It ain’t easy being green

For reasons I’m not going to get into here I’ve been thinking about “sustainability” in architecture – and though the word has become something of a marketing catchphrase, if given a bit of thought it is not as superficial and cynical as it might sound. It doesn’t all end with Da Mayor’s green roof hoopla or sticking “green” technology on otherwise standard-issue buildings.

Though for as long as I can remember I’ve been something of a green freak, my first contact with the specific issues involved in architectural sustainability was at a lecture by David Cook of Behnisch Architekten from Berlin last year. His main assertion was that environmental sustainability was only part of the issue, with economic and civic sustainability being the other two key components needed for the whole to really work.

Economic sustainability pretty much speaks for itself. If you can’t make something work financially, then even if you get to build it, it will quickly fail and be replaced by something else. An economically sustainable building has the opportunity to become a lasting asset. Cook also pointed out the human factor there – since most of the money involved in operating a commercial building goes to people’s salaries, a building that creates a good environment for humans can save its occupants money simply by limiting staff rotation. That translates into benefits and overall satisfaction for all involved.

He also spoke about his firm’s civic sustainability goals, which for him meant mainly respecting people’s inherently social nature. He said that providing public and semi-public space where people could interact – initially expensive – was in fact a good investment in making buildings truly attractive. This in turn helped to make them economically sustainable in the long run, and that again allowed them to continue functioning in an environmentally responsible manner. Obviously not everyone can build Seattle Public Libraries, but it’s definitely a factor to consider. A real win-win, at least on paper.

The lecture made a huge impression on me – frankly, a bigger impression than most of the very good lectures we’ve had at UIC over the past two years. Though in studio we are often directed to deal mostly with formal and programmatic issues, I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that Cook’s talk was one of the main inspirations for both my bIGfUNtHING project and my current studio efforts. I don’t think this is the end of it, either.

End the wars

As a former US Navy sailor who served during the first war against Iraq, I just wanted to throw in my two cents worth on the anniversary of The Dumbest War Ever Fought by the US. The argumentation for US forces remaining in Iraq is really non-existent – the Iraqis don’t want us there, we (as in the American people, not Haliburton or The-Company-Formerly-Known-As-Blackwater) have nothing to gain there, and – as if it needed repeating – there were never any weapons of mass destruction there. Saddam’s dead. Leave the Iraqis to make Iraq whatever the hell they want it to be, even if it’s no longer a single country. It’s their country, their business.

The rationale for going to Afghanistan was the search for al-Qaida leaders who have been threatening to repeat 9/11 and so on. I’m not sure how invading a whole country was necessary to find a few guys hiding in the mountains. Sounds more like the job for a team of well-trained special ops people. But of course then Dick Chaney and his ilk wouldn’t be making billions on defense contracts, and the military-industrial complex would have to find something other to do. The Soviets, who had no moral compunctions about humane methods could not control all of Afghanistan for many years. There is little chance of the US doing that any time soon, especially that Soviet-style methods were much more effective in the short term. So I say send in the Seals, Green Berets or whatever other secret goons there are in the deepest recesses of the US military, take care of the dozen or so al-Qaida guys this whole thing’s been about all this time, and bring everyone back home. And leave the Afghans to do whatever they want to do with their country – if they want to live under Sharia law, let them. As long as they’re not trying to stone people on Oak Street Beach, what business is it of ours how they live?

Unfortunately, the hopes so many of us had of Obama ending the Republican insanity have gone unanswered. It looks as though Cheney’s boys have won, and the president is now simply a better-spoken, better-looking and slightly taller George W. Bush.

What came out of it

Ron Witte’s guest studio ended yesterday – considering my graphics, it’s no surprise that Bob Somol led off his comments with Sarah Palin, with Italian restaurants as a back-up. Anyway, here’s the goods, as they say – the idea was to use form and graphics to create spaces that connected and disconnected so as to enable you to be in more than one room at a time:

BTW, I presented first because I had to get to the youngest child’s first-ever volleyball game (her team won – they managed to serve properly twice, while their opponents never made it across the net).

Ron Witte

Having a four-day guest studio exercise with Ron Witte ( We’re talking about intersecting spaces that allow you to be in two rooms at the same time. In the exercise, we’re manipulating form and graphics to do just that – here’s my second attempt:

That’s it for now. Thank you for your attention.