Strategic design and financial development for individual projects, large developments anywhere in the world.

Beautiful Minds to Foster Green Thinking (Saving a Trillion a Year on Resources Alone if Implemented)

Posted: July 29th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: architecture | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »

Today 7-29-2011 – NY Times: The news comes as Congress is debating how to put the nation on a more sustainable fiscal path, with measures that some economists worry could further slow the recovery and even throw the economy back into recession.

Since our Government, House and Senate are not able to pull away from their sources of re-election (established industries rather than new smart ones), and allow us to do what we can do – what about…

Google, Facebook and LinkedIn?

The use of online tools and social networks could help show our nation some real spirit by supporting little extra cost in the creation of a couple of sample projects. We need to have building departments, builders, architects, engineers, and clients all aboard without them feeling like they are constantly pioneers in a Green Movement that has actually been with us for FOUR DECADES.

Look at the ‘green’ houses in the South — the houses in the North. Look at the small office buildings (or buildings similar in scope like small educational buildings or health centers) in both climates.

We need this innovation to be shown to our entire nation and since companies like Google, Facebook and LinkedIn have the databases, we would be able to access and share this sort of material and samples from anywhere in the world.

Engineers like Ove Arup showed us in the Sidney Opera House in Australia first what an excellent humanitarian curious mind can do, and now they are the largest engineering firm in the world; not just in structures but in all kinds of well-meaning aspects, including Green.

I met Ove Arup in the 1980’s when he was an elderly man. He gave me his own version of a Chess Game he had designed. The mind never stops! He was very proud of a bridge that had noise and rain reduced for pedestrians crossing the river. His staff has been a similar delight to work with throughout my career on issues that almost no one else is willing to tackle.

Fritz Gartner, an engineer near Munich, has produced in his factory the most beautiful curtain wall solutions that, lately, are competitively priced if one (owner) thinks beyond ten years of operation. I had proposed one of his economical solutions for UN HQ, but the architects following Arup and my own firm NY Super Studio Architects had to tackle the ever so cumbersome UN bidding and building process, and could not apply any sensible solutions.

Standing in Gartner’s factory, it makes one wonder why more curtain wall producers cannot expand their vocabulary in the same way. Sheer beauty and elegance is so breathtaking.

So, hopefully we will get some beautiful minds together this year and steer our economy to a brighter, happier future. Our goal should be no imported oil – PERIOD.

Tapani Talo, AIA

The buildings in the following pictures have zero energy considerations, and could not be recommended to anyone these days. Stone and concrete conduct heat and cold like electricity in copper. No shading provided where it counts, outside.


Princeton- Main Area

Princeton Gwathmey

Princeton Architecture School

Fashionable Architecture vs. Common Sense

Posted: July 25th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: architecture | Tags: , , | No Comments »

Metropol parasol - SevilleIn my first week at Architecture School, our very new and progressive professors wanted to make a point: They took us to architecture projects that were 10 to 20 years old (1974) and made us give them our view of how we thought they had achieved their purpose as buildings and as part of urban landscape.

This same process was repeated with each assignment; research, field study and a presentation to the entire class by students working in three-person teams.

We all vowed NOT TO REPEAT the previous generation’s mistakes of NOT being fashionable at the expense of owners and neighborhoods. (This helped to prepare me for life as a NY Architect).

So, how is it then that we are back to MOONSCAPES? High profile buildings and architects have again lost their tactile quality. These buildings are shapes hovering above ground, NOT OF IT and, just as in our field trips, no one is gathering under them or next to them as the wind blows and shadows creep. Instead we go to inside malls.

One can tell which generation CAD software these buildings were created on as people are looking for gimmicks rather than substantive acknowledgement and an understanding of architecture as a broad development where we are supposed to learn from our mistakes.

Magazines that publish architectural design need desperately to show off projects that look good on the cover, or they headline the article worded in such a way as to attract advertisers — much like our TV news or general shows these days. Green is a byword, not a reality. The smallest features are exaggerated in order to call a project green. Real Green Building, like practiced in some European countries, is truly green and not a gimmick. But this form of architecture is done by architects that are paid professional fees, unlike in the U.S and some other countries where we bid against each other, and end up with such a small fee that we cannot train our staff or ourselves, or keep staff long enough to develop essential skills.

Many editors have visited my projects and they say that they are not splashy enough, despite the fact that every normal person visiting them, including building inspectors, love them.

Media selling is a must for an architect’s or landscape architect’s survival too, but at the expense of quality of purpose. No one goes to a restaurant that does not serve food that is not based on a chef’s years of experience with best possible teachers. One can change a menu but not ignore our palette, habits, and the basic enjoyment we get from dining with friends who have many different personal preferences. So we are forced to be more of a ‘Harlot’, as Philip Johnson once said, than professional like a doctor for instance.

A purely nice ZERO CARBON GREEN normal building is unpublishable, and thus has a very limited audience from word of mouth. Our world will not change fast enough in this way for our children.

Recently, I visited a colleague a couple of hours away and she showed me some student resume projects from some of the foremost universities that were submitted to her for employment. None of them were BUILDINGS, but abstract mathematical planes forming clouds or shapes. These poor souls were taught by professors who were not practicing architecture themselves and had no respect for or understanding of historical progress. After 5 years or so these students arrive at our doorsteps, but very few of us can start training architects to do the real work of building real buildings and real programs at a time when the economy for us is beyond AWFUL, and our own families are looking for us to feed them.

PS. These abstract mathematical programs have beautiful practical purposes too as they solve real world program and technical issues for us so that we can focus on our client’s needs more, but everything has to be in balance, historically, today, and in the future.

Tapani Talo, AIA

Build a Green ‘Fun House’ and Save Half a Million on the Way

Posted: July 18th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: green building | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

The Greenest House in Westchester this Year - 6 weeks from completion

Normally we see so-called Green Building with either very High Tech form or an otherwise engineered appearance that yells much too loudly “I am efficient”…

The Brave Couple who are about to finish building the Greenest House in Westchester, NY in August, are nearing completion on a total Fun House, made for enjoying life with full Green Credentials.

The house is a stylistically timeless American Shingle style but could have just as well been a New Glass House like the Philip Johnson one, if there had been a different budget, updated technology for glass and other features, and a location that accepts modernism). The Master bedroom ceiling has an open working loft for their own use and reaches 29 feet. They luxuriate in an open soaring space that overlooks a wonderful distant view, which is rare in suburban lots in general.

We started two years ago on this very modest and rickety 1950’s house with plans for a master bedroom addition on an extremely low budget. The beautiful rear yard, unfortunately, was unusable as the land sloped too fast from the house.

The existing 2nd floor had only the typical R-18 insulation on the roof (added in 80’s), low ceilings of 7 feet, and thus the upstairs bedrooms were boiling in the summer and very uncomfortable in the winter (all typical issues with American houses). This was compensated by multiple means of heating, gas, electric and under floor heating – all competing with each other due to inadequate construction standards.

At that time the existing heating system was functional and thus there was no financial incentive to change this.

In the middle of our revisions, however, the heating tubes under the floor formed a major leak, and thus we were faced with a new selection process and a full analysis of what to do.

1. We had already applied to the addition the latest recommendations by US department of Energy task force or ‘Passive Hus’ – House standards insulation standard (R=40 walls and R=60+ for roofs, the German and Swiss approach) with solar panels. These standards are about double the current North East energy codes, and as I have indicated in my previous blogs, savings and comfort beyond anybody’s imagination is the result. I had tested these standards in my own house first, and I have to admit that even I as professional was amazed – even blown away – by the results.

So we switched to geothermal cooling and heating. The difference in price was about $20,000 extra for drilling to earth heat, of the total $70,000 heating cooling package with ducts. (Geothermal units last 30 years instead of the typical 15 years for current heating and cooling units). With generous tax incentives, this is from the start win-win economically, due to applied insulation that allows us to get full tax breaks. And every month, the savings are about 50% better than average heating/cooling and with insulation 75% + better than houses built only to code in the states of New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts.

There are no ‘noisy’ humming compressor units outside, and thus the yard is quiet in the summer. Because of this feature alone many clients want to use geothermal, as in large houses several compressors working at the same time cause a formidable amount of noise and cut down on the pleasure of being outdoors.

So why don’t we have more people doing this?

I have found out the following in the last 5 years when building totally green houses or retrofitting old ones:

1. Builders charge too much premium for doing this as it is different from their normal operation and they do not want to deal with Geothermal, solar and other applications. In my office I get around this by bidding with known contractors who have built with me and know what to expect.

2. I have the names of solar installers, and geothermal drillers, and I deal with them directly.

3. As a result, the houses are built to less cost because the tax breaks cover the extra insulation, and due to a smaller need for cooling and heating, ducting and heating cooling units are half the size.

4. Builders and consultants, mechanical equipment installers and suppliers do not like smaller mechanics as anything that is smaller and more efficient is less profitable, and thus my professional approach allows owners to gain state-of-the-art efficiency without the premiums.

5. Bankers, real estate professionals and developers do not find that people care enough to pay a little extra, (which could save them on a mortgage of $500,000 the entire mortgage amount in 15 years if savings for heating and cooling were applied to capital payments). Thus on a half million dollar mortgage, savings in 15 years amount to half a million in capital interest savings. Not bad for a little clear thinking.

Tapani Talo, AIA

Most Spirited New York: A Look at New York Architecture

Posted: July 13th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: New York | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »

New York Architecture is a working machine (a collection of high density buildings) that is made pleasant by Street Life, Culture and Skyline.

Architecture in New York is the ‘collective skyline’ and the pedestrian streets that are lined with every kind of shopping, restaurant and museum.

So it is not about architecture as people generally associate it, but more about liking our vacation destinations, like Florence, Rome and Barcelona (just to mention easy ones similar to New York with walking, shopping and museums).

How this was achieved was by ZONING. In order to keep New York a PEDESTRIAN CITY, we forget that the REAL ARCHITECTURE FOR THE PAST 60 YEARS HAS BEEN THE PLANNING AND ZONING in order to keep variety and richness in each part of the city’s streets and not allowing blank MEGA stores and banks to overwhelm the streets block after block; and thus, suffocating the city. We had wonderful brilliant well-meaning individuals in charge of all this and they saved the city as best as they could.

In the period after Seagram was built; the plazas became the ‘fashion’. But very soon the gaps (or wounds) in street livelihood was noticed. And thus the savior, the 1983 zoning law, was passed.

But alas, even with this zoning, we cannot control market forces like rents and tenants.

Midtown today has suffered from the success and is now rented for luxury (and mostly to international mega label ‘store chains’ due to the high rents that began in the 1980’s). ‘Street Life’ has moved to downtown areas like Greenwich Village, Soho, and Tribeca. These areas, along with the upper West Side, have been able to offer more New York-like diverse retail, restaurants and art scenes. The museums and music events still draw normal people to Midtown, but galleries, fun stores, and restaurants are harder to come by. An eerie silence from the locals is the result.


All built architecture buildings, in New York focus on the ability to create VERY efficient plans, and yet manage to squeeze a brief moment of a welcoming lobby (occasionally) and a beautiful elevator whisking you up to whatever meeting or apartment you wish to visit.

So Central Park and Riverside Park in the upper West side of Manhattan became the lungs for New York. Also the East Side landmarked areas made it possible to have a reasonable sky plane and a sense of normality, as without this the entire Upper East Side would have been ripped apart and built like any high density metropolis, with no character, just density.

So three miracles on top of reasonably good public transportation: Central Park and Riverside Park, Landmark Law and creative Zoning has saved New York, and allowed our City to do what we really need to do, work VERY hard these days in service related industries.

As for built architecture I would break down the categories into 3 categories, starting with the healthiest:

1. Development like Durst’s Bank of America tower at Bryant Park is as green as it can get. But Durst was in charge of most meetings and made sure everyone applied Green principals to achieve the intended results. And this is not easy. Architects and consultants are not willing or allowed to go through the extra effort to do this. It is a different kind of service and thus requires more time and effort, which is not part of standard fee.

But even Durst cannot change the rental area calculation. The rental area is measured to the exterior of glass, and thus the curtain wall has to be as thin as possible. This, by default, results in less than perfect Green building.

His building, by being green, has the ability to provide power in emergencies, use innovative thermal storage to reduce loads and water consumption, and foremost, provide extremely healthy environments to his tenants with other technologies. This in turn saves tenants more money than any of the other issues mentioned due to less turnover and days off due to sickness of any kind.

2. Normal commercial office buildings and housing have to conform so rigorously to tenant standards (to the very last 1/8th of inch / or 3 mm), zoning envelope and cost per sq. ft. The skin has to be the thinnest possible, as long as we have this incredibly detrimental law of calculating rentable space to the outside plane of the glass. Until we change this, there cannot be truly smart GREEN buildings in New York.

The less Green the buildings are, the more profitable they are to owner by using more power. The Landlord/owner gets a share of the electrical utility cost. And thus not only owners but utility companies are reluctant to promote something that has no commercial value to them. Also because of this there is no need to think differently from the past or change maintenance or other considerations.

Ever so rarely there is a site that has enough of a dimension that allows some form of massing manipulation and room to attract higher end tenants (better rent), but primary skill is in the method of trying to make a bulk feel smaller, with minimum means, in order to keep efficiency and costs down.

3. Museums and cultural buildings are the only ones that tend to have the ability to shine in artistic ways. And this is a blessing. New York truly gets the best architects in the world to do their very best. The recent MOMA addition and renovation is a shining example of an extremely difficult urban situation turned into a masterful show of talent that we should all be proud of.

The next blog about New York will be a more detailed issue that will include actual details of Built projects both in housing and office buildings. It will also explain why the buildings will last a fraction of the time by not being Green and built for immediate financial gratification rather than for the good of the country itself in the long term.

Tapani Talo, AIA