Wednesday, December 30, 2009

New Year, New Blog

For the past several weeks I have been working with Web designer Justin Kropp on creating an actual Web site for my work and my blog. So very soon I will be launching Stay tuned...

Monday, December 21, 2009

Big Boyz

As seen at Friends bar in Fells Point. Photo by Seth Sawyers.

'Tis the season for best of lists and countless retrospectives, so I'll add to the growing pile with the Best Marketing Technique of 2009. And the winner is...Big Boyz Bail Bonds. Sad, but true. Anyone living in Baltimore has likely seen their blazing pink and yellow ballpoint pens peaking out of restaurant aprons and pleather credit card folders. I've seen them in offices, coffee shops, college classrooms... Nearly as many pens as there are bail bond locations. I've been told that reps from the company drop these off by the bagfull in vans emblazoned with the Big Boyz logo. I've also been told that the pens have a knack for breaking open and bleeding blue ink all over you. I should insert some serious social commentary on the industrial prison complex and the truth that these pens portend, but I'll let the garish, prolific, oozing pens speak for themselves.

Market Forecast: 2010

For Architect magazine's December issue, I spoke with experts in different sectors of the architecture and construction industry to find out what they think will happen next year. Here's what they had to say...

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


More bad news from the world of design. F+W Media announced yesterday that it will fold I.D. magazine. After January, the 55 year-old publication will be no longer. This ranks up there with the loss of Gourmet in my mind. Another stalwart publication bites the dust.

The publisher released the following statement to explain their decision:

The fragmentation and specialized information needs of I.D.'s core readers (product designers) and the plethora of information resources available to them—some for free (online and B2B) and others that are highly specialized and targeted to specific industries served.
F+W will continue to produce Print.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Holiday Shopping

A long hiatus from blogging. I went to Paris over Thanksgiving. When my husband and I returned to the U.S., the customs officer looked suspicious when we said we were bringing absolutely nothing back with us (besides higher cholesterol and an extra five pounds). The exchange rate just sucked, so no gifts from abroad. Back in Baltimore today and the weather can't decide if it wants to rain or snow. So for now, it's snrainy. We've got a fire going in the wood stove, but I'm going to venture out into the inclement day and join my friend Lisa at the Charm City Craft Mafia Holiday Heap sale over at St. John's Church. A sneak peak at some of the vendors below. Runs until 5 PM today in case you're in town and want to head over.

Letterpress cards from Bowerbox Press.

As someone who likes to keep handwritten journals when I travel, here's a map of Florence book by Bowerbox Press.

Screenprints from 2Hawks2Fishes. They have a wonderful collection of rock posters from local bands.

Flasks by Maneating Flower

Ceramics by Little Flower Design

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Event: Build Boston

Parkview Terrace, an affordable housing development for the elderly in San Francisco that combines universal design with beautiful aesthetics. A portion of the 101 units were set aside for the homeless.

I'm flying to Boston tomorrow night to be a part of a panel discussion on Thursday at the annual Build Boston Conference. The topic: New Models of Home for our Third Age (scroll to the bottom of this link).

I'll be presenting projects from the book I am researching about new models of residential design for our aging population (more on this in the not-to-distant future, I hope). I touched on this topic last year in an article for Architect magazine.

I'll be joined by Gabriela Bonome-Sims from the Institute for Human Centered Design, Elaine Ostroff, Hon. AIA, and Susan Szenasy of Metropolis magazine. The talk runs from 6-7:30, so for those of you heading to Build Boston, I hope you'll pop by.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Old School Remedy

I was invited to dinner last week by a group of undergraduate graphic designers at the Maryland Institute College of Art involved in a course called Design Coalition. Taught by professor Ryan Clifford, the course partners with members of the East Baltimore community to bring graphic design and problem-solving to a neighborhood struggling to come out from under years of disinvestment and decline. The dinner was a chance for the students to cook their favorite dishes for some of the community members and to get to know each other better.

One of the guests was a woman named Ma Perkins. Ma has lived in East Baltimore her entire life and when asked what her neighborhood needs to recover and sustain itself, she talked about the young people. "They don't know how to take care of themselves. They are always looking to others for help," she told me. She talked about growing up in a family that hailed from St. Mary's, a rural farming community in Southern Maryland, where her ancestors were slaves on tobacco farms. She talked about knowing how to make a bag of groceries last for weeks, and how to stretch basics like beans and rice. Her generation, she said, knew how to take care of itself and fix what needed fixing. She talked about skills like carpentry and quilting and sewing, and how those are lost to kids today. This got us on the topic of simple home remedies. "You know the best cure for a cold with a cough? White onion," she said. You take an onion, slice it thin, top it with sugar and lemon, and let it cure. Then, Perkins explained, you drink the syrup. "That cold will be gone in no time."

This return to basic resourcefulness is a part of the DIY design movement, but what Ma Perkins was addressing goes deeper. It's not just about making something new, it's about making do.

We started to hatch a plan for gathering some of the elders in East Baltimore for an Old School Remedy night where they could pass along lessons and skills that may otherwise be forgotten. We talked about making a cookbook—or a sourcebook—to gather these stories and ideas.

Seems Ma Perkins is on to something.

Making the rounds on the Web last week was news of a new Brooklyn start-up magazine called Remedy Quarterly. The magazine has the tagline: Stories of Food, Recipes for Feeling Good. They explain their publication this way:
Remedy Quarterly is a magazine of food stories and the recipes that go with them. We love that food is a common language and drew inspiration from community cookbooks. The first issue of Remedy Quarterly starts where food often starts—at home. We have stories of family coming around the table, a cake that brings the author home in her mind, and a vegetarian coming home to omnivorism.
And, of course, there are the remedies. Though some of these sound downright awful. (And dumb. Raw egg in warm beer for a hangover cure? I think Remedy Quarterly needs a Remedy Test Kitchen like Cook's Illustrated.)

In addition to the obvious overlap in the conversation I had with Ma Perkins, I thought the two pages that the editors sampled from their inaugural issue to be particularly coincidental in light of our dinner gathering among friends: one about onions, the other about food...

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Thursday Night! Design Convo #13

(Click on image for a larger version)

If you are free tomorrow evening, Nov. 5 from 6pm-9pm, I hope you can pop by the next monthly installment of the Baltimore Design Conversation. The topic is "Design Policy + Tactics." (Click on the above image to get more details.)

As usual, the event will happen at the Windup Space, 10-12 W. North Ave. near the corner of Charles Street. The event is free and open to the public. You are invited to bring ideas and share your thoughts with the group or just swing in for a beer and some interesting conversation.

For those of you not familiar with the event, the Baltimore Design Conversation is a monthly program organized by a group of people (including myself) who think design culture should play a greater role in the future of Baltimore. The Design Conversations have been a way to highlight significant work being done by designers and to discuss design issues relevant to Baltimore and cities in general. It is also an outgrowth of the D:center Baltimore.

Questions? Contact this month's Design Convo coordinator, Eric Leshinsky @
eric (at)

Friday, October 23, 2009

Solar Decathlon

Illinois' entry. All photos of the Decathlon homes by Jim Tetro, U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

You can read more about my (rainy! cold!) trip to DC for this year's Solar Decathlon by clicking here for my Metropolis blog post. One thing I mention in that post is that the second place team from Illinois (pictured above) used a vernacular architecture for their decathlon entry. They channeled a classic gabled design that would feel right at home on the prairies of the Midwest.

Some other designs in the competition felt derivative as well...

The entry from Cornell:

Reminded me of the waste water treatment plant In Dundalk, Maryland:

The entry from Missouri:

Looks an awful lot like Shutter Shades:

The Arizona house, below, reminded me of the sloped glass sunrooms attached to some Wendy's restaurants, but I couldn't find the right image of a Wendy's online. Maybe I'll go snap a photo of the one on York Road near Belvedere Square...

Friday, October 16, 2009

Building Science Research

Team California's design for the Solar Decathlon.

Tomorrow I will brave the cold and the rain and head south to D.C. to see the prototype houses set up on the National Mall for the Solar Decathlon. (Germany just edged out Illinois for first place in the overall rankings.)

The Decathlon is an event that advances building science research and encourages universities to examine high efficiency home design. But overall, the U.S. and the building industry are simply not investing enough sustained capital into research and development in spite of the fact that buildings are our biggest energy sink.

My latest feature article in Architect magazine looks at how much money is invested into the science of designing better buildings and where that money is going:

Shaky Foundation
Taming the economic, environmental and geopolitical cost of energy has emerged as a natinal imperative. So why are research dollars for building performance so scarce?

When McKinsey & Co., a global management consulting firm, released a report on energy efficiency in July, it caused quite a stir among building science researchers. Called “Unlocking Energy Efficiency in the U.S. Economy,” the report concluded that an upfront investment of $520 billion in efficiency measures could shrink this country’s non-transportation energy consumption in the next decade by 23 percent, or $1.2 trillion. That’s a considerable return on investment.

There is, of course, a catch. To realize such savings, the United States would need to rally around a national agenda. “Energy efficiency offers a vast, low-cost energy resource for the U.S. economy—but only if the nation can craft a comprehensive and innovative approach to unlock it,” the report states.

When it comes to building science research in this country—including everything from seismic and safety issues, to materiality and performance, to indoor air quality and moisture—we don’t do “comprehensive.” American building science research is, at best, piecemeal; at worst, it’s barely funded. There is no federal agency that spearheads research endeavors, and no dedicated funding stream that supports scientists. The building industry itself—architecture, engineering, manufacturing, construction, and maintenance—is a $1-trillion-per-year business employing some 1.7 million people, but it simply does not invest in R&D the way that, say, pharmaceutical companies do. The building sector spends one-tenth as much on R&D as the national average for other industries, according to Mark Frankel, technical director of the nonprofit New Buildings Institute (NBI). READ MORE.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Tonight: Meet Maurice Cox from the NEA

onight, AIA's Urban Design Committee hosts a free forum on The Role of Design Centers in Urban Regeneration. Maurice Cox, Director of Design for the National Endowment for the Arts, will join Gary Gaston, Director of the Design Studio at the Nashville Civic Design Center, to talk about the formation of a community design center and the place for design in a city like Baltimore. I'll moderate a panel discussion after their presentations and we'll all get a chance to talk about Baltimore's efforts to form its own D:center Baltimore. I hope you can stop by.

The 411:

Thursday, October 15, 2009
Time: 6:00 – 8:30 p.m.
Location: RTKL, 901 S. Bond St., Baltimore, MD, 21231, Fells Point
Cost: FREE
1.5 AIA/CES Credits

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Support Pie Lab

What is Pie Lab? It's a fantastic experiment in community building and design in Greensboro, Alabama. And the designers who started it need your help. If they raise $10,000 by November 1, they will realize their goal of building a new center for design, community—and pie—on Greensboro's historic Main Street. You can learn more about the project by watching this video.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Design Convo 12: Bikes

Click on image for a larger version.

This Thursday, October 8 join D:center baltimore for Design Conversation 12: Bikes. This month is an open discussion on frame building, bicycle design, bicycle infrastructure, bike collectives, bike lanes, and all things cycling. A/V system available for impromptu presentations. As always, the event is free. Cash bar. For more details, click on the above invitation and spread the word. The more the merrier! Also note that DC 12 has been shifted from the usual first Wednesday of the month to the first Thursday.

The 411:

Thursday October 8 2009
The Windup Space - 10 W North Ave @ Charles Street
6:30 pm - 8:30 pm

Questions? | |

And speaking of bikes, I just got back from a weekend in Philadelphia and that city is lousy with cyclists. Bikes everywhere. Here are a few snapshots:

Spotted outside the Standard Tap.

Spotted in the Northern Liberties Neighborhood: Metal bike racks with glass-enclosed marketing signs for local businesses. This one was advertising the music line up at a local club.

Spotted in Rittenhouse Square: Tons of bikes, no place to park them. Cyclists ignored the official signs about not locking their bikes to the fence. Philadelphia needs what DC just created: a garage for bikes.

The new Mobis bike station in D.C.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Building for the Better

The October issue of Urbanite magazine hit the streets today and it focuses on the built environment. I wrote a piece about the evolution of social design and how it's playing out in the city...

It’s November in Greensboro, Alabama, and a rare cold snap has brought frigid temperatures to this southern town. In a modest two-story house on the edge of Greensboro’s main street, five graphic design students and two professors from Maryland Institute College of Art are waking up.

There’s no furnace, just space heaters, so the MICA team is encased in sleeping bags in a room full of bunk beds. The scene resembles something from a sci-fi movie: frozen bodies cocooned in nylon, plumes of breath rising in the ash-gray light. Someone ventures to the kitchen to make breakfast. A carton of eggs left out overnight has frozen solid. READ THE FULL ARTICLE HERE.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Event: Baltimore Architecture Week Panel

Baltimore Architecture Week kicks off in less than two weeks and among the events is a panel discussion moderated by yours truly. The topic is the role of design centers in urban regeneration and the creation of a comprehensive design center in Baltimore. Gary Gaston of the Nashville Civic Design Center will be here to talk about that city's successful formula for a center and Maurice Cox, architect and Director of Design for the National Endowment for the Arts, will discuss the rise in community-centered design and the ways to bring design to all. The panel will be followed by a Q&A with the audience, so it promises to be an interesting and enlightening evening. And it's FREE.

The 411:

Thursday, October 15
6-8:30 PM
901 S. Bond Street

Friday, September 25, 2009

Park(ing) Day in Pictures

Floura Teeter's parking space turned cafe and croquet court.

As I mention in the post below, I didn't make it to Park(ing) Day celebrations around Baltimore and reader Joe McGinley of Floura Teeter landscape architects was kind enough to forward photos. Floura Teeter took over three spots on W. Franklin Street and turned them into a café seating area with a croquet lawn.

Thanks for the photos, Joe!

Morgan State's landscape program also created an installation for the front of Brewers Art in Mount Vernon. Here are some sketches from their concept (and if anyone was there, send pictures):

UPDATE: Ask and ye shall receive. UP reader Gerritt Shuffstall forwarded photos from Morgan's installation on Charles Street:

The Rules of the Road

I missed national Park(ing) Day activities in Baltimore last Friday. I had heard that a new boutique hotel in the central business district (the Kimpton chain finally came to town) was going to participate. Coincidentally, that same day, friends dropped off an article from the February issue of Scientific American (thanks Lisa and Kerr!). The story explains how street closures and shared roadways can actually increase efficiency. The author describes what is known as the Nash Equilibrium, where an individual driver does not fare better than other drivers by seeking out the fastest route. Since most drivers take a selfish, individualistic approach to the road, the theory continues, most everyone is changing their strategy to reach the route perceived to be the most efficient. Which more often results in traffic jams.

Conversely, roads designed to force an unselfish approach seem to function more efficiently. The writer points to the concept of shared streets. "The practice encourages driver anarchy by removing traffic lights, street markings, and boundaries between the street and the sidewalk. Studies conducted in northern Europe, where shared streets are common, point to improved safety and traffic flow."

A Baltimore Share Lane.

Baltimore does not have shared streets, per se, but we are seeing an increase in "share lanes," which include large symbols of bicycles on the asphalt meant to encourage drivers to yield to cyclists. I didn't immediately grasp what this was when I first encountered one in my neighborhood. (If you want to talk more about cycling and the city, come to the D:Center's next Baltimore Design Convo on Wednesday, October 7 at 6:30 PM at The Wind Up Space. The topic will be biking.)

So back to parking. The story included a sidebar about San Francisco, the city where Park(ing) day was born. Planners in the United States in the 1950s believed that a few free parking spots downtown were paramount to attracting people into the city, a strategy now understood to be counterintuitive. It ignored the basic economic truth that lower prices increase demand, thus spurring an insatiable desire for more car parks. "Now limited urban space and concerns about global warming are inspiring city planners to eliminate these requirements," the article states. In San Francisco, a city that once required all development to include parking, planners now limit parking to no more than 7 % of a building's square footage. That's not a lot. The result: while employment has increased in the city, traffic congestion has gone down as people walk, bike, and take transit.

Ask the folks at the Downtown Partnership in Baltimore (where my brother works, FYI) and they will tell you that parking is a major issue in this city. Take it away and you risk a business relocating elsewhere. The challenge here is that many of the people coming into downtown do not live in walking distance. They cannot realistically bike in from the suburbs and regional public transit options are abysmal. Look at the places where share lanes and street closures work: New York, Portland, San Francisco...places with public transit and people living and working in close proximity. But even if you don't live nearby, see what happens in a place like New York. The distance from Queens to Manhattan is about 11 miles. The distance from Towson, Maryland to Baltimore city is about 14 miles, a negligible difference. You can get from Queens to a job in Midtown without needing a car. Not as easy a commute from Towson to the city.

So what's the answer? How do you take those cities where transit is limited to cars (most American cities) and attempt to transform them? I think I'll pose this question at the next Design Convo....

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Book Panel: Spirit of Place

This Saturday at noon, I'll be moderating a panel at the Baltimore Book Festival about the book Spirit of Place. You can learn more about the book itself by reading the post I wrote last year for Metropolis magazine. The panel will include the authors as well as several of the people featured in the book, including J. Michael Flanigan, an antiques dealer and appraiser on Antiques Roadshow and Vince Peranio, film and TV production designer for John Waters' films and The Wire. There's a book signing after. It takes place in the Literary Salon at noon. Learn more here.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

SHoP and Atlantic Yards

SHoP Architects and Ellerbe Becket will replace the ousted Frank Gehry on the troubled Barclays Center at Atlantic Yards project. When the news broke last week, it sparked discussion in the design community, including more speculation over the turmoil of this Forest City Ratner project.

I ran a piece on SHoP last year where founding principle Gregg Pasquarelli discussed his firm's philosophy. There's a short Q & A with Pasquarelli about Atlantic Yards here.

Gehry's design: Dr. Seuss takes Brooklyn.

The SHoP Design: Better?