned themselves as experts in nearly every area of the field. And if there is still a question of their intention...how many companies do you know that have the foresight to create a Director of Foresight?

Dr. Luebkeman closed the evening with this image of Christopher Robin and Winnie the Pooh. (Not your standard closing image in an architecture lecture hall.) In it, Winnie the Pooh thinks that there must be some other way of coming down the stairs besides bumping his way down on his head. And he thinks that he would like to try another way....if he weren't so busy bumping his way down on his head. So it sounds rather silly, and I imagine I'm going to look back on this post and laugh later on, but aren't we all Winnie the Pooh? Don't we all need to stop and think about what we're doing, and how we could probably do things a little bit better? Because I'm afraid that the time for complacency has passed, and now we need to actually start changing the world around us, before the future slips out of our grasp.

(images courtesy of Arup and Icons.org.uk)

06 November 2007

Green Week on NBC

Is anyone else getting as big of a kick out of "Green Week" on NBC as I am? I seriously hope they don't mind me putting up their logo like this, but look at how cute it is....they made the peacock green!

Every one of their major shows this week has some sort of environmental theme. For instance, I just got done watching part of "The Biggest Loser", in which their major challenge involved running up a ramp and recycling cans. The winning 2-person team won a pair of these:

Not bad for a half-hour's worth of work. If only recycling was that profitable for all of us, we'd be in much better shape....maybe we wouldn't even need Green Week...

03 November 2007

The Biker's Perspective

I know I talk about my bike constantly, or at least it seems like I do (oh, I don't know, here, here, and here). But I'm happy to report that I'm not the only one who writes about biking through a sea of car-fanatics. I just discovered this rather old article from Slate.com, in which Andy Bowers writes about how "nobody bikes in LA" but they would probably be a lot happier if they did. I especially relate to this anecdote:
One day, I found myself biking down an empty little access road next to the notorious 405 freeway during the evening commute. The freeway, as usual, was paralyzed, and I noticed I was actually moving faster than the cars. That's when the revelation hit: Over the past few months, I had discovered a different Los Angeles.

I have had a similar experience but on a much larger street, called Figueroa. This road is the major thoroughfare between Downtown Los Angeles and USC, and it also goes through the heart of the Staples Center/Convention Center/Nokia Theater activity area. I have biked home numerous times through traffic due to a Kings game, or a convention, or even a Justin Timberlake concert once, and every time I can't help but smile because I'm usually gliding along and the cars around me are all stopped. I imagine the people in the giant Hummer stretch limousines think I'm a huge dork since I have my helmet on, but I usually make it from school to my apartment in the time it takes them to turn into a parking lot. Which makes me exceedingly smug, I admit it.

Just imagine if all of those people going to see the next Lakers game all hopped on their bikes to go to the Staples Center instead of getting into their Excursions and sitting in traffic for 2 hours. LA would suddenly look like Amsterdam! It would be glorious! Then maybe the city would spend money on a bike highway and have millions left over for the public transportation system they so desperately need out here. A girl can dream, can't she? :o/

02 November 2007

Things are about to get interesting.

The NY Times reported on Friday that movie and television writers would go on strike for the first time since 1988. The strike is set to start on Monday morning, November 5, which means that almost instantly, my routine will be disrupted....and I will not get my daily dose of happiness....

If the writers strike, TV shows and movies might not be impacted for weeks or months, but daily shows, like, uh, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, or Late Night with David Letterman, will be affected immediately, since they rely on current events and topical humor for most of their content. It takes writers to translate that content every day into the hilarity that is The Daily Show, and without them - no hilarity. Jon Stewart is good but he is not a machine.

What's even worse to think about is the harm this strike could do to the economy of Southern California, which is still reeling from the October wild fires and the collapse of the housing market. The Times reports that the entertainment industry contributes about $30 billion annually, or about 7%, to the economy of Los Angeles County; a writers' strike could hobble the industry, and could have a domino effect on tourism and related business.

On behalf of those who rely on The Daily Show to maintain some semblance of sanity in an increasingly unfathomable world, I am pleading with the Writer's Guild...please work out your differences. Do it quickly. We will not last for long without you!

If, however, you'd like trim your ranks by a few members here and there, might I suggest starting with the writers of this show?

01 November 2007


There is no shortage of wine in Southern California. I have been personally verifying this over the past several weeks. Between receptions, exhibit openings, dedications and Halloween parties, there is always something going on, and plenty of wine to be had. On Tuesday afternoon, at the dedication of the Robert H. Timme Architectural Research Center at Watt Hall (aka, my studio space), a mini-party broke out at my desk. This, too, was fueled by wine. And I'm going wine tasting soon.....I mean, I have to personally verify that it tastes good, in addition to checking on the supply.

All in moderation, of course, and I am lucky that I am not suffering any ill effects. I do, however, have some good news for those of you who have difficulty imbibing the "nectar of the gods" without getting a headache: there appears to be a gagdet that can stave off wine headaches. It has been developed with NASA-funded technology and is the size of a small briefcase. It works by testing a drop of wine to determine amine levels, since high amine levels are widely regarded as the cause for the headaches and high blood pressure that follow wine consumption in some people. So, for your next party trick, may I suggest carting this contraption in and testing all of the wine at your next soiree. Tell them you are from NASA and on official business. Also, you might want to have a glass first......as the official tester, it is your duty!

30 October 2007

Bamboo is awesome.

Fresh off an inspiration dry spell over the past few days, I want to take this post to extol the virtues of bamboo. I'm sure I've mentioned it before, since I think it's such a great product, but yesterday I found an article on MSNBC that reviewed it very positively and made it a little more accessible for the general public. Softer sheets, harder floors, and all from a very renewable resource? Why, I think I might start growing some in my non-existent backyard.

image courtesy of EcoSherpa.com

The article mentions a couple of outlets where you can purchase clothing or linens made from churned up bamboo fibers, but I also wanted to point out a great product that keeps calling to me at the grocery store: Bambu kitchenware. Perhaps you've also seen them at the end of the aisle in your local grocery - they are the really well-designed kitchen utensils made out of bamboo. The whole line is still a little pricey (as you could expect any new high quality product to be), but eventually the price will come down a bit as more and more people buy the products, because let's face it....they are probably superior to the plastic kitchen utensils we are used to using. I have a half-melted plastic spatula at home that agrees with me.

In the US market, we are starting to see a backlash against products created with nasty chemicals that might cause us health problems, many of which are produced in China. As a result, some people are calling for a boycott of Chinese products. The irony of it in this instance is that Bambu is manufactured in China as well....let's not forget that China is the largest source of bamboo in the world. So I doubt that we can blame all of our toxic worries on one place....if we want to take responsibility for our own health and consumption, we need to start with our brains and act with our pocketbooks. Products made with bamboo are a great place to start!

25 October 2007

Is it better for the environment to be vegan?

Slate.com had an article a couple of days ago about the merits of being vegan versus vegetarian. The question is, when taken from a strictly environmental standpoint - meaning, not taking into account other reasons such as health or love of animals - is it really better to be a vegan, which is above and beyond the vegetarianism of close to 5% of the American population? The answer is, perhaps no. If greenhouse gases are valued above all else, then veganism is surely better than "lacto-ovo" vegetarianism. However, there are probably other factors involved:

....direct carbon dioxide emissions are only part of the story when it comes to food's eco-impact. You also have to look at the issue of land use—specifically how much and what sort of land is required to sustain an agricultural enterprise. In a region with poor-to-mediocre soil, for example, it may be more efficient to operate a well-managed egg farm than to try growing vegetables that can't flourish under such conditions. And animals are handy at consuming low-quality grain that isn't necessarily fit for human consumption. (Rather than going to waste, that grain can help create nutrient-rich dairy products.) In fact, a recent Cornell University study concluded that modest carnivorousness may actually be better for the environment than outright vegetarianism, since cattle can graze on inferior land not suitable for crops. Squeezing more calories out of the land means that less food needs be imported from elsewhere, thereby reducing the burning of fossil fuels.

So, although this is not an excuse to keep consuming meat at our current rate (as meat processing constitutes a huge drain on resources and accounts for massive amounts of greenhouse gases)....it certainly makes me feel better about eating cheese. Mmmmmm, cheese.

23 October 2007

Fire. Water. Air. Earth.

Mother Nature and human beings have had several very intense run-ins in the past few years. In 2004, we saw the tsunami affect every country around the Indian Ocean, where scores of people were lost; in 2005, we saw Hurricane Katrina cripple a fully functioning metropolis for the first time in modern history; and now, here in California, we have raging, population-displacing wildfires. From a seemingly normal day on Saturday, October 20 to today, Tuesday, October 23, Southern California has gone from warm and extremely dry to incinerating; at this moment, approximately 900,000 people have been evacuated from their homes, over 420,000 acres have burned, and almost 1200 homes have been destroyed.

Numbers like those are staggering. They were mind-boggling when we tried to understand how a single wave could wipe out over 200,000 people, and they were baffling when we realized that a city was being submerged before our eyes. But to realize that almost a million people have been mobilized in just the past two days....bravo to the institutions in charge of this operation, and my thoughts are certainly with those in harm's way.

What's most startling to me is that it all comes down to four very basic elements: fire, water, air, and earth. Whereas the victims of the Asian Tsunami and Hurricane Katrina would have done anything to escape the water, Southern California cannot get enough of it. It is a somber reminder that humans need to find a balance in their habitat. As an environmental designer and an eternal optimist, I, for one, think that any area is capable of sustaining human activity - if we build on it properly and take into account environmental conditions. However, if you think about it, the houses that are being destroyed North of San Diego tonight are not much different from those that were inundated by Hurricane Katrina. Where's the balance? Should a house that sits on a sun-scorched hill in a dry climate look and act like a house that sits below sea level in a hot, humid climate?

The answer may be "no" but humans don't seem to have figured out how to really say it yet. It's like we found a way to conquer the "earth" part, and we stopped trying very hard after that. Until we do, we are going to continue to see images like these...

all images courtesy of the NY Times

22 October 2007

Finding Your Footprint

For those of you who sometimes find yourself thinking, "Gee, I wonder how much my lifestyle really impacts the environment", you should know that there are plenty of ways to find out. (For those of you who never think that, please humor me for a moment.)

The very first time I calculated my "ecological footprint", I did so through MyFootPrint.org. It's comprehensive and it takes into account things like climate and city size. It's also really annoying because no matter how good I think I'm doing, I still require at least two Earths every time.

If you prefer a little more flash when you're finding out just how wasteful you are, may I suggest the Consumer Consequences game by American Public Media. In this exercise, you get to create a character and pick a cute little neighborhood before you destroy the Earth. Great graphics, too....check this one out.

Believe it or not, the US Senate's committee on the Environment and Public Works has also come up with a Global Warming Footprint calculator of its own. It's a little simpler than the other two, and really only deals with transportation and household emissions. But, it is a good "starter calculator" for those who have not heard of an ecological footprint before. Also it makes it seem like the US Senate is not completely useless, which is encouraging.

Last but not least, I actually just found this amazing and elaborate calculator at Zerofootprint.net, by way of Facebook. It covers pretty much all of the bases, and the graphics are quite clear although the interface is a tiny bit confusing. What's great about the Zerofootprint Calculator is that you can actually customize it to fit your lifestyle, which can only result in a more accurate footprint. It's also collecting data from urban centers around the world (information here) to show how even the smallest actions can reduce your impact on the environment.

So, there you have it. You can't say you don't know how you are impacting global warming. Now if we could only figure out how to fix it....

21 October 2007

Nature called....she's not happy

Last week, an e-friend of mine published an ode to Los Angeles that really captured the essence of this city in a way that I couldn't quite put my finger on. I've sent it to many people at this point but I thought it was worth another mention.

Meanwhile, it's another beautiful evening in Southern California, just a stone's throw away from out-of-control wildfires. The picture below is the view from my roof. On the right, downtown's tallest buildings. On the left are what I can only assume are plumes of smoke, drifting out to sea from Malibu Canyon in the north, where the fire started. What never ceases to amaze me in this City of Angels is how close everyone constantly is from either total success or complete disaster. A wildfire in Malibu Canyon means a confluence of both.....people who have achieved great wealth faced with the loss of all they own. It's a remarkable place.

16 October 2007

Midterms? What midterms?

It's about mid-semester here at USC's School of Architecture, and I'm taking it easy. I'm definitely having a hard time adjusting to "college without design studio" since that's all I know; 6 years of architecture school for my undergraduate Bachelor's of Arch., and I had studio every single quarter that I was in school. I have been living vicariously through my friends in the MArch program as they go through their midterm critiques, however.....and by that I mean, I am watching crits, and wishing I was designing something, and making sure they don't somehow hurt themselves from lack of sleep.

Although I do not have an architecture studio that involves designing a building, I have 3 other classes with design projects that have been keeping me busy. The first one is a Materials & Methods class, in which we study, uh, materials and methods. I posted my first project in the class a while back, and this is my most recent:

The goal was to create a "cube" using nothing but plexi-glas and a favorite material of mine called 3-form. Originally I was hoping to use it as an end table in my apartment, but after I finished making it, it was structurally unsound and now sits on its side above my desk. I think I will just put a top on it and keep it like that.

Beyond the cube project, I have a case study in the same class which I am doing on a building just down the street from my school. It's called the Science Center School, and it's an interesting building with a dual-use program and an interesting tension between historical and new elements. I've gotten a lot of information on it thus far, and I took a tour, where I took the following pictures:

More pics of this building on my Flickr page...

Another class I am taking is called "Advanced Structures" and is less scary than it sounds....actually it is kind of fun. I have weekly assignments in this class and a term project that I am doing with a classmate, which is to redesign the structure of a train station. We selected Glasgow Central Station in Glasgow, Scotland, a beautiful old station which we thought was prime for an update. We have to make a model for this project eventually, so for now, I will just show you the original:

The last class I am taking is "Advanced Environmental Systems" which for this semester is essentially lighting design. I have nothing of interest to show in this class at this point. At the end of the semester I will be entering a competition, not sure which one yet, but at that point I will put up some images of my work.

Lots to do yet! But for now, I'm still just planning.....