Wednesday, August 29, 2007

"Toward an Organic Sustainable Architecture"

I intend to show that Organic Architecture and Sustainable Architecture are compatible with each other and further that when combined the result will be a higher form of architectural expression.

I have studied Organic Architecture and have defined for myself four core principles:

The Design should be for and of the Site. The unique site should be analyzed and experienced, allowing the design to be created from the inside spaces outward.

The Design should Create Organic Spaces. Organic Spaces allows space and materials to flow around corners and from the inside to the outside. Organic Space continues beyond the corners and engages the imagination.

Part is to whole as whole is to part. Develop a language for the design. Allow the materials to flow around corners and the materials and specific design elements and to repeat from space to space.

Form and Function are One. Allow the unique needs and conditions of the Client and the Site to inform and to drive your design. Design for the Human Scale of the occupants. Allow the materials chosen for your to express their unique nature.

My definition of Sustainable Architecture includes any design parameters and design systems which conserve energy or reduce the buildings "carbon footprint". My focus for Sustainable Architecture will be on the more passive and more low-tech systems which can be integrated into the buildings design. The U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED system may be used as a guideline, however, I see LEED as a simple measuring or ranking system, not as tool which should drive the design. While there are some LEED certified buildings which also create fine architectural space, just as often the highly technical systems for energy conservation drive the design and thus result in architectural abominations.

Where exactly this exploration will lead, I do not know, but I am sure that I will find out in the next 5 weeks.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

What am Itaking away from the work so far....

Through the various readings discussions, and class work, I found most compelling the studies of mass human behavior. Specifically, Why We Buy by Paco Underhill and The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces by William H. Whyte seem to resonate with me. These behavioral studies showed how simple design considerations can really determine the success or failure of a design. The studies focused on specific aspects of behavior, but the conclusions can be applied to many aspects of design.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Landscape Taste as a Symbol of Group Identity

James S. Duncan, Jr. has certainly taken an interesting approach to analyze the apparently voluntary segregation of the two predominate groups in Bedford Village, NY based on their landscape preferences. He "presents evidence that subtle variations in landscape tastes of two groups of nearly identical, high socioeconomic status are significant indicators of group identity."

I find myself questioning his conclusions. I desire more information.

How identical are the "nearly identical, high socioeconomic status"? I would like to know the average income in the alpha and beta landscapes. My guess is that the wealthiest people live predominately in the alpha landscape. The NY Social Register would seem to back me up here: "Of the 120... residents listed... 94.2 percent live in the alpha landscape."

I would like to know average property value in the two landscapes. Again my guess would be that property values are significantly higher in the alpha landscape.

How much is "landscape preference" determined by lot size? The most significant difference between the landscapes is one put in place by zoning - four plus acre lots in the alpha area and smaller lots - as small as 1/4 acre in the beta area. It would be difficult to achieve a beta landscape - emphasizing lawns, americana, and symmetrical shrubbery - on a four-plus acre lot. It would be equally difficult to create the asymmetrical "English gardens", low rock walls, pastures and woodlands giving the impression of a "picturesque... series of happy accidents" on a quarter acre lot. In both cases these landscaping efforts would look forced and out of place.

The distinct separation of social groups is also interesting. This also begs us to examine the claim that the residents of the two landscape area are of "nearly identical, high socioeconomic status". Socioeconomic as defined by ( Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc.) means: of, pertaining to, or signifying the combination or interaction of social and economic factors... So the fact that the two landscape areas are so clearly divided by their social networks in itself says that there are also two distinct socioeconomic groups.

The preferences for Americana is interesting. It seems that alphas think that their pastoral colonial landscapes already speak loudly enough, whereas the betas need to emphasize their colonial aspirations with eagles and ornate mailboxes.

I have to conclude that the separation between these two landscapes - while also showing landscape preferences - is clearly drawn by social and economic boundaries.

Both of this article and the Bickford article show how willing we are to segregate ourselves. Again, I would say that it is inherent human nature to seek associations and relationships with people of similar values, ideals and status. This article discussed the segregation of two white anglo-Saxon groups - I would say quite clearly based on socioeconomic status. Bickford’s article showed how the high value which we - as a society - put on privacy, safety, security, and comfort tends to insulate us from the rest of society and especially tends to segregate us from those who are different from us. The desire to associate primarily with other people like US innate and strong.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Ind-CID-eous Sprawl

In his e-mail Herb Childress quoted Susan Bickford:

…the dominance of CID housing is a result of deliberate institutional policies. It is not the case that consumers demanded these private, controlled environments and then the market reacted to those demands. Rather, CIDs originated in response to land scarcity after the first swell of postwar suburban construction; common ownership plans were not utopian social experiments but simply a way to put more people on less space. Municipalities in financial difficulties welcomed the construction of private infrastructure, and both federal and local governments joined with real estate associations in creating policies and public relation campaigns to create a market for the "product," since "CIDs departed significantly from what most middle-class families expected from home ownership."

So there’s evidence on the table that this desire for hyperprivatization is manufactured rather than some aspect of "human nature."

I am not sure I can agree with their conclusions.

Bickford goes on to stay, "The second crucial point is that these developments are... undemocratic internally and externally... Homeowners associations are essentially private governmnets wielding the "quasi-constitution" of the CC&Rs, which can and do include restrictions of all kinds:.."

However, Bickford also found that up to 60 percent of all new housing in major metropolitan areas is in developments of this kind. Beyond being the in-CID-eous scourge on our landscape these CIDs are extremely popular. All of the marketing in the world will not cause the majority of new home buyers to choose this type of development over other more traditional styles. And if lots of people weren’t buying in they would definitely stop building them. People must be willing in large numbers to sacrifice some autonomy and be doubly taxed in exchange for the "known quantity" of these CID’s and their promise of stable property values. The CID’s surely are focused on a specific target income group, but just as surely they cannot discriminate based on race, religion, color, creed, etc.

Constructing Inequality

My first content posted to a weblog... Unfortunately, this is incomplete. However on Herb’s urging, I decided to post something for comments and continue the analysis and review in a further posting.

Constructing Inequality by Susan Bickford raises issues many of which I have never really considered in depth. Let me preface that by saying that I grew up in the "City" of Waterville, Maine (pop. 15,000) which has no gated communities and no ghettos. It is however still a somewhat divided city based on socio-economic status. Waterville has the poorer part of town - the "South-End" and the up-scale neighborhoods extending toward Colby College. The State of Maine is currently ranked as one of the "whitest" states in the nation with 96% White and less than 1% Black, Asian, or Hispanic. I currently reside in rural Sidney, Maine (pop. 3500) where public democratic participation still thrives as our form of governmental decision making is the town meeting. Our town still decides the important issues before it by a show of hands. If I have firsthand experience with the "gates" of Bickford’s essay, it is of the gated community which is the State of Maine and of the invisible gates which are lines on a map.

That said, I can see the validity of some of Bickford’s main points in the terms of large cities and the surrounding suburbs. However, I cannot agree with some of her conclusions. Her ideal city would be a place where a large number of people of different races and cultures live and work creating a vital culture which wields fair and democratic political power. A fine ideal but how do we achieve it. Her model for this democratic society is the Greek city-state where she says, "political philosophy emerged through critical contemplation of these concrete cities; it engaged a variety of political and ethical themes, including... the problems of citizenship in a context of formal equality" America was founded on the principle of equality; as in the Declaration of Independence,

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."

In America, we certainly place high value on Safety and Freedom to choose. The method for democratic decision making is one vote per person or if you live in Sidney, Maine, one vote in person. One person - one vote, fair and equal representation, that is if everyone is informed on the issues and then actually casts a vote.

The high value which we - as a society - put on privacy, safety, security, and comfort tends to insulate us from the rest of society and especially tends to segregate us from those who are different from us. I would say that inherent human nature to seek associations and relationships with people of similar values, ideals and status. Extending those values into the design of public spaces may serve to homogenize the experience of those spaces by segregating groups along ethnic and socio-economic lines. Our desire for security and comfort may drive us apart.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

A little trial post

This post is a test of my blog site for the BAC Distance M. Arch Architectural Theory course. I am looking forward to this new (for me) means of discussion and discourse.