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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in every developed nation, buildings alone in general use most of the energy, bleeding our scarce resources into WHAT – outdated utility companies and energy production?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

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

Why Green Building?

Posted: May 17th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: green building | Tags: , | 1 Comment »

Cooper Union - A Green Building

Why Green Building?

This seems like such an odd question to me.

Let’s use an analogy from history. About 100 years ago car companies bought canals, trams and train lines in the UK and the USA in order to shut them down as competition to roads and cars.

Today, in some European countries, the governments have decided that since water and rail is 90% cheaper than transport, the NATIONS themselves will benefit from these savings, and thus they encourage this form of transportation mode.

We can think the same about wasting 90% of energy in houses, cars, commercial buildings, factories, roads and public systems (like duplicate bus systems –school buses that can be used to transport both children and the elderly– and list goes on).

Now our ARMY is changing their entire operation to be less dependent on transported fuels and supplies, as it has proven to be an Achilles heel in dealings around the world.

For us here, we are less competitive due to waste. We depend on high power equipment and buildings and roads that suck our energy when not built or maintained with the latest technology. Every corporation looks after their EVERY expense, and where it can be eliminated, it will.

Good Green is MORE comfortable, and less worrisome as fewer things go wrong.

Green Building would employ the sector that is currently most hurt. It can also be retrained, as Green Building does require people who have at least some education.

The most effective and quickest way would be to give people in the US army a continuing 3 months course in Green Building, and thus we would have a driven and motivated people all around US with this new skill set. The army could teach them how to build 80% or better projects, rather than current method of sealing leaky windows and adding new siding or shingles with new building paper for wind break. Even college graduates should have this training regardless of their degree as Green Building affects all of us. Building codes should require builders, mechanical and electrical contractors, and even building inspectors (yes indeed, as most of them do not understand) to pass a test.

What would the value of our country be if everyone participated? With the current oil price, housing would be 200 billion a year, commercial and industrial the same. Transportation related at least the same. This does not include the huge employment and technological advancements and related competitive products that would come out of this for us that we could sell around the world. All told a trillion a year – and what was the current budget dispute? – a fraction of this.

Currently NOBODY builds the right kind of roofs, windows with shades, or walls in US. When I ask about the equipment being installed, or how much energy it consumes there is generally no answer, except on the occasional single project by a very rare architect and client combination. Even on my own projects, I have to create a WILLING construction team myself in order to make it happen.

Tapani Talo, AIA

NY Super Studio Architects, New York provides sustainable building solutions. We are proud to be a part of the Green Building movement. For more information on Green Building, contact us at 914-645-2940.

WTC-Freedom Tower

Cooper Square Hotel

Typical High Power

Gehry's Office Block