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Reimagining America’s Buildings Starts at the University Level

Posted: December 23rd, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: green building | Tags: , , , , , , , , | No Comments »

As one of the premier zero energy architectural firms in the country, we know a thing or two about good long-term buildings at NY Super Studio Architects. Unfortunately, most of the country doesn’t follow this mindset and it all starts with the Universities in this country.

MIT, Harvard, Yale, Princeton and other universities – as a reflection of our society – cradles the USA’s complacency integrating healthy attitude to competitiveness.

If one would paint a picture of USA by walking through our universities, it would be very hard to believe that we are in 21st century; the setting is far too antiquated in look and feel.

Yet all the buildings are used by the Universities 24/7 for what seems like the foreseeable eternity. There are no buildings that are 100% passive (or even 90%) and capable of being used without external power source, WHICH is very easy to do with our current knowledge. Why aren’t we then?

Thus, we train our best to think that this Colonial 1932 or older aesthetic is the norm, and the fashionable ‘cool’ thing to do. A perfect example of those 1930 colonial look (and feel) buildings that operate alike is Scarsdale in Westchester, NY.

Scarsdale is amongst the wealthiest towns in USA, just as our Ivy League Universities are. Building review boards often want that 1932 Colonial look, because it is the ‘safe’ look for property values and neighborhood character. The idea that architects could do something contemporary and good is NOT EVEN CONTEMPLATED. In Scarsdale, it is impossible to do smart buildings either; it’s all about the look and square foot amount. Even solar panels are considered eyesores. Skylights in the deep (in plain dimension) Mac Mansions would make the interiors little lighter and happier without constant lights. Unfortunately, they are forbidden too. Construction follows the cheapest norm, and as an average new home sells around 3 million, a smart PASSIVE construction would barely register in cost, nor would it change the look in any of them. So, what is the problem here?

In my recent visit to all of these Ivy League campuses, I felt embarrassment just looking at the buildings as well as the architecture schools products. All surface and style in student presentations, and in none did I see buildings that were attempting to be GOOD long term buildings filled with sensible views and light using latest R-13 and R-20 glass. Building construction was always esoteric, and my colleges and I could never hire a student from an American University without totally retraining them. To be expected, that is an expensive proposition in today’s climate where fees are cut to the bone in buildings that are normally extremely tightly budgeted.

If Universities cannot or are unwilling to invest in GOOD buildings, how do we expect the rest of the country to do so? I mean, with all the complexities of developers needing instant return on capital, getting no aid to do passive and green for the good of our country and simply not giving a damn about the fact that the tenant will be paying for the lousy short-sighted old fashioned office/apartment building ((which translates to the entire US economy), the country will never invest in GOOD buildings. They simply cannot AFFORD to be sensible. Our society still does not believe in the fact that we are running out of cheap energy and that completion around the world is turning us into dust.

Hurricane Sandy showed us in NYC that when the power is out, we are too. Nobody climbs 70 floors to an unheated office, nor do people live in the 70th floor that has no heat, water or other services. This is a gigantic problem that we have to deal with now. The sooner, the better. However, even without such an environmental conflict, when energy costs double from present (and they will), it will create a political situation that WILL lead to a BIG and GLOBAL war. Then a Sandy-like scenario will happen over all over the developed world. We’re not ready for this. None of us is. We could have been if we had listened Jimmy Carter.

If you have any questions regarding NYC architecture or construction, or curious about zero energy architecture, contact NY Super Studio Architects today! Project by project, we will help build up this nation in a POSITIVE and GREEN way.

Tapani Talo, AIA

DOE, Energy Waste, Taxes and Average American Pocket Book – Now and In Long Term

Posted: December 5th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: architecture, green building, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | No Comments »

50 years ago John F. Kennedy said: Don’t think what government can do to you, but what you can do for your country – to save our children’s future. This kind of thinking fuels green architecture and planning, especially in and around New York City. NY Super Studio Architects lives by such a philosophy. If only other institutions did the same, such as the DOE (Department of Energy).

If DOE would change its front page for residential (On the commercial built environment side, the same applies ) recommendation to match 2013 knowledge and capabilities, our nation would be on the way to save Trillion dollars a year avoiding wasted energy alone. Plus avoid a catastrophic set of climate and geopolitical events that are gathering pace within a decade.

But that’s not all.

  1. Each of us would earn more than our general life time earnings by cutting mortgage payments as we know it! Most of the cost of our purchase price goes to interest. If energy savings income is funneled to paying principal, ones saves the amount of mortgage in 20 years. No that is REAL income towards retirement. Not only income but being able to live in an incredibly comfortable house or office building that can operate without the grid power when done right.
  2. Our military presence in many parts of the world is based on our energy on our energy insecurity. It is lot cheaper to make our own country operate smartly and better, as then we are not creating more enemies by playing shifting political games around the world.
  3. Maybe Universities would produce students that understood that focusing on Wall Street careers only will ‘burn this earth’ and if actually living smartly and making money at the same time would save them…and their children.

On the residential AND commercial sector we ask builders and developers to build cheaply, but WE (the people) are the ones who pay each day, month and year enormous wasted utility costs, TAXED BY the building owners for supplying it, much like banks charge us for CREDIT cards. By and large we STILL build largely the way it would have been state of the art BEFORE the oil embargo 1973. This isn’t very green, isn’t it? Nor is it very smart!

We complain about taxes and big government, but if most of us understood how much each of us would save if our bright government agencies hired the best brains AND allow them to do what is done in other countries. For instance, NOAA’s chief scientist and head of the Earth Space Research Lab, Dr. Sandy MacDonald – has made it possible through a five-year project to save our country from an energy crisis by making our power network 93% efficient with mere 150 billion. This allows us to connect not only existing power providers, but also wind and solar power ACROSS the country anywhere. This – if implemented – could almost reverse our planetary carbon increase in the atmosphere (particularly if China did the same). This would give us time to implement 90% reduction in energy losses in buildings (and hopefully in transportation too).

Somehow we trust corporate leaders, with a grain of salt, banking leaders bit less as we have paid ENORMOUS taxes to bail them out. WE have more universities than any other country, but we don’t seem to be able to teach common sense and how to make smart collective decisions. In numerous historical phases in the past, one thing stands out: we either pull the same rope (think what is good and smart bottom line in LONG term for the country) or perish. Particularly in the USA, each state, city and school district seem to have a different agenda and pulling a DIFFERENT ROPE.

50 years ago John F. Kennedy said: Don’t think what government can do to you, but what you can do for your country. As a people, we must embrace that ideology once again. If green architects can do it, why can’t the nation as a whole?

For more information on this topic, the below books are a good place to start.

If you have any questions regarding NYC architecture or construction, or curious about zero energy architecture, contact NY Super Studio Architects today!

Tapani Talo, AIA