October 29th: The New Masters

The Old Masters luxuriated in their pursuit of aesthetics, often to the detriment of the quality of their buildings.

Today there are New Masters of architecture, for whom the pursuit of an integrated practice, truly Master Builders in their own right, is the only legitimate pursuit.

In this episode of Burning Down the House I talk with Jacob Alspector, a New Master in his own right, and brother-in-arms at the crossroads of change in our profession.

Above - an Old Master (Tiziano) in another form of luxuriant expression. But, my my my, isn't life always offering up voluptuary experiences, if only we see what is before us?

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for some tasty chapters from my novel "Accidental Yankee" - a story about love, lust, politics, death, betrayal, politics, religion - amidst the making of our grand republic, in and around New-York during the Great American Rebellion.

Thanks for listening.

Talk with you again soon.

Breaking News: USGBC bows to Henry Gifford's criticism

On October 1st, as you loyal listeners will recall, Henry Gifford opined that LEED certification plaques should be temporarily attached.

Thank you Henry. And thanks to you listeners. We have been a part of MAKING HISTORY.

This just in:

LEED Certification Can Now Be Revoked By USGBC

Daily Headlines
This story was not reported, edited or fact-checked by AR editors.View all news wire headlines »
LEED Certification Can Now Be Revoked By USGBC
Idaho Business Review, The

By Grigg, Dani

In the newest version of the U.S. Green Building Council's green building standards, there's an element that has never before been hinted at in the LEED guidelines: A green building can now have its LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) and certification revoked.

That's got some industry professionals a little worried.

"I think it will discourage some owners," said Garett Chadwick, a LEED-Accredited Professional from Driggs-based Plan One/Architects. "We're already seeing some discouraged by the whole LEED process because of the submittal process. If they make the requirements a little more intense, ... that's certainly going to discourage some of them."

New rules require building owners to submit performance data on an ongoing basis for five years after certification. If they don't comply, their project's LEED status can be rescinded.

The USGBC has said this change was spurred by studies showing some LEED buildings were not performing up to expectations, casting a shadow on LEED's credibility.

"If you don't maintain and operate your building correctly, all the work to certify would be for naught," said Adam Richins, an attorney with Boise-based Stoel Rives. He specializes in issues related to construction and energy, and he's a member of the USGBC Idaho chapter's board.

He agreed that some developers might be a little worried about the new requirements - it's a financial investment to get a building to where it needs to be to qualify for LEED certification (especially at the higher levels), so to put that investment at risk could make some nervous.

But he thinks it's a good idea overall, part of the USGBC's effort to make their certification translate to something increasingly meaningful.

Architect Bruce Millard of Sandpoint's Studio of Sustainable Design said some kind of performance checkup is absolutely necessary. The Living Building Program, which is a sort of "super- green LEED" program designed by the Cascadia chapter of the USGBC, already requires buildings to wait a year after opening before earning certification. At that point, there's enough data on energy usage to make a determination about performance.

"Buildings do not always get built as designed; buildings do not always perform as they're supposed to within design criteria," Millard said, adding that checking up on buildings can give their certifications a credibility that can otherwise be lacking.

"If they're only doing this to be part of the chic thing, or be part of some PR reality of building so it makes your company looks green, I'm not impressed," he said.

"I'm happy they're doing it, I'm happy they're saving energy, I'm happy they're making statements," he said. "But if a big corporation really wanted to make a statement, why don't they take it all the way and test it a year later, and then tell everyone what's happening."

And he said it's important to keep raising the bar.

Steve Simmons, an architect at LCA Architects in Boise, said he disagreed with the concept of checking up on buildings.

"I think if you design a building efficiently for LEED, the owner pays for it," he said. "Whether it's LEED or not, it's in the owner's best interest to operate the building the best they can. To have somebody to try to watchdog over that, I don't think that's necessary."

He said the energy cost savings should be enough motivation.

Some owners are already deciding to build to LEED standards but not seek LEED certification, he said, and this move could push more developers in that direction.

Credit: Dani Grigg

(Copyright 2009 Dolan Media Newswires)

Images for October 15th: Ugly, Butt-Ugly, and Criminal Designs

In the run-up to Hallowe'en it's not entirely inappropriate to review some designs from the recent past and wonder: what were they thinking?

And then,
there are the classics of design that, nowadays, seem a little less than spectacular.

For example, the much-vaunted Tizio lamp designed by Richard Sapper, iconic in its day, that has become a token fixture, without which the house or office of a designer or architect (of a certain age) would not be complete:

While, admittedly, this lamp was pretty damned cool in 1972, today it looks - well - rather orthopaedic. A knee brace for your arthritic old uncle the architect. At $400 a pop from the MoMA store, really, ya gotta be kiddin' me, bro.

Then there's a certain odd Eames' chair - if this isn't a joke, then I don't get it:

As much as I adore everything else done by Ray and Charles Eames, Eames + Saarinen, the Eames Studio - I have to admit that the juxtaposition of the half-bathtub shell with the aeroplane struts atop the out-sized skids, er, I mean rockers is such a perverse statement of instability, of forcing the concept of the shell chair to such a purpose of the old-fashioned rocker, that I have to quibble.

A perfect case of too many ideas occupying one object.

Then, there's the bad design of early Frank Lloyd Wright's furniture. Yes - concepts taken to an extreme - but (even by The Master's own admission) guaranteed to skin your ankles every time you sit down or stand up:

And, beyond the lack of ergonomics, who wants to have to compete with a fqn light fixture for attention at the dinner table?

The Gerrit Rietveld Red-Blue Chair

- and the Wave Hill version - which, in comparing these two images I can see that the Wave Hill crew altered the proportions, making it a very comfortable sitting experience.

Manuel Saez deems this DiLonghi airconditioner that we have in HRN's Studio "butt-ugly". As we discussed, the controls are inscrutable; only the on/off button is clearly understandable.

The iPhone 3G, with its chromed case, which I felt to be less than satisfactory.

The Dieter Rams Braun travel clock (left)

And Braun radio designed by Rams (above).

A clam-style cellphone, which we all agree, is one of the ugliest things in everyday life.

A recruiting poster for THRUSH - the nemesis of The Man from U.N.C.L.E., which we mentioned in passing:

The Stinger brand bug zapper, on which our guest Rich Thrush worked:

I have to say that this photograph is much better looking
than the thing in real life.

As for my Humanscale Freedom Chair, its list price is presently only $1,305.00.

But, dear Listener, know that the net price to designers - who may be purchasing such chairs on behalf of a corporate client, and marking up the cost of the chair to list or near list - is approximately 60% of list. So when you next want to buy a high-design product be sure to ask What's the trade price?

No one who's not in the trade would ask this.

The Phillipe Starck orange squeezer.

Views of the Starck lobby at 95 Wall Street, with the enormous chandeliers and Versailles Hall of Mirrors effect.

Stay tuned for further episodes of Visual Victims Unit: Criminal Design Intent.


The kind of IBM 16-color VGA laptop that so infuriated me.

"1992: IBM introduces the PS/2 Model CL57SX, IBM's first color laptop computer"

Thanks for listening! Talk with again next time.

Images for October 8th: Darwin Martin, Frank Lloyd Wright & early 20th century design

A recent rendering of the Darwin Martin house complex, in Buffalo NY.

A view from the new visitor's pavilion, designed by Toshiko Mori, looking towards the Martin House.

Frank Lloyd Wright, the architect, at about the time of the Martin house, age 35.

Darwin Martin, the client.

One of the more lasting images from the Martin house is this design - the "Tree of Life" motif - rendered in leaded glass.

Compare this with the design work of the Wiener Werkst├Ątte of about the same time:

Compare the Martin house facade with the Heurtley house, constructed a year earlier:

Martin house, Buffalo

Heurtley, Oak Park

Notwithstanding the Norman arch at the entrance to the Heurtley house, not so very radically different.

And, last, the Martin summer house, Graycliff - 1927 - where Wright "broke the box" with corners windows that defy the structural logic of corner support:

Although 20+ years after the height of the Prairie School houses, nevertheless, there is still a fair amount of Craftsman detail in the interior work:

Oliver Allen mentioned his friend John A. Kouwenhoven - you can read some more about the "Beer can by the side of the highway" here:


And I think it is worth a look, for it condenses many of the themes we often speak of here on Burning Down the House.

Thanks for listening. Speak with you again soon.

Images for October 1st: The US Green Building Council, the LEED standards & Henry Gifford's War of Enlightenment

Sustainability, energy efficiency, interior air quality, locally-sourced materials, renewal materials - these are all aspects of the US Green Building Council's attempt to codify environmentally-friendly practices in new and renovated construction through their LEED (tm) building standard checklists. But, according to Henry Gifford - mechanical engineer, inventor, environmentalist - the LEED standards do not guarantee lower energy consumption; in fact, his analysis of the data that the USGBC itself uses, suggests that LEED buildings are more energy consuming than an average building not conforming to LEED.

Mr Gifford's article analyzing and criticizing the USGBC can be accessed here:


The most recent LEED checklist for new construction, LEED v3 looks like this:
Page 1

Page 2 of the checklist

But what about giving LEED points for innovation? This is not currently included - a major point of contention shared by many architects.

Indeed, these questions have lead the USGBC to respond - just a week ago - with a new program to monitor energy consumption in LEED-certified projects.

Score: 1 for Henry Gifford, 0 for USGBC.

Join us for a spirited discussion of the USGBC, energy use, and ordinary measures that you can take to make your life less energy consumptive.

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