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An Architect’s Profession: Career and Value to Society

Posted: March 4th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: architecture | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »

Frank Lloyd WrightWE admire beauty, to the extent that we admire even F.L. Wright, whose buildings often reached 10 or 20 times their original budget. We architects working today cannot even add 7% to the building budget that would make it totally passive, green and over a lifetime produce enormous savings and comfort to the owners.

What’s the most precious thing in life – beyond personal health?



Heat (in winter)



Power/fuel (no food, water, movement, heat or communication without these)

In all these categories, architects and planners have enormous possibilities to make things either perfect, safe and near everlasting. If we keep doing what we have been doing, itmeans the end of the world. There is no other profession that can shape the world for the better. Yet people think of us as? what exactly?


Near USELESS, that’s what. This isbased on the fact that we are not able to do anything to make the world more peaceful, use water more efficiently, build buildings that do not need heat or cooling and could provide even sustenance and power – nearly for free. Peace is easy if most people have what they need in life, and if we do not waste, more people would have what they need.

Couture or Start architects are barely surviving these days. Half of our professionals from 2005 are no longer in architecture.

Yet in every developed nation, buildings alone in general use most of the energy, bleeding our scarce resources into WHAT – outdated utility companies and energy production? No one seems to know that a TRILLION in a year is unsustainable in the long run, even for the wealthiest nation in the world. It cost about 6 trillion to do the 10 year war in Iraq (and the same for Afghanistan), and that was considered HUGE and unsustainable.

If architects’ and professional salaries and fees – along with respect for real professional ability to do good and green – were respected, we could fix this issue in a reasonable time frame, and stop focusing building fancy bubble gum (high tech, one of a kind, difficult to maintain) architecture (in fashion these days in order to stay in the news).

Naturally, only if the incentives from our government would make it financially viable to provide the extra 7% in cost to make buildings (and efficient transportation) 90% to 95% more energy efficient for the developers.

This 7% would make nuclear power stations obsolete and many conventional ones too. As a nation, we would save a trillion dollars a year in today’s money…and the little power to live from can come from solar and wind nearby. And in buildings that can operate without a grid, it makes business possible even with outages.

Professional planning / zoning would help to provide local substance, but who seems to care as we shop at ease in our super markets with enormous parking lots around them.

So why is it that the only profession that could make FREE money in trillions a year, that is trained and works as hard as doctors, gets paid a fraction and has no respect or proper use these days?

It started in the 70’s when lawyers took away fees that were based on job difficulty, and replaced it with competitive bidding. First, we lost the ability to train which meant that continuity and office experience was lost as soon as people moved on or were laid off. Then came computerization that temporarily allowed efficiencies, and thus survival for few years. Then came overseas drafting to cut cost in China and India. Then recessions, and so we were left with a skeleton crew of offices that have started to collapse into a  few ‘collectives’. What is next in store? Neither architecture schools nor industries have yet to wake up for the national or global) security dilemma. Only extreme effort can save us now, by being totally GREEN beyond our wildest imaginations.

Any nation that depends on long fragile power and food supply as we are now) cannot enter a world conflict, and yet the general view is that the world with its hunger for endless resources will sooner (possibly within a decade) again go through the unthinkable (WAR) due to stresses in energy and raw materials, geo politics, coupled with growing number of people in our little fragile planet.

We have seen in New Orleans and NYC what happens when power is no longer available. To see the whole nation / continents in this state of affairs is catastrophic and yes, very biblical. Even green passive structures and healthier ways of producing food and conserving water cannot completely save us, but they do buy time to rebuild and survive…for some, but certainly not for all.


Tapani Talo, AIA

 11 Heatherbloom Road, White Plains, New York 10605, USA. Tel: 1- 914 – 645 2940,


Shale = Shame

Posted: January 15th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: energy policy | Tags: , , , , , , | No Comments »

As New York City’s premier green architectural firm, we are very concerned about energy use in the country. In order to save our children and planet, we must undergo a 90% improvement in energy use. That way, we would save 5.4 trillion a year with CURRENT energy prices in US spending. However, because of shale discovery, we have once again turned away of   effective programs to change or habits in resource usage . If we follow on the path we’re currently on, improvement is completely out of the question and destruction glaringly apparent.

green architecture

Around 2006, we saw a nice increase in oil prices, continuing to 2008 and then it finally hit us: we thought of conservation, energy savings the smarter way. Now, it seems that we are above it all! However, despite this aspect, our consumption is normal, and no one seems to think of why we use 90% or more energy than the current state of the art thinking and technology would require. Shale fog, optimism, andeuphoria. What do our children use after shale is gone? We are burning through it like never before – in cars, houses and factories.

This last resource of easy energy should have been a reserve for our kids, not a fun filled ‘keep doing the old thing – and be a gas guzzler’ thing. EACH of us in US uses 312 million British thermal units (Btu) in a year (1,000,000 BTU is 293 kW-hrs. At 20¢ per, that is $59×319 million per person =18.000 dollars a year). $18000 x 319 million persons = 6000 billion = 6 trillion a year – so 90% improvement would be 5.4 trillion savings!

Nevertheless, the federal government spends less than $5 billion a year on energy research and development, not counting one-time stimulus projects. About $30 billion is spent annually on health research and more than $80 billion on military R & D – wars that kill and destroy even more than we can imagine – the entire planet.

Like in medicine, prevention has no money in it, so we do not promote effective prevention, but spend $8.200 a year per person. All the current ENERGY SAVING programs that we are doing – like NYSEDRA is on average 20% improvement, but with same amount  of thinking, we can do a 90% improvement.

All the wars in the past have been about resources, to have more or to just have enough. The next one will be no different, with the planet doubling the population in mid century. By adding 7% to each project, we would indeed save 90% on energy and related resources, and that would really help the people, air, global warming, and resouces – and create a safer politically motivated world.

There are only 314 million of us, but right now, 2 billion harder working competitors out there in the world. They are likely the ones to call the shots soon enough. Information is a click away for them too. No more boundaries for us or other developed nations to stay in our cozy ivory tower.

If architecture – or architects – were educated, supported by proper incentives and used properly, 3/4 of the energy usage would be eliminated. We might even be called professional, and paid a living professional wage.

If you have any questions about this, or any of our wonderful, energy-efficient projects, contact NY Super Studio Architects today.

Tapani Talo, AIA

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

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

Architecture and Humanity

Posted: May 20th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , | No Comments »

Before returning to ‘Green and Savings’, I’d like to go back to my roots – architecture and humanity, and the idea of Man and Woman and our children.

We love to be in cities, or at least visit them beyond our work for all that they offer. Varied, rich cultures of all kinds exist in larger cities like NY, Boston, Chicago, and San Francisco.

These days, cities are struggling to retain excitement as people move out due to cost, density, or other issues like lack of required level of education or places to play for children. This in turn changes local buying power, and creates an issue with diminishing vibrancy of street life with cafes, small stores, small intimate movie houses, etc.

So cities like New York, Boston, Chicago, and San Francisco, try to make waterfronts and cultural institutions more accessible. Inner city has turned into day business districts with ever higher looming high rise towers and dull storefronts with mega stores – none green in ANY way due to all the restrictions for the landlord.

Landlords maximize rental income within a zoning envelope (this in turn makes curtain walls thin and are expected to last 30 years, no more! How to replace is a good question.) and there is no local population at night. But these areas too depend on local population and not just visitors. So WATERFRONTS (or PARKS) are truly important last ‘forts’ for vibrancy and for keeping active people in the city itself before they relocate to car culture suburbs (which will be addressed in a future blog).

Our (USA) public image is at stake too as businesses and tourists visit these locations more than others. The fact that our great plans for real linear parks along the water front have withered to mere strips of pedestrian and bicycle paths at most places is still better than it was before. We have access to the river at least.

The common element that keeps the waterfront out of use (by local people or tourists) is access. If public transportation is not close, both housing density changes, and also the usage of the waterfront. The success of Central Park in New York City is because of its size and excellent transportation.

Had New York City built the lower Manhattan Hudson riverfront based on our proposals in late 1988, the entire lower Manhattan would have more families living there longer than the usual early career professionals. This in turn would have created a need for new subway line, better serving waste areas in now off the beaten track areas.

No real parks have been created since Riverside Park in New York City in 1910, one hundred and ONE years ago. Thinking of our children would have been a reason enough to create some. (The attached images from my first prize winning competition serves a quiet footnote to what could have been, and what is).

Boston, Chicago, and San Francisco have also all cleaned up and enriched their waterfronts but the dream where real people stroll every day and enjoy various activities is a gone era.

As a point of reference, within the top 10 cities in the world for livability, 8 of them are on waterfronts that are highly usable. And personally I have to agree knowing most of them well.

Tapani Talo, AIA
NY Super Studio Architects
NY Architecture Firm

Love and How to Start Good Design

Posted: May 13th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: green building | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

Love (personal with couples, artists, intellectuals and general society) is the root of good design. In looking back throughout my career, only clients with this attitude created good designs. Others were projects.

No one (except one person who relocated his job) has sold or rented my residential projects. They love them so much. In commercial designs I have been 100% successful delivering what clients want in my own practice, as well as with masters like Edward Barnes, James Polshek, Philip Johnson, and others at earlier parts of my career. And this has applied to my portrait painting, and photography art.

Now at 60 – almost 61 — and having had a sort of a sabbatical during nursing my late wife through stage 4 breast cancer for 8 and ½ years up until last year, I had the opportunity take a Zen look at what is important and why I‘ve had this fortune.

So yesterday at Shakespeare and Co. Book Store it dawned on me that all my designs and art had a common root. The composition and light feel similar to the works of Rembrandt and Picasso. Because I have the desire and ability to listen to client’s wishes I am able to adopt not just one way of designing but am at ease with almost any look needed for successful designs that fit city or neighborhood – and occasionally become true contemporary art pieces.

The Zen position of design is harmonious and modest –even when the project is hard hitting and contemporary– and it requires respecting every client.

I find that it is also sometimes like a good sentence: short, snappy, vivid, and with character. In architecture,the beginning words of the sentence are “material” (one or two main materials are picked at the beginning of a project), “light” which represents color scheme, and “site” — the views upon which the client’s program gets molded.

The next step in the Pre-Design phase is the most difficult as none of the national contract forms address this correctly:

First, double check the program! Many times huge savings have occurred just by helping the client rethink the initial program.

All designs and art start with taking time to THINK (including time with key consultants). The duration of this time should be 3 months minimum (6 to 9 months or even longer for High Art).

This also applies to GREEN Building and cost effective design. Currently all software, materials, means and methods are changing so rapidly (monthly), that if one does not adopt the best and absolutely latest software in the beginning, the client will lose 20% in wasted contraction costs. For larger firms adopting the latest software is very difficult, as they have to change so many work stations and train staff. NY Super Studio Architects adopts the latest software for each job individually.

Finding the right mix of consultants and contractors who really understand GREEN Design and respect it is even more difficult, as they have to build differently from how they did in the past. Most contractors and engineers do not know how to price this thinking. They don’t know how to change and thus are unwilling to provide customers with what’s new and prefer to proceed only with known methods and suppliers.


Tapani Talo, AIA