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by Peg MacDonald, VIA Architecture

In Alec Applebaum’s apt Op-Ed column in the New York Times for the opening of 1 Bryant Park, the first LEED Platinum office tower in the US, he warns:

“But while the [LEED] standard is well-intentioned, it is also greatly misunderstood. Put simply, a building’s LEED rating is more like a snapshot taken at its opening, not a promise of performance. Unless local, state and federal agencies do their part to ensure long-term compliance with the program’s ideals, it could end up putting a shiny green stamp on a generation of unsustainable buildings.”

This really isn’t news. (Same paper, last August.)

It is encouraging, however, to see a growing chorus in mainstream media calling for more demanding standards and continual monitoring of our built environment. Energy usage is probably among the easiest data to collect, but there’s so much more that I, as an architect, want to know.

At a recent seminar about an ongoing study of energy usage in multi-unit high-rise buildings, the presenter tossed out an anecdote about a Vancouver-area resident who had to move her bed into the hall during the summer to find relief from the heat. This is a horrifying proposition – that a resident, probably an owner who had invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in her home, found that space seasonally unbearable – even in Vancouver’s mild summer – to live in.

This story raises all kinds of …

Who are you and what do you do? My name is Krystal and I am a junior designer straddling the VIA worlds of architecture and urban design.

What made you decide to go into your field? I used to draw the floor plans for my dream houses when I was a kid… some of them were even dimensioned (albeit arbitrarily and probably without a lot of math behind it). In high school I took technical drafting classes and attended art school for half the day. As it turns out I was obsessed with urbanism and the built environment as a subject and incorporated it into most of the work that I did in ceramics, photography, painting, drawing and sculpture. Everything from Skylines, buildings, bridges, windows, and streets all made their way into my creations. I was really excited when I made my decision to help create cities.

What did your family think of your chosen field? They were pretty happy about my decision, not happy about the cost of my decision.

Who is the teacher who had the most influence on you and why? Aristotelis Demitrikopolis (that is not a made up name). He was my 3rd year studio professor who insisted that the Greeks pretty much invented everything including architecture, civilization, outer space, telephones, pc computers, pencils etc. He was really hard on everyone, but he taught me the importance of designing in context and I had a major breakthrough in understanding scale in his class. Our project was to create an office building …

Thoreau’s Coffin

Jun 02, 2010

by Craig Hollow, VIA Architecture

“Formerly, when how to get my living honestly, with freedom left for my proper pursuits, was a question which vexed me even more than it does now, for unfortunately I am become somewhat callous, I used to see a large box by the railroad, six feet long by three wide, in which the laborers locked up their tools at night; and it suggested to me that every man who was hard pushed might get such a one for a dollar, and, having bored a few auger holes in it, to admit the air at least, get into it when it rained and at night, and hook down the lid, and so have freedom in his love, and in his soul be free.

This did not appear the worst, nor by any means a despicable alternative. You could sit up as late as you pleased, and, whenever you got up, go abroad without any landlord or house-lord dogging you for rent. Many a man is harassed to death to pay the rent of a larger and more luxurious box who would not have frozen to death in such a box as this. I am far from jesting.”

-Henry David Thoreau

Last week, at a dinner party with a group of the most dedicated proponents of density I know, I took an informal survey of how many of us actually live in multifamily housing. Out of eight hardnosed urbanists, I was the only one who could claim the righteous mantle …

Friday Feature: David

May 28, 2010

Who are you and what do you do? My name is David Sachs and I am an architect from the United States currently working in Vancouver and I play an architect on TV (VIA TV). I have worked on a variety of project types over the past 12 years making me a bit of a generalist for better or worse and have deliberately avoided specialization.

Did you always want to be in this field or did you have other career aspirations growing up?I built my first basswood house at age 6. At age 8 I helped my father draw elevations for his architecture school thesis. He used all of my blue lego pieces to build his site model. I wanted to be an architect. By early high school I thought it better to be a politician or psychologist. By end of high school I entered a design competition for a kindergarten and did well. I wanted to be an architect again…

What made you decide to go into your field?Some people say ‘to be like my father’…in truth is was because I loved legos…

Who is the teacher who had the most influence on you and why? Tony Schuman, my 3rd year studio professor. He exposed me to housing and responsible ‘pedestrian scale’ design. We designed an Olympic Village in the New Jersey Meadowlands… it had to convert to market rate housing after the Olympics through a combination of townhouse, multi-family and mixed use …

by Catherine Calvert, Director of Community Sustainability

There has been an overwhelming amount of interesting writing recently around the topic of integrating food production back into our urban and regional awareness, and therefore our land use. This has taken many names and forms, among them Urban Farming, Community Gardening, Urban Agriculture, Agricultural Urbanism, Agriburbia, Agritopia … and related ideas such as farmland preservation, food security, the local food movement, community-supported agriculture, relocalization and many, many others.

One of the champions of Agricultural Urbanism has been New Urbanist leader Andres Duany, who has led the planning of numerous North American communities that seek to re-establish traditional village land use patterns that are based on integrated physical relationships between residential areas and surrounding rural lands. However in a recent presentation at the 18th Annual Congress for the New Urbanism in Toronto, he went beyond this concept into the new, more radical idea of Agrarian Urbanism, or the concept of a society concerned with the growing of food (0). This goes beyond the concept of land use into the idea of actual engagement of residents with their food production.

Attending the same event was James Kunstler: ”Among other things, the most forward-looking leaders in the New Urbanist movement now recognize that we have to reorganize the landscape for local food production, because industrial agriculture will be one of the prime victims of our oil predicament. The successful places in the future will be places that have a meaningful relationship with growing food close …

Monday News Update

May 24, 2010

Every Monday, we post links to articles and blogs that you may have missed from last week. Enjoy!

Reinventing the bus stop (Fast Company)Teague’s Traffic 2.0 makes transit more friendly

People for urban progress (Urbanophile)A new feature that will periodically profile great examples of positive urban change coming from the new grass roots.

Bike to work month – how to survive Seattle’s hills (Crosscut)Thousands of commuters are taking the cycling challenge for Friday’s Bike to Work Day, and in hilly Puget Sound, a roller-coaster route is virtually inevitable.

Institute for Market Transformation “Resources to the latest on energy efficiency financing, green buildings and codes under a changing energy regime”

Office composting service in Vancouver (Vancouver Sun)Growing City leaves a lined plastic bin in your office and each week picks up the accumulation of coffee grounds, egg shells, fruit peels, bread crusts, paper towels, paper plates and uneaten carrot sticks, and has it composted.

Walk, Bike, Ride – the economic case (Publicola)Growth of walkable neighborhoods in cities and suburbs can play a similar role in the decades to come, sparking growth in the broader economy—but only if we start preparing today.

Paper or Plastic? The answer is neither (NYTimes)Some area cities are now considering bans on paper and plastic carry-out bags.

Backyard gardens grow cash in lean times (LA Times)Green-thumb entrepreneurs turn a grocery list of items they can grow, hunt or collect themselves into extra cash.

Mandatory bike parking in North Vancouver (BC Local News)At a public …

If any of you have been following the blog for a little while, you’ll remember a feature that MTV’s Get Schooled did on our principal, Alan Hart back in November called “What it Takes to Become an Architect.” We’re entering a busy time of year for our staff, and so it gets harder for them to find time to write thoughtful pieces. As a result, we’re going to start something called a Friday Feature where we highlight different staff at our firm (and possibly outside of the firm) and look at what it took for them to become an architect or a planner.

To kick it off, we’re going to repost Alan’s feature (which gives us some time to get features from our other staff ready):

Alan Hart, architect and co-founder of VIA Architecture, talks to Get Schooled about what it takes to be part of a great team and how he’s trying to make Vancouver and Seattle better places to live.

GS: What was the biggest hurdle you faced along your educational path?AH: For me, the biggest hurdle in becoming an architect was believing that I could really become one.

In my junior year in high school, I didn’t know what I wanted to do as a profession. My dad suggested that I had the artistic eye and creative mind necessary to pursue becoming an architect. I thought that it was a great idea, but had no idea what that involved.

The career …

Monday News Roundup

May 17, 2010

… and we’re back to our regular schedule!

You Are So Wrong, Frank Gehry! (Metropolis Mag)The blogosphere is buzzing with Frank Gehry’s derogatory remarks about green design. In a recent public interview, the starchitect summarily dismissed the movement that’s working to make the built environment more responsive to our deteriorated natural environment.

Sustainable Communities…What’s Missing? (Planetizen)As planners, we try to live the urban lifestyle, minimize our carbon footprint, and even grow our own vegetables. I’ve lived in New Haven, Boston, Philadelphia, and now Miami. And as every year passes, I find it more and more challenging to cling to my planning ideals.

10 South African Stadiums Of The 2010 FIFA World Cup (Web Urbanist)Though many have expressed doubts that South Africa can successfully host an event of this magnitude, an in-depth look at the 10 spectacular stadiums selected as game venues is sure to surprise and impress sports fans the world over.

Bicycle Rush Hour (buzz feed)This is rush hour in Utrecht, Holland. Hopefully this is the future of all cities around world. Clean, healthy and safe transportation for the win. And look – no fixies!

Toolkit for Change: ICLEI’s new Urban Sustainability Framework  (Open Alex)Sustainable cities has been a hot topic for over a decade. But there has never been a time when the challenges and opportunities of sustainability have been so clearly on display.

Grow your own lunch!  (NY Times)Harvard Pilgrim in Massachusetts is one of many companies that have started …

Friday News Roundup

May 14, 2010

Starting and maintaining a corporate blog has been a very interesting experience. When working with Banyan Branch, our social media consultants, we decided that the blog would be more effective if our posts were thought pieces written by our architects, planners, and marketing staff, instead of corporate blogs, which typically post about company news and events. By choosing this method, we could not only showcase the incredible group of individuals at our firm, but could also stay on top of current topics in the architecture and planning world.

Because we have our team write most of our posts, however, we sometimes hit a week (or two) where no one really has time to put something thoughtful together. So instead of the Monday News Roundup, which I missed this week, I thought I would pull together a Friday News Roundup, and hopefully we’ll be back on track next week.

RAFAA’s Solar City Tower for Rio 2016 games features energy-generating waterfall (World Architecture News)Going for green at the Olympics in Brazil, with the briefest mention of Vancouver’s green Olympics.

Enabling walking in cities (Washington Post) The time has come to acknowledge that walking will be an indispensable component of 21st-century transportation.

How to turn your streets into sidewalks (GOOD)What if streets belonged to people and not cars? With the rise of car culture over the last half century, our roads have grown bigger and wider, while our sidewalks have grown smaller and more narrow. The global movement “Ciclovia” wants to reverse that …

Cooperative Housing

May 05, 2010

by Naomi Buell, Marketing Assistant for VIA Architecture

The cooperative housing movement in Canada began in the 1930’s. The intention was to create a safe, collaborative, affordable living model in which people not only relied on their neighbours for a cup of sugar but also to maintain the grounds and make the important governing decisions. Rather than a traditional model in which a building has tenants and a landlord or manager, co-ops wanted their members to be in control and because co-ops have traditionally been subsidized, it was only fair that people give back to their community. This is where committees and a self governing board became integral to a smoothly running co-op. In fact co-op members can be kicked out for not participating.

Today’s co-ops follow the same principles, although I have heard that some are more successful then others. Each member joins a committee which either deals with finance, the newsletter, the garden and grounds, membership or everything else in between or is voted onto the board. The board governs all of the important decisions which are then put to a vote and each member is given one vote. Members join the committees which best utilize their strengths and in return they get a safe, beautiful, friendly place to live. The idea follows the age old Marxist ideal of “from each according to their ability, to each according to their need.” In addition to this, there is also the …