28 February 2009

Short Month, Long Walk

I complain about Los Angeles sometimes, but I must admit that it's nice to spend a day outside when most of the country is still in the throes of winter. Today, on this last day of February, K & G & I decided to take a hike, so to speak, or I should say a couple of hikes in the mountains on the West side of town. What began as a walk in known territory turned into a veritable "nature adventure" as we went from an easy jaunt in Will Rogers State Park to an extremely pleasant nature walk on an trail we'd never seen before, to meandering back to G's new Prius through the neighborhood of Pacific Palisades. By the end of our journey, we'd walked 8.3 miles without realizing it! But it was a beautiful day to spend burning some calories, despite the fact that we emerged at the end with legs turned to jelly and a pinch of sunburn. And, as a bonus, I got a great view of this wicked cool house on the way back to the car ... points if anyone can tell me who designed it:

22 February 2009

Things that matter

I've been busy lately. Over President's Day, I took a little trip to San Francisco to give myself a mental break and visit friends, and mostly what I found when I got there was rain. A couple of days ago, we had a job fair at school, and mostly what I found when I got THERE was not very many jobs. In other news, I was waxing poetic on the GDC blog about how nice it would be to have a house for everyone, considering there are so many empty houses and so very many people who could use them. But that's just some of the things I think about.

Mainly I wanted to write today to tell you about a movie I saw on HBO. You may have heard of it, it's called Taking Chance, and it's about the path that a fallen soldier's body takes home from war. I recommend that everyone watch this movie. It stars the always awesome Kevin Bacon as the Lt. Col. who volunteers to escort the soldier's remains back to his family from Dover, Delaware all the way to Wyoming. Now I'm not going to lie and say that I didn't sob throughout pretty much the whole thing, but I still think that everyone should watch it through OnDemand or when it comes to video or however possible. Having never seen a military transport or funeral of any kind, it was an eye-opener for me. Also it's amazing to me how big this country is, that in towns and cities in every state there are very young soldiers who have fallen in this ill-gotten war of ours. It reminded me that no matter how much we didn't want it, we still got it, and there are still good soldiers who have perished in it, and continue to give their lives for it.

To date, there have been 4247 Americans that died in Iraq. 4108 of those have died since Bush's "Mission Accomplished" announcement of May 1, 2003. And did you know that 18 service people have died since President Obama was inaugurated? I'm going to put a counter on my blog here so I don't forget about it, and hopefully you won't either.

12 February 2009

EnviroHint #3d: ...Make it Work!!!

It is with great satisfaction that I announce I have completed the bag project that I started several months ago and which I discussed in EnviroHints #3a, 3b, and 3c. Today I found myself with a couple hours of spare time, and in thinking about my trip to San Francisco this weekend, I tried to figure out what smallish bag I could take my computer up in. I have several bags and I have a padded sleeve I can use as well, but that sleeve opens on the long side.....if only I had a sleeve that opened on the short side. And I remembered my bag project! The truth is, it wasn't going to work in the reversible configuration I had planned for it, but when I broke it down and resewed a few key pieces, it worked perfectly as a short-side laptop sleeve. I put velcro on the top to secure it....it even has a pocket! Observe:

The only thing not quite figured out yet is the handle; as you can see in the photo, I took off the handle completely. I am wondering if I should try to sew it onto the sides, around it like a ribbon on a package, or not at all. If nothing else, it works well the way it is, without any handle at all.

The best part is that the work I had already done on the bottom of the bag makes it dense, which is perfect for padding the vulnerable short side of the computer if placed that way in another bag. All of this concern for the computer is, of course, a direct result of my misfortunes last Spring. But now I have a lovely laptop sleeve to protect it :o)

10 February 2009

Musings on financial turmoil, beauty, and Chicago

Cross posted with my Archinect School Blog....

Immediately following last week's launch of the Web site that is the product of my thesis research, I started getting feedback from people, which I do appreciate. However, if you didn't fill out a survey, I may not be able to collect your feedback in any kind of formal way for inclusion in my final report, although I will certainly take it into account for any revisions I attempt before my final presentations.

Another reason for the survey is so I could walk away from it for a bit. Several months of creating something like that, day in and day out, and your head just gets cloudy. So this last week has been my time to unwind a bit, to sort of press my own "reset" button. Naturally a plethora of thoughts has rushed to fill the void once occupied by HTML code, so I will now share some of them with you:

On financial turmoil:
Following my last post about this graph, we know that this recession is bad, and the truth is, it's getting worse for us architects. That article in BD describes a number of large architecture firms who have laid off workers recently, and I have friends at most of them, as I'm sure many of you do as well. Needless to say, I don't need anyone to tell me that it's going to be difficult to find a job after I graduate, even though that doesn't stop people from reminding me constantly. Which is getting a little old.

On "Worshiping at the Altar of the Almighty Awesome Aesthetic":
I don't know how or exactly when I came up with this phrase in my head, but I think it's evolved from my view that designers now need to do a lot more than just great design. We have to do great design with a purpose, we have to do it efficiently, we have to communicate with people about why we are doing great design, and we have to learn to live with budgets. And, perhaps, we need to resist the urge to worship at that altar that I mentioned above. You know all this already, but maybe it came up again because of the Neil Denari lecture at USC a couple of weeks ago; Denari is a name that I hear a lot out here, and although I've not met him, he seems like both a brilliant designer and a down-to-earth guy. But I confess watching his slide show with a bit of melancholy - I wanted his innovative designs to DO something. What? I don't know. Transform or something. Like "Optimus Prime Denari" - the building that looks great AND fights crime.

Neil Denari lecture at USC

On serendipity:
After releasing my Web site to the hounds last week, I decided to do something which I seem to never have time for anymore - read a book. Specifically I decided to finish a book I had bought a long time ago but never completed, Devil in the White City. Imagine my surprise when yesterday, while devouring the last half of this book without a break, I began reading the historical accounts of the massive financial distress that the country experienced during the time of the World's Fair and Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. At some point during a break from the book I happened to read Geoff Manaugh's BLDGBLOG where I saw the post, The Boom is Over, with this image of Beijing's TVCC building going up in flames:

...and THEN I went back to the book where, as most of you know, the White City, which was once referred to as a "dreamland" for its astounding beauty, went up in flames in 1894 after riots by unemployed workers got out of hand. At this point maybe I am droning on, but does anyone else see parallels here? The late 1800's must have been a rough time for our country: technology was evolving ... the car was being invented ... electric lighting started to appear in buildings. And yet banks were failing, their CEOs committed suicide, unemployment was high, and cities strived to be green and clean. Is it 2009, or is it 1895?

On my ramblings:
So I don't entirely know what I'm trying to say except to wonder out loud if there's anything that our profession can learn from our past as we trudge towards a slightly scary and unknown future. Maybe we should all come together again on the banks of Lake Michigan for a new "world's fair" - it's as good a place as any - so we can put our great collective knowledge to use and again produce a futuristic vision of the city, one that is not only aesthetically beautiful but that is sustainable, or biodegradable, or that has buildings that transform to fight crime, etc., etc. One thing I forgot to mention is that even in 1893, although they were unknowingly laying the groundwork for the climate problems we face today, the buildings of the World's Fair "had been designed to maximize the salvage value of their components." When was the last time you designed an entire project so that it could be recycled at the end of its life?

I will leave you with one of my favorite quotes, which I still think applies today.

Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood.
-Chicago architect and Director of the World's Fair, Daniel H. Burnham

06 February 2009

1000 Words

Of course, it's not a picture, it's a chart, but still - this visual depiction of the job losses in the last 13 months compared to the last two recessions we've had, in 1990 and 2001, are staggering. Unemployment numbers haven't been this high since 1974. That's before I was born.


02 February 2009

Q: What do the groundhog and my thesis have in common?

A: Both come out of hiding today! And both tell us something about climate (although I think I've done more research...)

Well friends, Happy Groundhog Day! I decided last year to create a "learning tool" for my Master's thesis in Building Science; my goal was to teach people about alternative ways to save energy in their home, based on their climate. I know I've mentioned it here before, and it's now ready for viewing. Please visit! Specifically I hope you'll try out the "green your home" tool, and take the survey - I promise it won't take long, and then you can go back to reading your Google Reader.


(The survey link can be found at the bottom of each page.)

Also, please pass it on! If the Web site is to be successful, I'll need lots of user feedback, so have at it!

Thanks for your support. I have to go email this to everyone I know now....