Archive for July, 2008

Belated Blog from Bishop-Favrao

Wednesday, July 30th, 2008

Sitting in my office in Bishop-Favrao Hall for one of the last times. I can see the golfers out on the campus course, the ridgeline separating Blacksburg from Radford, and contrails crossed in the sky. The jet contrails are a crossroads in the sky. I think I’m past the crossroads, having made the decision to move to College Station, Texas and become a faculty member in Architecture at Texas A&M.

I’m walking around Blacksburg with familiar eyes, trying to see and remember those things that are really great here. The Drillfield, the clearly defined street spaces of the little downtown, flowers, mountains, fireflies…this really is a nice place this time of summer.

True, you don’t see the heat and humidity, you feel it. Loading our PODS unit for the move, Linda and I would be wiped out in under an hour of packing, retreat the the air conditioning to dry out, then reform for the next push of an unwilling mattress (it was almost like it didn’t want to leave) and the next pile of twenty-year life-debris to sort, save, box, tape, pack and tie down.

During this move I found some things I had lost. A house design for my friends Doug and Sue, Maggies first watercolor painted with a one dollar kit from the counter at Mish-Mish on an envelope from a hotel in Martinsville during my first research presentation back in 1988. Erin’s fimo model of our dog dixie, (who will stay at rest in the yard along with unnamed goldfish) and a really big shark tooth from the James River.

I spent a half day moving through the house and yard picking up shells from the garden to take along, trying to pack delicate models of scaffolding Kirk Morphew suffered through making as a student, finding old plastic models Mom and I never had a chance to build. Memories everywhere.

It’s hard to know if the transplant of memories will convert Brook Hollow into home. I think it won’t feel like home until we’re all sitting around a table…the table…deciding who will have the honor of carving the perfect cylinder of cranberry sauce to formally commence Thanksgiving. I’m hoping we’re all together for that. Then Texas might feel like home.

I’m looking forward to drawing in the big room at Brook Hollow, and retreating to the little office to read, and maybe getting back on the horse and buying a table saw (my finger still isn’t quite the same, I hope Jim Garden has better luck with my old saw) to make tables for my daughter’s homes. I found bits and parts of projects I didn’t build like the lamps turned from aluminum conduit. They got way too hot with the halogen lamps available when I was building them, but I think I’ll retool with LED lamps, much cooler.

Moving and adapting the fragments from my life in Blacksburg is already starting to make me think of little project ideas. How to use the terra cotta droplet from Ron Grimm? Maybe with the polished cubes from Benny Dubbs and an LED? I think that’s a sign that I’m looking forward to it. Kind of the same as my watery eyes tell me that I’m not anxious to leave the people I work with here in Building Construction at VT.

Take Care, next post from Brook Hollow!

Bloggin in Blacksburg

Saturday, July 19th, 2008

I was reading Engineering News Record (ENR) a few days ago, a weekly magazine that I’d recommend to anyone interested in the current issues in the fields of Engineering, Architecture and Construction. This is especially true if you need to find out what firms are leading the industry and gain insights into their practices that you wouldn’t be able to get from most other sources.

Besides tracking costs of materials and labor across the U.S. (and around the world) ENR faithfully reports the challenges facing professionals involved in the Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC) segment of the economy. This means ENR is not touting the firms, or producers that advertise in it’s pages, but reports on the problems in the industry. Key reports on the collapse of bridges, or buildings, or cranes as well as the implications of these events on upcoming legislation and regulations.

ENR has been actively covering Green, Sustainable and Leed Certified construction practices for some years now. Because owners increasingly expect their project to meet the LEED standards, these sustainable-oriented practices have transformed the way Architects, Engineers, and Builders operate. It’s a hard issue to be against… who doesn’t want to help the earth…raise your hand!

But given the adage “no good deed goes unpunished” sustainably-oriented practices are beginning to increase the liability of Architects, Engineers, and Builders. In the July 14 issue of ENR, there is an article everyone in the AEC community should read. The title is “Insurers Worry About Green-Building Risks”. Like most of ENR’s articles, this one is a well-written two-pager by Gary Tulacz.

The article points out things we all knew about the risks of changing our practices… new innovative materials that don’t have a long track record in our combination of climatic zones, building types, owner expectations, and maintenance practices can perform in unexpected ways…fading, delaminating, outgassing (what happens to a person with food allergies when wheatboard outgasses?) and other behaviors that owners see as failures.

Our (U.S.) product testing requirements usually only test for the bare minimum of discrete performance, deflection, strength, flamespread, smoke contribution… and as an isolated component. Only U.L. and other fire testing agencies conduct “assembly-based” testing where all the components of a wall, floor, column or partition are tested to measure how they behave together. So new products and discrete testing means our building culture doesn’t really know how these materials will behave when interacting with people and the chemistry of our environment….and whoever specified those materials will be seen as being responsible for their performance…whoever installed them and manufactured them are likely to be included in the claim too.

The article also points out something most design professionals know…don’t over-promise…especially on issues out of their direct control. Which means if an owner’s rfp says LEED silver certification is required, but the budget, timeline, and constructor’s contract are not configured to support LEED silver, the designer can’t deliver….and is being seen as responsible. It is well known that there are additional costs in time, and dollars needed to track the credits, and follow through with user-evaluations. Designers stopped guarantying costs over forty years ago, we have to remember that LEED certification requires a team effort… and that the owner is a key part of that team.

The industry move towards Green Building is a good thing, but like any major change it will require some time before our building culture can deliver in a predictable, seamless way. Overall Green Building needs a higher level of integration than our previous (what’s opposite of green? Quinacridone Magenta?) way of making the built environment then it makes a lot of sense to me to only conduct green building in the context of integrated project delivery where the owner, designer, and builder share risk, reward and accountability.

I remember a line from Forrest Gump “Shrimpin’ is hard” and feel the same way about change…if we don’t view change in a large context and try to just green up materials, then we make problems, if we just green up the envelope of the building we make problems for the mechanical system, like if we daylight without shading…

I’ll be making some changes soon, and hope to be bloggin from Brook Hollow in a few weeks. Change is hard…but seems to be an inevitable part of life.