Saturday, June 16, 2012

A Year of Doing Alternatives

It's been a year since writing on this blog, which I often think about. The previous post about starting the Center Cafe to complete the development of ecoNewBedford describes much of the past year. My design-build management skills continue to make the business. It's a process I express as "plan to execute" within a masterplan framework.

Presently a really cramped and make-shift apartment in Beacon Hill is being transformed into a  more spacious and appointed place. What's alternative about this is how it's being done - there's a tight budget, many repairs, yet an efficient plan. The owner knows that through design the most will come from the investment; so refreshing.

The Weatherization Program at UMass Dartmouth has also been expanding this year. I obtained BPI certifications and a Construction Supervisors License. I have proctored the field exams for Whole House Air Leakage Control Installers, and have prepared a proposal to to launch a worker's cooperative to meet local weatherization needs.

The ecoNewBedford project expanded again during the past year to include a shop called Off-Centre of finds-repurposed. It's been a good, relatively uncomplicated, design outlet, but we are working on converting a Retro Favorite Stove into a wine cooler and cabinet. This has been a more intensive undertaking in the midst of the multiple projects.

The rentals in Boston and New Bedford, plus the Cafe, continue to bridge and diversify working as an alternative architect during this economy. And because of this, the workings of "plan to execute" will be covered in a new blog named the same.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Architecture Meets Business Development

It's been much too long since posting, but the time was well spent expanding the opportunity to practice architecture. For some time I have worked to develop an income property that has required persistence and fortitude in the ongoing recession. With this project, though, doing nothing was a worse prospect than moving forward in an uncertain economy (see ecoNewBedford) . As an under-employed architect, I found myself increasing my skills and putting away a lot of sweat equity. With so much going on, there was truly no time to be discouraged by limited work. Now I experience bit by bit I am filling in this financial hole.
The final effort has been opening a cafe to activate an empty storefront, and every design skill, and life skill, I ever learned has been put to use to make this neighborhood hot spot flourish. This is turn benefits the property (ie me the architect), which in turn benefits the neighborhood, and a little economic "solar panel" just keeps producing energy. See
So now as an architect I build business too, and it seems so logical since isn't that the point of so much of what we do?

Sunday, May 23, 2010

How Much Does Your Building Have to Say?

It is remarkable to have a place to refer again to Buckminister Fuller. In the spirit of his question "how much does you building weigh?", I am asking "how much does you building have to say?" Being efficient and making statements requires quiet commitment. 

Monday, March 15, 2010

alternative architecture is industrious

There's a thread between all the ways to be industrious and the alternative architecture that is created. Design is practiced to get as much as possible out of as little as possible. The effect is intended to have a broad reach while remaining accessible. Its optimistic rather than sentimental. It's inventive, crafty and technical. More along these lines can be viewed at:

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Art of Construction

Since January instead of saying "Architecture for the New Economy", I have been using "The Art of Construction for the New Economy." I feel this better represents what I practice; how are we going to make this and how are we going to make it happen? I have just been reading Milton Glaser, a renowned graphic artist, who writes about making things as the alternative to controlling things. For me alternative architecture is spontaneous making. Glaser also writes "The deepest role of art is creating an alternative reality, something the world needs desperately at this time." Glaser reminds me of a Buckminster Fuller statement about "the encouragement of human beings in the world of design give to others." and I wonder if they had ever met.

I don't think that spontaneous or alternative is frivolous in fact for me it is probably pretty serious. But it also becomes joyful. (see slideshow)

Despite this recession there's still plenty of money around. It would be exciting if people thought of using their money for making investments that create jobs. In the built environment there is so much work to be done to keep what's built from costing us money (or worse). Architects need to use their experience to cross-mentor with builders of various skills. Upgrades and repairs are needed, and making things that relies on trained local labor, recycled, or efficient materials presents marvelous opportunities for a new reality focused on the improvements and benefits made. (see more on the new economy)

Friday, January 8, 2010

Architect Sketch

There's nothing like a little architecture humor in these challenging times. The link to this UTube video came from a IT blog posting. I get these IT alerts because the organization of computer code is also referred to as architecture. I always delete these, but this one got my attention.

Here's the full blog posting, but I found the following conclusions insightful:

"... before building your design you need to know what your mission requirements are.  And you need a good relationship with your customers and how they serve the mission.

If there was ever any doubt of that, I’d like to point out a great example highlighted by Monty Python in a skit named… “Architect Sketch.” In it John Cleese plays an architect who seems to have created his design without an approved business architecture. The result is a design that does not meet the intended mission needs. (In the same sketch, Eric Idle, seems to have a design that reflects mission needs, but shows signs that it might not be executable).

The sketch is a great way to drive home many lessons in IT architecture, don’t you think?  Here are a few that come to mind:

  • IT customers should very clearly spell out the requirements that need solving (by the way, most are are not very good at this)
  • IT architects must ensure they are designing to mission needs
  • Sometimes poor technical designs are picked because they are the only thing that comes close to meeting the mission
  • Sometimes designs are picked because of relationships
  • ... another point this skit humorously highlights.  In the end, the customer choose the poor technical design over the good one because it was closer to meeting the mission, and because the architect had a relationship with the customer, as evidenced by the well executed masonic secret handshake.

    Lesson overall: Good enterprise IT is always about people and the mission.  When enterprise IT is designed without a good understanding of the mission, disaster can result."

Friday, January 1, 2010

Direction for 2010

In recent months my work has centered around energy retrofits, and I have been able to discuss alternative approaches with an energy efficiency team while working on proposals for a Sustainability Training Center in New Bedford. I also imagine testing these different approaches at the Center.

The overwhelming experience in 2009 was the ultimate comfort of a well insulated space in the New Bedford townhouses. I never believed it was possible to feel completely warm when its well below freezing outside. In the past I have specified foamed in place insulation in two attics, but never got to experience the space during a deep freeze. 

One of those projects was done five years ago, and the top of the line insulation was not the most important part of the design-build. Instead the luxurious aspects of a master bedroom-bath suite got all of the focus. Those days are now long gone, and I've been thinking a lot about what may take its place. Let's face it our homes need upgrades, but at a smaller price tag and with a return on investment that improves our comfort and reduces fossil fuel consumption. 

After feeling the comfort and knowing the energy savings of a deep energy retrofit, I can think of no reason why we don't gut the interior wall finish of exterior walls and get them fully sealed and insulated. True it may seem like a big mess, expense, and hassle, but it's nothing like the disruptive renovations of past years where added space and fine finishes were the priority and thermal performance was an after thought . Even the idea of freshly painting an outside wall that hasn't been properly sealed and fully insulated seems an incredible waste and a sentence to enduring cold winters. I truly believe now is the time to get over the sense of disruption or added expense (really for how long and for how much?? a couple days and a couple $K) to achieve well sealed and insulated outside walls.

It is exciting to think of design-build on a room by room basis for deep energy retrofits for a relatively small investment.  Of course even more exciting is the project that includes a needed renovation while kept on a tight budget with performance and form as priorities over glamour and charm.