Monday, December 8, 2008

Comparative Sacred Space Diagrams

A few years ago I sketched this diagram sheet while exploring the Old City of Jerusalem and it's sacred places. I was seeking to understand differences, similarities between jewish, christian and islamic holy spaces. This diagram works in vertical columns organized by faith.

It was interesting to simplify extremely complex spatial and territorial qualities into small images.

Dispersion, lack of center, book focus, Minyan - group of 10, Space is temporary, Tent-like, Suitcase, Inward focus on the individual, blowing of the Shofar, lighting of candles, symbolism of light

Upwards, object like, worship of towers, highplaces, Golgotha, sense of a center, focus on mystery, Ringing church bells, singing, lighting of candles, symbolism of light

Across, A field of space, undifferentiated, sacred platforms or socles, natural decoration based upon natural forms, grids, shells, Recorded Muezzin call from Minarets five times a day.

This diagram shows an all too typical condition happening in the Christian quarter, minarets constructed immediately adjacent the Church of the Holy Sepulchre or other nearby christian sacred places. Imagine simultaneous ringing church bells and the sing song sounds of Muezzin calling out from minarets mixing together in a cacophonous single sound. Incongruous unity of sacred sounds blending together to make a new sound. It's worth a visit and listen all by itself. Mutual co-existence, albeit sometimes uneasy, is prevalent in such a precious, sacred place.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Green Collar Job Creation_Solar Industry Training Event in Vermont

It's reassuring when the day after I post on Green Collar thinking and say things are happening here in Vermont but then open my local paper, The Burlington Free Press, page 10 in the Calendar in the Business Monday circular and see evidence supporting my assertions. This Wednesday evening on the UVM Campus, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 300 is holding a Solar Industry Night from 6-8pm. It's purpose is to educate small business owners and union members and other interested parties in renewable energy training for electricians. At the event, attendees will learn about the training programs and facilities offered by the union to assist in providing additional trained professionals to assist in growing solar industry installations around the state and region. This reinforces what I had learned at a recent Renewable energy conference over a month ago.

I met Matt Lash, the union representative helping to set up this Open House Event at the 2008 Renewable Energy Vermont Conference held October 14-15th in Burlington at the Sheraton Inn and Conference Center. He explained a little about the program and how his local group was committed to furthering job creation in this industry. They had obtained funding to construct training facility at their offices in South Burlington from Vermont Department of Labor Workforce Education and Training grant and Entergy Nuclear-Vermont Yankee. Interesting combination of supporters. There must be a lot of electricians working at our local VT Nuclear plant. It will be interesting to see the impact of programs such as this over the next couple of years as these electricians with new skills seek and hopefully find jobs. Jobs in some cases which don't yet exist.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Is the "Green Collar Economy" energizing your community?

Is the "Green Collar Economy" energizing your community? Can you share any examples where you're seeing impacts in job creation or broader community changes, effects of the deepening recession?

I've witnessed over the last four or five years here in Vermont growing interest and positive economic energy in green collar industries, jobs and services. In our deepening recession I am concerned many gains seen over the past few years may erode in the short term plunge in energy prices and predictable return to short-sightedness and avoidance of dealing with our current environmental & cultural crisis.

To be more specific about what I mean, let me give you an example from a recent book. In Van Jones' "Green-Collar Economy: How One Solution Can Fix our Two Biggest Problems", a watershed book published 2008 by Harper Collins. It defines a Green-Collar Job as: blue-collar employment that has been upgraded to better respect the environment. (They are) family supporting, career-track, vocational, or trade-level employment in environmentally-friendly fields. (Some) examples: electricians who install solar panels; plumbers who install solar water heaters; farmers engaged in organic agriculture and some bio-fuel production; construction workers who build energy-efficient green buildings, wind power farms, solar farms...(among many possibilities)

Can you share positive examples of any such change taking place in your community or metropolitan area? This could be further evidenced by conversions of work forces whom are skilled in industries in decline or eliminated, but the skills and knowledge are transferrable to work in the green sector. How long has this been happening and how is the trend playing out? In Vermont, some specific industry examples are the solar industry and insulation and weatherization contractors whom are assisting homeowners and businesses increase energy efficiency.
(Just a revised note: Today 12/1, I received an email from a publicist at Harper whom extended to me a link DC blog readers a chance to preview of an e-book version of Van Johnson's Green Collar Economy. Please enjoy and let me know what you think.)

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Walking and benefits to creativity

Taking walks is a way to solve problems. I find when I go for walks with friends, families and co-workers I always end up talking about something that presents a problem or challenge and by the end of the walk solutions seem to arrive as if by magic. Why is that? Anyone? I will think about this some more on walks to come and will be back with more information. Hopefully it will be more grounded with additional thoughts and perspectives other than my own.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Greenbuild 2008 in Boston

Tonight is the eve of the closing day of the 15th annual United States Green Building Council's (USGBC) Greenbuild conference and expo tradeshow. I've become reinvigorated amidst our dismal economic times and reaffirmed my belief the Green Design Movement is both here to stay and has a great deal to offer us all to help improve our situation over the long term.

We are at turning point where we will continue to see transformative healthy change being led by those in the trenches of the work, our public and the new administration. Clients, architects, landscape architects, engineering consultants, contractors, developers are all experiencing an unprecedented business challenge. In the short term we must continue pushing ahead change one building at a time. Whether small scale shifts in behavior or larger scale game changing strategies we must keep up the effort for the generations to come.

We are leaving the toddler stage as a movement and evolving into pre-teenage years and eyeing levels off maturity only yet barely envisioned by those involved. We would welcome any comments about Greenbuild. How are you finding the conference? What highlights can you offer? I will be sharing in the coming days some of my experience on a slightly deeper level.

Regards, Steve

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Edible Landscape_Edible Schoolyards

Here's an oppourtunity to expand your thinking about the potential of the sustaining landscape, one which contributes both aesthetic pleasure and pragmatic food production. Read on....

How could this effect your thinking about the interplay of the buildings within their landscapes? The programmatic oppourtunities for interweaving of uses and functions are varied as the imagination. Go check out the Edible School Yard Project link below for design inspiration. (Steve Frey)

......By Scott Carlson:
The Chronicle: Buildings & Grounds
Vandana Shiva: 'Why Shouldn't Edible Schoolyards Be on Every Campus?'
Posted: 11 Nov 2008 10:26 AM CST
Raleigh, N.C. — Vandana Shiva, the physicist and environmental activist, spoke here at the national conference of the Association for the Advancement for Sustainability in Higher Education this morning. Her topic was food — what she calls “the currency of life” — and how an industrial food system has poisoned the soil and pushed people off their land.
The speech hit on a number of agricultural issues that have been widely discussed recently and made popular by writers like Michael Pollan and Barbara Kingsolver. There is no doubt that food issues will be increasingly important in coming years, as agriculture is stressed by climate change, dwindling petroleum supplies, and environmental degradation in the form of loss of biodiversity and erosion. (Read essays in The Chronicle‘s Buildings & Grounds about this topic here and here.)

Ms. Shiva said that “the issue of food has increasingly become an issue of peace” because stresses on traditional agriculture and the industrialization of food have led people to wage war against nature, against each other, and even against their own bodies, in the form of cancers and obesity. The industrialization of food has led to empty countrysides both here in the U.S. and in India, Ms. Shiva’s native country.

“An empty countryside has never been a good human design,” she said, because it means that people are cramming into megacities and are falling away from the skills needed to raise food in traditional ways.

Colleges have a big role to play in fixing agriculture because they are partly to blame for its problems: The so-called Green Revolution, which created fertilizer-dependent industrial agriculture, is a result of research done at colleges and universities. “The solutions will have to come out of the place where it started,” she said.
She pointed out that Alice Waters, the Berkeley chef and food activist, had gotten a lot of attention for her Edible Schoolyard project, in which middle-school students are learning about agriculture and cuisine by growing gardens. Colleges should start setting up their own edible grounds, she said.

“Why shouldn’t edible schoolyards be on every campus?” she asked. —Scott Carlson

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Innovation and Collaboration

Recently and reoccuringly I am asking myself and others what it means to be innovative in regards to design and design process. Parallel to that I'm wondering how collaboration feeds innovation and vice versa?

I read Peter Drucker's seminal book, Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Practices and Principles, (1985, Harper & Row, NY) which motivates my thinking and design process. Entreprenuers can not function without innovation. The best collaborations do not function without innovation. Often the most inspiring results occur when a client, architects, designers, engineers and other stakeholders work together bouncing ideas, constraints and oppourtunities to create something new which never existed before. Oestensibly creating a new future and new possibilities together.

Drucker writes in the preamble to section I, The Practice of Innovation..."Innovation is the specific tool of entrepreneurs, the means by which they exploit change as an oppourtunity for a different business or a different service. It is capable of being presented as a discipline, capable of being learned, capable of being practiced."

Practicing innovation often leads to 1 + 1 = 3 or 5 or some other unexpected result. Connections are made between certain design contraints which wouldn't have happened without a room-full of people sparking each other to create alternative design outcomes, what ifs, why not this or that etc and rapidly testing them together openly. You never quite know where you'll end up when you begin a new project. Controlling the tendency to make blanket assumptions or to use rules of thumb in lieu of informed assessments of design, environmental, market and other practical constraints feeds innovative thinking.

Brainstorming activities are often helpful to feed innovative connections. Approaching the task like a game is often fun and refreshing. Teams can use word or image associations when design mood or qualities are sought after as a eventual goal. Having someone ask a room full of people questions, write down the shouted out answers, looking for commonalities and divergencies is so important. Small group breakouts with focused assignments also work with a chosen representative sharing with the larger group key ideas or themes considered to help build a broader vision.

Setting up a process to collect ideas, consider and process them, develop constraints and oppourtunities, next actions is very fruitful and one which can be repeated at varying stages of design, starting at the blank piece of paper stage and ending before detailed documentation and bidding might happen. Please share your ideas on how to effectively innovate through collaboration? I'll be adding to this post strand specific examples over the coming months of possible best practices and other sources for learning about design innovation + collaboration.

Monday, October 27, 2008

World Hoteliers going green to help save the planet article

This is from Reese Halter , Canwest News Service (please see the link below to the full article)

'Hotels around the globe are competing for customers in a changing world that is demanding green.

So far, The Green Building Council has certified only four U.S. hotels as "green," while more than 800 office buildings already have its seal of approval. All this, however, is about to change as the race to build energy-efficient hotels has begun in earnest.......

................A recent survey found almost 20 per cent of travellers choose hotels because of environmental practices, including housekeeping services that only use non-toxic cleaning agents.....Going green in the hotel industry is not just in vogue -- it's sound business to consume less energy, less water and create less waste. For instance, the Marriott's only green-certified hotel, in College Park, Md., uses 33 per cent less electricity than a comparable property, which means it can charge the same rates as rivals yet earn a far better profit."

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Zero Energy Communities and Net Zero Homes

Are homeowners across the U.S. interested in living in Net Zero Homes or Zero Energy homes as they are called elsewhere and or building them?

I am curious how much market demand there is right now in my Northeast / New England Region and other regions of the country for Net Zero homes. I am also interested in how much interest there is in other cold climate areas around the world. Please send me any examples of projects whether a single building or community.

A little background....A Net Zero or Zero Energy home means a dwelling which produces equal or more energy then they consume through use of active renewable energy systems (solar panels, geothermal, wind) versus passive systems (passive solar etc.) They can also be in combination with one another in small communities or even large cities. It's something businesses and institutions can do too! One very valuable offshoot of doing zero energy buildings is they by their very nature help provide economic security and predictability given the reduced impact of rising energy costs or fossil fuel future scarcity.

These homes are usally very energy efficient as a starting point but can stylistically vary widely. Please let me know what you're finding in your marketplace? Or what questions you have. I'd like to grow my network of people talking about this. I am new to this conversation. I am actually curious if this term can be morphed to become "Energy producing communitities" or "surplus energy homes" as the highest and best possibility is making buildings which can make more than they use and offer more options for locally generated power and thus more stability.

Best, Steve

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Recent house design drawings

These watercolor studies illustrate a design showing a small lakeside dwelling with connections to the outside and evocative of natural rugged materials. The interior focuses on a substantial hearth and gathering area while allowing ample daylighting, gracious dining and being within nature.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Telephone Booths and Away Spaces in Workplace Design

Workplace design & strategic planning is a theme this blog will explore over the coming months. Through recent experiences designing workspaces for various commercial clients we have observed the need for increased variety of open more collaborative spaces shared by many to more private quieter spaces. This isn't necessairily a new idea but one which we had read about and heard about but now are experiencing it first-hand with our clients.

These smaller spaces are used by one, two or three to five people to assist in focus work, private conversations and the like. These smaller spaces, called various names like "telephone booths", "cave spaces", "team space", "away spaces" are generally not owned by anyone but shared by all. They aren't conference rooms per se, but something else.

Depending on the meeting style of your company, how much interaction there is between various team members and group sizes these kinds of meeting spaces may or may not be relevant. However, when they are used it can free up other areas to be more open and collaborative in spirit, more dynamic and yes even noiser. By having them in a office space planning program they can provide more flexible design of workspace and help increase employee satisfaction and possibly productivity. This can reduce overall per person workstation size and need for hard walled offices by reducing needs for privacy options at the work area by providing quieter away spaces shared by all. This can potentially save money in reduced workstation costs.

They may be able to be signed out for limited usage, used first come first serve to usage on a routine regularly repeating basis. The type of seating and furnishings can be informal such as couches, easy chairs with white boards and good lighting to tables with chairs grouped around. Sometimes these rooms can be completely unplugged with no phones intentionally for quiet work to fully wired with teleconferencing capabilities for teaming work beyond the workplace.

Special away spaces such as breast feeding rooms to quiet rooms for meditation or reflection, periodic napping can also be integrated into office programs which may enhance further work / life balance and employee wellness. Send me your examples of such spaces and let me know if they're working for you or if other solutions have presented themself to you.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Net Zero Putney School Field House Ground Breaking

Last Saturday, one of our institutional projects had ground breaking. Go to the Brattleboro Reformer link below to read more.

What's really interesting is it's an ambitious net zero project with a LEED platinum predicted level. There aren't too many projects like this right now, especially in prep schools.

Best, Steve

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Building the Green Brand Article - BFP 09/08

This monday in the Burlington Free Press our office was mentioned in the cover article in the Business Monday section. The article focused on issues facing today's businesses regarding energy costs, the end of oil and what they can do in regards to energy efficiency and conservation. Please read on. I can also send it to you via pdf.

Please let me know if I can help you or answer any questions regarding what you can do with your business or for that matter your home.

Best, Steve

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Foggy Day in Vermont

Please see this photo of a barn I see everyday on the drive to work from home to Waitsfield. This was an especially amazing day where the fog, early morning light and a working farm came together into something wonderful.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Finding Design Inspiration at our Farmer's Market

Last weekend I visited our farmer's market in Montpelier where I live. I go there every so often not buy fresh food or people watch ( I do those things to) but to look for visual inspiration.

I take pictures of vegetables in containers, closeups showing materiality and quality of daylight dancing off of surfaces. It's very interesting to me see subjects in multiples or grids, piles of material etc. There's beauty in the purity of forms and how they interact in their naturally stacked, loaded and displayed configurations. Looking at shade and shadow, unorthodox image cropping are all on the table.

Looking at these shapes and interactions cleanses my mind and opens it up to new ways of seeing and organizing, composing images etc. See the spiral glass bowl and try to imagine the market scene shown in the curving reflection.

Please see these photos from my visit and comment on what this process means to you. Thanks, Steve

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

BMW GINA - Visionary Concept Car (Adaptation)

I recently viewed the below video showing BMW's new concept car covered by an advanced fabric rather than metal or composite materials. It stretches and adapts to a moving ekoskeleton below in a very sensual kinesthetic way. The video introduces the overall conception of the vehicle, how it adapts to different uses and modes. It is revolutionary in it's thinking and I can't wonder how the adaptive design approach could be translated into the architectural design process. These images are screen shots from the video.

Do buildings need 'skins' as we understand them with siding, shingles, metal panels, glazing or could there be more of an adaptive ekoskeleton with a durable weather resistant fabric responding to different times of day, weather and seasonal conditions? See the video and let me know what you think. - Steve

Monday, June 9, 2008

Montpelier, VT City Wide Bike Sculptures

My adopted city of Montpelier in north central Vermont is hosting through October a series of wonderfully eclective bike sculptures populating our fair city's street corners, front yards, trees and sidewalks. Come see and visit them for yourself. The idea is to prompt discussion about bicycling as alternative transportation layered with artistic whimsy and eccentric wheeled vision.

Go check out the website at

or a news story at a local TV station. S=8444011&nav=4QcScDEz "Bike Display Rolls into Montpelier."

or an article in my favorite local newspaper.


Friday, May 30, 2008

The Hero and Sustainability

It is with rapt fascination I stare at gas station signs at $4.01 / gallon. The words of the Whos in Whoville echo in my ears...we are here...We Are Here...WE ARE HERE. Sooner than anyone could imagine we're tasting the beginning of the next chapter of our lives with this siren call from the gas pumps. (I'm sorry if I abuse all kinds of metaphors but I can't help it.)

A friend over for dinner the other night was discussing the gas prices and how we need a new nationwide 'race to the moon' galvanizing call to action with the goal sustainable survival here on earth rather than a moonshot. As I reflect on the return of Indiana Jones in the summer movie season I remember the attraction and primacy of the hero figure in our cultures. Well, we need new hero's today to help us move towards a better tomorrow. However, we need both epic heroes and everyday heroes.

We need the epic ones to motivate us a nation to do better and make different choices and change our energy usage and other behaviors counter to sustainable values. We need everyday heroes to make difficult choices to change on a daily basis. These unlikely heroes must figure out how to car pool more, turn out the lights, not take car trips to faraway vacation destinations, insulate their homes, grow their own food more often and work together as neighbors, communities and regions to change group behaviors to help us all stabilize the uncertain times ahead.

Our next president and others in the national limelight hopefully can play the role of epic hero inciting us to join together to make the rapid changes our society so badly needs to respond to the continuing unpredicatable energy and economic situation we are facing. My hope is this next President and administration will turn outward to other nations to work together to change behaviors on a giant epic scale. Turning inward only, while initially satisfying and absolutely helpful is myopic and unhealthy. We must both work within our borders and without as the earth knows no such boundaries only inter-relationships and inter-dependencies.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Goshen School in Indiana_Go see this place , Very interesting link to a environmentally focused school in Indiana with an interesting perspective on sustainabilty and land use.

Best, Steve

Saturday, February 2, 2008

A Carbon Conundrum

Recently the office I work at reviewed the carbon footprint of our workplace and our professional activities. During this process, we discovered something I want to share. Our Carbon conundrum.

The carbon conumdrum is the following. We all thought our carbon footprint of our building would be larger than anything else we did. You know, all of the workings of an office, keeping a building fueled up, lights on, maintaining the facility etc. Given our rural location away from significant population centers 3/4 of our 20+ staff must drive more than 2o to 30 mins roundtrip to work. Our average commute is is actually an hour. We found the biggest part of our carbon footprint pie is our commuting, driving back and forth from job meetings, flying to conferences, meetings etc. out of state. It's not our building's operational costs. It's just plain old us moving around burning fossil fuel.

How did we react as a group to this news? Well we're much more sensitive to how much impact our driving is making and carpooling more often. We're at least more self-aware and possibly can change our commuting and meeting behaviors. Perhaps we don't need a face to face project meeting or really go to that conference or trade show out of state. You don't change this behavior overnight. I'm especially finding it hard as I have a different family schedule and after work activities every night, no set routine. For others it is easier. Regardless, it's important and I hope I can successfully carpool at least one day a week for the next year. It does make a difference.

Anyways, what do you think about the Carbon Conundrum? Best, Steve

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

This is a study of a composite of some homes we're designing in our office in an idealized setting.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Watercolor Tree Studies

Please take a look at the following watercolor tree studies where I was experimenting with blending intense colors together and evoking seasonal differences.
The upper is called August Surprise and the lower one is called April Explosion.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Innovation and the Curse of Knowledge

Last night I read in the Sunday NYT 12/30/07, "Innovative Minds Don't Think Alike" by Janet Rae-Dupree in the Bright Ideas section.

I found it very compelling reading as every day in practicing architecture and design I confront my knowledge and lack of knowledge in the work I participate in. As I grow in experience I share the same tendency to come at design challenges with the past in mind rather than with eyes and mind wide open.

Quoting from the article, "when it comes time to accomplish a task - open a store, build a house, buy new cash registers, (design an sustainble, green buildings)..those in the know get it done in the way it has always been done, stifling innovation as the barrel along a well worn path."

This struggle to effectively design a project and/ or provide a service of value vaccilates uneasily between re-use of building systems, site plan ideas or space layouts which are comfortable like old friends or purposeful re-imagination of the design problem or brief with eyes wide open to all of the possibilities.

It is important to have outsiders involved in these design processes to keep professionals and the experts in check. Maintaining a fresh perspective is challenging especially with tight budgets, short timelines and high expectations of clients and other design team members towards designers. If outsiders can't be brought in ask "basic" questions yourself.

Design should be easy to understand and to use, whether it's a knob on an IPOD or entry leading into a large building. This process is difficult as so often there are so many details and issues to grapple with. What I take away from the article is to always keep a fresh eye on where a design is going and constantly ask very basic questions to test the validity of design choices.

An example for me is when choosing a design strategy, regardless of scale, is this choice in someway helping rather than hindering the quality of our environment for our generations and generations to come. If I can't comfortably answer this essential question I pause and take notice. Often such choices come with interdependencies which also must be figured out.

So often, we aspire to design something truly compelling, interesting or unique and in doing so express some aspect of our own inner creative qualities and leaving our mark on humanity, while serving the needs of the greater good. As architects and designers of the built
evironment the marks we leave are usually all too visible and long lasting. Taking care to be reflective and insightful along the whole design process is essential to producing value.

Read this article.