Thursday, September 4, 2008

Design Conversation Recap

Our wonderful host : Wind Up Space owner, Russell deOcampo

Last night was the first-ever design conversation in Baltimore and it was quite a nice turn out. We filled a good portion of the Wind Up Space in the Station North neighborhood with a mix of city planners, DOT reps, architects, graphic designers, teachers, non-profit leaders, media reps, and folks interested in the built environment. We drank the bar out of Natty Boh (sorry, Russell).

Mark Cameron from the Neighborhood Design Center kicked off the night explaining how this group evolved out of recent meetings discussing the possible creation of a Design Center in Baltimore.

(Sorry for the crap photo, Fred..)

Mark was followed by architect Fred Scharmen, who announced an upcoming bike rack competition for Station North. Winners get $4,000 to fabricate their designs. Fred plans on posting more details about it on the Design Center Baltimore Facebook page. If you haven't joined in, you should CLICK HERE and do so. All are welcome. (P.S.: If you haven't read Fred's article about Baltimore on the Archinect site, you really need to check it out: Click Here.)

Fred mentioned a similar competition in New York City that inspired David Byrne to design racks based on neighborhood geography. The best has to be the one called "Jersey" located near the Lincoln Tunnel:

Below: "The Villager"

Below: "The Chelsea"

Something that I saw recently stuck out to me: it's an actual bike parking area on a city street (I believe this was designed for a competition in San Francisco, but don't quote me on that). It takes the lone rack and transforms it into a truly visible spot for bikers. With North Avenue's wide sidewalks, could this be a possibility in Station North?

I talked last night about my travels around the country covering design and sustainability for magazines. I promised to leave participants with some resources for further reading, so that is below.

Moving forward, we're planning on holding these design conversations every first Wednesday of the month, which would make the next one on October 1 (which is around the time of Baltimore Architecture Week, FYI). My hope is that we can move these beyond just a networking opportunity to become a place of focused and creative design exchange. It'll be tricky figuring out how to keep all of these disparate areas of design engaged in one overall conversation, but I think the very fact that we had such a diversity of professions in one room —all interested and passionate about the design of Baltimore's built and visual environment—is a hell of a good start.

If you were there and have comments about last night, ideas for future topics, ways you think that we should move forward, or examples of best practices from other groups like this, please leave a comment!

Further Reading: Making Sustainability Visible in Cities

It's time to move beyond the idea that building green is more expensive, but that it pays off in long-term energy costs. There are architects and planners who are actively bunking that notion through their designs.

Ankrom Ansom in Portland, OR is in the construction phase of the Mirabella, a 30-story, 224-unit tower (rendering above), which is on track to become the nation’s first LEED Platinum Continued Care Retirement Community. The building is located in the city's developing South Waterfront neighborhood, which requires that every building achieve at least LEED Silver; when it is complete, it will be the largest green community in the country. Ankrom Ansom architects found that going platinum was actually financially beneficial for the client and saved $3 million at the outset. (Changing to variable speed motors on the HVAC system, for example, cost $58,000, but the switch will save about $42,000 a year in energy costs.) Developers also benefited from Oregon state incentives for upgrading to the platinum rating, which is a reminder of the important value of the right kind of tax incentives. If this topic interests you, keep an eye out for a feature article that I wrote about design for aging in the October issue of Architect magazine.

Vegas's New Game
A link to a short article I wrote for the The New York Times Magazine about the green school prototype competition in Las Vegas, where officials are challenging architects to build schools with better energy efficiency for less money (you'll need to scroll down the page to find it).

The City and State supporting citizen participation:
Oregon and Washington states both recycle food and natural waste as well as cans, bottles, plastic, paper, etc. In Olympia, WA, for example, the district gives homeowners in-house composting bins with instructions on how to recycle. Yard and food waste is recycled weekly.

Seeing Outside Accepted Systems:

Not all sustainable solutions need to be expensive outlays of development dollars or government-backed initiatives. In fact, it’s extremely important to move the definition of sustainability away from this and start thinking about the less visible forms that can take root, no pun intended, organically. Take the Baltimore Arabber—it emerged out of a need to transport produce to neighborhoods without access to real markets.

Another example:
How do we contend with the devastation of abandoned houses, empty lots, shrinking urban populations? In Detroit, an interesting thing has emerged. Residents started buying the vacant properties adjacent to their homes and doubling their lot in life, so to speak. The city saw that the citizens were trying to pioneer a solution within their own communites and they supported the system that emerged through tax incentives that made it easier for neighbors to buy abandoned lots. MICA professor Daniel D'Oco, principal of Interboro architects and planners, was there last night and he wrote an article about this program for the new book/magazine (dubbed a boogazine) Verb Crisis. The solutions aren't always pretty or slick, but they are honest. It's valuable to remember that there can be multiple visions of a healthy neighborhood. To quote the wise Jane Jacobs: “There is a quality meaner than outright ugliness or disorder and this meaner quality is the dishonest mask of pretended order, achieved by ignoring or suppressing the real order that is struggling to exist and to be served.” Amen.

The Rise of Social Design and Raising Awareness in Communities

At the 2008 Venice Architecture Biennale, the U.S. will highlight organizations and individuals engaging communities in a conversation about their built environment. The fifteen participants in the Biennale exhibition work in vastly different landscapes—from California/Mexico border towns, to downtown Brooklyn, to rural Alabama. Yet the underpinnings of their efforts are the same. Whether it is Detroit’s Collaborative Design Center or Alice Waters’ Edible Schoolyard, each represents the movement of architecture and design into the realm of social justice and offers a compelling vision for the small scale, grassroots change that is possible when creative minds come together without ego.

Projects are bringing together art and design professionals with community-based advocates and researchers to effect real change at a neighborhood level. There are lots of great examples of that kind of outreach here. You may want to read about the events that happened in Denver at the Democratic National Convention. Here's a link to a blog that I wrote for Metropolis magazine. Note that the Green Constitutional Congress plans to travel the country. Should we work to bring it to Baltimore?

I also highlighted the work of some groups engaging in fun urban interactions that raise awareness about important issues. Rebar in San Francisco created the PARK(ing) project as a response to the "paucity of space for humans to rest, relax, or just do nothing" in their city.

They write that: "more than 70% of San Francisco's downtown outdoor space is dedicated to the private vehicle, while only a fraction of that space is allocated to the public realm. Feeding the meter of a parking space enables one to rent precious downtown real estate, typically on a 1/2 hour to 2-hour basis. What is the range of possible occupancy activities for this short-term lease?" Check out their answer to that question.

So what do you want to raise awareness about in Baltimore? If you want inspiration, get your hands on a copy of the book Temporary Urban Spaces: Concepts for the Use of City Spaces. And I hope to see you out and about in the city very soon...