Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Clips: Who is Responsible for Privacy in the Age of Health Information Technology?

pic: plurimus
We all know that privacy means something different in the age of social networking than it did before. With the move now toward electronic health records and participatory healthcare our most personal data is now increasingly accessible by medical providers and associated businesses like insurance companies or laboratories. New laws have gone into effect to help protect privacy in this quickly changing framework of data accessibility. Read more about it on the Neenan blog, Who is Responsible for Privacy in the Age of Health Information Technology.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Clips: Engaging Students to Design their Sustainable Future

pic: Pink Sherbet Photography
This week I spoke with Neenan Architect David Kurtz about Engaging Students to Design their Sustainable Future. At the Alamosa Schools in Colorado, uncertainty about who to hire for a playground consultant turned into a design-research project for students. Their presentations to playground bidders resulted in an active design for all grade levels. We also spoke about putting students on the new school construction board in Monte Vista, CO, and how architects can be involved in creating sustainable curricula through building and site design.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Clips: Rural Healthcare Issues

A series of posts I've written for Neenan blog recently have dealt with financing issues for rural healthcare, regarding both facilities and technology. The design-build firm is active in this sector and has completed more than 2,000,000 square feet of healthcare environments over the past 20 years.

pic: bterrycompton

Rural Critical Access Hospital Financing Tips
I spoke with rural healthcare financing expert Andleeb Dawood, Vice President of Dougherty Mortgage, about different funding avenues for critical access hospitals.

pic: clevercupcakes
Funding Community
Health Centers

Laurie Casias, Chief Development Officer of CommuniCare Health Centers in Texas, explains how stimulus funds, strong leadership, and a committed staff are serving the working poor. 

pic: actionwolf
Closing the Digital Divide for Rural Healthcare
Health and Human Services and the Federal Communications Commission are offering multi-pronged support for rural communities to get up to technological speed.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Clips: Climate Wisdom

pic: chez_sugi
Fort Collins, CO has an interesting program called Climate Wise for inspiring and aiding businesses to do their part in reaching the city's atmospheric and environmental goals. The Neenan Company, who I've been blogging for regularly on sustainability issues, is an active participant.

I spoke with Climate Wise's Business Outreach Specialist, Wendy Serour, and Neenan's Sustainability Coordinator  John Drigot, about how their partnership in my latest post, Climate Wisdom: Brining Business and Government Together to Achieve Environmental Goals.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Functional Ambiance: Designing for Clean Air

For more than you ever wanted to know about indoor air quality (IAQ) please check out my article Functional Ambiance: Designing for Clean Air on Metropolis magazine's continuing-education site, sponsored by Humanscale.  

A few highlights...
[Download the PDF]
  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that air in homes is often five times more polluted than outdoors, and considering that most people today spend upwards of 80 percent of their days and nights inside, the interior atmosphere is a critical design criteria for functional environments.
  • The average adult breathes in around eight germs per minute, for a total of 10,000 per day.
  • The American Lung Association reports that 23 million Americans have asthma. This includes seven million children.
  • Indoor air quality is the human factor that gets lost in design. Since air is invisible, it’s easy not to notice. Companies are aware of employee efficiency so they invest in ergonomic furniture and lighting, but IAQ gets forgotten by clients and designers alike. This is a mistake considering the relationship between air quality and health.
  • Preventing and solving air quality problems are integrated issues that should include the participation of everyone along the design, construction, and occupancy process. In the first place, architectural choices set up initial air quality conditions that all other factors tie into. These need to be coordinated with the building’s mechanical engineers. Even the order of a building’s construction process can impact air quality if there are reactions between materials at different stages. And then interior design choices constitute a whole new layer of chemical interactions, followed by all the things building occupants bring in.

This course is registered for 1 Learning Unit through the American Institute of Architects Continuing Education System.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Pavilion Disassembly... FREE

click for more pics



Can you believe it's been a whole summer since Figment!? The Living Pavilion needs to come down, it will be way quicker than putting it up I promise :) Please come out this weekend, Oct 2-3, to lend a hand. We'll be there all day, just come out any time (show up early if you haven't actually seen it yet!!!)

Governors Island Directions:

Map to site:

Love you all, thanks for participating!

Portfolio: Neenan

Changes A Year Brings: The Trials and Successes of 2010

Promoting CHCs for Affordable, Accessible, and Convenient Care

Who is Responsible for Privacy in the Age of Health Information Technology?

Engaging Students to Design their Sustainable Future

Closing the Digital Divide for Rural Healthcare

Climate Wisdom: Bringing Business and Government Together to Achieve Environmental Goals

Funding Community Health Care Centers

Rural Critical Access Hospital Financing Tips

Sustainability 102: Tools for Creating Ecological Balance at Home and Work

Healthcare 2050: Envisioning the Next 40 Years of Design Improvement

Schools 2050: Accelerating the Connection Between Green Building and Green Learning

Sustainable Urban Typologies: The 2050 Debate

Renewable Energy 2050: Learning from International Lessons

What is Government’s Role in Achieving Price Parity for Renewable Energy?

Guidance on the Guidelines: How Good is LEED?

Monday, September 27, 2010

Work or Fakework? Playing Carnie at Maker Faire

pic: NBC
I joined the brilliant ladies of Fakework Design this weekend to play Living Trophies for the Madagascar Institute Chariot Races at Maker Faire New York. We spent all week grooming our golden stallions (and all morning grooming ourselves!) for the sake of adding more glamor to the ensuing mayhem. Power tools and bike-medic field operations met gold spandex and pillow stuffing for fabulous mobile costumes.

Our troupe was just one piece of a wondrous carnival full of jet-propelled rides, and a panoply of chariots including a giant squid named the Kracken that got caught in the nets of Swimming Cities, a fire-spitting raven (literally!), mutant bikes, and sundry other wheeled objects. I wish I could tell you more about the rest of the fair, but there was so much, and it was so easy to get distracted. 

pic: Arthur & Margareta

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Clips: Sustainability 102

pic: takomabibelot

Just because something requires thought doesn't mean it has to be hard, and the right tool can make any job easier. When it comes to sustainability issues, a lot of those tools are in development, but there are quite a few available right now. Knowing that they exist and learning how to use them can color our approaches to problem solving.

Sustainability is complex and there are different tools for different jobs. Computers are great with numbers, and there are a whole bunch of quantification tools out there, from determining consumer electronics efficiency to measuring the thermal flow across a building membrane. For a methodology to measuring sustainability concerns within business and across value chains, consultancies such as Deloitte and BSR have published publicly available road maps for determining and addressing social,  environmental, and economic issues.

For more on this topic, see my latest post for Neenan, Sustainability 102: Tools for Creating Ecological Balance at Home and Work. Please leave a comment letting me know what sustainability tools you're using.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Clips: Healthcare 2050

pic: DieselDemon
This past year I spent quite some time looking at medical technology in the context of a material (electroactive polymer) tech transfer to architecture, but I haven't thought about it in a little while. When I was assigned to edit the comments of a group of medical visionaries for the Neenan blog this week it was great to be reminded of our thrilling bionic future! Of course that's only a small piece of the question of what healthcare will look like in forty years, plenty hinges on policy and systems design. Surprisingly, none of our panelists said anything about the design of hospitals themselves! (You can check out a CEU I put together on that topic a while back for Metropolis.)

Have a read and leave a comment giving us your 2 cents on imagining healthcare 2050.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Beauty and Endearing Destiny

pic: smastrong
"Be fun and engaging and strive for an aesthetic outcome. Government, business, and environmental organization cannot create a sustainable society. It will only come about through the accumulated effects of daily acts of billions of eager participants. Some think humans are predatory by nature. I cast my vote with those who feel humans take the shape of their culture, and that shifts in culture can occur in rare moments with remarkable speed and vigor. Good design can release humankind from its neurotic relationship to absurd destruction, and aim it toward a destiny that is far more 'realistic' and enduring. The urge to create beauty is an untapped power, and it exists in commerce as well as society."

--Objective #8 from the preface to The Ecology of Commerce, Paul Hawken, 1993

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Clips: Schools 2050

pic: D. Sharon Pruitt
A gentleman of my father's age recently scoffed at me that sustainability will get no where as long as people of his generation are in charge and prospering off the status quo. Are baby boomers really so jaded? Is the future really only of concern to the young?

I think it's always important not only to lead by example but to lay a groundwork of tools and knowledge for those growing up in a harder climate. This week for Neenan I looked to the future in Schools 2050: Accelerating the Connection Between Green Building and Green Learning. Sustainable infrastructure needs to include both the physical and the intellectual. Take a look and let us know your thoughts and suggestions for getting there.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Living Pavilion is Thriving

The Living Pavilion is visible from outer space on Google Maps satellite.
The Living Pavilion is doing great. My colleagues from CASE and I had a delicious picnic in it on Friday. In some of the milk crates, the Liriope were spurting purple flowers. We hadn't been sure if this species would bloom or not. It's been wonderful to see the pavilion growing into its landscape, and continuing to receive so much attention from the community. Here are a few clips from various times this summer, you can check out a bunch more on our Architizer page.

We were published in the New York Times style section, print and online.

New York AIA has continued to be an amazing supporter.
Design Trust for Public Space held their regular potluck at the pavilion.
Figment and the Living Pavilion was aired on WNBC.

Clips: Sustainable Urban Typologies

pic: Joel Bedford

My second post this week for the Neenan Company blog explores the question "How will we build in 2050?" following the twitter conversation #rethinkarch. I spoke with journalist Greg Lindsey and architect Robyn Vettraino about connections between technology, resources, and policy in the design of urban typologies. Take a read and please leave a comment letting us know where you stand on the urban/suburban spectrum.

Sustainable Urban Typologies: The 2050 Debate

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Clips: Renewable Energy 2050

Wind turbines in Portugal by AiresAlmeida
This week for the Neenan Company blog I looked at international examples of renewable energy implementation and asked what's holding back the United States. Check out the article and please leave a comment at Renewable Energy 2050: Learning from International Lessons.

Since writing this piece I came across AMO's Roadmap 2050: A pathway to decarbonize the United States power grid, which reminded me that the first step is to flesh out the problem and the second to start sketching out solutions. The reasons and mechanics for our energy issues are vast, and looking at the international examples calls into the field an entire world of policies, resources, and national sentiments. It's easy to get overwhelmed, but the trick is to pick at our own problem from a lot of different angles at once.
AMO is the design and research studio of OMA. The roadmap redesigns the US energy grid according to the conclusion that "What we need is a technology neutral, energy agnostic, energy policy that ensures a massive infusion of capital for research and development." That sums it up pretty well, the actual sustainability of any type of energy or technology will depend on regional resources rather than monolithic prescriptions, and it's all going to take some money. 

I love seeing design solutions, visualization is a call to action. No matter how much we talk about it, or how wasteful we are, ultimately we will run up against limiting factors that make it impossible to ignore the big problems. It's better to start paying attention now. Every person in every field has something to offer.  

Video still from AMO.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Clips: What is Government’s Role in Achieving Price Parity for Renewable Energy?

Check out my post What is Government’s Role in Achieving Price Parity for Renewable Energy? published by design-build firm The Neenan Company.


Can renewable energy reach price parity without government subsidies? While green energy is gaining momentum, it is still generally considered more expensive than conventional fossil fuels. How can this be? The word “renewable” implies seamless cycles of regeneration. Sunlight and wind are infinite. If we could live truly passive lifestyles, they would be enough on their own. Unfortunately, our society has been built to require fuel, so the trick now is to make non-polluting sources affordable and available.

Recent reports claim that “renewable energy expansion counted for 60% of newly installed capacity in Europe and more than 50% in the US. Experts even believe that this year or the next, the world as a whole will add more capacity from renewable than conventional sources.” Unfortunately, this newly installed capacity still accounts for only 6.2% of the market in the United States.

click here for the whole article

Friday, July 16, 2010

Living Pavilion Exhibition Opening

The Figment Living Pavilion is getting its own exhibition at the Center for Architecture. Please join us for the opening. Free event. Free beer. Yay!

Monday, August 2nd, 6:30 - 8:30 pm
The Center for Architecture
536 LaGuardia Place

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Clips: Guidance on the Guidelines

pic: swanksalot 

Check out my post Guidance on the Guidelines: How Good is LEED? published by The Neenan Company, a design-build firm in Colorado.


Green building is not just a fad. It’s a real change in society’s relationship with nature. While conscientious firms have always embodied the first principles of sustainable design–from proper siting to make the most of the sun to climate-sensitive passive heating and cooling–there is now a need for public guidance. This has led to the enormous success of the United States Green Building Council (USGBC)’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system, and opened a critical debate on how best to serve the domain of green design.

click here for whole article

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Living Pavilion Dispatch #6: Construction Completion

more pics here

I am proud, joyful, and relieved to report that the Figment Living Pavilion stands complete a day ahead of schedule. On a drizzly Wednesday morning, after weeks of reported thunderstorms but gorgeous weather, screws were tightened and foundation ditches filled to secure our dream of building architecture in NYC's best park.

Figment has been an amazing supporter of this project. I'm waiting with anticipation to see this beautiful structure filled with arts programming and impromptu gathering come the debut of Figment 2010 on Friday--note the wealth of scheduled performances on the Pavilion Stage, from belly and ballroom dancing to improv musical comedy and interactive folktale theater. The participatory arts scene has been a great source of inspiration for me over the past few years, as has the architecture and design community. It means a lot that the we were able to merge the glorious social utopia of the glittering costumed free-for-all with a professional, measured, and intellectual view toward larger scale design thinking and experiments in sustainability. The ultimate test of our health as a society is how we fulfill ourselves as individuals in the context of shared space and resources. Participatory architecture has produced an icon to this belief that will literally grow into its own as plantings germinate and people, through use, imbue their own meanings.

A special thank you at this moment to David Koren and Jessica Sheridan who have worked behind the scenes with skill and aplomb to make this possible; to our very patient and helpful representatives from the Governors Island Preservation and Education Corporation; to the pavilion's brilliant and committed architects Behrang Behin and Ann Ha; to the amazing Figment production team; and to the 60+ volunteers (final count TK) who have made this possible, including those in the home stretch since my last blog post, Berardo Matalucci, Rusty Brinkman, Nic Warner, Lydia Orsy, Max Akulin, Kayla Soo-Youn Kim, Baraket Kezwer, Malgorzata Danilczuk-Danilewicz, Breta Bishop, Damir Pozerac, Beatriz Ortiz, and Tara Mrowka.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Living Pavilion Dispatch #5: It Stands!

about 1/3 of the pavilion is built
more pics here

This weekend the Living Pavilion became a proto-building and not just an intense pile of planted milk crates. Ultimately it will have 23 ribs, be 30 ft long, and undulate between 9 and 12 feet tall. The deadline is looming but progress seems to be on track. Figment is placing a stage inside where dance performances are scheduled for the first day of the festival this Friday.

By the last ferry on Sunday we were almost 1/3 of the way there with eight ribs up. Each arc sandwiches a row of milk crates that are bolted in. Our structural engineer Yunlu did all the math and was confident that the design would be sound, but I think until we got to this point we were all a little nervous. Sunday was the day when all the structural engineers came out to play with us.

The crates form a pixelated pattern that switch between planted modules and empty skylight boxes. The design has changed since the original proposal, but its amazing how nicely the texture and gestures match the renderings, and hanging plants are beautiful when they blow in the breeze. Part of the original call for entries asked for a structure that would provide shelter. The crate matrix was only partially protective when a brief thunderstorm hit, but proves cool and shady in the hot sun. Spatially the pavilion feels very nice to be inside. It's already large enough to stretch out and walk around in, and feels both familiar with its naturalistic elements and intriguing by the plants' unusual direction. One volunteer felt like she was in a wedding chapel.

A huge crew came out to support us this weekend. Thank you volunteers: Vanesa Alicia, Jessica Sheridan, David & Shirley Menokovich, Amanda Rivera, Tes Rivera, Eve Dilworth, Zohn Rosen, Jamie Kiburz, Dillon Font, Nick Dellano, Margaret Murray, Martina Gawrych, Yunlu Shen, Steve Koller, Nick Hohn, Shamil Lallani, Matthew Moser, Andy Beck, Nicholas Warner, Misael Rojas & Natalie, Kayla Soo-Youn Kim, Nina Mahjoub, Paul Laroque, Lourdes Saladino, Rebecca Jones, Shinjinee Pathak, Irmak Turan, and Scott Miller.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Living Pavilion Dispatch #4: A New Location Saves the Water Problem

The Living Pavilion has moved to the Parade Grounds, solving our water problems but confusing lost volunteers and vexing Figment's mapping progress! It's too bad that we couldn't make it work in the City of Dreams, but the new location is much healthier for the plants that will spend half the day in the shade and the other half shading you. Our long hose is now comfortably hooked up to a spigot rather than requiring a connection to a drip gushing tapped fire hydrant. We've learned a few things about resources and problem solving on this one, and internalized the fact that understanding the local context is truly key to designing anything sustainable.

We're done planting and hope you'll join us this weekend for the beginning of the construction phase. The Island is open to the public and you can drop by any time. The new (even simpler) directions to the site are:

1. Get your ass to the ferry on time, which means a few minutes early. It's right next door to the north of the Staten Island ferry.

2. After the boat drops you off, turn left. When you're standing directly in front of the fort with Nolan Park to the left you'll see a grassy entrance to the Parade Grounds.

3. Go forward onto the grass a little bit and you'll see us.

A special thank you to all my volunteers this week, on the island, in the shop, and in front of the computer. There is no way we could do this without you: Alexandra Hofgaertner, Malgorzata Danilczuk-Danilewicz, Anya Dayneko, Shayne Smith, Judy Hugentobler, John Toniolo, Paula Wood, Vanessa Paulson, Gabriel Ceycedo, Eve Dilworth, Chris Cummings, Katie Stokien, Keefe Butler, Max Akulin, Christine O'Heron, Rusty Mooooo Brinkman, S. Pearson Smith, Josh Newman, Bareket Kezwer, Tes Rivera, Beatriz Ortiz, Garry Engelbe, Damir Pozderac, Aysha Jalil, Nic Warner, and Berardo Matalucci.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Living Pavilion Dispatch #3: Premier Planting

These past two days we've really gotten down to the business of planting milk crates. The process started in New Jersey and exploded once we got to the Island and everyone put their hands in the dirt. Two days of labor yielded an impressive 215 completed modules. We'll be in gardening mode for another day or two, and then it will be construction time.

I'm exhausted and the pictures speak for themselves. Thank you so much everyone who volunteered today and yesterday: Kristen Chin, Rusty Moooooo, Christine O'Heron, Carol Crump, Tes Revera, Khalsa Kaur, Cessi Hessler, Michael Zick Doherty, Linda Leith, Paula Wood, John Toriolo, Vanessa Paulson, Tom Klaber, Breta Bishop, Judy Hugentobler, Karen Chubak, Sarah Bray, and Eve Dilworth.

We still need volunteers for the later part of next week, including the weekend, and also the following week. You can get involved by signing up for a shift at

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Living Pavilion Dispatch #2: The Big Move from NJ to GI

Our crew on site: Moishe Friedman, Rusty Mooooooo, 
MaryBeth Burton, Chris Cummings, co-architect Behrang Behin, and 
Tom Klaber (not shown is Jook Leung who helped us earlier on the NJ leg)
more photos here

Today was a triumph. Up until now, 460 milk crates and 2500 potted loriape plants have been sitting in the backyard of the architect's very patient parents in northern New Jersey. Now they are finally home at the field behind Liggett Hall, where they apparently mark the first building materials to show up on site in the City of Dreams.

It was an adventure and we covered a lot of ground. For half of us, the day started off with trials of truck rental in Brooklyn (as a pedestrian city dweller, somehow I only find myself behind the wheel if a 20+ foot truck is involved), for the other half it was meeting up with strangers at a bus depot in the northern reaches of Manhattan. By the time my group got to NJ, everyone else had already gotten materials organized and ready to be loaded. Despite the fact that there are an enormous amount of pieces, identical cube shaped milk crates are the easiest thing I think any of us have ever had to load onto a truck.

Then off to Governors Island. All the while during the many legs of this trip we were unsure exactly where we'd be able to find water for the plants, as the spiggot we expected turned out to have been turned off without anyone noticing or remembering this past winter. Hence our enormous happiness at being allowed to tap into the fire hydrant, at least temporarily. A long term solution is still in the works. It's made us all think a lot about water scarcity, harvesting, and conservation. You cannot take for granted that your island will have water, and in fact the water that is on Governors Island is non-potable.

I especially want to thank the crew today for accomplishing such a major leg of this trip. We're finally starting to see the community come together in action to build this thing, which is necessary for Figment to flourish. We had representatives from Figment, the Emerging New York Architects, Burning Man, and the Center for Architecture Science and Ecology at RPI, some of whom are friends of mine and some I met for the first time today.

If anyone would like to come help next week, please sign up at

Monday, May 24, 2010

Volunteer Directions to the Pavilion Build Site

This map is no longer accurate. We've moved to the Parade Grounds.

1) Get your ass to the ferry on time, which means a few minutes early. It's right next door to the north of the Staten Island Ferry.

2) After the boat drops you off, turn right. Follow the road as it bends left, veer through a parking lot intoa  big field called Colonel's Row

3) The build site is located on the other side of a giant arch, behind a building called Liggett Hall

4) The Living Pavilion is in construction on a beautiful field where people with big art projects will be building many impressive things in the weeks leading up to Figment

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Living Pavilion Dispatch #1

Early stages of the Living Pavilion
click here for more photos

Work is underway on the Living Pavilion for the City of Dreams on Governors Island and it is truly inspiring. Plants defy gravity, growing down, exposing a lattice of dirt and roots toward the sky. Rather than ground breaking, it is better described as ground lofting. The structure will be an inversion that confuses inside and out through an articulated tunnel of liriope and fresh air.

A group of volunteers got started planting today. It was a great time to spend in the fresh air with some dirt between our fingers. We can't do it alone though, another 200 person-hours are needed for planting, then we also need to construct it before June 11th when the Figment participatory arts festival begins. Please be in touch with me if you can help at any point on the schedule.

This is the first structure of its kind at Figment, selected by jury out of 50 entries. I volunteered for this project originally because architecture is such a critically important marker of our culture and values. Organizing this competition was a chance for us to bring another type of design thinking to a festival that is already making loud statements about creativity in the urban condition. Figment prides our individuality while bringing us together as a society in a non-commodified and democratic act.

Within such we could not have asked for a more relevant winning project. Plant walls and green roofs are becoming more and more popular in a world hungry for sustainable solutions to the pressing issues surrounding energy and air quality. The biological paradigm is gaining momentum as an effective means of harnessing energy flows in the built ecology with a push to reclaim nature through technology. The Living Pavilion itself speaks to these issues while creating a public space for us to build and use together.

Now as foreperson for this project I am tasked with getting all of you as excited as I am, or else it's going to be hard to pull this off. I'd like to give special thanks to our crew today: Misael Rojas, Zal Sayari, and Mr. & Mrs. Behin. And an extra special thanks to our architects Ann Ha and Behrang Behin who are working so hard to realize Figment's grand inspiration to build an infrastructure worthy of a place called the City of Dreams.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Pavilion Volunteer Schedule

Sunday 5/23: Organize planting in Closter, New Jersey
Meet for pick up at 10:30am at the GW Bridge bus terminal, on Fort Washington btw 178-179th Sts under the overpass, Or arrange own transportation to Closter. The architect will pick us up, and drop off again at this point afterwards. check!

Wednesday 5/26: Move plants from Closter, New Jersey to Governors Island
Three volunteers requested to meet for pick up at 9:30am at the GW Bridge bus terminal, on Fort Washington btw 178-179th Sts under the overpass, Or arrange own transportation to Closter.

One volunteer needed to meet foreperson (Daniela) to pick up the UHaul and drive together to Closter. Details to come.

Thursday 5/27 - Friday 5/28:
Planting on Governors Island, 9am to 5pm. Come for full or half days. 48 hour advance notice required to get your name on the ferry list.

Tuesday 6/1 - Sunday 6/6
Continue planting as necessary and start assembly of pavilion, 9am to 5pm. Come for full or half days. 48 hour advance notice required to get your name on the ferry list on Tues-Thurs. On Friday and through the weekend island is open to the public.

Monday 6/7 - Thursday 6/10
Finishing everything up, we'll see where we're at.

Various times to be arranged Tuesday 5/25 into week of 5/31
CNC work in Long Island City. The work will be to monitor the CNC router, mount and dismount the plywood, and do some assembly of the parts after they have been cut. We strongly prefer someone with woodshop/CNC experience. 

Figment is Friday 6/11 - Sunday 6/13, Pavilion needs to be done!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Open Call for Figment Pavilion Volunteers


This is Daniela, Foreperson for the City of Dreams Pavilion that is being built for Figment and will remain up on Governors Island all summer. We are looking for crew members to help build this project starting next week. This is a very exciting new part of Figment that scales up the idea of participatory sculpture to the architectural scale. It is a living structure made out of plants and milk crates that was selected by jury out of 50 entries.

We need help planting and assembling. No experience is necessary. It's a big job and time is short, so your help is critical. Construction is happening on the Island during daytime weekday hours. This is a very good opportunity for someone unemployed or otherwise with free time on their hands to be part of a project with a lot of cultural currency that's already gotten tons of press. Plus we can spend some time in the sun together on a quiet island making something cool happen, and that is going to be fun.

Please email me at danisemesterblog(at) if you're interested. For more information on the pavilion itself see:


Saturday, April 24, 2010

Hydro-Fracking Update: NYS Imposing Stricter Regulations

According to today's New York Times, New York State in imposing stricter regulations on hydro-fracking in our watershed. This is good news as far as New York City's water supply is concerned, but does not by any means close the door on the environmental problems of natural gas mining, which is still in the works. The National Resources Defense Council does not consider greater regulation a victory, claiming that nothing short of a ban will protect our water source. The Independent oil and Gas Association of new York says the regulations are excessive, but claims that the watershed is not really the spot they care about right now anyway compared to prospects in surrounding areas.

Natural gas is considered "clean" energy because using it releases fewer C02 emissions. But natural gas is itself a greenhouse gas, and extraction can be brutal on the environment. Needless to say, our relationship to energy and the environment is frustrating. Constant nay-saying without alternative solutions does not get us very far. Energy on earth comes from the sun, but in order to concentrate that energy into electricity and fuel, material from the earth is required--whether that's natural gas, petroleum, and coal or the silicone and other minerals needed to make photovoltaic panels. Identifying and extracting resources is one problem. Cultural norms, the calcification of urban forms, and systematic reliance on energy-intensive systems of distribution for food and water are another.

An alternative energy future is going to have to focus on a diversity of means to productively recoup waste rather than resigning ourselves to an unworkable duality of ecological mess on one side and a return to primitivism on the other. It will mean changes to lifestyle, but that's a bigger cultural question about maturing as human society and not one to beat ourselves up about as individuals--though we should always remain conscientious of our decisions. As far as today is concerned, I'm glad our government is prioritizing the watershed and hope that policies affecting the sustenance of vast numbers of people will continue to be ecologically sound and scientifically considered.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Hydro-Fracking: Sounds Gross Because it Is

Dr. Theo Colborn presenting Hydro-Fracking for Natural Gas at the Cooper Union Institute for Sustainable Design, 4/15/10. Photo of pollution-filled evaporation ponds in Colorado. In New York it is too humid for evaporation to be effective, so polluted water will be reinjected into the ground or tranported somewhere else.

Hopefully you've heard of hydro-fracking by now. This is a process of natural gas extraction that involves drilling down into shale and shaking things up to release gas. They are planning on doing this to the Marcellus Shale, creating the nation's largest gas field across four states, including the Catskill/Delaware Watershed where New York City gets its fresh drinking water from.

My original reaction without knowing too much about it was that futzing with our water supply is probably a bad idea. Last night I went to a very detailed lecture on the subject which enumerated many reasons why this is an environmentally disastrous procedure. This includes the numerous dangerous chemicals that get pumped into the ground in the process, the huge quantities of water required to run the operation, and the serious air pollution that forms when diesel fumes from the trucks and machines at the surface interact with volatile organic compounds released from underground, forming ground-level ozone. 

Drinking water is fundamental, more important to sustaining life then concentrated energy. Let's keep our eyes on this issue. For information see:

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Sliding Assumptions

Photo: Aroid

My colleagues and I have been giving a lot of presentations this semester. New developments in our visual languages meant to manifest complex data comparisons in an easily digestible format is required on a weekly basis, as is the compilation, generation, and interpretation of that data. Often presentation happens via projection from a laptop, usually of digitally created graphics. Lately however we have been drawing with Sharpies and grease pencils on 11 x 17 pieces of printer paper.

The result of this has been a large pixelated array of doodles on our studio wall that is eventually a step back to either a more polished projected presentation or some kind of book. It's been a little tough, the digital has infected us enormously. So much so, in fact, that those pieces of paper are repeatedly referred to by many of us as "slides".

It is hilarious to refer to a piece of paper as a slide. This word transformation comes from PowerPoint (aka PDF in our case) via the ubiquitous mid-century slide projector, which is a technological extension of the earlier magic lantern that Wikipedia pegs to the 17th century. So an outmoded technology of sliding a physical transparency in front of a light source gives us terminology that fits gracefully into the newest digital tools that become so habituated as to stand in now even for the ancient technology of paper.

It's worth noting these linguistic transformations as we chart the field of architecture into new territory. The most exciting digital technology will still be pegged to less complex precursors. This becomes very important to remember when using things like CAD drawings and energy modeling software to propose architectural systems which produce and run on non-concentrated energy most beautifully typified by Nature. One goal of our work this semester is to consider how high technology can concentrate passive energy flows to sustain our cultural speed without polluting the ecosystem. Assumptions are important. So when paper becomes a slide we know we're forging ahead with gusto.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Shape of Sunlight's Heavy Lifting

I had the pleasure last week of helping my CASE colleagues prepare and transfer a prototype of the Integrated Concentrated (IC) Solar Facade system to the Syracuse Center of Excellence which officially opened on Friday. The machine is aesthetically and scientifically striking. Solar radiation is focused through a tracking Fresnel lens onto a PV cell, combined with a water flow heat sink. The energy effect is the generation of accessible electricity and hot water; the visual effect is both a focusing and a diffusing of sunlight combined with a pattern of dissolved inverted imagery through the lensed pyramids alternating with a simple view through the window. 

IC Solar is envisioned as an integrated building component. As such the value judgements about energy use are worn boldly in view. Cultural statements about our relationship with fuel combined with workable approaches will be part of our generation's architectural heritage. As we use technology in attempts to deal with environmental problems created by technology, the visual element will be a constructive tool in stoking the polemic.

Sunlight feels so clean but concentrating it is still a grimy business. For me, the heavy lifting was a welcome change from sitting in front of a computer every day, and the afternoons spent wielding solder guns and screw drivers were satisfying. It was amusing after my recent amateur electronics kick to be handed an LED display to put together, and driving a 20 foot Ryder truck through winding mountain roads in the middle of the night with precious cargo is a thrill despite the exhaustion and discomfort. This project has been many years in the making and I can only claim three days of wrapping up loose ends on the current version, but it's inspiring to see something so complex take real shape.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Roy G. Biv

The new Center for Excellence in Syracuse spares no opportunity to express that it is "green". It officially opens this afternoon. During prototype set up phase--I was there on installation duty for something I'm not allowed to write about before its officially unveiled at 2pm but will tell you about later--that greenness felt freshest before all the partnership logos went up. Features like lights in the bathroom that turn on when you enter the stall were not activated yet in the morning, but were in the afternoon. Likewise for the automatic flush. Interior finishes, bare concrete floor aside, are all either white, which is gorgeous except for the tops of the exposed ductwork will always be dusty; and green, which is gorgeous except when it is reflecting in perfect daylighting off human flesh tones.

It turns out that scientifically, green is the wavelength that looks brightest on the Commission Internationale de l'Eclarirage (CIE)'s famous chart of visual perception. Thus the brightest walks softest on the earth. Green is smack dab in the center of the visible spectrum. It's a word that can sound trite with repetition in popular design culture that nonetheless has a phenomenological spine.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Terms & Conditions: Greenhouse

1. [f. GREENn. 10.] A glass-house in which delicate and tender plants are reared and preserved.*

It would be amazing to be somewhere warm and humid watching the snow fall outside. I've been reading about atmospheric optics lately and came across a passage taking the term "greenhouse gas" to task for not being specific. It's a good excuse to take the word greenhouse back for a moment as something more life affirming then perilous. After all, without any warmth in the atmosphere there would be no life.

Of course the second definition in the Oxford English Dictionary is meteorological, dated to a 1937 citation of G. T. Trewartha Introd. Weather & Climate. It's a convenient metaphor that has taken pride of place in the lexicon of environmentalism. The greenhouse today evokes the brutal effects on nature hit by rapidly shifting temperatures. It becomes a prison of our own making. We are walled in by particles that do not radiate accommodatingly out to space in the region of the electromagnetic spectrum that is heat. Alas. But at least some atmospheric scientists still have a sense of humor. If you've read this far, go just a little further to the part about farty housecats.

"The motions of a molecule can be expressed as a sum of normal modes each with a characteristic frequency. These frequencies lie in the infrared and a radiating mode is called infrared active. A mode that does not radiate is called infrared inactive. The terms infrared active and inactive, which are familiar to infrared spectroscopists, are preferable to the popular but misleading term 'greenhouse gas'. Water vapor is infrared active; nitrogen and oxygen, for the most part, are infrared inactive. Greenhouse gasses are produced by resident cats with digestive problems."**

*Oxford English Dictionary, online edition, 2009. 
** Fundamentals of Atmospheric Radiation, Craig F. Bohren, Eugene Clothiaux, Wiley, 2006 p. 81.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Amateur Electronics

Photo: Daniela Morell

"A good lighting design must address not only... requirements for visual performance, but also the biological needs shared by all human beings, independent of culture and style. These needs relate to the biological requirements of orientation, stimulation, sustenance, defense, and survival." -Norbert Lechner* 

Costuming is inspirational and the recent Disorient Bioluminscent boat party hit the right spot. My graduate work lately has been focused on a highly technological approach to daylighting but personally I love to shine in the dark.

Daylighting is a no-brainer for sustainable design but night lighting is a little trickier. When the sun is luminescent let's use it (lux saves bucks). When it's not the electrical world is a cultural judgment call on how we choose to use resources. I can't pretend that this jewelry serves anything more than an emotional need for folly, attention, and figuring out how to make things, but it's worth questioning how and why we use electricity at night. Indoors night lighting feels indispensable. Camping aside, I can't think of a single day of my life I haven't come home after school or work and turned on a light, or a computer, or a television. Yet none of that is inevitable.

Outdoors is another story. There are places in this world (Black Rock City) with tons of people and no electric grid. If you are not personally illuminated in the dark you might get run over. It's interesting to think about the potential of space dominated by personal instead of urban lighting. Would we become more like targets for preditors or like fireflies attracting lovers?

These are dangling questions for me that will be explored further. In the meantime I'm brimming with ideas for more light art. The array pictured above has several innovative features from previous attempts including a means to switch off the LED corsages and the use of machined plexi as an electroluminscent wire substrate. Next I'm hoping to figure out how to make a more streamlined inverter and maybe learn how to program some blinky.

[Just a quick addendum... energy savings from daylighting of course need to be balanced with the potential for increased heat gain.] 

*Heating, Cooling, Lighting: Sustainable Design Methods for Architects, 3rd edition, Norbert Lechner, (c) John Wiley & Sons, Inc, 2009, p370.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Power to the People

I spent this afternoon volunteering at Solar1's PowerUp New York event at GreenSpaces. To get in the building I had to brave a very polite mob of Kieth Urban fans waiting for a private acoustic concert in the same building, which we could hear through the ceiling. The venue is particularly interesting.  It's a workspace for green entrepreneurs of many bents who rent space by desk. I imagine the benefits of collaboration from being with a diverse group focused on different things must be exciting. The floor-through loft is decorated with a classy mix of salvaged furniture and decorated with sculptures made alternately from blue jeans and coat hangers.

Working the sign-in station meant that I got a nice chance to talk with people coming in. There seemed to be a mix of entrepreneurs, engineers, designers, green marketing people, and concerned citizens. Unfortunately it meant I missed most of the first presentation by Robert Peras of NYC's Department of Citywide Administration Services. I joined the crowd for the second presentation by Diane Pangestu who is the NYSERDA liason at Solar1. At this point a lot of her information was old hat to me, as NYSERDA representatives are quite popular at events dealing with energy efficiency in New York, which are some of my favorite topics. It's a bummer that the state has lately significantly reduced the incentive program for solar installation, but NYSERDA is still fighting the good fight in helping people with efficiency solutions.

More interesting was the final speaker, Chris Benedict, who practices architecture with an engineering eye and is devoted to erasing energy loads through building sealing and efficient heat systems. The quantified differences are astonishing. Apparently New York City spends an average of 24 btus per square foot per heating degree day. One of her buildings got this down to 3.8! At one point she spoke of a ventilation system she developed to integrate with her sealing philosophy. It's exciting to hear architects working at that level. Chris also teaches architecture at Pratt and said her students have very mixed interest in the mechanical side. Personally I think her perspective is critical to design in a cultural moment of climate change.

Overall it was great to see a packed room of diverse people who care about these issues. The next event will be in May (when I'll be swamped with the end of my semester) and will be talking about smart grids.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

EAP Watch: Blink Alert

Illustration:  UC Davis

Electroactive Polymers (EAP) are machine materials that respond in shape to an electrical input. There is a wide range to their components and functionality. I've been looking to them in regards to design potential in the world of architectural engineering. Some of the more exciting EAP designs coming to market now are being applied in the medical field, destined (or doomed, depending on your point of view) to vastly expand our bio-mechanical cyborg future.

A press release from UC Davis Health System crossed my desk this morning for an EAP devise in development that can control blink movements for people with paralyzed facial muscles. The innovation over existing blink-repair technologies is that it will require a shorter less invasive procedure, and that if there is a healthy side of the face the EAP system can synchronize with the other eye.

In comparing blink restoration to my own research, it is interesting to think about notions of mediating the transfer of light and information across a barrier. In bioclimatic architecture we're looking to control the flows of energy in and out while maximizing human pleasure--in some cases pleasure might be the view. The parallel of opening and closing is important for both the human organism and the optimized building, and is a central theme in my studies this semester.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Machine Aesthetic

Photo: NREL

"Since it is correct to say that culture in its widest sense means independence of Nature, then we must not wonder that the machine stands in the forefront of our cultural will-to-style.... Consequently, the spiritual and practical needs of our time are realised in constructive sensibility. The new possibilities of the machine have created an aesthetic expressive of our time, that I once called 'the Mechanical Aesthetic'." --Theo van Doesburg, 1922*

Culture, nature, and the machine can not in any comprehensive sense be separated in the 21st century. It's amazing to imagine the days when speed was new, but today it's part of the landscape. The byproducts of industrialization are changing the environment in ways that presage adaptation. Conscientious people speak in terms of 'saving the world,' but that's not a useful goal in the confines of a lifetime. The machine is part of the evolved human being and the question now, since there's no going back, is how to use it conscientiously. The machine of the future lives in climatic harmony with nature.

*Quoted from, Reyner Banham, Theory and Design in the first Machine Age, MIT Press, 1980, pp187-8.

Friday, January 29, 2010

A Word on Tech Transfer

The phrase "tech transfer" has been in the air lately and I learned recently that it means something much more specific then I had assumed. Taken at face value it would seem to indicated building upon a technology in a new way, ie transferring use from one purpose to another and building on research across fields. It turns out that in fact the term describes the relationship of research, funding, and business development between sectors. A university's Office of Technology Transfer "manages the commercialization of federally-funded university research," and is akin to a "high-tech dating service"* between university research and industry. Applying for and managing

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Extra Curricular: City of Dreams Pavilion Competition

Figment is one of my favorite events in New York City. It is a non-commodified, completely volunteer run, participatory arts festival on Governors Island in June. Hundreds of artists and over 10,000 visitors come together to celebrate the gift of interactive creativity. Participation begins now as a committed group of friendly artsters lays the groundwork for making it all happen.

For my part in 2010, I am working on running a new design/build competition for a summer-long pavilion. Entries are already starting to come in. The winning piece of architecture will provide a shaded location for planned or impromptu performance and gathering, located in the City of Dreams. In considering the context of time and place it will have an ecological outlook on its material stream and historic moment, looking forward to a beautiful future. It is destined as a reminder of the accomplishments born of collaboration and material re-use, while existing as a temporary place that will be reborn with ever greater potential each year.

The City of Dreams Pavilion competition is a collaboration of Figment, Emerging New York Architect Committee (ENYA) of the American Institute of Architects New York Chapter (AIANY) and the Structural Engineers Association of New York (SEAoNY). The deadline for registration is February 8, 2010.

Sunday, January 24, 2010


Welcome to a new blog chronicling my work and experience at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's Center for Architecture, Science, and Ecology (CASE). This is an interdisciplinary architectural sciences program focused on research and develpment of next generation building technologies for sustainable architecture and urbanism. We are located in the Skidmore, Owings & Merrill offices in New York City.

At this point I am nearly halfway through with a one-year master degree. By August 2010 I will have a Master of Science in Architectural Sciences with a concentration in Built Ecologies. The work is speeding along quickly. The mission of this blog is to track and organize my thoughts vis a vis my research and professional development and to offer a simple collaborative platform for sharing ideas about design, technology, research, and sustainability.