November 2006

Today I was surprised at a client’s positive response to simple and (in my mind) obvious and sensible solutions (i.e., putting balconies on the south facing (instead of north) elevation so the balcony is always in the sun). I’m sure part of it was because they were “free” ideas, but I think they were identified as having a positive impact on the project. It feels great to have ideas you brought to the table be recognized for their merits.

I stopped into the Art Instiute of Chicago the other weekend to see the Young Chicago Exhibit. Featuring architects and designers the museum hadn’t previously held in their collection, I was familiar with some of the work (John Ronan , UrbanLab) I was particularly excited by Studio Blue grahpic design and Cat Chow fashion design. I’m definitely excited to be living and working in Chicago!

Cat Chow Dress Detail
Detail of a Cat Chow dress – so architectural!


Earlier this month I attended a lecture by Swedish Architect Lars Danielsson, Organic Swedish Architecture. He used a handful of Swedish architectural examples to explain larger ideas about sustainability, as it pertains to the citizens of the world, not just architects. The lecture was loosely organized around the ancient Greek elements of fire, soil and fire.



Energy (Fire)

Danielsson highlighted a common building approach in Sweden (and elsewhere) to conserve energy in new residential construction, Superinsulation. By combining a highly insulated building envelope with passive solar gain, Super Insulated buildings need very little in the way of additional heat. In addition to the sun, heat is generated by the people and appliances within the enclosure.

Superinsulated Swedish House

Resources (Earth)

This report covers the discussion, and much more. The ideas presented were at once large and small scale. The infrastructure for recycling anything (energy or soda cans) must be in place for the individual to participate. Within a building for example, it is possible to employ heat exchangers, which do not rely on larger infrastructure to be useful in reducing energy consumption.

Recycle Earth

Ventilation (Air)

Danielsson highlighted another technical solution for reducing energy consumption and improving quality of life. Geothermal heating and cooling can be employed in many places and with proper design can be effective without using electricity.

Geothermal Diagram


“Clean water and healthy children never travel in a straight line” summarizes the more philosophical bent Danielsson took at the end of his lecture. His discussion of water transcended the factual importance of clean water and spoke to the spiritual importance of having things in balance, that water re-affirms quality of life.

Flowing Water

Overall, the lecture was thorough and made a consistent argument about making more effective decisions with the way we spend money and energy. It was a solid primer on sustainability and the ecological way of looking at the world and architecture, particularly more passive solutions and learning from nature. The majority of the ideas were already familiar to me, not only from architecture school, but also from my primary education and at home where I first learned about passive solar and the importance of respecting our environment so that it can provide for us.

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The past week or so at work I’ve been engaged in analyzing the first built phase of a multi-acre redevelopment here in Chicago. A portion of the site actually overlaps with a redevelopment plan I worked on in school. My school project was developed out of sustainable principles, and I thought it would be an interesting way to analyze a controversial redevelopment in Brooklyn, NY: Atlantic Yards.Atlantic Yards - RenderingPedestrian FriendlyProximity to basic commerce and public transit are critical to any successful sustainable residential development. My Chicago proposal built on the existing local precedent of commercial street hierarchy, which allowed for easy pedestrian access to basic commercial needs, bus and train lines. There were also a number of railway viaducts that existed as community and pedestrian barriers that we developed solutions to reconnect the neighborhoods.Atlantic Yards relies heavily on its relationship to transportation hubs, as well as providing on-site commercial amenities.Transit MapAtlantic Yards is also intended to connect neighborhoods by transforming the current barrier of rail yards into a connective fabric of parks, residences and commerce.HousingIn the Chicago proposal I investigated, I focused on low rise, high-density prototypes, incorporating courtyard houses, town homes and 3-4-story walk up flat buildings.Architect Frank Gehry has developed Atlantic Yards 16 high-rise residential and mixed-use towers, arranged in a public park.Gehry ModelOne successful precedent for this approach is Detroit’s Lafayette Park.Open SpaceThe approach my classmates and I took in our development proposal was to make a garden city of sorts. Our open/green space was the spine of the project. All other elements (residential, commercial, industrial) are tied together with a park system that includes new and existing parks and new green streets, which facilitate pedestrian movement through the cityLandscape architect Laurie Olin has designed the open space that connects the multiple towers. The space is primarily public and encourages a wide variety of activities.Laurie OlinIn part 2, I will discuss additional sustainable measures, including landscaping and water treatment.

I received the following questions from a reader, Francis Raven, and thought I’d post my responses.

(1) What do you think the most pressing issues in architecture are?

Sustainability – how we deal with energy, materials. How do we make use of what’s already here? How do we make new stuff less disruptive?

(2) How does your blog address these issues?

I call attention to the efforts of architects and designers working toward sustainable solutions. We aren’t going to achieve some kind of green nirvana overnight, but I think highlighting the efforts will encourage more efforts – good begets good.

(3) How is the way we are living changing as a result of current architecture?

I think the general public is becoming more aware of architecture and design. Magazines like Dwell are helping to educate the general public about sustainable design. People are moving back to cities. People are making different choices about their environment based on their growing knowledge.

(4) What’s your favorite building?

S.R. Crown Hall, by Mies van der Rohe. The first time I entered the building, it spoke to me. It’s the reason I went to IIT.

S.R. Crown Hall by Mies van der Rohe

(5) What was your childhood home like?

The defining element of my first house (birth to age 10) was the solarium my dad added to the 1920’s stick built house. It was beautiful and functional – the large expanses of glass collected heat in the winter to offset the cold Minnesota weather, and the energy was stored in the dark slate floors.

My second house (age 10 to 18) was also stick-built, designed and constructed by my parents (dad was a carpenter, mom was an accountant). A simple shed-style building, with the tall face (including LOTS of glass) to the south (free heat); the northwest corner bermed into the existing hill (free insulation), the east catches the sunrise over the lake.
My second house

(6) Describe where you live now.

I rent a 520 SF studio with my husband. Facing east on the 20th floor of a 50 story high rise, we’re virtually eye to eye with Tribune Tower. One block from the Chicago River, I can see Trump Tower rise.
Trump Tower Chicago