The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom. - Wm. Blake

Friday, July 16, 2010

Just a note

There's no point in writing about this amongst 265 comments on week-old post at Ta-Nehisi Coates' place, but, in discussing the Daily Show sexism issue, he notes
Us black and Latinos often come from backgrounds in which our families' primary reason for sending us off to college is stability. We often have siblings and parents to think about, and can't contemplate a year in New York at a free internship. Beyond that there are cultural factors--magazine journalism isn't simply very white, it's very Ivy League and Northeastern, which indicates that a certain kind of cultural capital is almost a requisite requirement.
Which jibes very much with my experience in architecture, an extremely white profession.

Put simply, among economic newcomers (i.e., those coming directly from either an immigrant or working class background), architecture is perceived as a bit of a frivolous profession for the leisure class - something to keep you busy while you manage your trust fund (perhaps that's why the pay lags behind other professionals). As a result, you tend to see immigrants and children of the working class pursuing engineering and business degrees. This links to a whole series of thoughts about the place of architecture in American culture, but this specific preconception - and the way it self-perpetuates - is something I've seen for a long time.

Incidentally - and obviously TNC isn't thinking about architecture at all in his post - I don't think that the second part (about cultural capital) is as relevant as it may be perceived. Certainly becoming a high profile architect (whether a "starchitect" or just the go-to architect in the local business/institutional community) is tied to cultural capital (it's driven very much by personal relationships), but the nuts and bolts of becoming a successful practicing architect are tied largely to having a good sense about building things, good organizational skills, and having people skills (sometimes classic skills like active listening and empathy, sometimes charismatic misanthropy).

I might note that this arc is revealed in my family background as well: my great-grandfather was a no-good drunk; my grandfather was a top tool-and-die man at Chicago Faucet*; my father, first to get a college degree, was a mid-level executive at a multinational, and I got an architecture degree and spent most of my 20s unreliably employed in architecture offices, by contractors, and as a handyman. My father got a good, responsible degree, but his children (my sister a poli-sci major) pursued less practical paths.

* "Lasts as long as the building."


Friday, April 30, 2010

I'd love to spend a day with her and take in a game

Janet Marie Smith, one of the people most responsible for the groundbreaking Camden Yards:
Now she is getting a second chance to tinker with a park that many fans believe doesn’t need any tinkering. It is something that she both welcomes and wrestles with.

“It’s flattering it’s been mimicked, it’s rewarding that it’s held up, and it’s refreshing to have a chance to think about how to ensure that it stays fresh,” Smith said of Camden Yards. “But I don’t know what any of that means.”

Smith, who has degrees in architecture and urban planning, has plenty of ideas. In an hours-long walk around the park on a sunny day recently, she talked about everything from the integration of Camden Yards into the city’s street grid to the need to waterproof concrete to the cast iron figures of Wee Willie Keeler built into the ends of some aisles.


Friday, April 16, 2010

Review: Giant Eagle Maple & Bacon Baked Beans

I don't expect this to be a regular feature here, but I can only hope that the Google will pick this up somehow, and others can be spared the absolute can of shit that is Giant Eagle brand Maple & Bacon Baked Beans.

Giant Eagle label products are, in my experience, basically fine - sometimes better, sometimes worse, but rarely actually bad. So I figured I'd save a few cents compared with the national brand. Holy shit, what a mistake.

These things are so larded with maple flavoring and sugar that they smell nauseatingly like maple candy - no exaggeration. I was unable to finish a serving of them, and the plate sat near my desk until I had to carry it down two flights of stairs to put them in the kitchen trash, so sickening (and strong) was the smell. And the flavor was just as bad.

I don't know what the hell is wrong with whoever formulated this crap, but for the love of God: DO NOT BUY GIANT EAGLE MAPLE & BACON BAKED BEANS.


180° in 18 seconds

I saw the headline "Officer who took first Roethlisberger report resigns" and thought, "Wow, the guy's so disgusted that no charges were pressed that he's quitting over it. Must be awful."

Turns out, not so much:
A friend of the accuser told investigators that it seemed at first that Mr. Blash was not going to take a report on the incident the night it occurred. She said Mr. Blash then said he would but noted that Mr. Roethlisberger has wealth and access to lawyers and that they would be wasting their time.

One of the quarterback's bodyguards also quoted Mr. Blash as making derogatory comments about the accuser.

Good riddance, asshole. And kudos to whoever in Tinytown, GA was in a position to drive out a bad cop and did so.


Wednesday, April 07, 2010


Matthew Yglesias quotes a DC blog citing a New Yorker writer about LEED and its failings. I have some other thoughts about the DC blogger's post, but I want to address the bit that Matt quotes:
But Owen reserves his most pointed criticism for the very tool we hope will make our cities greener, one building at a time: LEED. It’s a little known fact that most architects, particularly the ones who take sustainability seriously, all hate LEED. With its prescriptions and brownie points for bike racks and proximity to alternative fueling stations, LEED is—in Owen’s estimation—both too difficult and too easy. Too difficult because the process is stupifyingly bureaucratic, requiring even LEED accredited designers to hire expensive LEED accredited consultants to manage the paperwork. And too easy because even after much refinement, many designers and developers still game the system with a few cosmetic changes to achieve LEED certification with a minimum of effort, expense, or innovation.

I’m a LEED-accredited architect who is passionate about sustainability, and I don't hate LEED. Although there are plainly flaws in the system (a lot fewer in the newest version), it’s far more comprehensive than a carbon tax or any other regulation-based effort to push green architecture.

A few points:
requiring even LEED accredited designers to hire expensive LEED accredited consultants to manage the paperwork “Require” is not actually correct here. In practice, it tends to happen, just as, in practice, architects – whose licenses permit them to design structural, electrical, mechanical, and plumbing systems – tend to hire licensed professionals in all those fields. It’s called specialization, and it’s worked pretty well for post-hunter/gatherer humanity.

As for the paperwork, that’s an inevitable side-effect of trying to be comprehensive and swimming against the tide. Some of the most pain-in-the-ass paperwork is gathering the packaging for every case of zero-VOC caulk used in a project (if you want that point). It sucks, but it’s the only way LEED – or anyone – can determine that the contractor isn’t claiming to do one thing while actually doing another (this happens, you may be shocked to know). Until the day that zero-VOC is the law of the land (which will probably be never – it’s not an appropriate metric for every need), there will be no other way to ensure that a building has been built with non-VOC materials – which is a real, valuable goal.

brownie points for bike racks This is precisely what LEED does not do. A developer who wants to greenwash his project without going to the trouble of LEED will install a couple bike racks and trumpet his efforts. But a developer who actually wants to get LEED needs to install covered or otherwise secure bike parking as well as shower and changing facilities (exact requirements vary a bit by building type) in order to get credit, because the reality is that, without support for bike commuters, bike commuting will be an occasional activity for pleasant days, not an all-weather option.

many designers and developers still game the system with a few cosmetic changes to achieve LEED certification with a minimum of effort, expense, or innovation. Aside from the perfect vs. good situation being set up here (no one should claim to be green unless they put in a great deal of effort, expense, and innovation? Really?), it’s simply not true that LEED certification can be achieved with a minimum of effort, unless you’re getting certain big things right. Rehabbing a building in a dense location with good transit access gets you about a quarter of the way to certification (at which point it isn’t that hard to go the rest of the way); is this supposed to be a flaw? Alternatively, if you’re building in a greenfield, you can get a big chunk of points for being ultra-energy efficient (which isn’t technically challenging; it’s basically smart design + budget); again, is this a problem? The latest version of LEED is much stronger because it has increased the values for important factors (like urban location) relative to the old version.

Product manufacturers, like packaged food makers, have big incentives to oversell their merits. Developers, contractors, and disinterested architects, like ordinary consumers, are in no position to judge those claims. In contrast, LEED-accredited professionals are trained to judge the claims, and have a framework in which to do it. It’s easy to mindlessly select materials with recycled content without paying much attention to whether it’s adding up; but if you’re seeking LEED certification, then you need to actually track your materials, and pay attention to where you can select a 100% recycled ceiling tile to offset the 20% recycled baseboard that the client loves.

As a general comment, LEED in no way competes with efforts to write green building into law – no one opposes cap and trade because LEED exists. Incorporating every LEED consideration into building codes, even if it were desirable and practical, would be a decades-long effort. In contrast, the LEED system has had a real (and lasting) impact in a scant decade of existence. Self-righteously bitching about it is treating green building and sustainability as an expression of your own merit, not an effort to, you know, make things better.

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Friday, March 26, 2010

Chutzpah, newly defined.

Murderous orphans everywhere are embarrassed by this behavior.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The iPad

I've been a Mac/Apple fan since using them in college, enough so that part of my reason for picking my last two employers was the ability to work on Macs. I was an early adapter of the iPod and iPhone, and I was pretty excited in the runup to the iPad announcement.

Then, like many others, I was a bit underwhelmed. Part of it was that I'd read too much in advance, and so there was really nothing about it that was new (and therefore exciting). But part of it was that I couldn't see any real role for it in my life - I've got a laptop and an iPhone, and I don't need an in-between machine.

But, over the last 6 weeks or so, I've read a number of pieces that convince me I was looking at the iPad incorrectly. The first phrase that shifted my thinking came from the child of a tech blogger: "Dad, it's that thing from the movies." Every sci-fi movie for 30 or 40 years has featured flat, portable, effortless data screens; the iPad. This post, in particular, captures well what the iPad represents (as does this followup post). No guarantee it gets there, of course, but Apple has been hitting its targets pretty reliably lately.

The original Macintosh computer was advertised as a computer "for the rest of us." And, relative to command-line DOS, with its C: prompt and arcane, 8 character commands, it was. But the iPad promises to be the first computer that really is for the rest of us - for everybody's who's ever hunted for the file they've just created, for everyone who's closed a window thinking that they were closing a program, for everyone who's hunted through 50 drop-down menu items searching for the tool they want to use.

I'm still not sure I, personally, need one: as an architect, I'm pretty much a power user, and I don't see anyone making a full-featured gesture-based CAD program in the near future (I'd love to be proven wrong; Sketchup has some of the appropriate characteristics, but it's not actually adequate for contract documents, and I hate the idea of a building model in one program and the "real" drawings in another). But this is surely the first computer I'd consider recommending to my mother-in-law, and I think it won't be long before the iPad starts to draw a lot of customers who are stuck with a lot more computer (and a lot less usability) than they need. A designer friend recently noted that design isn't about making things pretty, it's about making things more useful; I'm not sure that there's a better example of that than Apple's iPhone OS approach.

PS - All that said, until the printer interface becomes seamless, computers will remain a source of frustration. Sometimes, you just need a piece of paper, and I don't think the iPad gets us any closer to making that process non-frustrating.

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Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Senatus Populusque Romanus

I was aware that there are Roman reënactors out there - I once happened upon a site explaining how to make your own legionary shield - and so was not entirely surprised to find that someone out there is selling legionary banners. What did surprise me was hearing from the shop owner that they're big sellers. It's just a small shop in Pittsburgh's South Hills, and the flags are locally made by some guy, but I guess it's the miracle of the internet - they're the #2 hit when you Google "Roman legionary banner".