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!