Thursday, February 28, 2008

Solar Village in Freiburg

New “plus energy homes” in Freiburg, Germany’s Vauban district produce more energy than they use.

Since the 1970’s, the city of Freiburg has taken proactive steps to become an eco-friendly city with an ethic of conservation, environmentally-responsible master planning, and development of alternative energies – especially solar.

In 1992, the city council mandated that all new municipal buildings must be “low energy” buildings employing both passive and active solar components. Freiburg’s green ethic goes all the way to the top; the mayor is a member of Bundnis 90/Die Grunen, Germany’s green party.

The Solarsiedlung, or solar village, designed by Freiburg Architect Rolf Disch, is powered by a rooftop solar panel array. Each home is considered a mini power station. Electricity produced by each home feeds into the existing grid contributing a net surplus of power, thus producing revenue for the homeowner.

Hot water is used for heating as well as domestic purposes and comes from solar heated tubes on the roof of an adjacent business park designed by the same Architect.

In the winter months, an on-site heating plant fueled by wood chips supplements the solar hot water heating system.

Rainwater is gathered and utilized for toilets and irrigation. Catching storm water in an urban context helps relieve pressure on the city’s storm water drainage system.

And in any good green building, a whole array of passive measures have been employed such as sun orientation, sunscreens to shade in the summer and let winter sun in, and triple glazing to reduce heat loss.

Natural ventilation is also an integral feature of this new breed of homes – an eternal concept that works as well now as before the days of advanced mechanical systems.

For more on this development, including Sonnenschiff, the solar powered nearby business park and other green urban projects, see the Architect’s website. A link to projects:

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

America's Greenest Cities

The results are in.

Portland, Oregon is the greenest city in the United States according to a new study by Popular Science.

Portland scored high on its use of renewable energy, public transportation, green space, and for its abundance of green buildings. Walking and biking in Portland is an option to many inhabitants, improving the health and air quality of the region.

The Top 10 Cities:

Portland, OR
San Francisco, CA
Boston, MA
Oakland, CA
Eugene, OR
Cambridge, MA
Berkeley, CA
Seattle, WA
Chicago, IL
Austin, TX

The study rated cities with populations over 100,000 in four categories to compile the rankings:

Electricity : Cities score points for drawing their energy from renewable sources such as wind, solar, biomass and hydroelectric power, as well as for offering incentives for residents to invest in their own power sources, like roof-mounted solar panels.

Transportation : High scores go to cities whose commuters take public transportation or carpool. Air quality also plays a role.

Green living : Cities earn points for the number of buildings certified by the U.S. Green Building Council, as well as for devoting area to green space, such as public parks and nature preserves.

Recycling and green perspective : This measures how comprehensive a city’s recycling program is (if the city collects old electronics, for example) and how important its citizens consider environmental issues.

For a list of the 50 greenest cities in the United States and to find out what cities are doing in the area of environmental responsibility, see the article. Here’s the link.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Green Roofs

Its a jungle up there – or at least it could be.

Green roofs have their advantages according to Chicago’s mayor Richard M. Daley.

"As well as saving building owners money, green roofs…improve the environment and contribute to a healthy city," said Mayor Daley. "These are the kinds of things that improve the quality of life in a city. Our trees, flowers, fountains and benches soften the city's rough edges, add some color and make people feel more at peace with the urban environment."

What is a green roof? In essence, a green roof is composed of indigenous plant life and soil over a waterproof membrane – all on the rooftop of a building.

Environmentally, green roofs offer many benefits. The insulated thermal mass keeps building temperatures warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer. Vegetation in an urban environment counteracts the “heat sink” affect of concrete and asphalt. Green roofs reduce storm water runoff; they clean pollutants from the air and pump additional oxygen into the urban environment.

Functionally, planted roofs lengthen the lifespan of the roof and provide extra patio space for the inhabitants. And urban gardens, including herbs and vegetables, make great use of city rooftops.

Structure must be considered in any green roof adaptation. Smaller plant life takes less soil and can generally be installed on most roofs. Larger trees with bigger root balls should be located above existing structural elements (a column or large beam) so the weight can be transferred to the ground.

A few years ago, Chicago started a grant program (up to $5000) to encourage the installation of green roofs across the city. Chicago City Hall sports a green roof installed by the city in 2001. Since then, the city has saved tens of thousands of dollars on energy costs for this building alone.

Here’s a link for Chicago’s green roof program.

And a link to a site devoted to green roofs.

This Week: Green Cities.

Living green in an urban environment.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton is the “mom” we love to complain about.

“Why does she make me wear a coat when I go outside...she never lets me stay out late...she's so annoying when she tells me to wear my seat belt...she’s just being mean when she says “we can’t afford it”…why can’t I live off chips and coke?...she doesn’t understand me.”

But somehow I get the feeling that Hillary is going to do what’s best for me – whether I like it or not!

Senator Clinton’s plans call for us all to participate in a new way of thinking starting with a shift of focus from a carbon-based economy to clean green economy, producing millions of new jobs in the process.

Forget the old paradigm that its either the economy or the environment; Hillary wants to create a whole new generation of “green collar” jobs by restructuring incentives (both for corporations and individuals) focused on creating a carbon-neutral economic model.

From her website:

Hillary would transform our economy from carbon-based to clean and energy efficient, jumpstarting research and development through a $50 billion Strategic Energy Fund and doubling investment in basic energy research. She would also spur the green building industry by funding the retrofitting and modernization of 20 million low-income homes and take concrete steps to reduce electricity consumption, including enacting strict appliance efficiency standards and phasing out incandescent light bulbs.

Recognizing that transportation accounts for 70 percent of U.S. oil consumption, Hillary would increase fuel efficiency standards to 55 miles per gallon by 2030, but would help automakers retool their production facilities through $20 billion in "Green Vehicle Bonds."

To take the steps necessary to transition to a clean and renewable energy future, Hillary will urge all of the nation's stakeholders to contribute to the effort. Automakers will be asked to make more efficient vehicles; oil and energy companies to invest in cleaner, renewable technologies; utilities to ramp up use of renewables and modernize the grid; coal companies to implement clean coal technology; government to establish a cap and trade carbon emissions system and renew its leadership in energy efficient buildings and services; individuals to conserve energy and utilize efficient light bulbs and appliances in their homes; and industry to build energy efficient homes and buildings.

Hillary's plan to promote energy independence, address global warming, and transform our economy includes:

A new cap-and-trade program that auctions 100 percent of permits alongside investments to move us on the path towards energy independence;

An aggressive comprehensive energy efficiency agenda to reduce electricity consumption 20 percent from projected levels by 2020 by changing the way utilities do business, catalyzing a green building industry, enacting strict appliance efficiency standards, and phasing out incandescent light bulbs;

A $50 billion Strategic Energy Fund, paid for in part by oil companies, to fund investments in alternative energy. The SEF will finance one-third of the $150 billon ten-year investment in a new energy future contained in this plan;

Doubling of federal investment in basic energy research, including funding for an ARPA-E, a new research agency modeled on the successful Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency;

Aggressive action to transition our economy toward renewable energy sources, with renewables generating 25 percent of electricity by 2025 and with 60 billion gallons of home-grown biofuels available for cars and trucks by 2030;

10 "Smart Grid City" partnerships to prove the advanced capabilities of smart grid and other advanced demand-reduction technologies, as well as new investment in plug-in hybrid vehicle technologies;

An increase in fuel efficiency standards to 55 miles per gallon by 2030, and $20 billion of "Green Vehicle Bonds" to help U.S. automakers retool their plants to meet the standards;

A plan to catalyze a thriving green building industry by investing in green collar jobs and helping to modernize and retrofit 20 million low-income homes to make them more energy efficient;
A new "Connie Mae" program to make it easier for low and middle-income Americans to buy green homes and invest in green home improvements;

A requirement that all publicly traded companies report financial risks due to climate change in annual reports filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission;
Creation of a "National Energy Council" within the White House to ensure implementation of the plan across the Executive Branch;

A requirement that all federal buildings designed after January 20, 2009 will be zero emissions buildings.

Here’s a link to a more comprehensive outline of her Energy and Environmental agenda.

To be sure, Hillary’s plans are full of “go clean up your room” items. And like a good mom, she pencils in how to pay for it. Maybe we’ll all appreciate her efforts when we grow up.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Barack Obama

Barack Obama, evangelist of change, spells out chapter and verse on his vision for America’s Energy and Environmental policy.

On Energy.

Obama’s position paper, entitled “Barack Obama’s Plan To Make America A Global Energy Leader,” covers wide-ranging (but integrally important) topics such as building efficiency standards, investment in new energy technologies, and re-thinking the energy grid.

Although this description barely skims over the mountaintops, the campaign sums up the Energy plan as follows:

Obama’s comprehensive plan to combat global warming and achieve energy security will:

Implement an economy-wide cap-and-trade program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to the level recommended by top scientists to avoid calamitous impacts.

Invest $150 billion over the next ten years to develop and deploy climate friendly energy supplies, protect our existing manufacturing base and create millions of new jobs.

Dramatically improve energy efficiency to reduce energy intensity of our economy by 50 percent by 2030.

Reduce our dependence on foreign oil and reduce oil consumption overall by at least 35 percent, or 10 million barrels of oil, by 2030

Make the U.S. a leader in the global effort to combat climate change by leading a new international global warming partnership.

On the Environment.

Again, Obama addresses this issue with great detail. Clean air, clean water, climate change – all covered. But that’s just the start.

Here are some of what I found to be his most interesting proposals:

Create a Green Job Corps:
Obama will create an energy-focused youth jobs program for disconnected and disadvantaged youth. This program will provide participants with service opportunities to improve energy conservation and efficiency of homes and buildings in their communities, while also providing practical experience in important career fields of expected high-growth employment. It will also engage private sector employers and unions to provide apprenticeship opportunities. The program will also work closely with Obama’s proposed Clean Energy Corps to help participants find additional service opportunities after they complete the Green Job Corps.

Build More Livable and Sustainable Communities:

Reform Federal Transportation Funding: Barack Obama will re-evaluate the transportation funding process to ensure that smart growth considerations are taken into account and he will also re-commit federal resources to public mass transportation projects across the country.

Require States to Plan for Energy Conservation: Barack Obama will require governors and local leaders in our metropolitan areas to make “energy conservation” a required part of their planning for the expenditure of federal transportation funds.

Use Innovative Measures to Dramatically Improve Efficiency of Buildings:

Set National Building Efficiency Goals: Barack Obama will establish a goal of making all new buildings carbon neutral, or produce zero emissions, by 2030. He’ll also establish a national goal of improving new building efficiency by 50 percent and existing building efficiency by 25 percent over the next decade to help us meet the 2030 goal.

Establish a Grant Program for Early Adopters: Barack Obama will create a competitive grant program to award those states and localities that take the first steps in implementing new building codes that prioritize energy efficiency. He will also provide a federal match for those states with public benefits funds that support energy efficiency retrofits for existing buildings.

Flip Incentives to Energy Utilities: Barack Obama will work to provide incentives for energy conservation by ensuring utilities get increased profits for improving energy efficiency, rather than higher energy consumption. This decoupling of profits from increased energy usage will incentivize utilities to partner with consumers and the federal government to reduce monthly energy bills for families and businesses. Obama will provide early adopter grants and other financial assistance from the federal government to states that implement this energy efficient policy.

And I could go on and on. Really. I urge you to dive into these two outlines of Senator Obama’s Energy and Environmental policy. It may not be hellfire and brimstone, but policies like this may just keep us from experiencing it on earth.

On Energy:

On the Environment:

Thursday, February 21, 2008

John McCain

John McCain says nothing about energy policy on his campaign website; by all indications, the once-maverick McCain whole-heartedly embraces the policies of the current administration.

On the environment, the Senator sites Teddy Roosevelt as a model and calls for an ethic of good stewardship.

In the words of the campaign:

John McCain has a proud record of common sense stewardship. Along with his commitment to clean air and water, and to conserving open space, he has been a leader on the issue of global warming with the courage to call the nation to action on an issue we can no longer afford to ignore.

America has been blessed with a rich and diverse natural heritage. In the tradition of his hero, Theodore Roosevelt, John McCain believes that we are vested with a sacred duty to be proper stewards of the resources upon which the quality of American life depends. Ensuring clean air, safe and healthy water, sustainable land use, ample greenspace - and the faithful care and management of our natural treasures, including our proud National Park System - is a patriotic responsibility. One that must be met not only for the benefit of our generation, but for our children and those to whom we will pass the American legacy.

John McCain believes that America's economic and environmental interests are not mutually exclusive, but rather inextricably linked. Our economic prospects depend greatly upon the sustainable use of ample and unspoiled natural resources. A clean and healthy environment is well served by a strong economy. History shows that poverty is a poor steward.

As John McCain said, "Americans solve problems. We don't run from them." He believes that ignoring the problem reflects a "liberal live for today" attitude unworthy of our great country, and poses a serious and unacceptable threat to our environment, our economy, and U.S. national security. He has offered common sense approaches to limit carbon emissions by harnessing market forces that will bring advanced technologies, such as nuclear energy, to the market faster, reduce our dependence on foreign supplies of energy, and see to it that America leads in a way that ensures all nations do their rightful share.

By addressing this problem responsibly, John McCain believes we can meet our obligation to be proper caretakers of creation, in a manner of which we can be proud - by protecting our country, strengthening our economy, and addressing the challenges of our time, rather than leaving a much worse problem for our children.

The campaign did not list any specific policies, timetables, or specific goals in the area of energy or the environment. Feel free to fill me in if I've missed something.

note to readers: You may notice that this post was scheduled for yesterday. Some sort of wicked virus (I'll spare you the details) took me out of commission for a day and a half, thus no post yesterday. I'll be posting Barack and Hillary's Energy and Environmental positions on Friday and Saturday.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Mike Huckabee

A few years ago, Mike Huckabee reduced his carbon footprint by over 100 pounds with a healthy diet and exercise.

Fast forward to 2008 and he's running, literally, for President with a radical idea that America can be energy independent in 8 years. Although Huckabee mentions nothing about the environment per se on his campaign website, the idea of energy independence is an environmentalist’s dream.

Of course the devil is in the details, or as I like to say - and I suspect Gov. Huckabee might give me an “Amen” on this - the angels are in the details.


The first thing I will do as President is send Congress my comprehensive plan for energy independence. We will achieve energy independence by the end of my second term.

Achieving energy independence is vital to achieving success both in the war on terror and in globalization. Energy independence will help guarantee both our safety and our prosperity.

We have to explore, we have to conserve, and we have to pursue all avenues of alternative energy: nuclear, wind, solar, hydrogen, clean coal, biodiesel, and biomass.

Energy independence has been on our "to do" list for over thirty years, my whole adult life. In 1973, in response to OPEC's oil embargo against us, President Nixon established Project Independence, which promised independence in 1980. We could have been energy independent a generation ago! The truth is, we are so pathetically behind the curve right now that federal spending for energy research and development is only 40% of what it was in 1979. Our efforts are haphazard and often pointless: today we have six million flex-fuel vehicles built to run on biodiesel or on E85, which is 85% ethanol, but only 1,413 pumps for those fuels in a country with 170,000 gas stations.

When energy shocks and crises come, we take aspirin to deal with the pain, but we don't address the underlying symptoms. This oil addiction is killing us. We have to stop popping pain pills and get ourselves cured. For all these years, we've never lacked the means, just the will. We've never harnessed the real energy source that independence requires - the energy of the American people.

The first thing I will do as President is send Congress my comprehensive plan for energy independence. I'll use the bully pulpit to inform you about the plan and ask for your support. I'll use the bully conference table to meet with members of Congress until I have the votes. The plan will get underway during my first term, and we will achieve energy independence by the end of my second term. The Huckabee Administration will be remembered as the time when we finally, finally achieved energy independence.

We have to explore, we have to conserve, and we have to pursue all avenues of alternative energy: nuclear, wind, solar, hydrogen, clean coal, biodiesel, and biomass. Some will come from our farms and some will come from our laboratories. Dwindling supplies and increasing demand from newly-industrialized countries of fossil fuels are driving up prices. These price increases will facilitate innovation and the opportunity for independence. We will remove red tape that slows innovation. We will set aside a federal research and development budget that will be matched by the private sector to seek the best new products in alternative fuels. Our free market will sort out what makes the most sense economically and will reward consumer preferences.

We think of globalization as primarily an economic issue and the war on terror as primarily a military issue. Yet the same key unlocks the door to success in both, and that key is energy independence.

None of us would write a check to Osama bin Laden, slip it in a Hallmark card and send it off to him. But that's what we're doing every time we pull into a gas station. We're paying for both sides in the war on terror - our side with our tax dollars, the terrorists' side with our gas dollars.

Our dependence on foreign oil has forced us to support repressive regimes, to conduct our foreign policy with one hand tied behind our back. It's time, it's past time, to untie that hand and reach out to moderate Muslims with both hands. Oil has not just shaped our foreign policy, it has deformed it. When I make foreign policy, I want to treat Saudi Arabia the same way I treat Sweden, and that requires us to be energy independent. These folks have had us over a barrel - literally - for way too long.

Energy independence will ease the effects of globalization because the future energy demands of countries like India and China, as their middle class grows, are going to be tremendous. Even if Middle East supplies remain stable - a huge if - that increased demand will drive prices up dramatically, which will hurt our economy by making everything more expensive here. But if we are energy independent, we will be able not just to take care of our own needs and protect our economy, we will also create jobs and grow our economy by developing technologies that we can sell to the rest of the world to meet their needs.

Achieving energy independence will make us safer and more prosperous, and is yet another way that I intend to lift America up.

So there you have it. You be the judge, unless of course you don't want to be judged by others. Huck know's what I mean.

If anyone from the Huckabee campain would like to enlighten us on his position on Environmental policy, verily, I say unto thee, please do so.

Huckabee's website:

Monday, February 18, 2008

Ron Paul

Ron Paul is a free-marketeer. He is willing to let the “market” dictate the hows and whys of America's energy and environmental policy.

But here’s the caveat.

Congressman Dr. Paul wants everyone and every company to work from an even playing field. That means no government subsidies for energy or environmental concerns. (An exception is the promotion of tax credits for the installation of alternative energy systems – specifically solar, wind, and fuel cell technology.)

If a better, more efficient idea comes along, Paul is sure that a fair, free market will pay for its development and distribution.

On Energy, his beef is that government is meddling too much. In the words of the Ron Paul from his website:

“Government regulations, taxes, and corporate subsidies have distorted the energy market, causing some prices to rise above what they would be in the free market, while artificially lowering other prices and discouraging conservation. The costs of energy subsidies are hidden in your tax bill so the government can silently withhold them from your wallet with each paycheck.

As president, I will work to restore a free-market in energy. In particular, I will work with Congress to repeal federal regulations and taxes that impede the development of new energy sources. Such policies give government bureaucrats the power to pick winners and losers, and cause resources to be devoted to those producers with the most political clout rather than to the producers who are best able to meet the needs of consumers. Alternative sources should prove their viability in the free market. Any source that truly is cheaper and cleaner, yet still reliable, will not need government help to develop or sell.

Returning to a free market in energy will encourage conservation as well as the development of new forms of energy. In a free market, conservation occurs naturally when property rights are strictly enforced to prevent pollution and because resources become more costly as they become scarcer.

I have cosponsored legislation designed to encourage the development of alternative energy. H.R. 550 extends the investment tax credit to solar energy property and qualified fuel cell property, and H.R. 1772 provides tax credits for the installation of wind energy property.
Nuclear energy can also provide the American people with a reliable and environmentally sound alternative. Therefore, I will repeal federal regulations that hinder the development of nuclear energy. However, I will also repeal all federal subsidies and privileges granted the nuclear industry. Nuclear power should prove its worth in the free-market.

Clean, safe, and reliable energy is far too important to leave to the political whims of Washington bureaucrats.”

And on the Environment, Paul is also calling for less government intervention. Again, he takes a market-based approach but with an interesting take on the issue stressing property rights.

Ron Paul states:

“The federal government has proven itself untrustworthy with environmental policy by facilitating polluters, subsidizing logging in the National Forests, and instituting one-size-fits-all approaches that too often discriminate against those they are intended to help.

The key to sound environmental policy is respect for private property rights. The strict enforcement of property rights corrects environmental wrongs while increasing the cost of polluting.

In a free market, no one is allowed to pollute his neighbor's land, air, or water. If your property is being damaged, you have every right to sue the polluter, and government should protect that right. After paying damages, the polluter's production and sale costs rise, making it unprofitable to continue doing business the same way. Currently, preemptive regulations and pay-to-pollute schemes favor those wealthy enough to perform the regulatory tap dance, while those who own the polluted land rarely receive a quick or just resolution to their problems.

In Congress, I have followed a constitutional approach to environmental action:

I consistently vote against using tax dollars to subsidize logging in National Forests.

I am a co-sponsor of legislation designed to encourage the development of alternative and sustainable energy. H.R. 550 extends the investment tax credit to solar energy property and qualified fuel cell property, and H.R. 1772 provides tax credits for the installation of wind energy property.

Taxpayers for Common Sense named me a "Treasury Guardian" for my work against environmentally-harmful government spending and corporate welfare.

I am a member of the Congressional Green Scissors Coalition, a bipartisan caucus devoted to ending taxpayer subsidies of projects that harm the environment for the benefit of special interests.

Individuals, businesses, localities, and states must be free to negotiate environmental standards. Those who depend on the land for their health and livelihood have the greatest incentive to be responsible stewards.”

As for gas prices, Ron Paul wrote an article in May 2006 outlining his views. In short, he believes the U.S. should get out of Iraq and stop threatening Iran. Paul pointed out that before we went into Iraq, crude oil was about $30 a barrel. Now, it hovers in the $90 a barrel range and has peaked over $100 a barrel in recent months.

Paul also calls for tighter control of the currency by the Federal Reserve Bank to control inflation.

The article, along with more of Ron Paul’s essays can be found at

and his official campaign website is

This Week: Presidential Candidates Views...

...on Energy and the Environment.

Ron Paul – Monday
Mike Huckabee – Tuesday
John McCain – Wednesday
Barack Obama – Thursday
Hillary Clinton – Friday

Friday, February 15, 2008

Frank Lloyd Wright's Organic Architecture

Meet America’s first green Architect – Frank Lloyd Wright. He called it “organic architecture.”

When I was in high school, I came across photos of Fallingwater, the Johnson Wax Building, and the Price Tower. The powerful resonance of those images changed my life.

I remember sitting and staring at those pictures for hours at a time. Intuitively, I knew there was something very magical there, something profound in Mr. Wright’s approach to architecture. Here before me was evidence that the built environment was so much more than floors, walls, and roof.

Fallingwater, nestled into the Pennsylvania countryside and perched on a rock over a waterfall, feels right at home in its dramatic natural environment. Man with nature, not man over nature, is the artistic expression - an extension of nature itself.

In the Johnson Wax Building, lily pad columns artfully structure the main work area manifesting an open environment of space and light. The tower, added later, provides a striking counterpoint to the streamlined linear massing of the original building. Its “tap-root” foundation draws directly from nature for its inspiration.

Especially mesmerizing for me was the plan of the Price Tower – a delightful play of geometries. In the tower floor plan, the square is juxtaposed with a 30-60-120 degree geometry creating an amazing kinetic feel. And in an epiphany for me at the time, I was fascinated with how Mr. Wright consciously augmented the geometry, both horizontally and vertically, when function changed. Each floor in the tower has three square sides of office space; the apartment on the fourth corner is skewed 30 degrees and becomes a two-story space with a bedroom mezzanine looking out over the living space below. The mezzanine takes back the geometry of the rest of the building in geometric sympathy. Beautiful!

I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to spend some time at Taliesin, both in Wisconsin and Arizona as adjunct faculty and (as often as I can) a member of the Taliesin Chorus Mr. Wright started in 1932.

“What did Frank Lloyd Wright mean by organic architecture?” is a question I have posed to many senior apprentices who studied under the master before his death in 1959. Not surprisingly, I get a different answer every time I ask the question.

“The whole is to the part as the part is to the whole.”

“Each building must respond to Nature, and every building must have its own Nature.”
(Mr. Wright always put a capital N on Nature.)

“Emulate, never imitate.”

And the explanations go on and on like the beautiful poetic tapestry that is organic architecture. Like Nature, Mr. Wright breathed LIFE and SPIRIT into everything he touched. Isn’t that the essence of green architecture?

Today, the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation carries on the legacy. Plan a tour of Taliesin East or Taliesin West, and donate to the organization by going to their website:

And check out what is going on at the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture on their website:

I will be spending a week, probably around his birthday (June 8th), on different aspects Frank Lloyd Wright’s work and his contribution to American architecture.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Sambo Mockbee's "Shelter for the Soul"

Sambo Mockbee showed the world what it really means to be an Architect with a capital A.

Emerging as a quirky, regional Architect in Mississippi in the 1970’s and 80’s, he shattered the myth that affordable housing should look and feel “cheap.” Always the artist, Mockbee took on each project with design ideals usually reserved for the richest of the rich.

Although he was not at all opposed to taking on large commissions, most of his work involved budgets every other architect called “not nearly enough.” He worked with a palate of inexpensive materials, many of which were recycled, and created a soulful expression that lifted the spirit and felt at home with the natural surroundings.

A beautiful chapel made of recycled car windshields.

A home covered with carpet scraps or rustic old barn tin.

A woven retaining wall constructed of used, discarded tires.

Mockbee was the master of breathing life into the ordinary, of making something out of what we consider to be nothing. He taught us that every building, regardless of budget, can and should have a “soul.”

Full disclosure: I’ve personally drawn great inspiration from Mockbee’s work. He was an occasional speaker and visiting professor at the Mississippi State University School of Architecture when I was a student there in the 1980’s. He argued for an artistic approach to architecture. He articulated his heart-felt belief that Architects should be socially responsible and proactive agents for positive change. I stopped in his office from time to time and witnessed his creative process first-hand; he greatly influenced the way I view the world.

In the last decade of Mockbee’s life (sadly, leukemia overtook him in late December of 2001), he devoted his time to teaching at Auburn University, his alma-mater. Along with D.K. Ruth, he founded the Rural Studio, where his vision of a decent architecture for all is studied and practiced.

In 2000, Mockbee was recognized for his life of service with the MacArthur Foundation’s prestigious Genius Award.

Check out the work of Sambo Mockbee and Rural Studio at:

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Michelle Kaufmann's Glidehouse

Michelle Kaufmann is changing the way people think about "pre-fab" homes.

This Oakland, California based Architect is designing factory-built homes that don't look, operate, or feel like the ubiquitous single- or double-wide house trailer. Kaufmann's fresh designs make a strong case for contemporary American architecture.

Her Glidehouse features natural lighting, natural ventilation and non-toxic materials - basic principles of passive green design.

Each home is designed to easily incorporate solar, wind, and geothermal energy systems as well.

And you’ll find no superfluous Greek or Colonial ornamentation on these gems.

Since Kaufmann introduced the Glidehouse a few years ago, she has developed a series of modern, pre-fab home designs of various character and size, all in a contemporary aesthetic.

Units are built in assembly-line fashion in a factory and shipped to a pre-prepared site proving that the mass-production model works for high design.

Prices are about the same or maybe a little more than site-built homes (depending on location), but considering that energy costs over time will be lower, and the quality of the product, its worth considering.

Americans have been starved for options when it comes to the “beautiful pre-fab home” – Michelle Kaufmann just served up a tasty treat!

Her website:

Monday, February 11, 2008

Micheal Berk's GreenMobile

Professor Michael Berk has some innovative ideas.

His GreenMobile concept combines sustainability, energy efficiency, affordability, and mobility for a fresh take on green housing. In one clean stroke, this Architect shatters the myth that green costs more. With prices starting at about $50,000, this green home is affordable by most of the American population.

The GreenMobile draws on modular and manufactured home technologies in to create a handsome structure that can be easily transported and set up on-site in short order. Berk’s design is perfect for emergency housing, and even more perfect for the green-conscious, budget-savvy homeowner.

Designed with solar panels and a rainwater collection system, this new breed of home is no slave to the "grid." The GreenMobile can work independently of infrastructure, or as a hybrid-house attached to local utilities. Homebuyers need not depend on the availability of utilities to dictate their choice of home sites.

And keeping the footprint small (a two-bedroom model is 890 square feet, a one-bedroom is 560 square feet) keeps costs in check; the McMansion may have been the fad in the recent past, but modern-day economics is sending too-big houses the way of the dinosaur.

GreenMobile was awarded an almost $6 million grant recently from FEMA's Alternative Housing Pilot Program (part of Congress' post-Katrina relief funding) in an effort to develop a new generation of disaster-relief housing - a good use of taxpayer money, in my opinion. A prototype is currently under development to replace some of the FEMA trailers on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Approximately 80 units are expected to be produced later on this year.

Check out the poster of the GreenMobile’s winning entry in last year’s Lifecycle Building Challenge:

And for more information on Professor Michael Berk and GreenMobile development, go to his web site:

This Week on the New American Village blog...

Green Homes

Friday, February 8, 2008

United We Plan, Divided We Sprawl

Why do we have sprawl?

Simply put, sprawl represents raw agnostic capitalism in its most expedient form.

Sprawl is easy for the developer as long as there are no rules, no oversight, and no planning. Scroll down to the January 23rd post - Strip Tease - to find the formula.

A laissez-faire attitude about the value of planning gives sprawl free reign, and we are paying the price in America with traffic jams, obesity, and an increasingly divided culture.

But what about the inhabitants? Shouldn't the people who live and work and learn and play in this country have a say? Why must we accept that sprawl as the only option? The whole thing seems out of balance, some how.

Is there a more humane way to grow?

The answer is a resounding yes! But it takes coordination and planning by all stakeholders on a city-wide, even region-wide basis with a conscious goal of creating livable environments. "Regulation" has been the boogie man of development for eternity and a day, but without thoughtful vision, we are destined to forever more have sprawl.

Developers will adapt - they always do - to targeted growth. Developers are not the culprits here, they're only doing what the system we've imposed requires them to do.

I've put together a matrix of Livable Community design. Comments?


L I V A B L E vs U N B E A R A B L E

"We're All In This Together" vs "Every Man For Himself"
the Village vs the Strip
Centralized Plan vs Linear by Default
Connected vs Disconnected
Green vs Gray
Stimulating vs Exhausted
Empathetic vs Apathetic
Logical vs Manic
Transportation Options vs Traffic Jams
Abundance vs Raw Capitalism
Nature is Beautiful vs Clear-Cut and Flatten
Considered Acquisitions vs Conspicuous Consumption
Right Size vs Bigger is Better
Respectful vs In Your Face
Know Your Neighbor vs Who's Your Neighbor?
Connected Green Space vs Asphalt Jungles
Three Dimensional vs Two Dimensional
Unique vs Pretentious
Communicate vs "I Don't Want To Hear It!"
Community vs Isolation
Culture vs Ignorance
A Connected Series of Villages vs Sprawl

In an effort to equitably and fairly address issues affecting the whole of a local population, some metropolitan areas have opted for a city/county combined government. This approach is a proactive attempt to bring all parties together to make decisions affecting everyone.

Combining city and county evens out tax receipt discrepancies between affluent suburbs and poverty stricken inner city neighborhoods, allowing for infrastructure improvements and comprehensive planning that mitigates blight and sprawl.

Some examples of city/county governments are:

Athens - Clarke County, Georgia
Louisville - Jefferson County, Kentucky
Nashville - Davidson County, Tennessee
Butte - Silver Bow County, Montana
Indianapolis - Marion County, Indiana

Anyone have an opinion on this? Some examples of comprehensive planning successes?

Thursday, February 7, 2008

You Can't Get There From Here

Round round get around
I get around

Brian Wilson, The Beach Boys

In Hattiesburg, Mississippi, the Greyhound Bus station sits way out on the edge of the city, near the Interstate. Presumably, its more convenient for the bus company. Fair enough.

One problem.

You can only get there by car.

But wait a minute! If you're taking the bus, you just might not have a.!.!.!, (long exasperated sigh.) Moving on.

The bus stop's remote location makes it impractical to walk there from anywhere even if there were any sidewalks around. And of course, no sidewalks in sight.

This is a perfect example of how sprawl fails us as a practical layout for living.

In contrast, the village structure - a dense centralized node of commercial and public space surrounded by housing - lends itself to a number of transportation options.

With denser development in the center village (including multi-level apartments/condos) and surrounding single family homes within walking distance, sidewalks make sense.

Walking immediately becomes a convenient and viable way of getting around.

Biking becomes an option as well.

A bus stop within walking distance of most of the population makes taking the bus a realistic proposition.

Same applies with trains.

Segways, golf carts, roller blades - the options are many.

Ergo, Freedom!

In the New American Village, owning a car disappears as the "price of admission." Healthy and convenient ways to get around abound.

And traffic jams are a thing of the past.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

A Breath of Fresh Air

Green space is the life and breath of a community.

Intuitively, we know it.

Who can compare the beauty of a majestic canopy of local hardwoods with a clear-cut, treeless sea of asphalt?

Numerous scientific studies document the the thing we already know: Green Space lifts the quality of life and well-being of everyone in the community. The beauty of Nature may be difficult for an accountant to quantify, but on a human level, it has great value. We all know that on some level. Green space is, in the New American Village, a community asset.

With a bit of planning and cooperation, green space can be preserved, cultivated, and integrated into the fabric of the built environment for all to enjoy. Here are a few examples.

Urban squares. At the village center, green space provides a natural gathering place for individual or community activities, and green space in the densest part of town mitigates the hard edges of the built environment.

Neighborhood parks offer outdoor recreational opportunities to surrounding residents. A walk in the park, with the dog perhaps? A playground for neighborhood kids. A park bench in the shade for rest and reflection.

Put a little "park" in the parking lot. Trees balance out the starkness of large stretches of paving. And parking under a nice shade tree in the summer is always nice.

Greenways. Green space along waterways and drainage areas are perfect opportunities for a network of walking and biking paths throughout the community. Right of ways - roads, power, etc. - can be lush and green. No need to sacrifice beauty for necessity.

Here's a link to a "Rails to Trials" greenway. Take a look and see just how far a greenway can go in fostering a sense of community.

Are there more inspiring examples out there?

Monday, February 4, 2008

The Walkable Neighborhood

Walkability is fundamental to the well-being of a community.

The walkable neighborhood, by nature, has a certain geometry. In contrast to the linear layout of sprawl, the walkable neighborhood is centralized.

Services and work opportunities group closely in the center of the New American Village, and housing surrounds this nexus in more or less a concentric ring. Residences are all within walking distance, with denser housing closest to the center.

You may say "this sounds like nostalgia."

Not at all.

The walkable neighborhood is not the property of "tradition" - it is an eternal concept that works historically, currently, and will continue to work in the future.


Because the walkable neighborhood is not a style, it is an organizing system, and this system is most responsive to the human condition.

The benefits:

Health. Studies show people who live in walkable communities weigh less. America's obesity problem is in part due to how suburbs have developed over the past 50 years. The automobile made it possible to develop homogeneous swaths of housing with no services nearby. With no place to walk, and no sidewalks, walking fell out of fashion. Heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes have increased dramatically in these no-walk neighborhoods.

The bottom line. The walkable community gives you back your commuting time. And with gas at $3.00 a gallon, its easy to realize a substantial savings in travel costs. Instead of driving 30 minutes across town for one task then 30 minutes around town for another, walk 5 to 10 minutes to work, to the grocery store, to the library, to school. In the village center, everything is easily accessible to pedestrians.

Cultural enrichment. The walkable neighborhood creates infinite opportunities to meet and communicate with your neighbors in the normal course of the day. (There is a fundamental difference between running into your neighbor in a car and running into your neighbor on foot!) Conversations and familiarity with neighbors resulting from chance and certain encounters fosters cultural enrichment and naturally supports a strong sense of community.

Does this mean we must give up our cars?

No. We love our cars. Cars give us absolute freedom of movement and are very much a part of our way of life. In the New American Village, pedestrians and automobiles co-exist. Every walker is a car NOT on the road. Traffic snarls become non-existent, thus bringing about a balance that affords safety to the citizen on the street.

So why is strip development so popular? We'll talk about that later in the week.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Stimulating Proposition

That aint workin, thats the way you do it.
Money for nothin and your chicks for free.

- Mark Knopfler

Is this what its come down to?

Congress and the Administration seem to be in agreement that the solution lies in sending everybody a check - the great payoff for keeping quiet about how things "just aren't working out as promised." Not even close.

Go ahead. Buy that flat screen TV. Be patriotic and pump up the Chinese economy. Americans can be dyslexic when it comes to economics and war.

Or better yet, use the money to pay one-fifth of this month's mortgage on the home you're about to give back to the bank.

Could there be a better way?

How about taking the same money (upwards to $2oo billion now being floated) and target the development and installation of renewable energies?

What if we gave tax credits covering the cost of installing alternative energy systems in homes and businesses? What if we put some of that money into research and development of new energy systems? What if we created incentives for companies to invest in manufacturing alternative energy components within the United States?

The payoff? An influx of capital to super-charge the economy in the immediate future, plus a boom in employment across the economic spectrum for long-term growth.

And it just might bring about a sea change in the direction of energy independence.

I'm sure there are plenty more creative ideas out there. Don't be shy....