As the “Green” movement pervades every aspect of our lives from the food that we consume to the cars that we drive, it has also pervaded the buildings that are being built around us. Currently the standard for evaluating a building’s environmental impact is the LEED certification process. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and was created by the US Green Building Council to evaluate that a building  “was designed and built using strategies aimed at improving performance across all the metrics that matter most: energy savings, water efficiency, CO2 emissions reduction, improved indoor environmental quality, and stewardship of resources and sensitivity to their impacts.”

Recently in a public Q&A in Chicago, Thomas Pritzker, chairman of the Pritzker foundation, which awards the annual Pritzker Architecture Prize, asked architect Frank Gehry, “what would you think if a client said he wanted a LEED certified building?” Gehry mockingly responded, “Oh great.” He then dismissed environmental concerns as largely political and discredited LEED certification for awarding buildings for many things that don’t necessarily save energy. For example, in the LEED certification process, buildings are awarded for superficial additions like bicycle racks. Gehry then commented on how the costs of making sustainable architecture are enormous and often times the building doesn’t pay back in a person’s lifetime. According Blair Kamin, this translates to mean that designing for LEED certification isn’t what Gehry aims for although “fellow Pritzker Prize winners, such as the London architect Lord Norman Foster, have made a synthesis of elegance and environmentalism a hallmark of their work.”

In a follow-up of the interview, Gehry clarified his commentary on the LEED certification process claiming that he is actually in support of sustainable architecture and meant to attack the design community that designs solely for a LEED certification. “It’s become ‘fetishized’ in my profession. I think architects can do a lot, but some of what gets done is marketing and doesn’t really serve to the extent that the PR says it does.”

Gehry’s comments are particularly interesting because they raise the question: should architects design buildings solely to earn LEED certification?

Although I agree with Gehry on discrediting some of the criteria that LEED evaluates and some of the superficial solutions it promotes, I cannot disregard the validity of LEED evaluation and its necessity in the continually worsening condition of the world.

It is particularly interesting to hear Gehry speak about sustainability as his name and the word sustainable are rarely in the same sentence. Although Gehry has actually won LEED certification for a few of his buildings, he has never directed his work towards earning certification. He is often times characterized as an avant-garde architect with extremely sculptural forms taking precedence over environmental design issues.

For example, the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, California, is a beautiful building that has become an icon in Los Angeles. However it initially caused serious damage to the surrounding buildings by redirecting sunlight and overheating them. The concert hall was originally composed of stainless steel panels with a polished finish. However the mirror-like finish of the panels coupled with the building’s concave profile caused a severe glare problem for the neighboring condominiums. As a result air-conditioning costs increased and parts of the sidewalk heated up to almost 150° F . To remedy the problem, specific panels were sanded to create a brushed finish in order to eliminate the glare. Could Gehry have avoided this problem by taking a more proactive approach to sustainable design?

To some extent Gehry’s designs seem to be irresponsible; as architects we are responsible for shaping and molding the environment that everyone else inhabits and therefore we should be cognizant of all the realities of our buildings. However this does not necessarily mean running through the LEED checklist in order to create more “green architecture.”

As a student caught in the midst of this “green revolution” I do find some validity in Gehry’s resistance to LEED certification. By creating a system by which architects can go through a list of ways to create a supposedly sustainable building, LEED certification seems to limit the potential for architects to create more innovative solutions to alleviate the current issue of global warming.

The LEED certification process should instead be promoting and encouraging advancements like the Federal Building in San Francisco, California. The Federal Building was designed by Thom Mayne and Morphosis Architects to improve the nature of the work place and the experience of the occupants by reducing energy consumption. The entire project is a hybridization of natural and mechanical systems. Depending on the program, specific levels in the building utilize air conditioning systems while others are naturally ventilated. The levels with operable windows have floor slabs that are shaped to bring in the natural breeze at a controlled speed. The entire building is clad with a high performance façade composed to perforated metal sun screens to reduce solar heat gain while providing natural light and ventilation to the interior spaces. Realizing that natural light makes a work place exponentially better, the architects were able to illuminate 85% of the workplace with natural light. In this project, the sustainable aspects of the building and the conceptual driving force were fused into one cohesive system to create an innovative approach to sustainable architecture.

Although the LEED certification process has definitely encouraged more architecture and construction firms to be cognizant of and proactive towards the pressing global environmental issues of today, the criteria that it evaluates makes it more of standard than anything else. Perhaps the criteria that LEED evaluates should be reconsidered to actually embody its name: Leadership in Energy and Environment Design and promote more innovative ways build a sustainable world.


This semester I decided to enroll in a Digital Design Course which was based on utilizing the computer program: Rhinoceros. Throughout the semester we learned about the different tools that Rhinoceros provides in the design process.

For our final project we were asked to incorporate the tools and skills we learned during the semester to create a pavilion that embodied a part-to-whole relationship.

The Klein Bottle Pavilion is a development from an investigation of the Klein bottle. The Klein bottle is a surface with no definable inner or outer surface. The pavilion not only physically embodies this attribute but also layers complexity by adding more continuous yet contrasting operations. A typical Klein Bottle consists of a narrow, neck-like portion which protrudes into a bulbous, larger volume; thisinherently creates a spatial condition of tension and release.

The continuous surface traverses its way through the pavilion, sculpting two distinct spaces. From the entry one moves into a slightly claustrophobic and ephemeral space which then culminates into a larger, relieving space of aggregation.

To further accentuate the effect of the Klein Bottle, the skin consists of modules that morph from a quadrilateral toan ellipse. This shape morph allows one to map and understand the Klein Bottle in a clear manner. It also provides avarying texture to the surface, enhancing the reading of the inner and outer.

Although the typical assembly of structure and enclosure distinguishes the two-instead the modular strategy utilizedin this pavilion furthers the concept of amalgamation by employing both structure and enclosure. Each module iscomposed of a rectangular steel plate, which is welded to one another, with an ABS plastic planel on either side.

In response to the land ownership issue regarding Los Angele’s infamous Hollywood sign, many architects have been proposing new uses for the iconic sign.

INABA proposed a migratory distribution of the Hollywood sign across Los Angeles. The proposal, entitled “HLYWD,” comments on how the sign has exceeded its purpose. The sign itself has served as an advertisement for the real estate value of the area and exceeded it’s material value. Although the sign was never intended to be an icon of Los Angeles, today it is the feature of the LA skyline. INABA’s project plays with the adaptability of the sign, which is due to its lack of intention, and the sitelessness of the sign by proposing that different neighborhoods can borrow different letters to create a migratory and unplanned landmark.

Another proposal, by Bay Arch, proposes enlarging the sign to double its size in order to create a hotel; guests would stay within the letters.

Similarly Danish and Belgian architects Bart de LegeFrederique HermansJan BloemenJoep Verheijen, and Steven van Esser proposed a project entitled “Hollywood Underlined,” which makes the sign more accessible while maintaining the sign. The proposed building literally underlines the sign creating a public plaza on top while creating a space with program that relates to the film industry. Inside the underlining building will be a theater, museum and event space.

Crimson Collective, a multidisciplinary group of architects, artists and designers, have unveiled their party pavilion: “Ascension” at the 2010 Coachella Music Festival (from April 16th-18th)

The concept for the pavilion is based on the Japanese legend (Senbazuru) which promises that anyone who folds one thousand paper crane will have their wish granted. Just as the thousands of paper cranes are collected as a whole, the thousands of visitors that seek shelter in the pavilion, will be brought together as a whole by “Ascension.”

The large white crane is 150′ wide and 45′ feet tall and is composed of an aluminum and tension wire skeleton with white fabric. The structure was developed on the principles of tension integrity which means the pavilion has an equal balance of parts in tension and in compression. To ensure mobility, the structure of the crane is completely modular. The crane can be built on almost any flat site. It is composed to over a hundred components and 700sf of 80% mesh texilene sunshade material.

Surrounding the crane are two solar collectors that will collect the energy required to illuminate the mood lighting system at night. in the center of the pavilion will be an area designated to showcase innovative and beneficial ideas. The first idea to be shown will house a fuel cell demonstration, which illustrates the concept of creating energy spontaneously, rather than making it by extracting it from the Earth.

Although I find the pavilion to be almost too literal, I’m happy to see that the pavilions designed by architects are actually being incorporated into events that are more widely known to the public and less within the bubble of architects. It is actually only the 2nd  year that designers were invited to create something for the event. Last year, SCIarc, an architecture school in Downtown Los Angeles, was invited to create a pavilion under the theme of “Rock and Roll Fantasy”

Since the devastating earthquake that hit Haiti on January 12, 2010, the architecture and urban planning community has been actively discussing plans to rebuild the country. With the growing frequency of natural disasters, there is now a plethora of information on how to respond to such devastation. More importantly than the response, the methods of preventing such catastrophe are being developed in the hopes of minimizing the effects of such disasters. Comparing the situation in Haiti with other recent disasters as case studies can help inform how Haiti will rebuild itself.

The rebuilding and development of New Orleans after the destructive Hurricane Katrina provides a multitude of lessons for the reconstruction of Haiti. As Allison Arieff says, “The rebuilding in New Orleans might be best symbolized by two extremes:  those notoriously substandard FEMA trailers, on the one hand; and on the other, 50 or so well-constructed but contextually challenged radical modern home.” The result of such divergence is many disconnected efforts instead of one collaborative effort.

Much of the disconnected efforts for rebuilding in Katrina have been on a much smaller scale, usually dealing with individual houses rather than entire communities. As a result public domains, such as side walks, streets, parks and commercial corners, are being neglected. Since there isn’t any consideration for an overarching plan for the rehabilitation of public spaces, the neighborhoods that are flourishing now consists of houses fenced off and disjointed from its neighbors.  Since a large part of the rebuilding is by private initiatives, recovery from Hurricane Katrina moves at a significantly slower rate.

Even the more successful stories of rebuilding in New Orleans, like the homes built by Brad Pitt’s Make it Right Foundation to a certain extent impede on the development of the community in New Orleans. By dominating mainstream press with only plans for reconfiguring local housing typologies, larger more important questions about the development of civic scaled infrastructure fails to ever be taken into account.

In order to avoid the current planning problems of New Orleans, Haiti must facilitate collective efforts rather than private enterprises. The support from different nations and organizations coupled with the reconstruction plans unveiled at the donor conference hosted by the United Nations can be just the answer.  At the conference, 60 nations and organizations gathered to pledge $5.3 billion in the next two years and over $10 billion in the next decade. Additionally the conference brought awareness to the failure of previous strategies which were due largely to the lack of organization in the projects and general neglect. As a means to remedy some of this issue of incoherency, all nongovernmental organizations pledged to direct their efforts through Haiti’s reconstruction plan.

The reconstruction plans for Haiti calls for a shift from a centralized singular metropolis to a network of “growth poles” that lie outside of the capital. Haitian planners hope to alleviate the previously congested metropolitan area of Port-au-Prince by attracting people incentives to settle outside of the capital.

Prior to the earthquake the capital, was an overly grown city center with an overly dense population. The development of Port-au-Prince as the single metropolis of Haiti is a result of a century of a series of events.  Although Haiti was initially a agricultural country with economic activity distributed among multiple ports along its coast, Port-au-Prince quickly developed as a city center when the United States invaded in 1915 and used the port as the American military headquarters. In the 1960s even more focus was drawn onto Port-au-Prince when François Duvalier closed surrounding ports in order to concentrate his power base in the capital. Since the 1980s the population of Port-au-Prince has almost doubled which puts even more pressure on the capital while impeding the economic developing of the surrounding areas.

Architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff points out that although the early renderings and sketches depict New Urbanist ideas of conventional planning formulas for suburbs in America, it clearly displays the fundamental idea of treating the reconstruction effort as an opportunity to build community. Additionally the decentralization of Port-au-Prince will also minimize the damage from future earthquakes.

A comparison between the effects of the earthquake in Haiti and Chile unveils some of the key issues that have plagued Haiti and amplified the effects of the earthquake. Less than two months after the earthquake in Haiti, Chile suffered an even larger earthquake. However the destruction that resulted was much less severe. As the diagram below shows, the cause of it can be attributed to the lack of building codes, which Chile had developed after experiencing multiple serious earthquakes in recent decades, as well as the population densification in urban areas of Haiti, specifically the capital, Port-au-Prince.

In addition to the plans to decentralize Port-au-Prince, the Haitian government also plans to introduce a new light rail system, and move hospitals and schools outside of the city. Instead they plan to introduce more public green space, implement methods of recycling of debris as building material as well as landfill at the waterfront, and draft a new set of National Building Laws that incorporate zoning and urban planning.

It is too early to determine whether or not the proposed reconstruction plan will, in the end, work for Haiti. However, by providing access to a variety of ideas from urban planners and architects, the work that can be done is ensured to be more successful.

Architecture for Humanity, a non-profit design firm, has created a forum through which fellow designers, architects and builders can share resources and as a result only promote the best practices. They have also developed a readily available manual, which outlines basic principles and recommendations for designers taking the initiative in reconstruction in hurricane and earthquake prone areas.

With design and building coalition becomes a more and more common practice, we can only hope that the Haitian government and its planners will fully utilize the resources that they now have.

It was announced yesterday that the Japanese architectural firm, SANAA, lead by principals Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa, has won the Pritzker Architecture prize, which is deemed to be the highest honor architectural honor.

In a class discussion we had about SANAA’s work, my design professor commented on how deceptively simple their projects tend to be and that to really understand their buildings requires a good investigation of the space. During the winter I had the chance to visit the 21st Century Contemporary Art Museum that SANAA designed, and although the plan is just a simple circle with smaller rectangular and square pavilions sitting inside, the spatial condition that they created is much more interesting than the plan reveals. Each gallery space is unique and the circulation from one gallery to another is almost maze like; however at certain points there are long vistas that allow visitors to look through the entire museum. It was definitely one of my favorite buildings that I visited during my trip to Japan and I look forward to seeing more work from SANAA.

“How it would be if a house was dreaming.”

A really interesting project from URBAN SCREEN for a projection on the Hamburger Kunsthalle. It’s amazing how an animated projection can redefine the spatiality, transparency and permeability of the building. I always find architecture to be even more interesting when it actively acts as a canvas for human interaction.

With only 38 more days until the opening of the Shanghai Expo, anticipation is building up as most of the proposed designs are near complete. The Shanghai Expo invited 192 countries and 50 organizations to participate in city  centered around the theme: “Better City, Better Life,” showcasing exhibitions, events and  forums exemplifying ideas of sustainability and urban living.

For 6 months, starting on May 1, 2010, an estimated 70 million people will visit the Expo and experience pavilions designed by architects from all around the world. Each pavilion is designed to represent the specific country causing a cross-cultural dialogue. Some of the featured architects will be: Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) from Denmark with the Danish pavilion, MASS Studies of South Korea, and Foster + Partners’ pavilion for the UAE.

Although the Shanghai Expo is itself a treasure box of architectural gems, part of my interest is also rooted in how the Expo and the construction of all these different pavilions will change the urban fabric of Shanghai. Although most of the pavilions will be dismantled at the completion of the Expo in October 2010, a few of the pavilions will remain intact: the China Pavilion, Theme Pavilion, Expo Boulevard, World Expo Centre and the Expo Performance Centre. Part of the construction includes sprucing up the residential and commercial area by demolishing run down houses and shops around the almost complete mega city.

I found an interesting set of articles on BusinessWeek discussing the value of design and how it is often misunderstood and undervalued in the marketplace. The entire set of articles stemmed from a blog post reacting to an article in The Times of London, in which designers were being criticized for being a “waste of money”- which clearly illustrated the lack of appreciation for design. Helen Waters, the writer, sees this under appreciation as a disconnection between designers and the general public and prompts designers to take responsibility to reconnect themselves to the general public.

Diego Rodriguez suggests two ways in which designers can begin to reconnect to people and show the value that good design can have. The first method is by thinking of design as a verb rather than a noun. Often as a noun, design become equivalent to a “style” which is largely based on the aesthetics of what is appealing now and its constantly changing nature makes it almost ephemeral. However, design as a verb incorporates change as a process, used by designers and nondesigners, to approach challenges to ultimately provide positive change.

Additionally, to understand the value of design in the marketplace,  the relationship between design and value must be reevaluated. Market success depends on a number of variables, of which design is only one of many. It is impossible to derive market success solely from good design; one must incorporate the production or manufacturing aspect, support or maintenance and even how it may go into disuse. Potential market value should be incorporated into the design process rather than post-rationalizing parts of a design.

As a design discipline, architecture also fails to raise its market value is constantly under appreciated by general public, who know very little about architecture. Architects often complain about how devalued their industry is; now we know that we are the ones responsible for our own market value.

Designer Personality TypesI came across this blog post on Michael Roller’s STRATEGIC AESTHETICS looking at a survey of designers to see what type of personality is most common amongst designers. [Click here to take the quiz & participate in the poll!] Although the basis for the poll lacks the rigor to present data indicating which personality is best for a good designer, the poll started an interesting discussion on the personality of good designers.

I found two comments particularly interesting. One stated that designers need to harness a certain level of discontent with their surroundings that they can channel into something positive, which is characterizes as “positive malcontent,” something very very rare and difficult to do. Similarly designers can be characterized as curious about everything, leading them to venture into many different avenues.

As I sit here in my design studio at school, I can only wish that schools taught designers how to achieve the delicate balance of positive malcontent. Perhaps this is something I might be able to come across as I enter the blogging world.