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)