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by Jihad Bitar, PhD and urban planner for VIA Architecture

“What we build – where and how – has a tremendous impact on how we sustain our communities, protect the environment and bolster prosperity.” 1

My trip to Syria first started with the snow storm mess in Europe where I, like many other travellers, had to connect through different airports to reach my destination – Damascus.

Photo Credit: Samer Kallas

When I arrived in Damascus in the morning, I had to get through the city’s usual rush hour – it was a stressful 30 minute journey. The chaos, danger and pollution that those thousands of vehicles bring to the city’s streets is unacceptable, especially in a city struggling to show its beauty.

The absence of any rules that organize and manage the numbers of vehicles on the streets is stunning. One day, in the very near future, street movement of Damascus, Aleppo, Homs, Lattakia and many other major Syrian cities will come to a standstill. Unfortunately, this dark reality will only become much worse if we don’t take responsibility and deal with this problem today. Even now, we are already too late.

Photo Credit: Emad Al Sagheer

Undoubtedly, we have no other choice but to try and stop the increase in daily use of private motor vehicles just so our city’s streets can breathe again. It will be extremely difficult, however, if it’s done, we can return our public spaces to places of movement, experience and public activity.

In my humble opinion, what Damascus is missing is a comprehensive integration of Land Use Strategy and Transport Planning. This will help reduce the growth in car numbers and car use, which, consequently, will reduce street congestion as well as air, noise, and visual pollution. Land Use Strategy is the most important planning instrument for any city to create the image it wants, while Public Transportation, Walking and Cycling, Parking Policy and Traffic Management are the main elements of the Transport Planning system.

The main objectives of integrating Land Use and Transport Planning are to:

  • Promote the long-term investing strategy in public transportation projects
  • Promote the use of public transportation by increasing Land Use density and mixed uses around transport nodes and corridors
  • Encourage people to reduce car dependency
  • Promote developments that support sustainability, walking, cycling and public transport use, like Smart Growth and Transit-Oriented Development TOD
  • Management of traffic and parking in city centres and popular spots.

Working with people, helping them to understand the integration plan and engaging them in the process are essential steps in making a plan work and for growth to happen. In other words, education, transparency, and feeling of inclusiveness are the keys to success. In Bogota, Colombia the first step of progress was by educating the citizens and introducing ‘the culture of citizenship’:

“Mayor Mockus defined the culture of citizenship as “the sum of habits, behaviours, actions and minimum common rules that generate a sense of belonging, facilitate harmony among citizens, and lead to respect for shared property and heritage and the recognition of citizens’ rights and duties.” 2

The main goal of the integration process is not to abolish vehicles in our city; it’s more about targeting bad habits that have substantial effects on our public street life and managing those habits to a point where we, the human, can have our spaces. This is why it’s so important for citizens to take part in the solution and become full partners in their neighbourhood’s development process. Secrecy and ambiguity regarding planning for people’s neighbourhoods, communities, and cities has never been a solution. It didn’t work yesterday and it definitely won’t work today or tomorrow. Communication and engagement is a must.

Commitment in implementing and monitoring a plan is another necessity in order for progress to happen. The strategy should be reviewed annually for evaluation and revision.

In addition, the environment is not presented here as having a separate element in the integration process; rather, it is highly dependent on the success of a plan. Every positive change we make in the transport system of a city, regardless how small, will have major consequences on its environment. A cleaner and healthier environment is a sign of a working strategy. The greener we are the more we protect our children’s future and make our cities good places to live in.

Photo Credit: Samer Kallas

There are no magic solutions — it’s hard, it takes time, extensive research, a great deal of experimenting, monitoring, and rules, and large amounts of money. It needs everyone’s engagement if we really want our city to become a better place to live in.

Up next:
The main Transportation Planning elements we need to integrate in the Land Use Strategy: Public Transportation, Walking and Cycling, Parking Policy, and Traffic Management.

1- Kooshian, Chuck. Winkelman, Steve. Growing Wealthier; Smart Growth, Climate Change and Prosperity, Center for Clean Air Policy, January 2011.
2- Montezuma, Ricardo. The Transformation of Bogota, Colombia, 1995-2000: Investing in Citizenship and Urban Mobility. Global Urban Development Magazine, Volume1, Issue1, May 2005.

Monday News Roundup

Mar 07, 2011

Wooden floors that follow the wood’s natural curves (Inhabitat)
“It wasn’t nature that created straight floorboards; it was the limitations of technology.” Such is the philosophy behind Bolefloor, a new Dutch company that manufactures wood flooring by cutting boards according to the natural curves found in trees. The method saves wood by optimizing the number of boards that can be produced from one tree. Seattle’s farms and gardens:  Are you on the map? (Urban Farm Hub)
A mapping project, to make sure we can show what a force urban ag is here in Seattle.

Apps for urbanists  (Yurbanism)”Recently I came across a post by Matthew Latkiewicz on Smart Blogs that showcases a few more location aware mobile apps.”
Honesty in transit marketing (Sustainable Cities Collective)

An agency’s brand and message can be very easily co-opted by engaged customers, including, in the best case, well-meaning riders, or in the worst case, disgruntled customers holding a grudge. As a result, transit marketers must learn to lay off the spin and start laying on the truth.

Architect Barbie – will it inspire young women? (Good) There has been much discussion in the design community over the last week about Barbie’s sudden ascension into the ranks. Mostly, about how Mattel got it all wrong.
Self-affirmation manual for urbanites (Sustainable Cities Collective)

Just in time, a Harvard economics professor has arrived to reassure us of the rightness of our way of life. Edward Glaeser’s recent book Triumph of the City is both a manifesto on behalf of the best cities and a self-affirmation book for confirmed urbanites who may just once have considered cheating with a suburb.

“Active Design” prioritizes health in designing cities (Sustainable Cities)In response to the obesity trends illustrated below, it was just a matter of time before they introduced a plan to invest in an infrastructure that prioritizes public health, especially through being physically active. Produced by the NYC Department of Design and Construction, the highly illustrated 138-page Active Design Guidelines is one of the most comprehensive documents on the subject ever published.

More cities are razing urban highways (CS Monitor)
“For people who live and work around [urban highways], they always had huge negative side effects: They broke up the urban fabric, were noisy, and divided cities,” says Ted Shelton, a professor of architecture at the University of Tennessee who has studied urban highway removal. Removing roadways presents an opportunity for wiser, gentler redevelopment that can – if all goes well – add vibrancy and livability to areas around city centers.

Art that can change the world (Grist)
Can art save our cities? If it’s Candy Chang’s crowdsourced fantasy urban planning, then yeah, probably.

The food movement’s role in revitalizing environmentalism (Seattle Times)

Guest columnist Jeffrey C. Sanders reflects on the history of the Northwest food movement and its potential for connecting east and west, city and country.
Facebook ponders urban design with charette (Sustainable Cities Collective)

Facebook is hosting a “design charrette,” inviting more than 100 architects and other design professionals to engage in a fast-paced, collaborative planning session to envision infrastructure upgrades to areas surrounding Facebook’s new campus.

Friday Feature: Mark

Mar 04, 2011

Mark’s Friday Feature wraps up the series as we have covered almost everyone working in our firm. See the post by MTV’s Get Schooled that started this series.

Who are you and what do you do?
I’m Mark. In my tenure with VIA Architecture I’ve lived near and worked in both the Seattle and Vancouver offices. I do a lot of different things – but so does everybody at this firm. In the simplest form of a description, my primary role with VIA is to solve puzzles. The method for that which keeps me running is producing and managing Building Information Model (BIM) files for interesting projects. I’m also good at fixing things for some odd reason. I get to work on cool projects like transit stations and mixed-use residential buildings as well. This requires an involvement of software knowledge with construction & design awareness.

What made you decide to go into your field? Also, what did your family think of your chosen field?
My father is an Electrical Engineer (retired), and had started two consulting firms during his career. Because of that, I was exposed to not only the A&E industry, but what it’s like to be a business owner and manager in that field. Looking back, I pretty much knew at an early age that I would end up in this field. However, where it became clear that it would be Architecture instead of Engineering was probably around high school. The right lobe holds more of my cognitive and perspective than the other.

My parents always wanted (and still want) me to be in a field where I am happy, and have a passion for. They knew what I was getting into, so it wasn’t like I was venturing into uncharted territory.

Who is the teacher who had the most influence on you and why?
Probably my father, for the reasons given above. For design and pure Architecture, I’ve been blessed in my career to be around a number of people that are genuine practitioners. From them I’ve learned the most. The people around me are excellent teachers that I selfishly steal from as well.

My belief is the best teacher is one who provides inspiration that provokes contemplation. They’re farmers planting seeds. The principals and colleagues in VIA (past and present) also provide inspiration and influence for me on a daily basis. These lessons have no shelf life, are full of fiber and fat-free.

What inspires you?
The divine moment. Sometimes it’s referred to as the ‘Aha!’ moment. This is when the harmonics of an idea combined with the constraints of reality resonate correctly. It’s similar to the act of tuning a stringed musical instrument. The feeling you get when the string is vibrating to the perfect pitch is unquestionable. For application to the profession, one experiences this when they reach a design solution, or puts together the perfect narrative for a report. I’ve experienced this feeling recently even from putting together a specification section for vapor barriers that felt water-tight (pun intended). An epiphany can be a divine moment, but a divine moment is not necessarily a sudden realization.

When these happen, the elation is unparalleled. To seek them out, that’s probably my inspiration and motivation. Another inspiration occurs for me when experiencing a wonderful place that was designed with every element detailed and positioned so that each of these notes make the symphony that the author had intended.

What kind of people are the most successful in your field? Are there any specific attributes?
Most successful: The individuals that realize the balance between good design, efficient work habits, and business sustainability.

Specific attributes: Team player. This doesn’t mean that you have to be in the middle of everything.

Is your field growing? (ie. is there room for new entries and is there career growth?)
I don’t believe that the field is growing as much as it is basically adapting. This is a time of major change due to current political, environmental, and relative economic factors. Sustainability has had a huge impact on our field, and it’s just getting started.

On a somewhat related note, I also see a gap that’s growing between the construction savvy and the general design capabilities, in regard to the Architectural work force. Parallel to that is an apparent difference in construction document preparation and production abilities. In the 80’s there were a lot of people joining the workforce out of college that understood how to use the CAD programs that were new and regarded (reluctantly by some) as the future. Yet, as much as a lot of these people were comfortable with how to use the software, they didn’t know how to make it apply to producing a set of construction documents that conformed with the industry standard. Now our field is going through another transition from 2-Dimensional CAD to Building Information Management (BIM) that works in virtual 3D.

I guess what I’m trying to say here is that we keep inventing new methods and means to design and produce the medium that will communicate these ideas. However, the basic rules and grasp of constructability and how to produce a drawing that someone could build from are still taking a secondary role. Bottom line: Don’t let the plough and tractor decide what to plant, and where it should grow (another farm reference).

What is the best advice you were ever given?
(Given at different times throughout…)
“The work comes first”
“Don’t be shy”
“Pace yourself”
“Keep it fun”
“Keep it simple”

What advice would you give someone considering a career like yours?
Pretty much everything listed immediately above with special emphasis on ‘Listening’.

Research is paramount as well. Whether it’s about the technology and products that are out there, the codes that we have to design by, the client’s background and vision, etc…

Never Stop Studying!

Also, keep it fun. If it isn’t, you lose the passion. If you lose the passion, then you’re in the wrong place.

by Catherine Calvert, Director of Community Sustainability for VIA Architecture

Earlier this week I attended a meeting of the Kitsap Community and Agricultural Alliance, an advocacy group that is doing good work in promoting farming in the county. Its activities include raising the profile of farmers and local food within the community, advocating for farm protection, and hosting an annual local harvest dinner.

The speaker for the event was Tim Trohimovich, the Planning and Law Co-Director of Futurewise, a Seattle non-profit whose mission is “to promote healthy communities and cities while protecting working farms, working forests, and shorelines for this and future generations”. The focus of the group’s discussion with Tim was on Kitsap’s struggle for farm zoning protection, but he also presented a very interesting series of statistics on trends in land use in the county:

2007 2002 Percent
Kitsap Land in Farms (acres) 15,294 16,094 -5.0%
Washington Land in Farms (acres) 14,972,789 15,318,008 -2.3%
Kitsap Average Size of Farm (acres) 23 27 -14.8%
Washington Average Size of Farm (acres) 381 426 -10.6%
Kitsap Number of Farms 664 587 13.1%
Washington Number of Farms 39,284 35,939 9.3%
Kitsap Percent of Land in Farms used for Organic Production 2.22%
Washington Percent of Land in Farms used for Organic Production 0.43%
Kitsap Market Value of Agricultural Products Sold $6,985,000 $30,713,000 -77.3%
WA Market Value of Agricultural Products Sold $6,792,856,000 $5,330,740,000 27.4%
Kitsap Market Value of Direct Sales $850,000 $369,000 130.4%
Kitsap Direct Marketing share of total sales 1.2% 12.2%
Central Puget Sound Value of Direct Sales $5,719,000 $8,240,000 44.0%
Central Puget Sound Direct Marketing share of total sales 1.5% 2.4%
WA Market Value of Direct Sales $43,537,000 $34,753,000 25.3%
WA Direct Marketing share of total sales 0.7% 0.6%
Kitsap Total Per Farm Income from Farm-Related Sources (including non-food sources and services) $33,122 $17,716 87.0%
WA Total Per Farm Income from Farm-Related Sources (including non-food sources and services) $22,808 $15,749 44.8%


Sources:  Futurewise, Chase Economics Report 

From one perspective, these statistics could paint a pretty bleak picture of trends in the county – in just five years a 5% loss of acres of land used for farming, and a staggering 77% loss in the market value of agricultural products sold. But these figures also represent what I see as a significant shift in farming within the county, with a clear move away from larger conventional farms and toward smaller holdings focusing on direct sales to consumers. In comparison to other counties in the Puget Sound area and the state in general, the practice of direct sales by farmers (farmer’s markets, on-farm sales, CSA’s, etc.) is by far more prevalent in Kitsap. Organic farming is also five times more common in Kitsap than in the rest of the state.

Certainly in Kitsap, as in other places, the interest in growing and consuming local food has been explosive, particularly since 2007 when these statistics were gathered. It will be interesting to see how these trends continue to evolve when comparable statistics are available for more recent years. Kitsap once had an important role as a producer of agricultural products, particularly poultry and dairy, which were major industries by the early 1900’s. Apparently many early settlers raised chickens because they did not need to remove tree stumps left behind from decades of logging, a practice so successful that it lead Silverdale to proclaim itself to be the “Egg Capital of the World” at one point.

Given the historic importance of agriculture in the county and the proximity of its farmland to the metropolitan Seattle area, it would appear that Kitsap is well positioned to develop this market in coming years. One of the challenges in Kitsap is the absence of specific agricultural zoning, an issue currently being addressed by the county’s Food and Farm Policy Council. A strategic plan report for agriculture in Kitsap, released last month by Chase Economics, is available on the Kitsap Food Chain website. This report provides an excellent summary of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to the agricultural sector in the county.

For any readers interested in learning more about farming in Kitsap, or learning more about farming skills in general, the WSU Extension is offering a West Sound Small Farms Expo in Bremerton on March 5th. This is an all-day event with courses on Agritourism, Horticulture, Food Systems, and even Charcuterie. Community interest in relearning traditional farming knowledge is enormous — a similar event hosted by the WSU Snohomish Extension in January drew over 800 people seeking instruction in farm management and animal husbandry. Find out more about the Kitsap event by clicking on this link.

Monday News Roundup

Feb 21, 2011

The Importance of Cities to the World (Planetizen)
Neal Peirce expounds on the increasing power and importance of cities, a dominant message in the new book “Triumph of the City” by economist Edward Glaeser.

Our High Speed Rail Plan Should Look More Like China’s (TreeHugger)
I don’t want to perpetuate the US vs. China who-will-be-the-economic-superpower narrative that’s already rampant in our press enough these days, so let’s frame this one from another, even simpler angle — China is doing a bunch of really great stuff in clean tech that we should be doing too.

New Solar Panel Array Doubles the Energy and Halves the Cost of Traditional Solar (inhabitat)
NREL just announced a huge breakthrough in making solar electricity competitive with fossil fuels as they unveiled the Amonix 7700 Concentrated Photovoltaic or CPV Generator.

Vancouver, Toronto, Calgary named among world’s most liveable cities (The Vancouver Sun)
Vancouver topped the list of the world’s most livable cities for the fifth straight year, while Melbourne claimed second place from Vienna and Australian and Canadian cities dominated the list’s top 10 spots.

To gain housing, Pioneer Square needs a boost (Crosscut)
Seattle’s first neighborhood, Pioneer Square, has essentially missed out on every major economic boom to hit the Northwest since the Gold Rush.

Annals of Cycling – 8 (Price Tags)
An occasional update on items from the Velo-city, this is part 8.

Ford Assembly Building Adaptive Reuse Wins AIA Honor Award (Treehugger)
Marci Wong of MarciWongDonnLogan Architects writes that their adaptive reuse of the Albert Kahn-designed former Ford Assembly Plant In Richmond, California has won and AIA Honor Award.

Peter Calthorpe on why urbanism is the cheapest, smartest way to fight climate change (Grist)
Cities may be the trendy topic du jour, but Peter Calthorpe has been talking about the benefits of urbanism since the 1970s. In 1993, he was one of the founders of the Congress for the New Urbanism, an influential national organization that promotes walkable, mixed-use, transit-rich development.

Eat your subdivision (Landscape Architecture Magazine)
Amid growing concern about food quality and supply, new residential communities incorporate sustainable farming.

‘Reskinning’ Gives World’s Old Urban Buildings Energy-Saving Facelifts (Solve Climate News)
The practice of ‘reskinning’ exteriors of aging infrastructure can help retrofit entire cities to be ‘more efficient’ and ‘more beautiful,’ advocates say.

Can suburbs be reinvented for 21st century? (Crosscut)
To make suburbs fit into modern realities, we will have to re-imagine and re-engineer them.

Dreaming of a bike and family friendly city

by Jen Kelly, Lead Business Dev’t Coordinator

On my drive to work this morning, an unusual scene caught my eye:

Right in the middle of downtown Seattle, a father was riding in perfect sync on a triple tandem bike with his two daughters. I caught up with them at the Spruce Street School, the only K-5 in downtown Seattle.

He told me that they live in Queen Anne, and try to bike to school at least 3 times a week. As we chatted, his oldest daughter stood a few feet away with a proud look on her face as he told me that they are also training for the Seattle to Portland bike ride coming up this July. I asked “Oh, you’re preparing for the race?”, to which he responded, “Yeah, the three of us are.” (I did mention that these girls are in a K-5 school, right?)

p.s. STP organizers: you should feature this family in your marketing materials — if they don’t shame inspire people into participating, I don’t know what will

In Europe, the following photos are not uncommon:

(kidding… this last photo was in Portland)
I know, I know, we’re all getting tired of hearing about how great biking is in Holland, and Denmark, and even Portland. Although we may not have the ideal situation ( = flat) as some of these areas, there’s no reason why we can’t start adopting successful elements. Yes! Magazine wrote a great article, looking at what it would take to make biking less of a “recreational activity” and more mainstream:

In Utrecht, Holland, 95 percent of older students—kids in the 10 to 12 age range—bike to school at least some of the time. In the U.S., roughly half that percentage (50 percent of kids) walked or biked to school… back in 1970. Since then, the rate has dropped to 15 percent, according to the National Center for Safe Routes to School program.
Some bullet points of their success:

  • kids learn about biking and bike safety in school
  • in The Hague, the city works hard to separate bike paths from streets used by cars and trucks
  • access to safe, convenient bike storage
  • using color on the roadways to clearly designate bike lanes

At some point, we have to face the facts — not only are oil prices are going to go up again, but our obesity rates have tripled in the past three decades, with one in three children currently obese or overweight.

There are campaigns out there that are trying to push us in the right direction — Seattle has a new Walk, Bike, Ride challenge, and 6 months ago, Michelle Obama came out with the “Let’s Move” obesity campaign. And although lists Seattle as the 7th family friendly city, they were really only looking at taxes, incomes, and total expenses to figure a family’s ability to live a good lifestyle. But is that really all it takes to be family friendly? It’s not saying much for our city that we only have one K-5 school, or that people don’t feel safe in our downtown parks.

So — I put it out to the rest of you — what will it take for the scene I saw this morning to become a mainstream in Seattle instead of unusual?

Monday News Roundup

Feb 14, 2011

Tracking Growth in World Cities (Planetizen)
Mega-cities of 10 million people or more are getting a lot of attention these days. But smaller big cities are really where interesting and potentially hazardous growth patterns are occurring, according to this piece.

Who’s got the greenest house on the planet? (Grist)
It’s pretty easy to determine the biggest pie, or longest fingernails, or fattest twins. But what about the greenest house? AOL’s consumer finance site has a nice roundup of what, exactly, it means to have a green home.

In Charleston, an Affordable, Effective Alternative to Highway Expansion (DC.STREETSBLOG)
More street grid, less traffic: The Coastal Conservation League’s proposal for Savannah Highway would cut congestion by reducing the number of curb cuts and establishing secondary roads for those traveling short distances.

Updating and Improving Philadelphia’s Downtown Plazas (Planetizen)
Three public plazas in the center of Philadelphia are set to see much-needed makeovers, and soon.

Researchers Transform Contaminated Shipping Port Sludge into Safe Building Materials (inhabitat)
Swedish researchers have developed a process that can turn contaminated sediment in shipping ports into a cement-like substance that is safe for building.

NYC to Turn Sewage Into an Asset (Planetizen)
Could the 1.3 billion gallons of wastewater that New Yorkers produce daily be an asset?

How Green School Buildings Help Children Grow (The Tyee)
Students and teachers are more healthy and productive in sustainably-built schools, research shows.

Global Eco Cities Panel Explores Innovations in City Building (The Planning Report)
Discussion of a global eco-cities panel at VX2011, the VERDEXCHANGE Green Marketmakers Conference, held in L.A. in January. The panelists (including former L.A. City Planning Director Gail Goldberg, Dean of the USC School of Architecture Qingyun Ma, and AECOM Principal of Building Engineering Alastair MacGregor) imagined global eco cities of the near future.

Let’s Be Smart About Intelligent Cities (Planetizen)
“Intelligent cities” is picking up steam as the new buzzword in planning and a potentially game-changing way of using data to drive decisions. But we need to be sure we don’t lose the human intelligence in planning.

The future of the strip mall: downhill (Crosscut)
Suburban strips with huge parking lots are losing favor, thanks to economic shifts, rising gas prices, and more appealing pedestrian-friendly town centers.

U.S. News ranks Portland #1 for Public Transit (Oregon Live)
TriMet may be running on red ink, slashing services and in the middle of a nasty contract fight with its driver’s union, but Portland is still the nation’s best city for public transportation, according to a new analysis.

Who are you and what do you do?

My name is Peter Houseknecht and I am an Architect who has worked predominately on a wide variety of private development commercial projects. Many of these were hospitality projects in which I was involved with the Interior Design either separately or in addition to the architectural design. These projects included resorts, conference centers, hotels, restaurants and all other types of food service, casinos, country clubs, wineries and combinations of these uses. I also have experience with government projects of various types and some private residences as well. Currently I am the project manager for the Evergreen Line that is a new expansion of an existing transit line in metro Vancouver, BC.

What made you decide to go into your field?

Perhaps it started at a very young age with creating elaborate electric model train and racing car platforms with people, buildings, covered bridges, farms and streetscapes forming little towns complete with landscaping, snow and lighting effects. Some elements were model kits while other parts I built from scratch with balsa wood. My grandfather was passionate about model railroading whose hobby I shared with him starting as far back as I can remember.

What did your family think of your chosen field?

They did not really care one way or another so long as I was happy

Who is the teacher who had the most influence on you and why?

It’s hard to just pick one as there were several teachers but also employers, work experiences and clients that equally qualify as well. My first architectural graphics professor for teaching me to communicate graphically in a variety of ways as well as to think with a pencil or other drawing implement. My second year architectural design professor for really opening the door to what a building design entailed, how to approach it and to think about the sequence of events and hierarchal order of a design and the resulting experience of it’s inhabitants. My fifth year architectural design professor for sharing his great design mind in concert with an open mind, enthusiasm, sense of humor, flexibility and hanging in there – don’t let the bumps and obstacles get you down attitude.

Various employers for giving me a full breath of opportunities, tasks and responsibilities very early in my career. Others for expanding my skills and arena of practice particularly with hospitality work that combines so many uses, design talents and creative disciplines in a tightly interwoven and expressive project type full of imagination when at it’s best.

Client’s with which I enjoyed a truly collaborative and open minded relationship who allowed me the freedom and trust to practice our profession to its full potential without premeditative end results. This provided them with the full benefit our services can offer as well as resulting in a project exceeding their expectations with a lasting contribution to their business, their client services and their lives.
This in turn provided me with a truly deep sense of satisfaction that our hard work did mean something, it mattered, made a difference and realized an old school time dream – it did and can make the world a better place. Their excitement as a result of the open collaborative process without question has been the greatest reward of my career. Likewise other collaborative experiences, yes even including with general contractors, where teamwork and project goals were paramount with everyone pulling together with back support in lieu of stabs to make the best possible project were also deeply satisfying. The shear power and joy of true and fully committed teamwork is electrifying and restores hope in human spirit especially in today’s world.

What was the biggest hurdle you faced along your educational path? (academic, financial, motivational, family or peer pressure, outside distraction, etc.)

School was a really heavy and challenging workload – considered at the time to be second only to pre-med (persons on a degree track to enter medical school not to be confused with others experimenting with bio-chemistry and less certain of their major). There was a very high drop out rate and lots of all-nighters meeting deadlines. The constant work load and long hours in the studio challenged my commitment and motivation on more than one occasion.

During nights darkest hours yet again sweating, seemingly endlessly, over your design work while producing perfect ink presentation drawings and cutting 5-ply Strathmore board with razor sharp knives to produce pristine models, occasionally if still possible counting to ten hoping all your digits were still with you that by now are looking like the walking wounded and redoing any mistakes while strategizing how to shoehorn in some time for that rather inconvenient structural engineering final later this week that you haven’t nor could ever have studied enough for, all in hyper sleep deprived mode that is on the verge of answering the question of “just how long can a human being go without sleep before spontaneously collapsing into a coma” that was way beyond any military research on the topic, eyeballs ready to write you a “Dear John” letter, your bed a distant memory, unknowingly enacting the Walking Zombies before they were called such, occasionally uttering random thoughts and curses in what would at other more rested times be recognized as the English language but whose afflicted overtones are likely more recognizable to your Neanderthal ancestors than current day friends and family.

Without provocation a soft wave arrives in your consciousness that at this very moment “normal” people are perhaps sleeping –peacefully – free of stress or worries – but the real test is that at this very moment in time back at the dorm there is a party going on which is registering on the Richter scale. Knowing you could be right now in the heart of it all in the arms of someone you’d give your eyeteeth to be with – but no……..someone must take the high road and answer the call to save the world by learning to create the best environments for the spirit of humanity to flourish within taking that to new heights while your buds are out exploring the boundaries of how to flourish in any environment they find themselves in quite successfully and could not imagine in their wildest dreams anything of greater height educationally than what they were experiencing right now thank you very much and are having the time of their lives passionately pursuing their personalized Studies in Humanity curriculum. How do you spell – I really want to be an Architect!What inspires you?
Most things in life qualify – it’s a matter of how open my mind is and how observant I am at any given moment. When the lines are open the magic seems to come out of nowhere and reveal itself in many and different ways – sometimes literal but most times in other ways. Viewing elements and activities through conceptual eyes tends to trigger a chain of ricocheting thoughts and ideas taking my imagination to new unrelated and unexpected places. At other times and more profoundly are ideas, thoughts, concepts or new perspectives that arrive in my mind as a seemingly unconnected package that appears out of nowhere. Likely just transferring from my un-conscious mind to the conscious dimension, but presents are fun.

Otherwise viewing other architects and artists work from any discipline usually gets my imagination flowing as does engaging in some form of creative activity regardless of the medium involved.

What schooling is required for success in your career?

I graduated with a Bachelor of Architecture degree from Syracuse University that was a 5-year program. I think that is still the typical program stateside although there are other paths. That was followed by a minimum 3 year internship working full time in the profession to be eligible to start taking licensing exams. My first license was earned in California which at the time had a 3 stage exam process that took about a year and a half minimum to complete due to infrequent scheduling and sequencing. The heart of it was a 5 consecutive day exam lasting up to 12 hours a day and a 26% passing rate.

Today I feel a Masters in Architecture is the current minimum standard I would recommend to someone considering the profession. I would also suggest including coursework in urban planning and business as well as other related design fields of the profession such as lighting and interior design. Computer proficiency in a variety of CAD and 3-D modeling programs is paramount as well.

What kind of people are the most successful in your field? Are there any specific attributes?

People who are well connected and architecturally talented followed by people who are well connected followed by people who are talented. Networking with peers and other people connected with the industry you want to practice in is important and getting involved with your community is helpful. An inner passion and natural heartfelt commitment to the profession is helpful as it is often more of a lifestyle than a job. It is a profession that should be chosen more out of a love and enjoyment of what it entails and one where that passion outweighs financial reward.

What is the best advice you were ever given?

Continue on and obtain your architectural degree as it is one of the best educations you can get – then go and be a politician or anything else but an architect. Well guilty as charged – I did not take the advice.

Follow your heart, your inner voice, your bliss and your truth. We’re working on this one – heh who said an old dog can’t learn new tricks and guess what – these are evolving and moving targets.

Follow the money – aahhh has anyone seen hide or tail of this – any hints – rumors – is there any left?

Is your field growing? (ie. is there room for new entries and is there career growth?)

Yes and no. No as this has become a profession that is amongst the first to be affected by any negative changes in the economy and one of the last to recover. So there are more and sharper spikes and valleys with regard to work opportunities than ever. I have lived thru several recessions with this being the worse by far with reports I have heard of general unemployment between some 9 and 14% but with estimates of 50 to 75% of architects who are unemployed.

Yes with there being more firms and people in the profession and in schools than at times earlier in my career. Also firms are less restricted to local or national markets than in times past with more opportunities to work internationally. During my college days and early professional years most architects in the USA were male and of Anglo origin. While that may statistically be the case, thankfully I have witnessed a vast change with many more women and people from all origins enter the field that has really enriched my life both professionally and personally a great deal.

What advice would you give someone considering a career like yours?

You need to love the work and most of what it entails, but it is a field in transition. Try to get a real world baptism into the profession as early as possible particularly during college by talking with architects, volunteering with a firm, engaging in work-study school courses and working at firms during school breaks etc. to help determine your passion. Then get the best education you can and work for the best firms you can particularly where you will get exposed to all aspects of the profession, which are quite varied. Keep an eye on and engage with new technologies, sustainability and issues of shifting from the current North American car oriented paradigm to a new model as they will all have profound impacts on the field in the years ahead as will current paradigms of architect-client-general contractor models change to something new.

Monday News Roundup

Feb 07, 2011

Do the words route or line better describe transit? (Human Transit)
The word for the path followed by a transit vehicle is sometimes route, and sometimes line. Whenever you have two words for the same thing, you should ask why.

Duany predicts decline of strict green building standards (Partnerships for sustainable communities)
Charlotte, N.C.–Decrying the high cost of “optimization” of development in a lean time, Andres Duany called for a return to common sense development principals that harken back to the 19th Century and predicted declining use of the LEED standards for building efficiency.

An Ideal City Doesn’t Exist: An Interview with David Gouverneur (Next American City)
A native of Venezuela, Gouverneur has made a career out of injecting environmental and social values into the process of placemaking. He was kind enough to take some time out of his sunshine and paper-filled morning to share his recipes for healthy cities.

The people of the texture world: adding people into renderings (The New York Times)
I happened to spend a lot of time looking at renderings, and found myself drawn to a recurring feature that, strictly speaking, had nothing to do with the suggested structures: the little human figures who inhabit the rendered world.

Building permits bounce back (video) (The Globe and Mail)
BNN gets analysis and insight into Canadas building permit numbers for December with Victor Fiume, general manager, Durham Custom Homes, and president, CHBA.

The Life and Death of a College Bikeshare System in Maine (The City Fix)
n 2007, a few students and staff at Bowdoin College started the Yellow Bike Club, an informal system of bikes left on campus and re-purposed for the shared bike program. Spray-painted yellow, secured with U-locks and repaired in an old shed on campus, the system of just a few bikes was born. Initially, there were seven bikes and about 50 members, now the program is in disarray.

Secretary of Energy Announces “SunShot”, Gives $27Million to Cut the Cost of Solar (inhabitat)
US Secretary of Energy Steven Chu just pledged $27 million in funding for nine solar energy projects that will help with his “sunshot” effort — a plan to cut the costs of solar energy by 3/4 in the next decade.

Landscape and Architecture Converging (Planetizen)
The Architect’s Newspaper explores the “fertile new approaches to building” springing from the growing use of landscaping in contemporary architecture.

Car-Dependent Suburbs May Be Slums of The Future, Says Urban Planning Report (Treehugger)
A study released by the Planning Institute of Australia (PIA) in late 2010 found that “Australia will be forced to rely on huge quantities of imported oil unless it radically overhauls its transport and urban policies” according to The Age newspaper who reported on the findings.

Bikes for Boomers? Panasonic’s Electric Bike for “Elderlies” (Treehugger)
If you take it for granted that bicycles are a safe and green part of the transportation system for all ages, then this makes perfect sense. Panasonic has just introduced an electric bike with 20″ wheels and a “low floor design” that makes it really easy to get on, start with a boost and stand with your feet flat.

Princeton Plans Largest Solar Field for Any U.S. University (inhabitat)
Long a leader in top-notch academics, Princeton University is now a leader in green technology and clean energy. The Ivy League school announced last week its plans for a 27-acre solar field to partially power its New Jersey campus.

Friday Feature: Brian

Feb 05, 2011

Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Brian Kenny and I’m an architect in our Seattle office. I grew up in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. and moved to Seattle in ‘97 after graduating from Virginia Tech. I consider myself a suburban refugee – during summer jobs I spent 2-3 hours driving each day around the D.C. Beltway. That “drove” me (ha ha) to find a livable city where I didn’t have to do that and Seattle passed with flying colors! VIA is the fifth office I’ve worked in since moving here. My wife Lori is also an architect.

What made you decide to go into your field?
I was doomed from the start with a classic architect childhood: drawing all the time, unhealthy Lego obsession, treehouses, etc. Growing up in the 80’s I was always the “art kid” but also loved to take apart lawnmower engines, build models, launch rockets, and devour Popular Mechanics articles about the “World of the Future in the Year 2000!” (Are we there yet?).

What did your family think of your chosen field?
My dad worked for NASA and my mom was a librarian but they always supported my interests. While I’ve never asked, I’d bet they were relieved when I switched from being an Art major to the Architecture program.

Who is the teacher who had the most influence on you and why?
Virginia Tech had many fantastic professors who pushed us to find our own path in design and in life. But I continue to be influenced daily by my second-year studio professor Jay Stoeckel. Our very first day he shocked us by stating that he didn’t care if we ever became architects – his concern was our education. We learned of numerous alumni who’d used their design training to thrive in a wide variety of other careers and professions.

On our last day he said he’d tried to instill an attitude towards, and a habit of, self-education and pushing ourselves to our limits – this would serve us the rest of our lives. We hung on his every word because most were pretty profound…

What was the biggest hurdle you faced along your educational path? (academic, financial, motivational, family or peer pressure, outside distraction, etc.)
School was competitive so it was essential to learn to listen to what’s inside and not measure yourself against others. Also, as a generalist I seem to find everything interesting but in college I had to learn to focus.

What inspires you?
The world! People! Art! Science! Any and everything! (see above). To narrow it down, I love how wildly unrelated ideas can cross-pollinate to generate new ones. I try to encourage this when my mind is chewing on a problem but then picks up the scent of a solution when I’m not working on it…

What schooling is required for success in your career?
I earned a five-year BArch degree so I didn’t need a Masters, but there are also 4-year undergrad degrees where a Masters is required to get your license. Many people do a 3-year Master’s program after undergrad in something else. And then you have to earn a number of years of experience and take a plethora of exams before you can acquire your license and legally be considered an architect. But I feel that if you’re training, thinking, working, and acting like an architect then effectively you are an architect, just not a licensed one which is an important distinction to make in public.

What kind of people are the most successful in your field? Are there any specific attributes?
Stubborn but open-minded people! Also, architects have to work with a huge variety of trades and professions, not to mention your clients. This means your most brilliant idea won’t go anywhere if you can’t communicate it effectively.

What is the best advice you were ever given?
A few quotes I’ve internalized:

Advice is cheap.

Resolve to always be a beginner.
~ Rilke

The best place to be an architect is at a cocktail party…
~Ron Van der Veen, Seattle architect

Is your field growing? (i.e. is there room for new entries and is there career growth?)
Unfortunately opportunities have shrunk dramatically during this mother-of-all-recessions. Many architects are still out of work which has increased competition for new graduates. But before getting too gloomy, I’m very optimistic about the long-term demand for creative people to solve the challenges of of an urbanizing world.

What advice would you give someone considering a career like yours?
Architects make plans – that’s what we do. But to drop another quote, “life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans”. So by all means pour your heart and soul into your efforts, but also know that things will rarely turn out how you expect. And that can be a good thing!