Sunday, April 15, 2012

Small Steps to an Energy Independent World, Montpelier's Electric Vehicle Charging Station

All-Electric Vehicle Charging Station in Montpelier, VT
     Yesterday while downtown in Montpelier, I walked behind City Hall and literally ran into something I've never seen before and which given April 22nd and Earth Day is just around the corner it's definitely worth sharing. It's also just another reason why I think Montpelier is the best place to live in Vermont. We do stuff.  Seriously good stuff.  
     In February, the City and Green Mountain Power teamed up to install a free solar powered electric vehicle charging station behind city hall.  It's the third one for GMP so far, with one installed in South Burlington and Colchester.  Last week I pumped over $4.00/ gallon gas into my cars for the second time in my life, the last being in 2008.  I read yesterday how hybrids and all electric vehicles had there best month ever in the Burlington Free Press and here as described in the March 2012 Hybrid Dashboard.  I believe it.  While the current percentage of the total vehicle sales pie is small at 3.5% or so it's a rapidly growing segment of the market fed by high prices at the gas pumps.  

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Sound and Light Sketch, Biophilia and Birds Calling

     This morning walking our five month old puppy I stopped for a minute or two recording the sounds and images of beautiful pond which is part of Montpelier, Vermont's North Branch Nature Center preserve area.  While I'm not a birder and a wildlife ecologist I do appreciate the sounds and sights of nature.   This is another part of bringing nature near to you who are far away from it.  And for those of you viewing this from other parts of the world, climates etc., this might just be a treat!

Biophilia and Nature Near, The Sounds and Sight of a Stream

     I share this video made recently while walking the hills around Montpelier with our new puppy and family members.  This is for those of you near and far who appreciate the sounds of nature and especially this one of spring time in Vermont.  I believe in the importance of embracing nature in design, especially well defined by the word biophilia. 
     Championed by noted biologist E.O. Wilson, it means "an innate and genetically determined affinity of human beings with the natural world." Oxford Online Dictionary.  Too often natural elements such as the sounds of water, the oxygenated aroma's of plant and the texture of river stones, other natural materials are absent from our daily experience inside our homes, workplaces, where we shop and worship.  
     Much of my work as an architect and workplace designer involves bringing the natural back into the everyday experience inside.  What better antidote to the cacophony of cell phones, sirens, sounds of everyday cosmopolitan life than soothing sounds of water, smells of plants and textures of materials. Where possible I believe it intrinsically valuable to creating a sense of well being to include water features and ample  plantings into interior environments.  So many of us spend the majority of our lives inside these days working long weeks whether at the office or as mobile untethered workers at home, coworking spaces, libraries, coffee houses etc.  
     Smart business people who want to create welcoming environments for work, play, shopping, learning, worship would do well to bring nature near. 

Friday, April 6, 2012

An Open Letter to Google's Project Glass and Google [x]

Prototype Headwear via Google's Project Glass

Dear Project Glass and Google [x];

     This is very interesting but be prepared for unintended consequences in regards to our day to day experience with the glass wear computing technology.  It's already difficult to talk with people gazing into their smart phones, tablets, iPads etc. and carry on a focused conversation of any kind.  With such heads up glass displays imagine talking with someone who has one?  I would only think this would be more distracting.  Even if they're there in front of you are they really "There"? Maybe halfway there?  Or just kinda "There".
     I can imagine someone asking a question in the live and the answer popping up on the screen in front of someone's eyes.  Or they ask it out loud to the "device" they're wearing in mid conversation and then they "know it" with out really "thinking" and using their own experience any more or for that matter "understanding" the content.
     We're  just stepping that much closer to being intelligent machines rather and moving away from our humanness.  Our intrinsic value at that point lies in the questions we can ask and be able to critically think and reflect about and use the information before us on the heads up screen. It's a slippery slope where being clear about why and how this technology can better humankind trumps developing the cool next killer intelligent eye wear.
     Project Glass please take care and focus on answering these larger questions and show us by your field research how these glasses can help further our abilities to communicate and understand one another, solve tough world problems such war, poverty, famine, climate change etc...
     A next step is implanting chips into our heads where we just "think" our questions, answers and impulses with our minds. And then at that point we have truly crossed a line into being adaptive human machines.  Talking could become more optional.
     That said, with all of these caveats your developments are exciting but please take care and think this through completely as you can before releasing it on to our world.  If you need help tackling these difficult questions feel free to seek me out.  It's really important stuff.

Thanks, Steve

Thursday, April 5, 2012

A Leverage Point, An Overflowing Park & Ride

     A few weeks ago I happened upon an overflowing Park & Ride lot just off of Exit 11 into Richmond, Vermont.  I haven't seen this ever in Vermont.  Perhaps it's a sign of the times.  Everywhere in the US costs at the pump distress drivers and as indicated here  at the Park & Ride dramatically shifting behaviors.
     We are at another leverage point where economic pressures are shifting consumers and businesses to  action towards more energy efficient and conserving practices.  Given the turbulence in the energy market, unpredictable prices at the pump can and fuel truck aren't we better off seeking more predictability in operating our homes, offices, schools, public buildings and the buildings where we shop?  We can't afford not to.  
     As an architect I know how helpful to homeowner's bottom line it is to consider weatherizing existing homes with better air-sealing, additional insulation and retrofitting windows with higher performing ones while updating heating and cooling systems and appliances to more energy efficient models.  There are numerous federal  and state tax incentives renewables and efficiency homeowners and businesses can apply for to soften the costs of taking these steps.  There's also incentives to moving to renewable energy sources for homes and businesses, you can learn more here by clicking on this link to Renewable Energy Vermont's website.
     Living in Vermont you can't miss the impact of Efficiency Vermont and its many programs assisting Vermonter's in large and small ways.  Whether it's helping subsidize the cost of purchasing compact florescent light bulbs at local hardware stores, providing information on weatherization contractors or best practices on green building and energy efficiency this statewide organization is an invaluable resource.  Vermonter's through the assistance of this program and others around the state, have lowered overall electrical usage and demand as compared to ten years ago.  Vermonter's by our nature are early adopters in green and sustainability strategies.  We're known for it.
     Over the last ten or so years Vermont building and general contractors along with architects and engineers have developed expertise in best practices in green and sustainable building from the very small scale home renovation to campus wide construction.  Green design is mainstream design now.  To soften the blow to your monthly finances and ensure greater predictability in managing your household and business in the coming years it pays to consider taking steps now.  You can find architects through AIA Vermont's online Architect directory.  Check out Efficiency Vermont's link to it's Better Buildings by Design Conference Website award winners by year.  It's a great way to find building professionals who are practicing state of the art energy efficient design whether residential or commercial scale.