Friday, May 27, 2011

CoWorking California and Vermont Style: Comparing CoLoft and Office Squared

Storefront Entry to CoLoft - Santa Monica, California
     Walking down Santa Monica Boulevard in sunny California about a month ago I serendipitously walked by CoLoft, a trendy yet down to earth co-working space. It caught my eye as I always on the lookout for interesting workspace environments. 
Office Squared Tree Covered Courtyard (courtesy of O2) 

     Hailing from Vermont I was familiar with one in Burlington called Office Squared or 02 who I had yet to visit at that point but had mental notes to do so soon. CoLoft's easy going open converted retail storefront with high ceilings and ample day-lighting greeted me. Energized with enthusiasm to see new ideas like this at work, I retraced my steps opened the door and walked in. People typed away on laptops all around, talking on smartphones with some engaged together in quiet yet intense conversations.
     Simple workstations set up on elegant sawhorses with straightforward table tops were standard. Here and there desktop computers were set up with double screens with workers staring intently into them. Someone came up to me and there I asked If I could take pictures of the inside. He said no as it was against CoLoft policy to respect and protect the privacy of their work community. I asked if the owners were there and could I talk to them?
Front Page of the Santa Monica Daily Press! by Coloft
CoLoft Interior by Brandon Wise, Originally printed in Santa Monica Daily Press
     Shortly after Avesta Rasouli, one of the founders of CoLoft greeted me. I told him I was a vacationing architect just walking by and did he have a moment. He sighed and said, "Unfortunately I'm in the middle of a meeting where I'm looking at expanding my space. Take a look at our website and email me. We'll talk later." And so I did. That moment was a perfect diagram for the growing coworking phenomena, fitting within the "Sharing Economy" as so eloquently identified by Rachel Botswan and Roo Rogers in their exciting book "What's Mine is Yours – the Rise of Collaborative Consumption" published in 2010.
     The book talks about the rise of the sharing economy and collaborative consumption fueled by the growth of the internet and dissolving of barriers in trade and communication across geography and time. The rising fluidity of our how easy it is to communicate, organize, work together and shop manifested itself in businesses like Ebay, Craigs List among others. The sharing comes in recognizing there often is available capacity or excess capacity sitting idle of cars, sofas in apartments, hotel rooms laying empty, workers with time on their hands, money underinvested, land available for gardeners. The internet enabled unlikely new configurations of commerce and entrepreneurship impossible to envision only a generation ago. Within this larger movement of the sharing economy coworking emerged.
     Botswan and Rogers identified how this movement began with the Spiral Muse Group in 2005 or so whose founding members who ranged from at home professionals, consultants and independent contractors, who realized they "yearned for some form of working community where they could cross-pollinate ideas face to face." Up until then they worked a nomadic existence in coffeehouses and libraries and other spaces but soon found those places wanting for meaningful interactions and places to work effectively. Thus coworking as defined in Wikipedia as "a style of work involving a shared working environment, sometimes an office, yet (with) independent activity." Coworkers often share values or sets of ideals energizing their individual work yet are transformed by "synergies" of unlike but motivated professionals working together, percolating ideas and challenges off of one another.
     Coworking spaces can be full off cooperative style intentional working communities to independent businesses run by entrepreneurs who seized the opportunity to develop alternative work settings catering to this new breed of independent tech savvy workers. They realized the most critical aspect of these kind of businesses was not the space or access to shared resources but fostering a true sense of community and connection between members. They are generally not for rent larger scale Office Suites like HQ Global Workplaces or business incubator type spaces as they tend to lack the community appeal of coworking spaces while having many of the same amenities, yet in a more corporate setting.
     For those unfamiliar with this trend over the last ten years it's really taken off with coworking spaces now all around the world in most major cities. Fast Company in May published a brief article called Brave New Coworking World where they wrote about the 5M project, a four acre campus with three initial tenants serving up a hybridized version of coworking with Hub SoMa (a more traditional coworking space), TechShop (a so called do it yourself workshop) and Intersection for the Arts (an arts incubator type space). As FC says this growing campus offers both traditional office features with non-traditional options for prototyping and small scale manufacturing of business ideas and products. A veritable dynamo of entrepreneurism and as the website says "radical collaboration". 

View of Office Squared Reception Area
View of Office Squared Open Work Area

Office Squared Open Area & Conference Room

     Returning back to Vermont, I visited and had multiple conversations with Jen Mincar, the owner of Office Squared. O2's storefront is sandwiched between tall mid-rise turn of the century buildings with a beautiful tree covered plaza in front for outdoor events. Jan said her business is growing like "gangbusters" providing an integral component to help grow Burlington's creative economy saying also her business constantly evolves to match the needs of her members.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Looking for a Green College? Princeton Review Releases the 2011 Guide to Green Colleges

2011 release announcement of Princeton Review's Guide to 311 Green Colleges from U.S. Green Building Council on Vimeo.

     This is really interesting!  I guess the Green Movement has really caught on and become mainstream if we're seeing a guide to green focused colleges and universities partly brought to us by our friends at USGBC.  So, if you and yours are looking for colleges to apply to with an environmental and socially responsible background this guide might be for you.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Community Energy Guidebook Released for Vermonters

     Earlier this month the Vermont Natural Resources Council released its long awaited Energy Planning Guidebook to help Vermont communities become more sustainable and energy independent.  Whether you live here or elsewhere but care about how your community evolves and fights climate change on a grass-roots level check out this manual and video to learn more.
     Whether involving weatherization, installing more insulation, air-sealing, replacing aging heating and cooling infrastructure in your public buildings, schools, churches and housing this information is a helpful starting point.  Many Vermont towns and cities have Energy Committees working independently of each other yet collaborating together to make a difference state-wide.  There's a statewide organization unifying all of the individual energy committees and large and small stakeholders called VECAN (VT Energy Climate Action Network.  It's an exciting group who has held numerous statewide conferences.
     This document is full of best practices culled for years of experience you and others in your community can learn from and extend forward! The guidebook covers why to do it in the first place, how to generally go about it, engaging the public in energy planning, organizing the plan, assessing community needs and opportunities among other areas.  It also shares the latest information about Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Development focusing on existing programs, planning for energy efficiency and adding renewable energy along with barriers impeding progress.
     Let me know what you think of the guidebook and if it is helpful to you and your community?

Ewaste 2011, Annual Freecycle Day helps Vermonters Rid Homes and Businesses of e-waste

     Where do you take that old analog TV or ancient five year old desktop computer hiding in your closet when its finally time for it to go?  In Vermont, we have the option to recycle them for free at the annual eWaste2011 event, this year held at National Life Group's Headquarters in Montpelier, the capitol city of Vermont.
     From 9am to 2pm long lines of cars carrying equipment to recycle queued up on the long entry road leading into the complex.  eWaste2011 was sponsored by Small Dog Electronics an Apple Specialist and National Life who donated the site.  Small Dog employees greeted drivers dropping off their goods ushering them along to the collection site.
     All of the eWaste was being collected and processed by WeRecycle in the U.S.  A small percentage of the ewaste will be salvaged intact and go on to a second life elsewhere.  The majority of the eWaste will be recycled to obtain elements such as tin, copper, silicon, beryllium, carbon, iron, aluminum to be reused.  These materials will make their way into new electronics of various kinds while staying out of landfills and posing an environmental hazard for generations to come.
     As a consumer I can't tell you how joyful it feels to rid our home of junk like this collecting dust in closets, drawers and corners of our garage.  Lightening our load while returning our eWaste back to usefullness leaves a smile on our faces.

     My wife and I wondered aloud as we drove through the line waiting to unload our materials at all of the expensive yet obsolete electronics like this pallet of TVs.  We saw possibly six to eight tractor trailers waiting for loading and thought of all the money this equipment cost at time of original purchase.  What was here was likely in the hundreds of thousands of dollar range but no longer of value to users.
     Recently I've been reading a very interesting book What's Mine is Yours, the Rise of Collaborative Consumption by Roo Rogers and Rachel Botswan which takes this to task.  You've seen my earlier post sharing Rachel's inspiring Ted Talk.  What we're doing here at the eWaste freecycle event is shifting from a  "me to we" world which is something we more typically environmentally inspired Vermonters often do anyway.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Largest Deep Energy Retrofit in the U.S. Underway - Castle Square Apartments

     I recently wrote about the Promise of Deep Energy Retrofits a few posts ago. Well today, I want to share some news about Castle Square Apartments, an existing 1960’s 192 unit mid-rise tower as part of an overall 500 unit low income housing project located in Boston’s South End, is an example of this growing trend.
US HUD Secretary Donovan is to far right of photo
Mass. Governor Menino is in the middle and congressman
Michael Capuano with glasses is in the back,  
    Today, Castle Square Apartments welcomed Shaun Donovan, U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Thomas M. Menino, Mayor of Boston and Congressman Capuano who toured the project to learn more about the nation's "largest and most aggressive energy savings project of its kind".  The joined members of the Castle Square Tenants Organization and WinnCompanies the co-developers and owners of this project.   They came to see for themselves the largest example yet of a Deep Energy Retrofit just beginning construction, an important foundation of a broad based strategy to fight climate change and achieve further energy independence.  It's also a great example of the Green Jobs movement in action.
After picture of Castle Square Apartments
    In a well-attended press conference, the visiting guests shared how they supported the work at Castle Square Apartments.  Secretary Donovan said, "We're proud to be a partner in delivering $6.7 million in funding to this project through our Recovery Act Green Retrofit Program that is creating hundreds of jobs and setting the standard for energy retrofits around the country.  By helping make this development more energy efficient we are also improving the quality of life for the hundreds of families who live here."
    Congressman Capuano said he "...appreciate(s) the oppourtunity to see firsthand how the Castle Square Apartments are being renovated with a specific focus on achieving energy savings. Federal stimulus money is being used to partially fund this project, which is creating jobs and improving the quality of life for tenants."
     Mayor Menino, reinforced how the project positively impacted the surrounding community by saying how it "...will create jobs for local workers, preserve 500 units of affordable housing for current and future working families of Boston, and its green design will contribute to the overall health of our City."  He went on further saying "Thanks to local residents and HUD for the collaboration and commitment to preserving Castle Square as a welcoming home for all who live here now and in the future."
    By reusing the existing housing complex and conducting a deep energy retrofit while part of an overall renovation of the apartment building, Castle Square sets a visionary example for others to learn from. With a goal to cut energy use by 72%, the project will take a deep bite out of it energy bill while dramatically reducing its carbon footprint. It also shows how non-profit organizations can continue to keep their missions viable to provide low-cost affordable housing far into the future, even with aging infrastructure.
Before picture of Castle Square Apartments
    Castle Square is the largest such project (the mid-rise tower portion) currently under construction in the U.S. at least for now. (I see this only as a good thing) The 1960’s era Byron Rogers Federal Office building in Denver by The Rocky Mountain Institute as part of its RetroFit program will likely be the largest but its a ways out for its construction. High profile examples of retrofits such as the Empire State Building while certainly an ambitious success story, with a projected 38% energy use reduction does not meet this more aggressive criteria.   
    A deep energy retrofit is broadly defined as a renovation of building producing at least 50% to as high as over 70% energy savings over existing code compliant buildings.  By heavily upgrading the building enclosure with super-insulation, high performance windows, lighting, advanced building systems and controls energy use as compared to typical buildings can be dramatically reduced.  Such efforts provide positive financial returns and savings over the long run.  Here in the U.S. existing buildings account for 40 percent(%) of the nation’s energy use and 38% if the carbon dioxide emissions. Thus we have a huge challenge before us.
        What Castle Square faced when beginning a renovation process a few years ago is what many face today around the country. Surging energy costs of almost 40% from a year ago clarifies the need to make real strides in energy efficiency to weather unpredictable ongoing operational costs not only for the next heating season but those over the next decade and beyond. Non-profits as well as colleges and universities face tough choices when facing potential renovations.  Deep Energy Retrofits offer a great strategy helping ensure ongoing viability, future affordability and predictability in energy costs.  
    But they require a commitment to integrated design process and deeper sustainability goals than typical projects which produce 30 to 40% energy savings as compared to base code case buildings.  Yesterday's "high performance buildings" getting to this level weren't necessarily short-sighted, they set the standard for their time but its time to turn up the volume on performance.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A Sacred Place in the Well of Imagination

This sketch I share happened when I was thinking alot about sacred places and spaces after I traveled to Jerusalem during the Summer of 1994.  I visited many spaces there which felt like this and somehow it resonates still after all of these years.  Perhaps its the cupping shape of the dome overhead which embraces or its proportion width to height.  I don't know.  But intuitively it feels like a space for contemplation....

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Net Zero House Watercolor Sketch, Work on the boards

I've been working on a house for a friend over the last half year.  Here's a recent watercolor sketch snippet of it.  You can find more at about the specifics of the house, its conception and design.  Here let's focus on the watercolor sketch.

The 3-d perspective massing was built from a basic model from Bensonwood Homes who is collaborating with the owner and I on the project. They built it from the 2-d drawings I had created in AutoCADLT.  I imported it into Sketchup where I used it as an underlay with shade and shadow.   I created a pencil sketch where I embellished the finished materials such as siding, windows, heavy wood timber framing followed by landscaping around the building showing how it fits generally to the site.  The building is partially about how it is sited in a clearing on gentle mountain ridge with great views to the West.

Part of the fun of this kind of presentation sketch is creating a sense of a heart and soul for the project through the act of rapidly synthesizing by hand site plan information, building orientation, traditional architectural drawing info.  This a avoids excessive computer modeling time noodling around with plantings, topography and contours, model lighting within the computer.  For me its also about bringing the design idea, in this case a home, to life through the hybrid actions of 3d modeling, hand-drawing and watercolor painting.

After creating the watercolor, then comes scanning the image into Photoshop and adjusting the scan to match the liveliness of the watercolor work on paper.  I do this by manipulating contrast and tonality.  You can also touch up the image with color fills which I didn't do to help with shade and shadow.  Once you've scanned the image into the proverbial "box" there's lots you still do.  ....Or not which is the case here.

I'll be creating additional watercolor rendering images in the coming weeks of this project and sharing some of the backstory here.  What do you think about this drawing though?  Any suggestions on areas to improve?  Other techniques I should try?  Tell me about your favorite architectural illustration and why it was successuful...or not so favorite.  What do you think about this composition?  Does it convey the idea I was hoping for?  Don't be shy.  I want to continue to learn and cultivate these abilities and compositional strategies.

Friday, May 6, 2011

The Promise of Deep Energy Retrofits

As an architect and designer I'm very interested in cultivating my knowledge of choices or strategies I can call upon in projects of various scales and types.  As we are collectively aging in place so are our commercial buildings, our schools, homes and service buildings.  In 2011 we face yet another spiking and upward trending in energy costs which increasingly drive up the operational costs of our buildings.  We look at our building energy bills each month, how much we're spending at the gas pumps and utter gasps of disbelief.

As the cost of gas goes up so to does Milk and on and on.

Those of you who run aging office building, schools, apartment buildings, college campuses, technology parks and manufacturing facilities with high energy costs and a longer view likely wonder how you're going to afford next year's fuel costs. Do you pass on the higher operating costs to customers? Or absorb these costs and seek to balance it elsewhere?

Will you defer yet again routine maintenance, any kind of capital building projects, or cut salaries or defer raises to staff to loosen up funds to pay for future unpredictable energy costs?  Well, you've likely already have been doing that with diminishing returns each time.

Many of you may not have the choice to look for a new building site in your community and build a much better more predictably performing building to insulate your business from escalating energy costs over the long term.  So what really are your options when really you only have one, live with your existing building and make the best of it.  Can that be good enough?  Seems like a sinking ship doesn't it?  

How long can you pass on those costs in the form of higher rents to your tenants until they decide to leave?  Or conversely, how can you attract and retain them when they ask you what your energy bills are, their eyes glaze over and they leave quickly?  What if you could cut your energy use by at least 50% or beyond 75%?  How would this effect your business planning, pricing and overall success of your business?  Now you could actually focus on what you do best, run your business and operations focusing on your business and planning goals not finding ways month to month to stem unpredictably changing energy costs.

Over the last few years the concept of Deep Energy Retrofits (DER) have stirred up media attention and grabbed headlines.  While deep energy retrofits defy definition they represent a promising way of redeveloping existing building infrastructure we can all benefit from learning more about.  

While the experts have differing opinions on definitions, generally they involve the substantial re-use and renovation of an existing building shell with significant investments in high levels of insulation or super-insulation, very efficient heating and cooling systems, higher performing windows and energy efficient lighting with controls.   The energy savings can run from 50% to over 75% over typical bad or baseline comparative buildings, the so-called "base case" code compliant building.  

Deep energy retrofits do something really special and low-impact environmentally.  Instead of building a new building you reuse in place an existing structure substantially reducing the project's global warming potential and cost picture in general.  A large cost center for any construction project is its structure, frame,  prep and final site work and central energy plant.   By not building the hard stuff there is cost avoidance and impacts elsewhere.  Some easy to measure some not so easy.  

Yes it is more complex to renovate often times requiring working with tenants and building occupants who remain in place during construction but ultimately I think it requires less resources and  money and by not building new outside of city centers and neighborhoods it helps keep communities together.

You may have read about the US Green Building Council's LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design ) system and wonder how it relates to Deep Energy Retrofits.  Well it does and it doesn't.  In the case of existing buildings (EB) , it can be very helpful as a tool to help guide the process and get everyone on the team on board sharing common goals along with the accountability which comes with meeting its requirements on down from the owner, design team, contractor and sub-contractor.  Plus, many municipalities, state governments and the federal government require following it to at least some level of certification.  Whether or not you go through with the LEED system, its very helpful to use the LEED checklists in the design process to structure thinking about the integrated design strategies and best practices to follow in your your project.  

But there is a bigger conversation.

It's about the values of your project and how you ensure energy cost predictability for your operations and ultimately the sustainability of your business model or enterprise.  This is where the Deep Energy Retrofit concept comes in handy for your existing building stock.  By spending a bit more now and thinking of your construction costs today as investments in a better more stable tomorrow you can transform the conversation away from first costs trumping everything else, kicking the "ball" down the field for the next generation to deal with.

Imagine telling your board of directors you only have to fund raise today for the building and its systems when its operational costs are slated to be really low in the future.  Fundraising for ongoing operations might become a thing of the past and instead can be refocused on supporting your key organizational missions, salaries and other benefits.  Perhaps this is overly simplistic but I enjoy thinking about this aspect.  Who wants to raise money year after year to pay for escalating fuel costs and mistaken short-sightedness in not going ahead with a high performing building while saving money today?

In the coming weeks, I'll be writing about some exciting Deep Energy Retrofit projects and initiatives I've been learning about putting these concepts into action.  It's critical we expand our thinking and strategies to fight global warming increasingly lack of cohesion in our existing communities.  Building new isn't always the answer.  Renewing and rebuilding certainly can be a vital part of it though.