Environmental Education

I just encountered the writing of David Orr, who writes about changing the focus of education. He says that all education is environmental education. If an education never dwells on environmental issues at all, this is as powerful as one focused on the environment. He specifically references the fact that economists are educated without a fundamental knowledge of physics and ecology – an understanding of the natural world upon which our economy rests. Thus the environmental education in this case places no value on physics and ecology.

I have written about the same concern earlier in this blog relative to architectural education. As architectural educators, we are not placing appropriate emphasis and concern on our natural world. We have a preoccupation with form and aesthetics. These are great things – don’t get me wrong – but as we urbanize we lose contact with those critical processes that fundamentally sustain us.

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Decoding the Review – mid Spring 2013

This review went pretty well for most. Of course I have the usual to say: some aren’t working as hard as they should be. But that is always the case (both that I will always want more, and that some will always not produce to their capability). Being able to focus like this is a luxury.

One big theme from the two days is that the “big view” was missing from most presentations. A single comprehensive view of the project in the site was needed. This can take many forms: physical model, digital model, hand-drawn perspectives or axonometrics. Anything that gives a sense of the totality of the project. The nature of the artifact is dependent upon the nature of each student’s investigation. It was difficult to read from the drawings presented, the overall form of the intervention into the site. There were some nice drawings, some were fantastic, but ultimately frustrating because it was difficult to assemble the project in our heads. This is why physical models still get so much attention in reviews – they are the easiest representation to understand the complexity of relationships.

The other theme has to be about the narrative of the project. Sometimes this is luck. The projects with the better confluence of ideas got the better reviews. They were easier to engage because there was a symmetry of the parts. When your project is sited on a former landfill turned into a vast public park, and you combine these elements into buildings built of trash and recycled materials, combined with a landscape that thinks of the changing seasons, this is a strong narrative. What makes it especially so is that it combines the narrative aspect, with the performance aspect. Thus the idea of the materials becomes a challenge for the building enclosure.

 

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Pam Warhurst: edible landscape

This TED talk is a really great story of just making it happen. A small town in England decides that it will convert its landscape into an edible landscape. And why not? Why should there be a stigma against an apple tree on the sidewalk? The energy we expend towards ornamentals can easily be put into edibles, and be as pretty as well. A nasturtium is a tasty leaf and flower. The environmentalist David Orr is doing something similar in Oberlin, Ohio. The city is supporting the development of new area farms, with the goal of locally producing 70% of the food the city eats (I think that 70% is a good number, what would life be without olive oil, wine, Parmesan, and citrus after all?).

This is an additional level of complexity for students to organize growing space in buildings and landscapes. Ultimately it is spatial – requiring thinking about the massing and space the plants make, but also what they need to grow and thrive.

IMG_1615

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Kids These Days

I was at the Center for Architecture in New York today. They had an exhibit of models made by kids. They were clearly controlled by the adults organizing the work, but there was a freshness and directness not seen among most of the college students with whom I work. The kids have no fears, whereas the college students seem to develop all kinds of hang ups that prevent them from just getting the ideas out. I especially like Fish Lake, which is shaped like a fish. Goofy, yes, but joyfully so. These things get the ideas across quickly and effectively. I like a nicely crafted final model as much as the next person, but for development, give me stuff like this!

 

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new technology

I am always looking to what is coming in technology, and how that can free-up form to allow it to do what it wants to do. Solar panels have long been something that students typically stick on, rather than considering them to be a material that has its own unique properties. After all, what is the difference between a photovoltaic panel and a brick? But new technology has the potential to allow for still other ways of integrating this essential technology. (For integrate it we must! Some of my colleagues can’t seem to find a way to look at these aesthetically, yet see no problem in having boilers and AC. Why is one tech acceptable, yet another not? Habit, mostly. Habit of thought.)

spherical-solar-cellssolar-spin-cell

These spherical solar cells are really cool. The actual cells are the little dots, and the whole in this case is inserted into a concentrating lens about the size of a fist. The nice thing about this is that they could be mounted onto the flowing surfaces of a biomorphic project, maybe looking like dew drops on a leaf. Another cool form factor I’ve come across is this spinning conical-shaped collector. Much larger than the sphere, of course, but another take that alters the flat plate mindset.

solar-scattering algorithm

There have been so many innovations happening in the lab and in start-ups. Particularly interesting are the nano scale developments, such as this light scattering pattern. Of course I wish it would be a visible pattern maker, but even that is possible, since more color options are becoming available as well.

I am a graduate of SCI-Arc, which has had three different locations over its existence. A Home Depot opened right next to its second location. It was apparently a beta-testing store, meaning that they used the store to evaluate trends for the overall market. The way the students use material is nothing like the standard market; they see potential and application completely unlike the average person. I like to think that the way students use things, how they see the potential in things, can influence markets.

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Decoding the Review – Fall 2012 final

I was rather appalled that all students were not there for there for their colleagues reviews. This is unacceptable. Do I really have to take role, and grade on attendance at reviews? This is disrespectful to your peers, disrespectful to the jury (who, for the most part, came in and stayed for the full time – which is more than can be said for many of the students), and disrespectful to me.

At mid-term, most students used a digital presentation format. The narratives were generally to-the-point, and flowed well. This format was universally eschewed in the final, for whatever reason. Is it only because I did not demand it? I sometimes feel that there is no learning happening, that skills developed drop so easily away. I did require students to pin-up their semester’s work, but I asked that they only describe the pertinent information and their most recent scheme. This, too, in many cases, was ignored. For some reason, many of you reverted to the lowest form of presentation: “first I did this, then I did this, then I did this…”

There is a book called The Checklist Manifesto. The contemporary world is a very complicated place, and the author posits that the simple devise of the checklist is a way to manage complex and complicated situations. I dread the thought that a checklist must be issued to students, but perhaps I am just denying the reality – that comprehensive design is highly complicated, with many interdependent parts, and 11 NAAB student performance criteria.

Checklist:

1. Limit your presentation to 5 minutes.

2. Run through your presentation ahead of time to make sure it runs in that amount of time.

3. All arguments need to be supported by diagrams, drawings, models, etc.

4. Do a digital presentation, but have copies of the drawings on the wall as well.

This was a rough review for some. Unfortunately, often the bad review stems not from what was done, but what was said (it doesn’t help when the work isn’t all there either, though).

Following the review, a big question needs to be asked again: what do you want to achieve this year? How can your project support your vision of architecture? (Often this is asked in relation to your career, I think this is thinking too small – think in more global terms about where architecture needs to go, and how your project supports that vision.)

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Decoding the Review – mid-Fall 2012

A number of themes emerged during the review. Designing for climate change was one – a lot of buildings on the water’s edge. There were a significant number of projects that were using existing buildings as the site. With existing buildings it is really important to faithfully understand the fabric of that building. If you don’t have some love and respect for the existing building, you might as well wipe it out and start with your own building.

As for the decoding…

A lot of “air time” was devoted to site analysis. Site analysis is an essential part of the process, but unless it has pushed you towards a deeper understanding of your proposed scheme, it doesn’t warrant a great deal of discussion.

Often the schemes were a myriad variations on a single idea. It is important to refine your ideas, and to try many versions to do so. This is what is in evidence in the earlier post on the 35 Schemes. But at the outset, it is more important to try wildly different ideas, even if they seem silly at first. Don’t be seduced by first ideas. They may turn out to be correct, but you still need to challenge your assumptions.

I have long asked my students to talk to their drawings. I love the abstract beauty of first year investigations, and of work like Raimund Abraham and Walter Pichler and Friedensreich Hundertwasser, where the drawing is everything. This is much the way I was trained. But sometimes it is clearer to use words, especially for yourself to help to better understand your intention.

A lot of self-editing was in evidence. A good deal of work has been done so far this semester, but it was not all of it was on the wall. This kind of a review is one in which that history should be shared – good, bad, or indifferent. Everything need not be buttoned-up tight. In my section in particular, I encouraged the use of a digital presentation. This is buttoned-up, but that is more an issue of telling the story efficiently. In the digital presentation you should and must edit. Organize your wall to highlight your latest thinking, but include the rest. You need not talk about every evolution of your thinking, just what the main ideas are.

Relative to the self-editing, is the design of the presentation. Though the intent on this presentation was kind of to bare all, you still need to guide the discussion through what importance you place on various artifacts. If you have a single rendering that is 24×36, while most of the rest of your presentation is 11×17, it might be assumed that that image carries a lot of weight in what you thinking about.

Finally, sometimes you have to commit yourself completely to developing an idea, and devote time and energy to describing it, even if you are unsure of it, even if it might get shot down. There is nothing lost. Each time through you understand the problem a little better. Each time you discover something new, both positive and negative.

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Natalie Jeremijenko: creative sustainability

I very much like the work of Natalie Jeremijenko. I first encountered it at Mass MoCA. At the time I hated it. But since I have come to appreciate it. This piece talks about many things: the tenacity of nature; the strange stresses that we humans place on the natural world; the interaction between the natural and the artificial (I’d love other comments about interpretations).

Natalie Jeremijenko at Mass MoCA

Her TED talk is also quite nice. In particular I like the way she thinks about the built environment and its role in remediating industrial ills. I especially like the solar chimney in its elegant simplicity. It takes advantage of two very fundamental concepts: hot air rises; and the color black absorbs the most amount of sun, creating hot air.

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My work as a student

Some of my students have asked to see my work as a student. This was my graduate thesis.

It was a waste water treatment facility that uses biological engineering to treat the waste – what are since called living machines. It was based on John and Nancy Todd’s work with Ocean Arks. The site is in LA, next to the LA river, and sits atop the I-5 freeway just south of Los Feliz Boulevard.

Somewhere I have the original sketch that defined the partie, which I recall was done sometime in October.  These drawings are 48×18 each, and the large site plan is 36×60. The final model scale was 1″=32′, and the site plan was perhaps 1″=50′. So this project was at a pretty massive scale.

Research and site analysis was conducted concurrent with the design work. Final presentations were at the end of January, so we had the entire month after classes ended to complete the work without feedback.

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Protest

On December 2, 1964, Mario Savio, a 21 year old student at the University of California at Berkeley, made this speech. The purpose of education is in question in his speech. The original intent was the fostering of citizens. Today the thrust is jobs, in particular the development of skills useful to corporations. STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) reigns supreme. Savio questions this structure. 48 years on and this system is even more entrenched. This isn’t a (total) anti-corporate diatribe. Corporations are useful constructions for organizing large and complex systems. I benefit from my computer and iPhone; the Visa card is an amazing system; when we flip the switch the lights come on. The danger comes when they become manipulators – maybe controllers is the right word – of the political system, allowing for privileges accorded them in excess of others. In particular we see this with the fossil fuel industries, with the resultant existential threat of climate change.

It is inspiring to see such an articulate speech from so young a person. I would love to see this from my students.

Skip to 2:17 to 5:00 for the most important part of the speech, but the entire is interesting from the standpoint of university politics – politics that are with us today.

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