Thursday, June 30, 2011

Cycle of Creation - Framing the View

Today I burned an early painting done my freshman year in College under the tutelage of professor Frank Hewitt, a noted Vermont painter who inspired me during my years at UVM where I majored in Studio Art. It's cleansing to let go of old artwork, watching it burn in a fire seeing paint strokes disappear. 

Reflecting back while watching canvas curl I remembered a time of exploration of new ideas, new friends, of learning about color, form, shape coalescing about a point of view, a framework of thinking.  Whatever the media it always seemed then to be about how to frame a viewpoint while listening to the medium speak at the same time.  

Whether painting, drawing, sculpture or later in the last fifteen or twenty years, architecture and designing environments for many people, this framework and point of view has remained critical.  It's inspirational actually watching an old painting perish in the flames knowing in my heart a new one is soon to be born with a new story to tell.  

It speaks to the cycle of creativity we all experience in our lives where endings are always beginnings.  It's not easy to always see and understand but it's a fundamental part of our existence.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Concerned about social media and technology? Maybe a good idea.

What often is missing in diving into social media activities is 'actually thinking' about what we're doing and reflecting on what our values are and why we're using these services/ tools etc.  

How is doing what we do in this space helping out at home, at work and within our community, in the grandstands watching your kids play sports?  Are you better for it? Are you sure?  Really! Just because you can use it doesn't mean you should!  That's a great phrase to take to heart especially if you haven't actually thought about why you're using these tools.

William Buist at the Societal Web posted about this issue and raised some very interesting points. As he says social media  gives us new and heretofore unforseen ways to communicate with each other, and its problematic.  Just because we can "update our status" while at a meeting, or "text friends or have long drawn out phone calls" while at our sons and daughters ball games is this multi-tasking positive behavior? The technology allows us to do this but should we do this?  

I know this dates me, but my dad and mom (pre cell phone days) actually watched me and participated in my games, or helped out coaching.  Now I do the same and watch all kinds of parents, older sisters and brothers and younger work their "smart" devices at the game. Their bodies stand facing the play but they're  far away, disconnected from the visceral present.  If this is the "positive example" my generation of parents  is truly capable of I'm thinking this isn't so good.  

Recently I plucked one such parent off of his phone he'd been wearing by the side of his face for the past five games and asked him to be a third base coach for a few innings while I umped.  The guy was super animated and really involved with his kid for the first time I remember all season.  I learned this guy has so much too offer the kids, the team and our community.  But he sits back and uses his "smart phone".  I know its tranquilizing, almost narcotic in its influence.  I want an Ipad too!  But I'm going to wait until I get my head around this issue more clearly.

And now that we're so deep into this how do sensibly tame this addictive behavior?  Or does it (meaning social media) control us, especially if we don't take the time now and again to think about it critically?  Often, we're missing the fact we can have a face to face conversation, or a phone call rather than Tweeting about something to someone or Facebooking it.  Or doing another LinkedIn update.

Why not go to someone's house and have dinner and connect..?  Or taking a walk with someone and talking.  You can't easily do a Goto meeting session or AppleFace Time while walking can you?  It's hard to do two things at once?  But yet we's exhausting to multi-task.

Part of this is temptation of the new and the cool.  It's the joyful exuberance of using our new tools, the smartphones, tablets du Jour, the apps and buying into the "lifestyle" choices being shown us in the advertising we see where ever the media source.  However, there's relatively few voices stating "let's think about this" and examine what we're doing collectively etc. leading to setting up a goals and values discussion and learning how to recognize what's missing in these new interactions.

What kinds communities are we really building, families, teams etc. when social media seems to an important aspect holding everything together?  Caring about this is important to our communal well-being.  What do you think?  How is social media impacting your life?  Think back five or ten years ago, how much time were you spending talking face to face to people versus today?  What would happen if your smart phone disappeared for two weeks? Or your iPAD?  Would it change your life for the better? Or the worse?

Remember, just because you can use the latest and greatest tech gadgets and software services doesn't mean you should.  Take a moment to think about it every once in a while.  Talk it over with  your family, your coworkers etc.  You'll find there will be lots to discuss.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Mindmapping Vermont's Energy Planning, a Beginning

Brainstorming Vermont's Energy Planning c.Steve Frey 2011
I missed the VT Energy Plan June 1st workshop and information gathering session held at National Life last week. So I thought I'd contribute a mind map or visual brainstorm of my recent thoughts about the planning effort and areas of focus I see as important to ensuring a sustainable and bright future for generations to come.  Check out a link to Renewable Energy Vermont's recent interview on VPR for other perspectives.  

So often in our overwhelming information overloaded world it's helpful to find ways to distill the issues quickly.  Visual thinking offers a quick pictorial way to lay it all out there and show connections and relationships not easy to make easily in writing or speaking.  Thus I offer these two brainstorming sketches which while inherently incomplete offer a "take" on the issues and opportunities before us in our great state.

We have precious natural resources here in Vermont with first and foremost the bright passionate and well educated people in Vermont.  I wonder if there's a way to crowd source feedback to the public service board in parallel to helpful meetings being held across the state?  By using Twitter and LinkedIn and other social media sites perhaps we can collect together perspectives and ideas not easily obtained otherwise.  Last night on Twitter I started a hashtage called #vermontenergyplan to help track the conversation.  I also used the hashtag #vermont as well.  Put either of these tags into Twitter's search function and you will see this growing conversation!

By tackling this effort with an integrated and systematic planning, public and private partnerships and ultimately actions we take, we can build a more sustainable visionary Vermont. 

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Designing for Acoustics in a CoWorking Space or Other Open Work Areas

A recent workspace with carpet tiles, offices with sidelights
and transoms.  (Located at AllEarth Renewables)
Recently I responded to a question of the Google CoWorking Group about ways to more effectively design for acoustics yet engage the sense of community CoWorking is known for.

How can such spaces meet the needs for louder members who often talk on the phone yet still create an inclusive, collaborative work community space?  Often CoWorking spaces have open work areas with members working side by side on rolling large tables like the libraries at Colleges of yesteryear.  Working out in the open, while extremely social and collaborative can have its challenges especially if you need to make an extended phone call or someone nearby does.  

One common solution is behavioral, people talk more softly and respectfully or they take the call outside to a porch or outside area.  Sometimes taking the call in a nearby office or conference room also works.  But what if you would like to stay sitting at your work area and talk more loudly or can't move your materials so easily?  It's kind of a pain to schlep binders or papers outside if you need to refer to them etc.

So here's a few design strategies which can apply also to open work areas in more traditional office settings.  Some are fairly simple, others are more complicated and have some cost.  However if you abide by the maxim of you get what you pay for that's a good place to start.  Building awareness of using reflective and sound absorptive materials and space planning strategies is a good place to start.  Generally, consider doing a combination of solutions and trying out different ideas, "tuning" you space over time.

Wall Hanging by Joyce DiCianna, HR Manager at
AllEarth Renewables, Furniture by Pompanoosac
Mills. (AllEarth Renewables)
  • Selecting a Good Space: To promote the openness and interactivity found in collaborative environments such as CoWorking Space look for spaces to rent or buildings to buy with a fairly simple building shell hopefully with fairly high ceilings and access to daylight, parking, bus-lines, rail lines and access to the internet.  Former street front level retail spaces are often good locations having these characteristics. (Concerned about carbon footprint and sustainability issues? Then select a location easy to bike, walk, take a bus or train to.  It's counter intuitive to some, but highly dense urban areas are highly resource efficient and effective with more inhabitants per acre than more rural areas. Finding a LEED certified building is even better, but more on that another time.)   
  • Sound Deadening Floor Coverings: If you have highly reflective floor surfaces such as concrete, wood floors or floor tiles consider installing carpet squares or area rugs in open office / common work areas.  There are a number of manufacturer's such as Interface Flor, Mannington, Shaw Contract Group, Tandus to name a few who have solutions which can help treat lively areas with floor coverings.  The fibers in carpeting and carpet squares and resilient backing helping cut down sound.  These same manufacturer's all offer various kinds of eco friendly lines, recycling and financing programs attractive to owners.
  • Ceiling Treatments, Sound Clouds, Wall Panels: Another strategy is installing acoustical ceiling treatments like hanging sound clouds over work areas.  A simple version of this is installing higher performance ceiling tile from companies such as CertainTeed, Armstrong and USG to name a few.  You can use 2x2 or 2x4 or more unique tiles encased in decorative metal trim creating distinct "visual islands" and focal points within a large open spaces.  Combined the sound deadening qualities of tiles with attractive linear pendant up and down lighting zones and you can create attractive open work areas.  You can also install Tectum or other similar another sound absorbing product directly to ceilings or the underside of floor pans or on walls.  If sustainability concerns such as recycled content, sourcing and indoor air quality are strongly desired work with your architect or interior designer to select choices which provide acoustical performance while balancing these concerns.  Wall-hangings such as quilts can serve as focal points visually but also provide acoustical relief in targeted areas. 
  • Gradation of Walled Meeting, Teaming and Individualized Work areas: By providing a variety of larger to small closed walled work areas your CoWorking or open areas can integrate both the lively collaborative open areas and "away" spaces into your space.  Doing so you can build spaces suitable for small 2-3 person meetings, larger team meetings rooms for 5-12 and smaller highly focused head down quiet spaces.  To maximize the investment install sound insulation batts and run the walls all the way up to the underside of the floor or roof deck with foam insulation at the joint to limit sound transmission between spaces.  To create a sense of inclusiveness between  nearby by open work spaces install large glass sidelights next to doors into these rooms as well as consider transom windows to allow borrowed daylight in and reduce lighting usage.
  • Varying Ceiling and Wall Surface Angles:  In addition to the other strategies, you can further control unwanted echoes and noise communication by varying the reflective or hard surfaces of drywall partitions, suspended ceiling elements, wall panels.  Your designer can subtly design these moves into your space without incurring significant added construction cost. Adding this strategy to the design palette also can enhance your space's uniqueness as compared to more standard tenant-fitup approaches.
  • Avoid placing of Curved Surfaces in Key Spaces: If you want concave curved surfaces as part of the interior architecture locate the center of the arc or curve element outside of the space.  Doing this will ensure your space will not echo in these curving areas.  Echoing spaces are not great to work in.  That's why round or cylindrical interior spaces while attractive aren't necessarily great acoustically without attending to locating their center points outside of the space.
Hope this helps!  Remember, work with a seasoned architect or interior designer when designing your spaces.  Their involvement can be merely advisory with limited drawings and at a lower cost to full design services taking these and other issues into account to create the high value high performing workplace.  But they can help you look at the big picture of all these moving parts.  To optimize collaborative CoWorking style spaces or other similar open work areas think holistically about using combination of design strategies like the ones above to create more enjoyable and productive work spaces. 

Contact me if you need further advice or have other questions.


Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Stinkin Tree Watercolor Studies

Early studies 1 & 2
About two months ago before the leaves arrived I spent alot of time
painting tree compositions.  So much so my two boys soon grew tired of the subject matter.  They called them "My Stinkin' Trees"  thus the name for this series of which I show a few here.

Wherever I looked I saw intriguing possibilities to study figure ground, the upward sweep of tree branches yearning for the sun's warmth.  Last year I spent a great deal of time sketching tiny pencil drawings in my Moleskin sketchbook which percolated for almost a year until one I needed to explore what I was walking by everyday and taking pictures of with my camera.  Call it an obsession or call it looking closely and learning to love what surrounds us.

Thus began a number of watercolor interpretations of natural and arranged scenes from the woods out behind our house to traveling on snow covered back roads in the hills around Montpelier.  I studied various color combinations with this work, along with gradations and various techniques involving intermingling of more sedimentary colors such as burnt sienna or prussian blue with transparent ones like cobalt blue for example.  Click on the individual images and zoom in to see what I mean.

Blue Yellow Study
Each image was a meditative experience for me providing a medium by which I could relax in the evening when the kids had gone to bed or on the weekend during calmer times.  There's nothing more joyful than participating in the interaction of water + color on paper and reveling in  how each image is it's own unique experience while resonating to over arching exploration of branches, figural space and implied shapes battling with abstraction.

The green blue study reads more abstractly as a series of lines or tree trunks cleared branches which were well overhead as these were larger more mature growth with more expansive trunks.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy these.  More will follow from this series soon!
Green blue study