Wednesday, May 27, 2009

BeauSoliel: Home Stretch

Solar Decathlon Update: Every two years 20 university teams are chosen, based on proposals, to design an all-solar home and assemble it on the National Mall in Washington DC for public viewing and judging. Check back each Wednesday as the NAV Blog reports on the process of the design and construction of BeauSoleil, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette's entry. For more info about the project, visit their website. And check out a short film about the project.

I recently made a visit to the BeauSoleil World Headquarters in Lafayette, Louisiana where Professor Geoff Gjertson and graduate student Catherine Guidry gave me a tour of the construction progress.

With the Solar Decathlon coming up in October, TEAM BeauSoleil is in full construction mode. The basic frame with wall and roof panels are in place as are the windows. Soon, interior and exterior finishes, will be applied.

As with any piece of experimental architecture, magical little details are beginning to appear. Contrary to popoular opinion, a "good set of drawings" is not all it takes to complete the building. Frank Lloyd Wright famously refused to finish the interior drawings until the shell construction was completed and he could stand in the building and make decisions about the final details. Sometimes he went so far as to move a drafting board into the space and finish drawings then and there.

Reports from the field:

Well it has been an exciting week for the Beausoleil Team. We have just finished up a very tough semester and we are gearing up for the hot and very humid Louisiana summer. Summertime also means fulltime work on our project, which has been through some amazing changes. We have just made some major updates to our cd’s. By correcting and refining our layout our cd’s are looking pretty good. So far things are looking very good for finishing on time. Starting next week we will continue to tweak some minor issues and hopefully finish them up in a timely manner, since we will be at full strength as we welcome back the rest of our team.

Greg Jefferson - TEAM BeauSoleil

This week the design and construction crew down at the BeauSoleil Worldwide Headquarters is raising the roof…literally! We’ve been making great progress on the various roof systems the house incorporates. The galvalume metal roofing is installed and the aluminum roof frame that houses the water heating system is also being made! The fancy, shifting-ridge roof we designed is kind-of a pain in the neck sometimes, but boy does it look good! We’ll continue with posts to keep you guys up-to-date on all the shenanigans going on at the BeauSoleil Worldwide Headquarters. Have a BeauSoleil Day!

Chris Dufreche -TEAM BeauSoleil

Monday, May 25, 2009

Midnight Train

This week's newspaper column:

Want to take a low-carbon-footprint vacation this summer? Try Amtrak.

According to the US Department of Energy, trains emit less carbon than airplanes or automobiles per passenger mile making rail travel the greenest way to commute long distances. (In the early 1900’s, artist Walter Anderson crisscrossed the country on dirt roads with a rusty old green bicycle – a great deal more sustainable than plane, train, or car - but I wouldn’t suggest this for the faint of heart.)

With fares comparable to flying, Amtrak is an attractive way to see the country on the way to your final destination. And unlike the cramped quarters of a commercial airliner, seats are spacious with much more room to stretch and move around.

Watch the passing landscape from your seat, or saunter down to the lounge car for a panoramic view. Have a drink and a snack while you meet interesting and diverse fellow travelers.

When mealtime comes around, take advantage of the dining car where window-side booths are adorned with white table cloths and fresh-cut flowers. The kitchen offers a variety of menu choices -including healthy and vegetarian options - serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Don’t expect a four star restaurant, but for diner food, the quality is surprisingly good.

Sleeping rooms with fold-out beds are available at a premium rate, but if comfort is a priority, that’s the way to go. Meals are included when you book a sleeper.

Getting beyond energy efficiency, rail travel fosters another facet of green living: cultural sustainability.

On the train, you will have the potential (and probability) of meeting people from all parts of the county and any corner of the globe. Long conversations are standard fare. Why hurry? You’ll have a few hours to relax and enjoy the ride.

If traveling alone or in a pair, the dining car hostess takes the liberty of seating you with a random rider or two leading to unexpectedly delightful conversations with people you probably never would meet otherwise.

Riding cross-country on passenger rail is the equivalent of taking a graduate level sociology class, except this course is “hands-on” and most your fellow students are up on the subject matter.

If you are planning an extended vacation, the USA Rail Pass is a great value. For less than four hundred dollars (and under two hundred dollars for kids), you can ride anywhere Amtrak travels for 15 days with up to 8 stopovers. Thirty and forty-five day passes are available as well.

Amtrak does not have advance purchase discounts per se, but as seats on a train sell out, the price gets progressively higher, so buy tickets as far ahead of your trip as possible.

Consider riding the rails this summer. Take a good book, and I bet you’ll have some great travel stories to tell when you return.

Friday, May 22, 2009

New York

Just returned from New York where I took in the Frank Lloyd Wright From Within Outward exhibition at the Guggenheim. More photos to come. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Take A Bike

This Week's Newspaper Column:

May is National Bike Month and the League of American Bicyclists is promoting Bike-to-Work Week May 11-16 culminating in a national Bike-to-Work Day on Friday, May 15th. Riders across the country will be taking advantage of the beautiful early summer weather to take to the streets, many for the first time.

Why ride a bike to work instead of taking a vehicle? Consider your overall health and economics; when you ride a bike, you burn calories, not gas.

Americans are getting fatter and fatter due, in part, to lack of exercise. Once upon a time, before the automobile was ubiquitous, exercise was part of the daily routine. Most people walked to work, walked to the store, and walked to school.

Now, after half a century of transportation planning with a “car-only” ethic, American cities have spread out (much like our wastelines) and walking in many places is not an option. But a very long walk is an easy ride on a bike. You could say that biking is the new walking.

Here are a few biking rules for the road.

Keep in mind that bicycles are ruled by the same laws as cars. You are expected to stay in the same lanes and obey the same road signs and stoplights as automobiles. The exception is that bikes are not allowed on the interstate highway.

Never ride on the left side of the road. Besides the illegality, drivers always look to the left before making a right turn but they may or may not look to the right before pulling out into the street. As a general rule, bikes are no match for moving fenders.

Check your route ahead of time to make sure you’ll feel safe. When dedicated bike lanes are not present, you may opt for utilizing secondary streets rather than compete with fast-moving automobile traffic. The route you select may be a little farther, but safety and comfort are important factors.

Avoid sidewalks. As tempting as it is to ride the walk, pedestrians and bicycles do not easily mix.

If your schedule puts you out at night, make sure to have both a front and rear light mounted to your bike. Although only 4% of bicycling occurs at night, half of biking fatalities happen after dark.

It’s important to remember that you may very well work up a sweat en route. Leave a change of clothes at the office along with a towel and some soap for the sake of comfort and collegiality.

And remember to wear a helmet. Head injuries are the most serious of biking mishaps, and a helmet might just make the difference between a dust-off and a trip to the hospital (or worse) if an unfortunate accident occurs.

So hop on a bike this month and enjoy the scenery and fresh air; your heart and wallet will thank you.

Special thanks to James Moore of Moore's Bike Shop in Hattiesburg, Mississippi for some invaluable information and feedback on this essay. Mention that you read this article, and get a 10% discount on all bike assessories throughout the month of May.

Moore's Bike Shop
1607 Hardy Street
Hattiesburg, Mississippi
(601) 544-1978