University of Southern California (Emily)



Aug '08 - Jul '09

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    4.17 :: Everything is going to be different now

    Emily Kemper
    Apr 16, '09 12:11 PM EST

    I realized rather late in the semester that I had forgotten to give you our lecture series schedule. By the time I realized it, in fact, half of them were already done, so I didn't bother.

    In the absence of that I'd like tell you about one of the speakers that I think was quite different than a typical architecture school speaker: our guest last night, Steven Strong.

    Steven runs an office in Massachusetts called Solar Design Associates and has devoted his career to the objective of using solar energy instead of traditional fossil fuels to power our built environment, to spreading the word about solar technology, and generally to making buildings greener. He was animated, folksy, and downright unequivocal in his proclamations, as evidenced his slide show, which I captured on iPhone below:

    That slide shows a graph, which depicts the availability of oil (white line) with the projected world population (red line) on the left; on the right, it shows the scene from Thelma and Louise where they drive off a cliff, which is what Steven supposes we're doing if we keep relying on oil.

    The thing is, I know most of what Steven spoke about last night. I've based my future career off of it, in fact. But when he talked about this stuff in relationship to architecture, he was very clear: "the economy and the profession as you know it are gone. None of what we had before is going to come back. Everything is going to be different now." ...I'm paraphrasing but I think I knew that already too. I wonder how many others realize it?...

    Steven told us a story about a project he was working on with a University where they had hired a big-name design architect who, after 3 months of working when the University approached him and said "we have money to make this a green building" he said, "not on MY building." Steven didn't tell us who this was but you can imagine any number of old-school type people saying this. And maybe in the old way of doing things, that architect, despite it being the will of the client and the right thing to do, might have gotten his way. But here, in the 21st century, the University pulled out of its contract with that design architect, and got a new one who respected its wishes and designed them a good-looking AND greener building.

    Sustainability and aesthetics are not mutually exclusive. In this brave new era we're entering, anyone who doesn't understand that and adjust may as well try to look for a job in 1985.


    • treekiller

      SDA rocks, did you have a chance to ask Steven
      for a job?

      Apr 16, 09 6:51 pm  · 

      i have to agree with thomas friedman when he says so far what we have seen in terms of greening the world is chump change and that if we are going to push for a revolution there are going to have to be some casualties (revolutions are never bloodless). to paraphrase him, right now what we have is a green party, and that is fine, but so what. just the typical growth in energy use that seems to have become standard in the last 50 years or so is going to wipe out any gains we make with little piffles of efficiency. solar power is awesome, but we still can't store the energy in a meaningful way, which is why most alternative plants require a traditional (coal burning) plant built alongside as backup.

      what i want to hear is not a warning but a real plan, useful information. i understood the energy thing way back in 1987 (it was part of the reason i went to architecture school - thank you ed mazria!) and for the last 20 years i have been searching for more than fear-mongering. the cliff jump is so george bush button-pushing bullshit.

      just to be clear, i am not disagreeing. i just want to know WHAT is going to be different now? how is the profession going to change? how HAS it changed? so some old architect didn't want to make an efficient building and was replaced. that is not a big change. in fact its not even a small change. really, it feels a bit like the rhetoric is from 1985, not the profession of architecture.

      now we have all kinds of evidence on our side and even political will and power to some extent, and what do we get? more fear mongering? i am waiting for the guy to come up with a lecture on greening the planet who talks about this stuff without resorting to "do this or we all die a painful death". surely we have more to say about this topic now.

      don't we?

      Apr 17, 09 3:30 am  · 

      Steven Strong is a really cool guy. I helped organized a week long conference with him in undergrad at Rutgers when I volunteered for a Graduate student org. called Rutgers Sustainable. Our objective was to work with him on proposing a package (university wide) that would make RU more efficient. The university admin were so against "all the money they would spend", but we proposed a lot of simple and cheap things like just retrofitting dorms with compact fluorescents. Faculty was all pretty impressed that he wasn't the type of architect who was there to screw them out of money by boasting a green label.

      Jump, I agree with you that we should be having a discussion on what will change and how the profession will be different, and its sad that we now have to look for some large scale plan to get us there. I think its reasonable to say that what we've seen is chump change, and sadly it wouldn't have been if everyone were on board from the beginning. All we needed to change a long time ago was attitudes, but apparently our country is such that it needs either fear or a fad to start doing something positive. It will be a great day when the warnings go away completely in those slides, but I think it will be a while as even attitudes still haven't changed.

      Spending the week with Steven Strong reinforced all of this for me, the fact that "the plan" was right out in front of this profession from the beginning, and now its too late to start. He has been at this a very long time, before it was cool, and in my opinion he is simply really into treating our environment properly (hes also one of the most humble people I've ever met). I would say quite obviously that the best we can do now while we wait is to be an architect who leads as Steven Strong has not because its a trend, not because it saves money, not to maintain a competitive firm, but literally just because it makes sense.

      Apr 18, 09 8:11 pm  · 

      well yeah that is where we need to go, for sure. we need to reach a point where green is meaningless because its built in automatically - just the way "air" means oxygen.

      what bugs me is that we have to convince the world of doing this stuff and usually we give them rather unconvincing sticks, and rather poor carrots. yes we may be driving off of a cliff but our kids will be the ones hitting the ground, or our grand-kids/great grand-kids, even. the people who are able to react to that kind of warning are already on board, and it is a ridiculously small group. long-term vision is not something humans do well. what we DO do well is the tragedy of the commons.

      so what we have to do is make a compelling reason to switch that is de-coupled from the fear button so that everyone will be able to get on board without feeling coerced. otherwise it is just alienating. it is especially alienating the hardcore and the cynical folks that we need on our side. and that just pisses me off. we finally are scoring points but if we want to win the war we have to get off our bums and start coming up with reasons to change the world that are not based on calling everyone an asshole for driving so badly. even if it is true it isn't the kind of thing people react to in a good way, usually.

      what really intrigues me is that while there is a link to steven's stuff there is no actual mention of his work on this post. was the fear button the only thing worth repeating?

      Apr 18, 09 8:56 pm  · 

      well put...i guess it'd be nice to be able to just eliminate the prefix "green" as it relates to architecture and, well, everything nowadays. Campuses, cars, cleaning products, hell, "the green network" is even on tv now which drives me nuts. Separating it from the norm like that obviously supports the other type of fear, in terms of not marketing yourself or firm as "green", e.g., LEED.

      He didn't show much of his own work when I saw him speak, some solar work he did on the white house and a residence in Maine. Anything new this time around?

      Apr 18, 09 10:46 pm  · 

      Thanks for your very thoughtful responses to the post. Just a couple of comments from me:

      -jump I agree with you for the most part but I think the bulk of the task ahead is not that we have to convince the world of doing this stuff ... no, I think the task ahead is that we have to tell them how to do it. We simply cannot do it all on our own, especially not when half the profession is dragging its feet. But the feet-draggers may be going out of business soon, eh? Our best bet is to use our resources to help get the tidal wave going, I think...

      -Steven showed some of his work at the end of the lecture. It was great but I confess, he is a talker and my attention span weakens after PowerPoints that last more than an hour and a half. (And yes, he was still going after an hour and a half.) One of the more memorable projects was a building they did for the business school at the University of Oregon I includes PV arrays integrated into the glass facade. Good stuff and you could learn a lot from his stories of how he persuades people to incorporate renewable technologies into their buildings...

      Apr 19, 09 5:04 am  · 
      vado retro

      If the economy somehow recovers to the point where poeple are not worried about job loss, can begin taking advantage of perceived cheaper energy prices, return to the consumptive practices that account for 2/3 of our economy Everything will be more of the same."Green" has already been coopted by advertising and marketing and is being packaged into a commodity rather than a philosophy for living.

      Apr 19, 09 8:51 am  · 

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