Green Rascal Design

 

Catalysts

10/02/2012

 
I am a catalyst! Rock on. I just discovered this today, and while it's yet another example of a test telling me about my own personality, I think it's probably true. I've got lots of great ideas and the ability to communicate with enthusiasm. But I'm short on power, consistency and strategy. Everybody in the business world has always asked who my ideal client is, what is my strategy and what makes me an authority. And ya know what? Despite all my recent efforts to "improve" myself in these areas, I still don't know who my ideal client is, what exactly I'm trying to do in business or what I have the gall to think I have authority in. (can I get an eye-roll now?)

And then this thing today says, "heloooo, you're a catalyst." I'm not sure why, but I felt like it made a difference in my perception or something. Finally all that other advice that said, "focus on your strengths..." clicked.

So, what else is going on?

Last Thursday and Friday I was fortunate enough to attend PennDesign's Make -ing Space Symposium. It was excellent. a catalyst of sorts in it's own right.

There was discussion on top-down vs bottom-up design interventions and their relative success/reach with respect to provoking, engaging, advocating, working in new ways and with new expertise.

The symposium got me thinking about Green Rascal in terms of what it could become, and it got me thinking about what else I could do if I were to start something new. Of course, nothing has been decided yet. These were just thoughts stemming from those great conversations situated in really uncomfortable chairs.

What I am sure about is that we will now be describing ourselves here at the Green Rascal Roost as something like non-disciplinarians. I have yet to really come up with a catchy new title for my business cards.

What has got you going recently?
 
 
I've given it a lot of thought, and I think the Weisman Art Museum was the main inspiration for me to think about studying architecture.

You might know that it was the first of Ghery's signature style - made famous by his Bilbao museum. The Weisman as it is now was conceived on a napkin as a reflection of the Mississippi River, which it neighbors. It's part of my alma mater, the University of Minnesota. And it has a prominent position on one of the University's busiest streets and pedestrian thoroughfares.

When the museum first opened in 1993 my dad took me there. I don't know why, but he was always dragging me to stuff at the U. I liked the art. The architecture was way more interesting, though. Not only the architecture, but the whole experience the museum created with their fantastic lighting, the views and the crowds of the opening. It's a cool building. I'm happy to have been able to see it so many times as a student at the U - when I was already a dedicated architecture student a few years after going to the opening with my dad.

I'm not a huge fan of that particular style. It's kinda funny. But the Weisman gets people talking, and talking, and talking. fighting really. Good, bad or indifferent, everybody has an opinion. It has a tremendous impact on people. And that's what I think I liked about architecture. I wanted to do something impactful.

Shaping our surroundings seemed like a fun and worthy cause. Whether the buildings which at a young age inspired me to study architecture are green or not, I think the curiosity they piqued is valuable. Often I see an architectural phenomenon such as a series of little countryside homes all built almost the same and wonder what it is about that shape that makes it so ideal as to practically dominate the area. Or how'd they get all that stuff into that tiny little building? Or what makes this office work when that office does not?

Or why would you design a museum with those little curvy walls??? (hey, at least the floor is horizontal!) I like the way the Weisman makes use of it's odd little spaces, unapologetically. Why waste time apologizing? lol
 
 
I have just finished the 2 latest issues of Metropolis Magazine by reading a little bit each night at bedtime. For April I started losing my patience with the way they break up stories. Many stories are cut off after the bulk of the text, and there ends up being about half a page of nearly each story at the back of the magazine. (ok maybe only half of the stories) Flipping back and forth in the dark while you're trying to fall asleep, with a clip on light in the way, is not the way I prefer to read my magazines. So I just gave up and moved on to the next story each time they cut one off. This works okay for me because I have a good memory for things I'm currently reading. Anywhoo, last night was the night I reached the ends of all these stories, and it was really strange running them all together in a way the editors weren't intending. I actually liked it quite a lot.

First there was the last page of "A Return To The Hand," about the resurgence of making physical objects, continued from page 102. Then there was half a page of "The Case for Looking Beyond Style," a case for New Urbanism, continued from page 79. Following closely was a third of a page of "The Kamikaze Mission," on deconstructivism, continued from page 84. Then there was slightly less than a page of "The Digital Playground Erupts," about blobism, continued from page 96. Next was half a page of "The Dream that Refused to Die," about prefab housing, continued from page 94 and half a page of "POMO Returns (or Maybe it Never Left)," a discussion of post modernism continued from page 73.

The effect of having all these ideas rapidly combined in a reading at bedtime, only made possible by my accursed memory, was like a surreal recent architectural history class packed into half an hour. It was also striking because of my personal exposure to some of these movements back in the day. Many young architects might also find this to be the case if they participate in this exercise.

The making of physical objects is something that we here are finding more and more desirable lately because of our wish to reduce our own carbon footprints, save money and live/work in a place that feels like our own. New Urbanism holds a dear place in my heart because at my first internship I was urged to read the monthly Congress for the New Urbanism's publication, and we worked on some developments that, while not necessarily "new urban," followed the New Urbanism's principles fairly closely. I always thought of it as a good movement despite some of its shortcomings. Alternatively, blobism is something that I found myself dealing with in graduate school. The first semester was ALL about the blob, and I was tossed into a sea of computer design programs and left to sink or swim, basically. This had the effect of strengthening my set of values with respect to the New Urbanism and struggling to defend myself against criticisms that were completely new to someone coming from the land of drawing by hand. And then the readings pushed me back again to when I was in undergrad designing in a pre-fab manner for projects involving the movement of palletized goods, the systemization and storage of books in libraries, and neighborhoods of immigrant housing.

I had a hard time sleeping last night.
 
 
I spent my morning learning more about modern tribes by watching videos of TED talks from around 2 years ago. This was part of going through some old RSS posts I had yet again put off, and a reaction to yet another architectural disappointment. But let's not go there. My gut says this tribe thing deserves a try.

Recently I was asked "what do you like to do?" The question was not about the kind of architecture I like to do, or the project types I like to work on, or even what role do I like playing at a firm. It was simply what do I like to do. The broadness of the question shocked me as if I'd never been asked before. So I decided to do a diagram of all the things I like to do broken down professionally and personally, and in the end what I like to do can be summed up as solving problems and helping people with a nod toward doing no harm toward the environment. There are lots of specific things that point toward these three boxes, but generally that's what I like to do.
Diagram
Diagram of Likes
Ok go ahead and criticize. I'm not in Haiti helping earthquake victims. I'm not spending every waking minute volunteering in soup kitchens in the city. I'm not out on the highway picking up trash. But everybody views "helping people" differently, and I would argue that making connections is a good way to help people.

For example, some years ago I was becoming good friends with an aspiring dj. At the same time I was paying a fair amount of attention to the local techno scene around these parts. One day I saw that somebody in the techno community was looking to unload some big speakers, and I simply forwarded the info to my friend. He was elated. I had helped him out BIG TIME, and it was just by paying attention to his needs and making a connection. This story warms my heart when I think of it - and so this kind of helping people seems to mean something to me. Maybe that is why I'm not too afraid to comment on others' blogs and such.

Also, I've kinda made it a mission to show people other ways of using their space. Generally this means promoting different sustainable gardening techniques, and hopefully at some point this will expand into building techniques too. Though the latter seems to be taking its sweet time.

So after some thought and exploration, and a lot of fence-sitting and self-doubt, I guess its time to find my tribe and start nudging. While architecture is a great overall direction, perhaps this addition can help create true purpose.
 

Earthquakes

03/11/2011

 
As someone with friends in both New Zealand and Japan, I am saddened by all of these earthquakes. Remember also that Haiti still struggles to recover from their earthquake last January.

There are many developments in modern buildings that save lives in these disasters, though. Hopefully re-building these areas will make them much safer. And we all should use this time to consider what we can do now to prepare for such disasters.

Love and Light, as the kiwis say.
 
 
The Smithsonian had an interesting article for July and August. The magazine is turning 40 this year, and to celebrate they looked 40 years into the future and described what life might be like in 2050. Their feature in this issue is "40 Things to Know," and I was just reading about populations. Apparently Suburbia is here to stay. I used to be dead set against suburbia and urban sprawl. But it seems people just don't want to move back into the cities. According to the Smithsonian, the US will gain 100 million people in the next 40 years, and the heartland will rise again after losing people and industries for the last few decades. Jobs have been moving to the periphery of cities for about 10 years. People in the suburbs express stronger ties to the community than those living in more urban areas. Another observation the Smithsonian offers is that "Americans are dubious about the planet's health."

I also read today that 1 Block Off the Grid is in my area now. So I signed up on their website to see what they're doing to help people go solar. We've been thinking about going solar for a while now, but from an architect's perspective solar panels are not at all attractive. I mean visually. I'm all for going solar. I just wish the panels weren't so horrid looking. Soon we will put some kind of solar collectors on the house, though. And I believe and hope that when we make these drastic green updates to our 110 year old house our neighbors will be watching. I know they watch every cotton-pickin thing we do currently. So hopefully when we get a new roof and a solar collection system the neighbors will be more likely to go solar themselves. If suburbia is here to stay, then it has to adapt and use renewable energy. Luckily suburbanites are a little bit like sheep. Once we provide an example the rest will follow. eventually. I hope sooner rather than later.

I'm working on a solar panel idea that is somewhat less ugly. At first when my husband said he wanted solar panels, I was dead-set against them. Then he suggested you can buy the collectors and make your own panels much cheaper. There is a significantly longer time commitment with this plan, but if there is any chance I can get a solar panel that fits the look of the house better than a 3' by 5' rectangle, I'm taking it! There is no way that I'm putting something so ugly on my beloved home. And you can bet if we put super ugly solar panels on our house the neighbors are going to be less than likely to follow suit. If I can get a nice looking design up there, then everyone will want what we got. Go Suburbia!
 
 
PennDesign is hosting an international conference on aging and architecture this year. They will be having many speakers present what they've been thinking, writing about and doing with respect to aging. It's become a big topic lately with all the baby-boomers out there retiring and trying to age in place or sell their homes in favor of more age appropriate accomodations. In U.S. 1 newspaper's Insights and Arguments section recently I was reading Susan Hoskins' article about not denying your age and how ageism can sneak into well-meaning discourses. Ms. Hoskins' essay is a good read for anyone with aging parents or clients. It reminds us that older people are not diminished in some way. They are just different. And I hope that Penn's aging initiative keeps that in mind, and keeps the students on track and away from ageist beliefs.

I don't know how to design specifically for the aging, apart from ADA guidelines and such that is. It seems to me that some scientific study needs to be done on what older people find useful and not. Can we design buildings and environments that change as we get older? I'd be interested in what the "experts" have to say about it. It might be cost-prohibitive for most. But there must be a better way than the chair that climbs stairs for a person, etc. Well, when they figure it all out, hopefully they'll let us all know what they've decided.
 
 
My friend Brian Billings was discussing the business of architecture with me this morning. I don't often get into such philosophical discussions these days, so it was a good trip. I've been diligently sending out networking emails all day since, but every once in a while a memory or thought about 'architecture as a business' talks from bygone days sorta bubble up. I've known some architects who make it seem effortless to get things done, and others who work their butts off and make it known. I've known the artsy kind who prefer not to have a license, and the super technical kind who focus on details and answering RFIs. Business is rough for all of them right now, I'm guessing. They're saying things are going to change. Isn't business constantly in flux? It seems like it to me. I'm probably just not old enough to remember the days when all that changed was a particular architect's preoccupations.

I feel like architecture hasn't changed fast enough. A grip of years ago dean Fisher at the University of Minnesota was waxing philosophical about how architecture ought to be more like medicine as a profession. It seemed like all of us in attendance bought into the argument. It looked like we were all going to go out and change the world. But I haven't seen dean Fisher's vision coming true. There are instances like one office's wiki, but I'm not sure if they're sharing it with anybody outside their office. There are some aspects of architecture being shared such as Revit models of various pieces of equipment, etc. But in the medical profession, are they leaving some doctors behind with nothing to do? Do doctors have to deal with patients' representatives? Do millions of people go out and get surgeries performed by nurses? I'm being intentionally vague. The point is business as I know it leaves quite a bit to be desired. But we trudge on.

Welcome to my business, by the way. I'm looking for green architecture projects to work on. But I do all kinds of other things too, in case the other pages seemed confusing. Yes, they're works in progress. I do graphics because after 10 years of composing drawings, diagrams and text on a weekly if not daily basis for critics to rip apart (sometimes literally) I feel just about as comfortable in graphic composition as in drawing. I do art too, but I won't try to sell you that. I do jewelry because after building models of hotels based on liquid kevlar in 3D, metal doesn't seem so strange. I do feng shui interiors because after spending over six years working around interior designers it seems to make perfect sense to do so. I do gardens because those same years plus more I worked with a great landscape architect who made it seem like doing just the building would be a cop out. I do sustainability because without it we're all screwed, and they pretty much drilled it into our heads in college. I do the chickens as an example of whole design, sustainability, health and the fact that I love them. Is this a weird business? Probably. But it's Friday, and normally I'd talk about something light and airy but instead I got on the topic of my future as an architect and architecture business in general, and I couldn't stop myself.
 

Skopje

07/15/2010

 
A friend had an article published, in the most recent Abitare magazine, in which he describes the challenges facing the capitol of Macedonia. It is a very interesting subject of which I was completely unaware until today. The government of Macedonia is wrestling with their capitol city's master plan by Kenzo Tange, and they plan to reinvent it to closely resemble or become its ancient counterpart. I suggest checking it out. http://www.abitare.it/highlights/skopje-scomparira/

Communism and its architecture fascinates me. It is at once beautiful and abhorrent. I have only seen a small amount of communist architecture in person, so this is only a superficial reaction, but out of all the things related to communism shouldn't the architecture be one thing that gets protection? Antiquity is also valuable of course, but to destroy genuine late 60s and 70s modernist design in order to cover or rebuild it in mock ancient forms seems like a waste and a tragedy. Why must this unique international architecture be destroyed? I hope the residents of Skopje can save some of their city the way it is. Thanks to Srdjan for sharing this with us.
 

Organization

07/14/2010

 
We should work more on organization here. It is no wonder why such companies as closets. com and Organized Living have done so well. I reached a certain point here in the office where it was impossible to work anymore. I had done a lot of graphic work on Monday, as I said, and then when I was done there was really no sense of relief. I had bad feng shui in here. The paperwork was getting way too far out of control. I'm looking for creative ways to store all this stuff now because I spent all day yesterday going through the crap on my desk and putting some in the "file pile" and some in the recycle bin. So one thing with respect to this interior is cabinets and shelves. Why don't I have enough cabinets and shelves? We gotta get cutting and screwing up in here. Another thing is the cork board. I need more of it. I like having a bunch of things visible on there. But it's getting congested and multiple holes are ending up in things which I never intended to poke holes in the first place.

I briefly considered becoming a maid once. It sometimes feels like I ought to be getting paid for keeping the files organized and the desks neat. The prestige of being an architect is nice, but things always need to get cleaned. We were talking about new rugs for the house, and how much we hate the old rugs. But how can I specify cream rugs in a place where nobody takes their shoes off? Grass gets tracked in all the time, and I'm trying not to become irritated by the grass again today, but it gets onto everything and sticks there. Do most designers just not care about the maintenance of their finishes?

We were thinking about mud rooms recently also. The house needs one, but our remodeling budget is nonexistent. Someday I'd like to rebuild the little addition on the back because I know there is no insulation in there, and it is open to the kitchen. Yes, the people who owned the house before took off the door and put in a window like hole in the wall to connect the addition to the kitchen. But it needs to be rebuilt. It's sloping downward from the house, it's letting cold air in all winter, the roof gets dammed up with ice, and the overhang sags and blocks the door when that happens. I'd like to put a nice gable on that bump out. It would be so much nicer, and then we could consider a mud room. I'd make the current room a mud room, but there's not even enough space under the door for a mat! And since there is no doormat, the grass gets tracked right into the house. Ahh, life's little frustrations.

Anyway, I'm very pleased to have tidied up a bit in the office. Now, back to work!