"Make no little plans...they have no magic to stir men's blood."
Daniel Burnham

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

‘Have you looked up in your church or civic building recently?’

…The chances are what you see will not have been designed with care and importance; most buildings do not even have domes and vaults anymore…

David Stephenson the author and illustrator of the book, “Heavenly Vaults: from Romanesque to Gothic in European Architecture”, dares to look up. What he sees is completely different than the drywall clad, acoustical cloud, and exposed structure buildings that many of Americans have become used to their whole lives. From the pre-renaissance through the renaissance, from the renaissance to the Gothic, from the Gothic to the baroque, and the baroque leading to even more eras, the church was the patron of a very high percentage of architecture projects. The life defining project would have been that of a cathedral. From Raphael to Brunelleschi to Michelangelo to Bernini, all of these master artists and architects have had the chances to design cathedrals and they did not disappoint. From as far back as the Pantheon of Rome and the Parthenon of the Acropolis in Athens, Religious buildings have taken full advantage of the skill of the best designers known during that time. Why hasn’t our culture adopted the beauty and splendor of these churches, which are found all around the world, here at home?

Certainly the church still is one of the most powerful and affluent institutions in America, why don’t they build beautiful structures? Instead they ‘design’ a box, similar to a Wal-Mart and place a steeple on it. Some churches with thousands of patrons and incomes in the millions still do not use this money thoughtfully when it comes to building design. What has changed? Shouldn’t God be glorified through the architecture, as well as, the patrons? What has happened to the lofty vaults? What has happened to the bell towers that sound during times of celebration or times of mourning? What has happened to smaller prayer chapels and baptisteries? Is the ‘now’ culture losing the meaning of the important elements of church design? All these questions are clearly stated, but what can be done to reverse this devolution of church design.

To reverse this demise of the church, there must be an increased understanding to the general public. This understanding that looks into the elements of a traditional church must be available. Titles and definitions like, the narthex (the entrance or lobby), the nave (main volume of the church often where the seats are located), the aisle (Circulation space running parallel with the nave), the transept (a cross axis space that often creates a place of importance where it intersects with the nave), the crossing (simply the connecting piece between the transept and the nave, often where the main dome of vault is located), and the apse (the place of focus, the stage). These can and must be understood and implemented in church design, even in our culture of processed steel, laminate, and acoustic clouds. Most importantly, is that those that do understand speak up, whether deacons, or pastors, or even architects and planners. There must be a break through, to break through sometimes it is best to stand on the shoulders of those that have gone before us.

Whether a consistent member or an occasional visitor... Look forward to not just enjoying the service and the people, but the building as well.


Photo courtesy of my trip to Roma taken by yours truly

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

‘Mixed-Use Developments and New Urbanism Under the Microscope of Public Opinion’

I recently held a conversation with someone who is holding a position on a township planning board here in Lancaster County. This person is also an architect, a proponent for the values of a community concept of developing. This development concept focuses on not just single family homes, but an integration of those single family homes and mixed use developing. The time that he spends on the board and the projects that he votes on, shows him how much the general public does not understand the concepts that he and many others around this country support.

It appears that the moment that a developer or builder brings up the concept of a mixed-use development, the public sets into a ‘tunnel vision’ mode which will not allow them to absorb the positive characteristics of these communities, not just for the residents, not just for the township, but for the community as a whole. The public sees three main negative factors of the mixed use development: Increased Traffic, Increased Density, and Too Many Units per Acre.

Several years ago, a Lancaster County township voted down a mixed use development that would have become the beacon of hope to not just this one township, but the whole of Lancaster County. This development would have contained single family homes, live-work apartment buildings (Limiting the commute of the owner/employees of the store to a flight of steps.), mixed-use apartment buildings (Designed to accommodate the storefront feel of many towns with the functionality of having apartments and condos over the stores.), commercial structures (including grocery stores, banks, and even a train station - connecting to the Amtrak rail line which runs between Harrisburg and Philadelphia.) Due to the very nature of this kind of development the value of this community would have created a unprecedented amount of new jobs for the township, as well as, create a large tax base, which would allow the schools to then expand to fit in the new residential units as they are put in over the next ten to fifteen years. People would have been able to walk to the grocery store, walk to school, walk to a pizza shop in the evening, limiting the wear on their cars while, at the same time, increasing the chance for fostering relationships with those around them.

Doesn’t this sound like a wonderful environment for your kids to grow up and know their next door neighbors, for your teens to work in and/or hang out on a Friday night, or even for your grandparents to grow old in? The township board did not approve this because all they could see was Traffic, Increased Density, and Too Many Units per Acre. Where and how will we ever create and encourage the type of community that our country lacks when compared with many other nations around the world? The only thing that happens now is the development is killed by the planning boards, and a community that could have blossomed remains only the subject of dreams.


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

‘I want it this way and I want it now’

Is the rapid progression in home building leading to a lack of quality dwellings?

In recent years, the common push has been to put out cookie cutter homes on cookie cutter lots, but, the culture is changing. Many prospective homeowners are avoiding the cookie cutter neighborhoods, great, you may say, but no. These homeowners are looking for the custom looking home for the fraction of a normal custom home price, nine or ten foot ceilings, the same number of bathrooms as bedrooms, crown molding, granite countertops, designed and manicured flowerbeds. Not only is the price of these dreamy homes very important but so also is the speed in which the building is constructed. These two factors are leading to the disappearance of a quality home.

No longer can you get that white painted wood picket fence that coincides with the Classic American dream, you will have to settle for vinyl or another fabricated substitute. Looking for wood shutters, these have been replaced by vinyl as well. Wood doors and windows, those are becoming rapidly a thing of the past. Stone or brick walls? You might as well forget about it. Thin brick veneers and “lick and stick” stones have leeched the lifespan of homes built today. Do you really think that your, four bedroom, four bath, recently constructed home will last centuries? Then again longevity must not be the American dream anymore.

Let’s look at the facts:

Normal wall construction of wood and OSB can be expected to last thirty years* and maybe more depending on the sheathing material. Historically a wall construction of virgin growth timber or Stone or Brick well over a hundred years* and for the latter the possibility is there for much more.

When comparing a vinyl or other type of laminate flooring to natural hardwood flooring the numbers continue with the same consistency. The new materials have a life expectancy between thirty and forty years.* The all natural wood flooring (the type found in many houses over fifty years old.) has a life expectancy of over a hundred years.* The wood floors are expected to last at least twice of these readily accepted equivalents in today’s market.

The use of aluminum products versus the old style copper products will net you a loss of at least half* of what the copper can withstand. Copper piping, copper wires, copper sinks, have all proven themselves time and time again, each time blowing out the competing materials.

There must be a middle ground between the energy efficient yet, short-lived materials that are designed for today’s housing market and those long lasting products that have allowed buildings to last for a hundred years and many more in some examples.

What of products like bamboo? Bamboo is fast growing yet, lasts approximately a hundred years equal to that of the natural wood floors of the past. What about painting with a plaster mixture rather than regular paint, paint has an average lifespan of around 15 years depending on the type, with plaster mixed in much more. Or consider the use of clay paving which lasts a lifetime against the commonly used asphalt drive way with a lifespan of 15-20 years.


* = information gathered from the following link -http://www.nahb.org/fileUpload_details.aspx?contentID=72475

Photograph Courtesy of - http://www.faqs.org/photo-dict/phrase/491/neighborhood.html

Monday, January 18, 2010

Can Architects and Urban Planners Shine Amidst the Chaos?

HAITI…One single topic that has dominated the headlines the past week, so many people displaced, so many homes and businesses destroyed, but what now. I know by this point in time a lot of people are tired of hearing about the depressing news, the death toll rises by the minute, peace-keepers and volunteers are under more and more stress as the hours tick by. But where do us as students and professionals of architecture, city planning, and urbanism fit in with the big picture down in Haiti.

Hundreds of thousands of buildings have been destroyed, the complete urban fabric of Port au Prince has been uprooted, and we ask again where that leaves us. Thousands of well meaning volunteers are flocking to Haiti this very week and more throughout the weeks to come. Yet as time goes by that will dwindle to merely a trickle of volunteers, over time just a few inconsistent tourists, missionaries and U.N. peacekeepers will be present, and Haiti, will plunge from the spotlight to the darkness that they have known for years.

At the time when they need Architects, Designers, and Planners to step in the world will have stopped watching.

There must be some way to encourage a more humane way for city design to enable the infrastructure and the government to not be destroyed even in such an unexpected calamity as the recent earth quake. The fact is that the city of Port au Prince has been growing out of control. Recent estimates, according to CNN reports, are that there were over three million people living in the city. This population has been allowed to grow, largely unchecked and uncontrolled, sprawling complexes of simple shanties dot the landscape. These shanties, built with whatever supplies a family can gather, were no where near enough to with stand a minor earthquake, let alone one as strong the recent one. Without a plan for the infrastructure to grow with the population, it the city was at the worst possible position for a disaster of this magnitude. While the rubble will be cleared, there must be a plan in place to look at the long term future of this once vibrant city.

Can we as Architects, Designers, and Planners, create a scheme for the growth and revitalization of Haiti? The clock is ticking, someone needs to answer the call.


Photograph Courtesy of CNN - http://www.cnn.com/2010/LIVING/01/16/haiti.connections/index.html

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Importance of Community

The beginning of my first “Blog” I just wanted a place to muse and consider topics pertaining to several important things in my life, Architecture, Community, and Nature. I recently have put serious thought into where I want to be, what I want to do, and how I want to do it. This is a very important thing to my life and the choices we make “echo in eternity.

Throughout my education, my philosophy of architectural design has changed drastically. I started as a young eager designer who revered the likes of Frank Lloyd Wright, Mies Van Der Rohe, and modernist firms, such as, SOM and Morphosis. While I can still appreciate the design skills of these artists, I feel I have devolved in a sense. I have pulled away from the shiny edifices of the future to the beauty and sense of community that the past has to offer. I am now, not only intrigued by the great masters of design, such as, Palladio, Wren, Jefferson, but also those that have carried the mantle of traditional design into this new age, from Allan Greenberg to Quinlan Terry. But even as the allure of these old and new artists I seek something else with my designs, community.

What does it take to create community in design? Some argue that it is not the architect’s job to worry about the ways in which people relate within and around their buildings. I take this as a chore that weighs heavily upon me throughout the design process. As of now, I look to the past for guidance on this journey. When I think of community I think of cities like Rome and Paris, where even the smallest of courtyards and palazzos where havens for community or (in the picture above) even the streets.

From time to time may post pictures, or sketches, or just thoughts about, but not limited to the trio of things that make me.