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Texas-OU Weekend: Cup City Installation by Austin Green Art

Cup_city_birds_eye Being Texas-OU weekend, I thought I would bring it back to Austin for a little environmental action.  Back in late September, an environmental organization called Austin Green Art created "Cup City" for the Austin City Limits Music Festival.  The enormous temporary art installation was sponsored by Starbucks.  Cup City should be noticed not for what it is, but what it illustrates. 

The project was designed by architect Legge Lewis Legge and incorporated 41 fence panels (6 x 15 foot), zip ties, and approximately 25,000 pieces of recyclable garbage.  Rent-a-fence provided the fencing.  And from what I understand, the project included solar powered lighting to illuminate the temporary behemoth at night. 

Cup_city_actual Cup_city_profile

The project became a temporary, shaded lounge area where people gathered and interacted during the festival.  But even more importantly, the project illustrates how people need to change the way they consume.  Where talking about massive amounts of water bottles, plastic, paper, coffee cups, etc., that just gets thrown away everyday.  In recycled form, this stuff can be put to use.  Oh, and as a side note, Starbucks donated $1 for every beverage sold at the festival to Austin Green Art, so it’s certain that more of these types of projects are in store for the future. 

Extra Links:
Austin Green Art Commissioned by Starbucks to Create "Cup City" [PR Newswire]
Texas Architect 2006 Design Award
Austin Green Art Website

Texas + Private-sector Partners to Invest $10 B in New Wind Energy Infrastructure

Vestas_wind Today’s a day when I feel pride as an SMU Mustang.  I was taking my little pooch, Colt, to the vet for his yearlies, when I saw a HUGE wing from a wind turbine with the logo "www.vestas.com."  I’ve never seen one of those up close, but it was tons bigger than I thought it would be.  Anyway, Governor Perry and tons of other private companies came to SMU to announce a partnership to invest $10 billion dollars in new wind energy infrastructure.  The partners include:  AES Wind Generation; Airtricity, Inc.; Babcock & Brown, L.P.; Gamesa Energy Southwest; Horizon Wind Energy; John Deere Wind Energy; Orion Energy L.L.C.; PPM Energy; Renewable Energy Systems (USA); Shell Wind Energy Inc.; Superior Renewable Energy; D.H. Blattner; GE Energy L.L.C.; Mortenson; Siemens; Trinity Structural Towers, Inc.; and Vestas-Americas Inc. 

To begin with, I’m a little skeptical.  Recently Governor Perry came out in support of TXU’s plan to dot the Texas map with 16-17 coal plants.  Not only does Kinky support renewables, but he’s against TXU.  The same goes for Strayhorn and Chris Bell.  I mentioned in my blog that I thought the state could do more to chase renewables and added that coal energy has hidden costs that don’t factor into the consumer’s bill–cheap energy for small towns is a small-minded solution.  Nevertheless, regardless of whether Perry is political grandstanding, I’m excited about this partnership for wind energy infrastructure.

Portugal_1531 V52_crete_1448 Vesev2_60

As of December 2004, about 10% of Texas’ energy needs were sourced from renewables.  Under this partnership, private companies will invest capital in wind energy generation while the Public Utility Commission will construct additional transmission lines to deliver the power.  Such a large investment in wind energy should help Texas diversify its energy sourcing and slow down carbon dioxide emissions.  For every 1,000 megawatts of new wind energy, Texas reduces emissions by 6 million tons over a 20 year span.  This is great news for the state of Texas. 

Extra Links:
State, Private Partners to Invest $10B in Wind Energy [Dallas Business Journal]
Governor Uses SMU’s Embrey Building to Announce Wind Initiative [SMU]
::UPDATE: TXU Reveals Competitive Strategy [Dallas Business Journal]

There's a New Prefab in Town: Michelle Kaufmann Designs + mkSolaire

Mksolaire If you haven’t noticed, there’s a new prefab in town.  But if you’ve been following the modern prefab movement, you’ll recognize this newest installment comes from an experienced architect:  Michelle Kaufann Designs.  MKD is behind the glidehouse and sunset breezehouse prefabs that have become the talk in modern + sustainable building circles.  But these aren’t just prefab concepts or designs.  Recently, MKD finished building the first U.S. factory dedicated to sustainable, modular custom homes (www.mkConstructs.com).  This Washington (state) factory is wholly-owned by MKD and will serve California, Washington, Oregon, and Hawaii. 

Solaire_interior The mkSolaire is an open, loft-like home designed for healthy, green living in the urban context.  The architecturally designed roof and windows allow a perfect mixture of air and light to enter the home.  Initial design to completion lead time is roughly 8-14 months, which varies depending on a variety of factors specific to your design and location.  Some of the things that will be available include solar panel roofing, geothermal system, wind generator system, hybrid system, icynene insulation, bamboo or reclaimed wood flooring, recycled paper countertops, recycled glass countertops, on-demand water heaters, water-saving dual-flush toilets, non-toxic paints, and formaldehyde-free cabinetry, etc. 

Solaire_roofSolaire_18  Solaire_17

Because the mkSolaire is built from a modular system, there are endless possibilities as far as layouts and floorplans.  The website has 5+ floorplan options, but it looks like those can be further customized.  And if you’re really interested in taking the plunge, MKD has tried to take the sting out of prefab costing by explaining how it all works.  This stuff isn’t cheap:  factory costs ($150-175 square foot), transportation + installation ($3,000 – $8,000 per module), site costs (depends on location), and miscellaneous costs (permit fees, architectural and engineering fees, sales tax for some states, appliance costs, add-on costs, etc.).  That said, homes do come with high-end Kohler  and Hansgrohe fixtures, Anderson windows + doors, and slate-tile flooring.

I could go on and on, so feel free to visit their site and see if this looks like something you’re interested in.  As far as modern + green custom architectural design is concerned, this is about as good an option as they come.  Source via Linton + Yahoo Finance

Skyscraper Sunday: SOM, Green Skycraper Firm of the Year

Jinao_tower_nanjing_1There’s just no stopping Skidmore, Owings + Merrill.  They are the (as nominated by Jetson Green) Green Skyscraper Firm of the Year.  I blogged about them in regards to the zero energy Pearl River Tower, which absolutely blows me away.  Have you seen the thing?  I also blogged about them on 9/11 because they designed the green Freedom Tower, which is going to be an architectural beacon of freedom and innovation for decades in the future.  When it comes to sustainability and architectural excellence in skyscapers, SOM is the number one firm.  That’s hands down. 

SOM has an enormous portfolio of work in China and they are working on over 15 skyscraper projects there right now.  Interestingly, it’s easier to be innovative in China because the climate lends itself to such behavior.  Firms in the US are reluctant to take on commercial/security risk.  They don’t want to tick off neighbors or trade unions either.  China on the other hand wants to push the envelope.  They have cheap materials and a desire to build green structures.  They are a command economy, so there’s not much public outcry, even if the building is outlandish.  Plus, global recognition helps their situation.  I get heaps of search queries on my blog everyday for a post I did on the Pearl River Tower–that’s global recognition.   

Nanjing_jinling_hotel_1 Nanjing_greenland Shenzhen_avic_plaza

I’ve included some pictures of buildings that SOM has designed for construction in China.  There’s too much to say about each, but one thing should be noted, however:  these buildings are all going to be done in 2007-2008.  There’s a quick turnaround time in China–they have the attitude to get things done.  Notice the delay for buildings like this in the United States and query whether that has anything to do with (in comparison) innovation, politics, determination, or drive.

Nanjing Greenland will have irregularly-spaced slots for green space that "march vertically up the facade."  Jinao Tower will be built with less steel than a traditional skyscraper.  It will be built around a diagonal grid bracing system (similar to the one used for Hearst Tower of New York).  Jinao Tower also features a double-skinned surface for solar shading and insulation.  Each SOM buildling is chock full of innovation. 

Extra Links:
SOM Company Site
Not Innovative?  SOM’s Skyscraper Projects in China Tell a Different Story [Architectural Record]

Green Renovation 101: Herd Theory Approach

Aia_study_popular_feature_graph_2 You’re thinking about selling your house within the next year and want to make some changes to add legitimate value to the place.  You really want to differentiate your home from other similar homes within a mile (or so), but you don’t know how to do it.  Plus, analysts are talking about how the market is overvalued and house prices may drop–the temperature is rising with the increasing tension in house prices, interest rates, and hold-out buyers.  Well, there’s a report out called "High Energy Costs Inspire New Features in Homes," prepared by American Institute of Architects (AIA) Chief Economist Kermit Baker, PhD, Hon. AIA.  I think this is an excellent source of information. 

Efficiency gains can be found in low-tech or high-tech renovations.  With concerns over high energy prices, one of the most popular renovations, according to the study, was to place extra insulation in the attic.  A cooler roof + attic lessens the burden on your air conditioner in the home.  Also, some other features that declined in popularity were larger hallways/increased circulation and upscale entryways.  These features add space (and energy requirements) to the home but they don’t add any usable space.  If I were building a new house, these statistics would be really important to the design of my house, especially if I were considering selling the place at anytime in the distant future. 

Aia_study_popular_products_1 The study also pointed out home products that are gaining in popularity.  As you can see, the most popular products were those that manage energy consumption and have low maintenance.  The "energy efficient" category includes items such as triple glazed windows.  Notice the popularity of the tankless water heater and water saving devices.  Lots of cities are feeling the crunch of water shortages…it’s nice not to be tied to "hog"-style use of water and electricity.

Look at this study as a trend barometer that lays out what people most demand and will soon come to be expected in future houses.  If you want to replace the water heater and happen to have some extra cash, get the tankless–they have tax incentives for those things and it’s not that bad of an investment.  Homebuilders will catch on to these trends and moving forward, all houses will come standard with energy-efficient features. 

Application:
If you want to sell, get on board and bring your home up to par with features that people want.  It’ll make the broker’s job that much easier.

Extra Links:
Remodeling: Going "Green" May Not Save Green [Residential Architect]
More Home Markets "extremely" Overvalued [CNNMoney.com]

Sustainability is Good Business: Obstacles to Green Building Progress

Usgbc_guiding_principles_1 Going green doesn’t mean you’ve turned into a hippy or gone granola, it means you’ve taken a pro-active step to create an efficient, economic, healthy work or home environment.  If you haven’t noticed, there is a nascent (i.e., in terms of popularity), accelerating movement in design + construction towards making buildings sustainable.  It’s likely that 10-20 years from now, the term "green building" will be anachronistic.  All buildings will be "smart" and independent.  But for now, only a small percentage of buildings are heading in this direction and there are a few stubborn reasons to explain why.  In this post, I’m going to talk about sustainable buildings in the context of commercial endeavors, but the principles apply equally to residential.

The fact is, sustainable buildings are better performers: LOWER operating costs, BETTER sales, + HIGHER productivity.  Case studies abound to support this assertion, but the real question is why aren’t businesses flocking to adopt sustainable design principles in their buildings (old + new)?  In a Globe St. article by Brenna Walraven, it was suggested that there are two main obstacles to green building proliferation: 

  1. Energy-efficiency Capital Myth – the myth is that the only way to improve building efficiency is through substantial, significant investments.  My write-up on Adobe’s green building disproves this myth.
  2. Lack of Awareness – this is self-explanatory, but one should consider the impetus to being unlearned on green building, especially for those professionals who make it their line of work to design, construct, + create high-caliber buildings.  Is it political?  Too treehugger-esque?  My response to last-adopters:  sustainable building is to building as Japanese manufacturing is to manufacturing. 

Beddington_zero_energybedzed Buildings that are resource efficient will cost LESS, not more.  Why?  You are using less.  Big changes can be made with slight operational adjustments, and huge capital investments aren’t always required to obtain the greatest benefits for a certain project (new + old).  Further, if you have an architect, property manager, or developer that says it will be too expensive to go the sustainable route, walk the other way and hire someone else.  That group hasn’t been doing their industry homework.  There is a huge paradigm shift in this industry.  If you don’t pay attention, you’ll be like Ford, trying to figure out what makes Toyota so good.  Source via Globe St.

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