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a “small pitch” for the specificity of language.

by Richard Borbridge, Urban Planner for VIA Architecture
image credit

It is the bane of my every walk to work in the morning.

A short walk down the new Granville Street and there it rests – nary larger than a “no parking” sign, and just gleaming and fresh enough to unfailing catch my eye against the black lamp standard:

“up to small pitch”

The great eighth note above says “play here!” to the newly unshackled busking community – the eighth note… and the word Busking. But the words below speak clearly to an agonizing misrepresentation of musical performance knowledge.

A quick look at the definition of ‘pitch’ ranges from the by-product of tar, to a soccer field, to its rightful musical definition – the tone or frequency of a sound (which is high or low, not small or large) and finally, down the list and Chiefly British, “the stand of a vendor or hawker” – which, while perhaps the most relevant, is still a linguistic leap from the City’s intended meaning.

I understand that these signs are intended to coordinate the level of intensity of a performance on the street and the city’s introductory PDF confirms as much:

  • Small pitch (S): Minor amplification, designed for passers-by, not designed for crowd building
  • Medium pitch (M): Medium amplification, small crowd building, less than 50 person audience
  • Large pitch (L): Medium + amplification, circle crowds, middle of street or large plaza spaces, 100+ person audience

However, what the signs do say is gibberish.

The imprecise use of words and the overuse of imprecise words is hardly a new lament in the English language. My closest friends would be quick to point out that I’m hardly innocent. However, I’m not sure what prompted the City of Vancouver to establish ‘pitch’ as its go-to word in the busking regulation business.

I fear it’s the same prompt that has misrepresented “green” in many aspects of our lives, and so variably defined “sustainability” so as to be a deeply felt throwaway word. What do you think of when someone says “street”? Does your vision of the street demarcate public space, does it include the sidewalks or just the roadway from curb to curb? Is “road” any better? The principle of precise and relevant language continues to dog our public spaces, partly because these most commonly used words are so common and imbued with each person’s experience and perspective, rather than any formal definition.

A large component of the work of design professions is communicating – mostly through pictures. The reason both words and images exist simultaneously is because they serve different, complementary purposes. All too often however, we need to describe an image in words, which is when communication can break down. We fall back on the 10,000-or-so words most frequently used words in our vocabulary, choosing those that just ‘feel’ right, or we turn to neologisms and mash-ups that strive to fill in the blanks between our 7,000 favourites and the 171,476 words in the OED.

In this era of Google’s instant search (just type “define:” people) a bit of second-guessing is easy. Alongside the radical transformations words are undergoing as a result of new technologies – from the Internet to our infrastructure – it is vital that we share our meanings, not just our words.

So let’s all SaveTheWords and pledge a little more precision. Let’s hunt down just the right word and take back the nuance, especially in public spaces. Like “pitch”, when you only have one word to make your point, it had better be right.

PS – Since this writing they have appliqued operational hours on the signs. Any suggestions for a better busking word? “To small audience”, “little busk stop”? If they stickered over them once, they could do it again… perhaps better.

PPS – Other signs with problems

Friday Feature: Kate

Dec 03, 2010

Who are you and what do you do?

My name is Kate and I am an urban planner…

What made you decide to go into your field?

A few years after college I wound up in a job at an affordable housing non-profit in Brooklyn where we built and managed housing, community gardens, and provided tenant advocacy. I learned about the process of neighborhood development, and the ongoing gentrification of Bedford Sty. I became very curious about why certain spaces and neighborhoods worked better than others as well as the lines on the map you couldn’t see – tracing color, class and use.

What did your family think of your chosen field?

My mom’s a planner too! She helped to write the legislation for the first ISTEA Intermodal Surface Transportation Policy Act (1991) and went on to work to achieve Context Sensitive Highway Design in the State of California among other things.

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

Distractions – of all kinds

What inspires you?

Beauty in all forms – often what is distracting…Whether in thought or design.

What schooling is required for success in your career?

It makes sense to go for a Master’s to help transition into that first key job as the field grows in competitiveness, but really Planning is not about being trained as an expert, it’s just a particular way of viewing and being curious about the world. Lots of training can take place on the job in both analysis and systems thinking. I was an anthropology undergrad with a focus on cultural studies…I think of Urban Planning sometimes as applied anthropology.

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

I think planners are better if they can be translators; this requires having a flexible perspective about the way things are done, and to see linkages between the different disciplines. The best planners should have an ability to strategize and work hard to make things happen on the ground.

What is the best advice you were ever given?

I think I’ve probably forgotten it. Sadly.

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

Of course and it’s all about retrofitting now – making auto-oriented places more walkable, and building up neighborhoods to transform our geographies of nowhere. As the benefits and the reasons behind Growth Management become manifest (i.e. our resources are finite) there will hopefully be more political will to make these kinds of tough calls. There are lots of interesting places to work on these issues too, California, Chicago, the East, The Plains States…each place is having to grapple with transition and change. Shrinking Cities and Growing Cities.

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

Always keep in the front of your mind the kinds of problems you want to solve as you are moving forward in the field- environmental, community, social, or equity. I use this as a lens to make decisions, and seek out new opportunities.

For example – If you are considering a masters in planning- think about the City where the school is as your laboratory – and what kinds of issues it is addressing. It might end up having a lot of influence over your future.

by Wolf Saar, Director of Practice for VIA Architecture

The VIAVOX in Seattle last month was a hit, thanks to a relevant topic and a great group of panelists!

First, to explain the broader picture: our firm has historically hosted “Salons,” which aim to initiate conversations surrounding current issues in architecture, planning, and design. We recently renamed these to be called VIAVOX. Latin for ‘voice,’ we intend to hold a quarterly VIAVOX in both our Seattle and Vancouver offices.

The VIAVOX in October addressed “Connected Senior Urbanism.” It was a discussion about how urban design can contribute to an engaged lifestyle as we age.

The inspiration for this includes:

  • Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities (NORC’s). Here is a link to the local initiative
  • Urban Planning for Seniors. Here is a link to EDRA
  • Silver Seniors, an initiative in New York City. See this article
  • Universal Design in the Public Realm

Designed to be an opportunity to get a group of people around a topic of interest, we invited four panelists to join us, each of whom brought an engaged perspective to enliven the discussion. Representatives ranging from affordable public housing to market-rate private communities, service providers, neighborhood advocates and the media joined with VIA architects, interior designers, and planners from both our Seattle and Vancouver, BC offices.

Joanne Donohue, Senior Services
Aging Your Way

The following is a synopsis of what the panelists brought to the conversation:

Supporting community members as they age, Aging Your Way is an attempt to start a different type of conversation around aging, focused on the positive aspects in lieu of the deficit side of aging. Through the parent organization, Senior Services, they get to see the strengths and relationships and lifetime of knowledge of the seniors and wanted to get other people excited about it. Wanting to maintain the good work seniors centers are doing, they also wanted to be relevant to seniors so they put together the Aging Your Way initiative.

Aging Your Way has hosted gatherings in several Seattle neighborhoods and plans more in the region and for selected population groups. Designed as a three hour gathering that starts with visioning and comes up with ideas to help get to that vision, they use open space facilitation to get to the ideas that shape the most energy in the room. During the two months prior to meeting with the community, they identify who the stakeholders and leaders are in a particular community and get them engaged.

There have already been four gatherings and there are four to six more planned in the next year, which will be topped off by a summit. Joanne pinned up large sketches documenting the input from previous gatherings and these elicited some lively conversation.

Pam Piering, City of Seattle, Aging and Disability Services

Pam introduced the notion that as adults age, they don’t want just to be greeted: they want a living, breathing connection to a community, and they want to be a lively part of that.

Built environment + The quiet crisis
Seniors are flying below the radar in terms of their level of need right now. Addressing the built environment is essential and vehicles such as development incentives and the introduction of universal design are critical components.

Promotion of physical activity is a key ingredient. Research is powerful that says that, in addition to the social element of being outdoors, physical activity helps one live longer and provides connectivity to a neighborhood. Senior housing no longer necessarily means one big building with all of the units in one building: It can be integrated into the community and neighborhood, supporting a livable and walkable community. Many boomers and seniors are finding the “leisure worlds” created as retirement communities are not something they want, so addressing the built environment is essential. In many instances this means retrofitting design rather than building new.

Pam posed the question: How can we help residents stay healthy in their own homes?
Through initiatives like “Farm to Table,” local farmers are connecting with the tables where seniors eat. By getting fresh local fruits and veggies, we can impact the long term health of our communities.

Other key aspects include:

  • Financial literacy and training.
    • Retirement funds: more conversations and more support
  • Health care reform is happening and talks about healthy communities and better information
  • Public policies to help seniors stay in their homes
  • Helping seniors have affordable housing with services available to them
  • Support for seniors living with family members
  • Locating housing where people can connect to public transit
  • Encouraging people to look at successful models for seniors.
    • The old models may not be the model of the future; it may be much more flexible.
    • People are going to live longer, and injuries don’t mean they’ll stay in a care facility.
    • There is a resiliency to seniors and we have to think of that in our new housing models.
  • Advocacy strategies. How can we support better housing options for older adults?
  • If you don’t frame this in the right language, our policy world is too willing to let things slide along and not address it until it’s too far along

If you want to read more on “The Quiet Crisis,” this link will take you to a report to congress by the Commission on Affordable Housing and Health Facility Needs for Seniors in the 21st Century.

Pamela “Tommy” Tomlinson
Legacy House
Tommy was not able to join us but the link above provides some insight to the Seattle Chinatown / International District Preservation and Development Authority and Legacy House. In addition to providing affordable assisted living to Seattle’s Asian community, Tommy has been instrumental in establishing various senior services including adult day health care and a lunch program. Her efforts are an example of putting into practice many of the concepts discussed by Pam.

Art Mussman
Art is active in volunteer activities where his special interests are affordable housing, transportation and access to medical services. Art serves on the Aging and Disability Services Advisory Council, Evergreen Hospital Community Advisory Council and the St. Jude – Redmond Stewardship Council. He also serves on the Kirkland Senior Council where he is active in promoting the use of Universal Design in the built environment. He focused on Universal Design as a way to facilitate the ability to age in community.

It’s not just about taking all homes and making them livable for a person in a wheelchair. It’s for everyone. For instance, round doorknobs are tough; people with arthritic wrists may have a hard time turning them. The same is true with light switches. There is no reason why not to lower the light switch. This allows a child to reach it as well as a person in a wheelchair. Meanwhile, the average person still has no trouble turning it on

Universal design applies to the community as well. Art used the example of the Kirkland Senior Center and the bus stop with no bus shelter. He also mentioned how even the stop is now gone making access to seniors that much more difficult!

The following link is to the Northwest Universal Design Council’s website, an organization Art is active in.

Aside from the discussion that grew from our panelists remarks, the group also talked about the concept of incentive zoning targeted towards affordable housing. The notion of accessory dwelling units has opened up a little in Seattle and may provide a model for other communities. We discussed the concept of the Fab Cab, a universally-designed pre-fabricated dwelling unit that has direct application as an accessory dwelling unit.

We enjoyed the conversation and believe it helped expand the dialog about the changing face of aging and the role of service providers, the community and design in that process.We look forward to continuing to host these events in Vancouver and Seattle!

Monday News Roundup

Nov 30, 2010

Millennials driving less want alternatives (Metro magazine)
Almost one-half of all 18- to 34-year-old drivers are driving less, and nearly two-thirds would drive less if alternative transportation options were available, according to an independent study commissioned by Zipcar Inc.

Images from the world’s most walkable cities (Switchboard)
Frommer’s just came out with their list of the world’s ten most walkable cities. Compact, urbane, mixed-use, resilient, every one of them.

Vancouver’s Farm City builds your raised beds for you (City Farmer News)
we built 4 raised beds, comprising some 115 square feet of growing space (that’s a lot of fresh greens, herbs and veggies!). And because it would be a hassle to mow between the beds, we installed river rock paths

Buy Local or Bye-Bye Local (Crosscut)
Around Bellingham you can hardly avoid noticing stickers and small posters that carry the message “Buy Local, or Bye-Bye Local.” It’s a tiny part of a major campaign to sustain local banks, local stores, local agriculture, local manufacturers and service providers.

Cities, states start to adopt climate change survival strategies (Grist)
As it becomes ever more clear that Congress has retreated from climate change legislation faster than a Greenland glacier, cities and states are starting to focus on adapting to the inevitable.

Most dangerous Vancouver bike crossings (beyond Robson)
The Insurance Corporation of British Columbia does not only have to look after drivers, but also cyclists.

Green Roofed Sports Pavillion Opens in Portugal (Inhabitat)
Architects Filipe Brandao and Nuno Sanches recently saw the completion of their collaborative design work that seamlessly integrates a fantastic sports pavilion with an existing primary school in Braga, Portugal. Their smart design boasts a green roof that recedes into the natural slope of the surrounding streetscape, ensuring that one more green space is kept intact within the city.

China gets serious about sustainability (Planetizen)
Warren Karlenzig is back from two recent visits to China, and says the Chinese government is preparing to release a hugely ambitious agenda for getting greener.

Discovering what lies beneath Seattle (Planetizen)
As Seattle prepares to undertake several major construction projects, the city should embrace and explore its buried archaeological past as a means to involve community members and spark interest in local history, argues Knute Berger.

Farmigo Streamlines CSA Systems So Farmers Can Profit (Treehugger)
CSAs, or Community Sustained Agriculture programs, are an excellent way to ensure that the bounty of a farm reaches our kitchen tables. Consumers subscribe to a farm or group (either annual, monthly, or per-box) and receive boxes of freshly harvested, usually organic foods.

Le Truc’s Bustaurant Serves Up Cuisine On a Re-purposed Bus (Inhabitat)
Forget about dining inside a fancy restaurant, nowadays it seems like all the good Bay Area food is being served up on wheels. With the Street Food Festival in full swing, and a fleet of gourmet gocarts at Off the Grid, we’re all about chasing down delicious downsized grub. But here’s the latest addition that gives a new spin on the the food cart frenzy – meet the Le Truc, a 1989 ford Ward School Bus turned bus resuaturan or “bustaurant.” Already gaining popularity, next week Le Truc will claim their permanent parking spot at 470 Brannan Street.

A boom in bike commuting in the US (Planetizen)
NPR reports on the impressive growth – a tripling, even – of bicycling in the United States, with a particular focus on commuting.

Couch Cushion Architecture Contest

by Ivan Ilic, VIA Architecture 

The couch Cushion Architecture project started one slow afternoon when I received an email with a link to this website.

I showed it to a coworker, who suggested we make it into an activity for everybody at VIA to participate; thus VIA Couch Cushion Architecture Challenge was born.

Though it was called a challenge, the CCA project was more an exercise for fun and participation, fostering VIA culture as our coworkers allowed us glimpses into their couch worlds. This challenge was especially fun for children who took the task seriously and produced some of the most innovative and challenging domestic structures.

Certain rules had to be followed:

  1. the project had to be within 5 feet of couch
  2. building blocks had to be supplied from home
  3. LEED Silver certification or greater
  4. must have fun

Each person or team had to submit photos of their creation, letters of assurance from a recognized structural engineer, and a written design intent. The 10 submissions were then subject to a group critique session where every CC Architect was given an opportunity to describe the merits of their piece followed by ‘sophisticated’ architectural commentary from their peers.

Since this project was a ‘Challenge,’ the submissions were presented on the VIA intranet and everybody voted for their favourites. Three prizes were given – third prize for sustainability, second prize for structure and tectonics, most importantly first prize for innovation. Trey walked away with two prizes this year – first and third for his sustainable and innovative beach front fort!

David received the second prize for his structurally brave ‘La Dame de Fer’ modeled after the Eiffel Tower.

Everybody else who participated received an honorary mention and a place in VIA history as a pioneer of the VIA Couch Cushion Architecture Challenge!

 (this one was supposed to be very sustainable… in the sense that they detailed how they would have built the fort, but never used any materials)

Monday News Roundup

Nov 22, 2010

Innovative Brevi Bus Unveiled in Rural Putnam County (Passenger Transport)
Putnam County has many rural areas and many unpaved roads which still need access to public transportation. These new Brevi Buses will fill this unique local and national need.

High-Speed Rail: Track Record of Success (Passenger Transport)
A new study from the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG)—using lessons learned from other countries—found that high-speed rail can boost a nation’s economy, curb pollution, provide an appealing alternative to congested roads and airports, and conserve energy.

Grassroots Planning Transforming Waterfront (Planetizen)
A group of citizens calling themselves Destination Bayfront have led the charge to turn their underused waterfront into a destination hotspot.

Solar-Powered French Gym Offers an Energizing Workout (inhabitat)
Architect Jean Marc Rivet’s funky design for a small gym located in Saint Gilles, France features an imaginative profile that slopes toward the sky. The gym’s inclined, rounded boxes are certainly good fun, but they also provide raised surfaces that capture sunlight.

Building a better intersection for pedestrians (Spacing Toronto)
Would rounded Crosswalk edges to help keep pedestrians safe?

Living, Water-Recycling Building Wrapped in a Network of Tubes (inhabitat)
This artists’ atelier and office building in São Paulo, Brazil features a facade covered in plants sustained by a network of tubes that provide mist at regular intervals.

Tiny Transformer Apartment Has Moving Walls, Dropping Beds and More (Treehugger)
TreeHugger founder Graham Hill is trying to radically reduce his footprint and live happily with less space, less stuff and less waste on less money, but with more design. He calls it “LifeEdited.”

Will industrial land be rezoned for a new MEC store? (The Vancouver Sun)
Industrial land, especially land for light industries such as the little citizen-serving businesses that most of us depend on but few of us notice, is never very sexy. A big new store, especially one whose reputation is built on the greenest of business practices and the most ethical of sourcing, is.

New incentives would spur growth in Pioneer Square (Crosscut)
New higher zoning limits are coming to Pioneer Square and the south downtown Seattle neighborhoods. But will these changes achieve the desired effect of bringing more residents to these neighborhoods without harming the existing urbanscape?

Planet Re-use: a dating service for used materials (Treehugger)
There are some things that the Internet is very good at, including helping put people and people or things and things together. Nathan Benjamin runs a dating service for materials, putting people together with the used materials they need.

The Best Sustainable Designs From Greenbuild Day 3 (inhabitat)
Last week Inhabitat joined the architects, designers, and green building enthusiasts that filled the halls on the final day of Greenbuild 2010.

by Catherine Calvert, Director of Community Sustainability

There are fascinating movements afoot in the way in which our communities are responding to imminent changes in the supply of oil, the availability of food, the consumption of goods, and our habits of mobility.

One of the most interesting of these is the emergence of Transition Towns, as documented in “The Transition Handbook:  From oil dependency to local resilience” by Rob Hopkins (2009).  Hopkins is a founder of the transition movement, which began in the United Kingdom around 2005 following release of the film “The End of Suburbia.” Some of the earliest towns to adopt the principles of community organization, local resilience, and kicking the oil habit are Totnes, Lewes, Penwith and Bristol, which are now seen as models that can be emulated in other communities worldwide.

Transition approaches aim to move beyond conventional environmentalism, embodying the principles of permaculture to develop community-based solutions for long-term resilience.  The basic premise is that we have reached the end of the era of cheap oil, and that all our habits of consumption and mobility need to move away from oil-based practices, otherwise there will be dire consequences — shortages of food, fuel, water, supplies — essentially everything we need in order to survive.  Solutions to this dilemma can only be found through the process of relocalization, whereby we return to a more collective approach to our resources on the scale of the town or the neighborhood, and learn to meet our needs without large inputs of external energy or materials.

Transition advocates use the term “energy descent” or “powering down” to describe how we can collectively move away from this peak of oil consumption toward a more local-based and sustainable future, designing our withdrawal from oil addiction rather than having this occur as a series of crises or disasters.  Shocks to our systems may be unavoidable, but the better equipped we are to deal with them, the better our chances of survival and a positive future.

Transition Initiatives are based on four key assumptions:

  1. That life with dramatically lower energy consumption is inevitable, and that it’s better to plan for it than be taken by surprise.
  2. That our settlements and communities presently lack the resilience to enable them to weather the severe energy shocks that will accompany peak oil.
  3. That we have to act collectively, and we have to act now.
  4. That by unleashing the collective genius of those around us to creatively and proactively design our energy descent, we can build ways of living that are more connected, more enriching and that recognize the biological limits of our planet.

Emanating from the original transition towns in England, these initiatives are being undertaken by communities all over the globe, and the movement is spreading quickly.  Here is a global map of transition initiatives:

The movement is also gaining ground in the Pacific Northwest.  Some of the local examples having “Official” Transition Movement status are:

Transition Portland:
Transition Vancouver:
The Golden Ears Transition Initiative:
Sustainable Northeast Seattle:

There are also other local groups listed as “Mulling”, such as Transition Bainbridge, the Snoqualmie Valley, Everett, and Pender Island.

The means of accomplishing transition vary by community, but some examples would be:

  • Conducting audits of Oil Vulnerability for local businesses, so that they can better understand the economic impacts of rising oil prices, and explore alternate means of operation to mitigate these.
  • Training community members to understand how current systems of food supply, energy use, building construction, waste processes, natural resources, and local economics work.  Increased awareness leads to examination of alternatives and collective innovation around adopting more sustainable strategies.
  • Creating a directory of local food producers, so that consumers can make informed choices and support local businesses.  This process also helps in identifying gaps in the local food supply which can be taken up as business opportunities by local residents.
  • Adopting a local currency that can subsidize and reinforce the notion of keeping consumer spending within the local economy.
  • Developing a local storytelling and education program that engages both adults and children, and encourages creative contribution to envisioning an alternative future.
  • Forming community support groups to assist individuals as they undergo the process of habit change, and addressing potential fears of unknown outcomes.

The Transition Town movement is interesting on two levels:  first, as an individual, to think about our personal patterns of consumption and how we might change these; and second, as architects and planners, to think about how we can design communities to reinforce desirable habits and support a less oil-dependent lifestyle.

“Powering down” is far more challenging in suburbia than it is in areas of more concentrated development because services and basic needs are so widely dispersed; car dependence seems inevitable for all but the most committed cyclists or pedestrians. Still though, there are strategies that can be adopted, such as conversion of lawns to edible landscapes (see Fritz Haeg’s work on Edible Estates), or pooling of community resources so that not every house needs to have a garage full of items that are used only occasionally (see services such as NeighborGoods and other similar sites).

A particularly appealing aspect of preparing for “powering down” is the focus on community members gaining many practical skills that have been lost or undervalued in the past couple of generations. Our depression-era parents or grandparents knew a lot about growing their own food, being frugal, and how to repair and mend to make things last.  Post-WWII North America underwent a period of collective abandonment of these values because goods became so cheap and abundant that making things last no longer held meaning.

How many of us have disposed of something because it was cheaper to buy a new one than get it fixed?.  Renewed interest in all things handmade or home grown is gaining interesting momentum, with the re-emergence of Americana (see Kurt B. Reighly’s new book “The United States of Americana“), or in the concept of homemaking, long ago devalued as a part of the feminist movement (see Shannon Hayes’s book “Radical Homemakers“).

In summary, “The Transition Handbook” is a highly accessible hands-on guide for any community thinking of pursuing a transition initiative.  From outlining the principles of resilience to explaining the psychology of change to step-by-step facilitation of the process, the book is humorous and wise, and generous in examples of how these changes have been undertaken in the original Transition Towns.  The time seems very right to pay attention to these lessons and become active as our own communities make this challenging, but necessary, leap toward resilience.

Monday News Roundup

Nov 15, 2010

Cities in Flux: Rebuilding New Orleans with better transportation (The City Fix)
How can transportation and urban development—from housing to public spaces to landscaping—repair a blighted American city?

Next Steps for Evergreen Line (The Buzzer Blog)
Here’s an update on TransLink’s proposed supplemental plan for 2011, which focuses on funding for the Evergreen Line, the North Fraser Perimeter Road, and several other key projects in our region

Pop-Up Cafes heading to New York City (Planetizen)
These “pop-up” cafes will be part of a two-year pilot program and up to 12 of them could begin to be installed in 2011. Participating restaurants will have to hire an architect to design the spaces, but the DOT will help with safety measures in the roadway.

Vancouver’s Transit Options with Pricetag (Planetizen)
Mayors in metropolitan Vancouver are facing two options for expanding transit service in the region — and a hard decision about how to generate the funding to make it happen.

New L.A. Planning codes could create transit sprawl (Planetizen)
A new group of activists in Los Angeles is warning that recently approved changes to the city’s planning code could make it easier for transit-related projects to be approved even if they are not in alignment with neighborhood planning documents.

Five materials improving sustainability in construction (Planetizen)
Joe Peach explains the technology behind five materials that will dramatically increase sustainability in the building industry. Among the list are wool bricks which are stronger, greater insulators and don’t require firing to set.

Futuristic Solar Skyscraper wins the Taiwan tower competition (Inhabitat)
This ultra-futuristic solar skyscraper by Romanian firm Dorin Stefan Birou Arhitectura was recently crowned the winner of the Taiwan Tower Competition. The 390-meter tower is designed to serve as an observation deck, office tower, museum, and urban park. The out-of-this-world skyscraper seems almost too far-fetched to be real — it even includes helium blimp elevators, a facade covered in photovoltaic panels, vertical axis wind turbines and a whole slew of sustainable strategies.

Why sustainable Agriculture is important to Walmart (Treehugger)
Guest post written by Beth Keck, senior director of sustainability at Walmart that talks about their global commitment to sustainable agriculture.

The future of tower renewal (Spacing Toronto)
Toronto’s Tower Neighbourhood Renewal plan (aka Mayor’s Tower Renewal) is an ambitious initiative with great potential to increase the quality of life of residents across the city through the combination of best practices in building retrofitting and neighbourhood revitalization.

Sustaiable hotel erected in 6 days (Treehugger)
This mesmerizing time-lapse video clip shows the rapid construction of the Ark Hotel in Changsha, China. It’s not amazing that this clip has been making the Internet rounds – it is amazing that a 15-story hotel could be erected in just under a week. There’s an even more fantastical element in the tale of this hotel: it’s builders claim it is an example of ‘sustainable’ architecture.

Cost effective Eco House made by hand for only $5000 (Green Building Elements)
Cash, that most basic element of our economy, can be in abysmally short supply for new young families scraping by on marginal jobs. Sustainable housebuilding may not be foremost in their minds.But one young couple in Wales managing on an annual income of just $10,000 went ahead and built their own cheap home anyway, sustainably, mostly out of materials from “a rubbish pile somewhere.”

12 year old makes homeless shelter from trash (Green Building Elements)
12-year-old Max Wallack stole the show at Design Squad’s Trash to Treasure contest with his “Home Dome.” The contest asked kids to repurpose trash into practical inventions.

Friday Feature: Dale

Nov 12, 2010

Who are you and what do you do?

Dale Rickard, an Urban Design and Transit Architect.

What made you decide to go into your field?
I discovered that I could make a living playing around with felt pens.

What did your family think of your chosen field?
It was a huge relief to them.

Who is the teacher who had the most influence on you and why?
The one person who has influenced my life the most has been my grandfather who was an architect from Glasgow.

What was the biggest hurdle you faced along your educational path? (academic, financial, motivational, family or peer pressure, outside distraction, etc.)
My biggest problem in my 20’s was choosing a single field, there were so many options.

What inspires you?
Living in Cities.

What schooling is required for success in your career?
Years of drudgery.

What kind of people are the most successful in your field? Are there any specific attributes?
Architecture is a very diverse field and there is room for people with a wide range of attributes.

What is the best advice you were ever given?
This advice comes from my wife the lawyer: never admit liability.

Is your field growing? (ie. is there room for new entries and is there career growth?)
Yes but new people entering architecture need to understand that architecture is cyclical following the real estate industry and global economies. Sometimes there is strong demand and sometimes there is unemployment.

What advice would you give someone considering a career like yours?
Find a wealthy spouse first.

Carve for a Cause 2010

Nov 10, 2010

Our firm has participated in Carve for a Cause for the last three years. The event is sponsored by Architects without Borders, and benefits their current and future projects providing design assistance to communities in need.

We’ll do a quick recap of previous submissions so you can compare them to this year’s.

2008: The Artichoke Lamp

Our inspiration:
This picture doesn’t show how much time this took or how hard it was to 
figure out how to make it work. Good thing we’re an office full of architects, right?
We ended up using a metal toilet paper holder, and attached the 
pumpkin “leaves” with long skewers and twisty ties. What do you think?

2009: Silence of the Squash

VIA’s Interior Designer actually steamed squash, skinned them, and then team members hand sewed them together for the final product. Creepy!

And our 2010 submission?
The [Pumpkin] Design Process…

A few team members were worried that we might be offending some professions that we work with, but we made sure to make fun of everyone equally, including Architects. Here are some detail shots:

[Click on the image to view the comments larger]
Need I say more, other than to point out the solar panels?
The date: October 34, 2009

Our prize?
Two staff members with tattoos [which I must say is better than the fake bloody arm from last year]: