Boston Architectural Center (Nicholas)

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    +01 a new beginning

    Nicholas Ng
    Sep 14, '06 10:44 AM EST

    a new semester and a new beginning. this time around i think i'll be doing something different on the blog. raising questions and expressing points of view are much more interesting than posting my works. i'll still be posting some process along the way that'll relate to the stuff i do in school.

    anyway, this semester i have a studio on sustainable design. personally, i have no interest in sustainable design and it's pretty much a bunch of bs architects who wants to save the world. somehow, somewhere i ended up in this studio.

    so which brings me to question. are architects taking up too much for themselves? i'm not a rocket scientist, i don't know what or how for example fuel cells work. it's good to know the basic and availablity of this new technology, but i don't know how the atom from hydrogen splits into creating "electrons". anyway, all this is getting too frustrating. i did not sign up to be a rocket scientist.

    where is architecture going? new technology won't save the world, it'll only prevent it from dying, but what happens after that?


    • insert treekiller rant about the importance of sustainability here...


      Sep 14, 06 11:00 am

      Sustainable design for architects isn't about knowing how fuel cells work, or really even how solar panels work. It's more about getting back to the basics of how buildings operate. Designing WITH nature instead of trying to shut nature out is more real, more healthy and ultimately, often more elegant.

      Sep 14, 06 11:43 am
      Chili Davis

      Wouldn't it be amazing if everything we did could in some way give back?

      Sep 14, 06 11:53 am

      You should learn the general idea behind a technology and what it could do for you so you can make an informed decision as to whether or not it will work for you. You don't need to know the science behind the tech…yes, they're powered by hydrogen, do you need to know how the fuel cell uses the hydrogen? No, but you should know what the sources for H are and what this technology can give you; how much it offsets your non-sustainable resource consumption, how much power a typical unit can generate…etc. If you don't know these things then you're just superficially applying a trendoidal tech because everyone else is and not because you know why. The question you need to ask yourself is whether or not you want to lead or follow.

      A good bit of the hyped tech really isn't worth as much as everyone wants to believe…we're not asking you to blindly accept these things as the best way to make a "sustainable" design--we want you to question the existing methodologies. Is there a better way?

      You should email us with any of your concerns, we don't want you to be miserable in class and totally uninterested in the assignments. Remember, there's still time to drop the studio if you're really unhappy.


      Sep 14, 06 12:32 pm

      ouch, big brother is watching you Nicholas.
      Don't be unhappy. I once had Greg Lynn's 'potato problem' to do. The first moment I thought 'what the hell...' But it changed my way of thinking and designing in a good way.

      Sep 14, 06 1:06 pm

      Nicholas, give it a chance you may enjoy it.

      I just had an hour conversation with soem new students who worked in "green practices" before coming to the GSD. We are excited about how sustainability reall is pushing envelopes of design, technology, and all together: innovation. It seems like we will have a group of very inspired students at the GSD trying to see how sustainability can better come into the architectural design practice.

      Sep 14, 06 1:43 pm
      vado retro

      just say to your prof, the greenest building is no building and then take the rest of the semester off.

      Sep 14, 06 3:29 pm

      "If you don't know these things then you're just superficially applying a trendoidal tech because everyone else is and not because you know why. The question you need to ask yourself is whether or not you want to lead or follow."

      "You should email us with any of your concerns, we don't want you to be miserable in class and totally uninterested in the assignments. Remember, there's still time to drop the studio if you're really unhappy."

      Wow. At least this lets you know that your school and professors care enough to read your entries.

      Nicole e: So what's Greg Lynn's potato problem?

      Sep 14, 06 3:39 pm

      first of all, thanks for the comments. i don't really mind that big brother is watching since this is a blog anyway, but just so big brother know, i'm not unhappy or miserable about the assignments, just a bit frustrated at myself but it can be interesting depending on how i look at it, i understand that.

      however, what i'm really interested and concern about is the machinery of these so called sustainable product. i haven't really researched anything deeper, but so far it seems like we're still using old techniques and material to create these products. i can research new materials but that will take years.

      another question will be how long will it last? what's the lifetime aim of a sustainable product?

      Sep 14, 06 3:42 pm

      "another question will be how long will it last? what's the lifetime aim of a sustainable product?"

      Well, if you take McDonough's cradle-to-cradle view of it, forever. It just gets reincarnated once it wears out.

      Sep 14, 06 4:12 pm
      vado retro

      you could always propose a concept of noncontinuation. what s so good about the world anyway? perhaps our extinction is the best thing for the planet etc.etc.etc.

      Sep 14, 06 4:24 pm

      there are 2 schools of thoughts on the lifespan issue...
      1 forever. does not fail, decompose, change, etc.
      2 to be taken apart then used again. "nutrient"

      as for fuel cells-- i love this a little technical and mixes with some basic stuff...

      Sep 14, 06 4:29 pm

      non-continuation ... i like that. perhaps our extinction is indeed the best thing for the planet. major cities are already overpopulated, and here we are trying to cramp every single human being into one small city.

      interesting ideas guys...

      Sep 14, 06 5:01 pm
      vado retro

      hyperunsustainablility is a concept that you should consider...

      Sep 14, 06 6:11 pm

      hey nicholas you sound alot like this guy -

      he believes the same thing you do!

      Sep 14, 06 6:16 pm

      I don't get the rush comparison…oh well

      @Nicholas--you're asking good questions, ask them in studio as well so everybody can participate in the discussion. I can't give you an answer to the lifecycle issue right now because I really don't have one. What we're looking for in this studio is a critical stance. We don't have a set solution in mind; we've been asking ourselves these questions and have designed the studio so that you guys can participate in the "questioning" alongside us. I originally wanted to drop the term "sustainability" because it has too much baggage associated with it; and quite frankly is a bit of a buzzword that's become too diluted and leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

      How else do we explore these issues if we don't use the term associated with them?

      We couldn't come up with a good alternative so the term, unfortunately, remains.

      Sep 14, 06 6:48 pm

      If my studio professor commented on my blog, I'd flip out or become somewhat reticent. That said, I know i'm speaking for myself when i say the following: to see your professors comments in addition to your entry is both refreshing and intriguing. Prof. Higgins (apologies if this isn't quite correct,) has broken the schoolblog mould with comments that bolster the understanding of, experientially, what the school blog tries to reflect.

      rehiggins: Thank you for commenting, and reading one of your students blogs. However, like i said, if it was me blogging and my professors...

      betadine: the limbaugh comparison is inaccurate and just plain asshole-ish.

      Sep 14, 06 11:32 pm

      anonymity on the internet never was really real. but sometimes it is nice to keep the veil unparted.

      i am impressed that rehiggins answers so thoughtfully. it is nice to have that rather than the limbaugh comparison, and instant dismissal.

      as for sustainability, in the late 80's when i first started uni i bought all the books i could grab up on the environment. It was a different time then and most books were mere catalogues of crimes against the enironment, without any ideas really on how to deal with it beyond screaming shrilly.

      when i switched to architecture school i started reading about wm mcdonough and the work by jack and nancy todd (bioshelters ocean arks and city farming). i put a living machine in all my undergrad projects and my profs laughed. they thought i was nuts, but politely refrained from commenting much. now it is a totally different world, and not only would the profs not laugh they would probably have seen it before. so i think you are lucky, nicholas.

      sustainability in architecture is an imperfect thing. i think it is impossible to find satisfaction. but there are some interesting things happening...don't sell it short just cuz you aren't sure if its worth it yet...

      Sep 15, 06 5:32 am


      You're right, it was an asshole comment that is certainly inappropriate. Nicholas, I apologize for making the post. Sometimes posts strike me a certain way and I respond without thinking. Hardly an astute response from someone that wants to teach someday. Don't take my last post as anything but a stupid joke.

      So, having said that let me respond to something you said that struck me as particularly alarming. Sustainable design is hardly something that bs architects do to try and save the world. I think that is important that we as a profession do everything we can to become more responsible in how our work effects the environment. Burying our head in the sand and claiming futilility is not an answer, especially when you consider that perhaps it is partly OUR irresponsibility for the way the world is today.

      I hope that you continue to ask questions and continue to get the unprecedented level of response to those questions. Give your studio a chance, you will probably have a different take at the end of your experience than you do now.

      I think that by have a dialogue here with your instructor will ultimately fine tune both your expectations and direction.

      Sep 15, 06 7:40 am

      thinking about buildings as an enhancement of the environment, rather than as a compromise, is a way to think about it. the construction industry is responsible for something like a 1/4 of the energy used in the u.s. and think about the waste generated! and the runoff from additional roofing and paving.

      mcdonough's idea at the bernheim forest here in ky was very simple. what if a building acted like a tree? what if the water that left the building was cleaner? what if the building generated energy? etc.

      Sep 15, 06 8:41 am
      vado retro

      what if the building dropped sap on to your car?

      Sep 15, 06 8:47 am

      I realize I may have crossed a line by reading and posting, but one of the goals of the studio is to enable the discussion of these issues and question them. It's frustrating to be in class trying to get the students to participate in dicussions and critiques; lately, the majority of the class has been silent. We try to not lecture and sermonize from on high, but lead discussions and let the students begin to think for themselves (this, by the way, is the best thing about a school with "no design theory" of which I'm a product and now a part of).

      So reading Nicholas' comments hit a bit of a nerve because he didn't raise these questions/concerns to us and the rest of the class so that we could begin working on solutions collectively, much like what's happening within this comment page. These issues/supposed solutions need to be questioned, not blindly accepted but as part of the class, not solely in the semi-anonymous vacuum of a blog.

      maybe the studio should start a thread here so that we can involve the larger community…anyone have any thoughts on this?

      Sep 15, 06 10:19 am

      em, this is starting to get a bit weird. in the past i know i have professors reading my blog, but they never comment on it.

      betadinesutures: apology accepted. but i didn't take it personally, so no worries, also i have no idea who rush lumbaugh is (put in ignorant foreigner on american politics here). but it was an interesting read, nonetheless. as for your thoughts on architects saving the world, i question what role does the architect play now in the 21st century? that was the "big question" i have on my blog. i guess it was at the spur of the moment that i didn't phrase my sentences correctly during my frustration on the role architects wants or am being played.

      and higgins you're right on the word sustainable. how long can a building survive? modern buildings are unlike the gothic cathedral or medieval castles. i don't know where modern building will stand if it was built to last 100 or 200 years old, or will it even last 100 or 200 years old. i guess if it was build using sustainable materials we can tear it down and rebuild it again.

      i was browsing through a book on wasteland in america (drossscape : by alan berger), it's an interesting thesis on reusing wasteland.

      as for commeting in studio, i usually find it difficult to raise questions when i don't know the questions myself. it is only through reading and research that i start to question the things i do. i don't know how other students react in class, but this thread started only after an article i read on historicism.

      anyway i don't think starting a thread here for studio is such a good idea.

      Sep 15, 06 1:36 pm
      Arjun Bhat

      Rahul Mehrotra gave a good lecture today concerning sustainability and the city. He commented that in the US, it usually comes down to a numbers game concerning energy. He talked about holistic approaches that just didn't have to do with building tech, but also addressing social concerns such as food, government, poverty, and public ownership of the city. You're right Nicholas, to a degree (whether or not you were aware). Sustainability is a lot more than just a green roof and grey water systems. The way society works has to be sustainable, and that means a lot more than just the architecture.

      Sep 15, 06 7:13 pm

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