Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Juxtapositions: Green Roofs and Water Haulers

Someday in the future, the phrase "green building" will be obsolete. Eventually, the ecologically sound design and construction practices we now label as green will be incorporated into those processes in the same way that running water is automatically expected in today's American homes.

This doesn't mean that all American homes have running water, just that it's expected. But I digress. Read this story or watch this film about Navajo "water haulers" if you'd like to digress with me. After digressing, it's interesting to take a moment to think about how different your life is from these Native Americans who live with minimal possessions and no running water. Provides a little perspective, doesn't it?

But back to the original topic: let's consider one tiny aspect of green building currently available and being well applied in old and new construction: green roofs, i.e., using living plants that cool the building below while also providing beautiful natural environments.

Here are just a few interesting links featuring lovely green roofs:

Take a look at the spectacular green roof in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park at the California Academy of Sciences. The structure uses two million native plants.

Check out Chicago's Green Roofs project. Over two hundred green roofs are scattered across the city, more than any other city in the United States.

Here's a truly fabulous photo gallery of green roofs across the world.

If the green roofs idea excites you, you can find out much more at EcoGeek (good photos, including one of goats grazing on a roof!), the International Green Roof Association and GreenRoofs.

If you know of examples of green roofs in your area, please share them in a comment. Or, if you digressed and now would like to express your thoughts about the value of having running water in your life, please feel free to do that, too.

Then, if you really want to test your thoughtful consumer skills, ponder awhile the odd contradiction of using water to grow plants on the tops of buildings (a worthy idea, I believe) with the simultaneous failure to provide the most basic of needs (an accessible clean water supply) to many thousands of citizens.

No one said being a thoughtful consumer was going to be easy.

© 2008 Cynthia Friedlob

Friday, January 18, 2008

Juxtapositions: Simple Living and Cell Phones

I'm pleased that so many interesting blogs and well-researched books have been devoted to the concepts that living with fewer possessions can be comfortable and rewarding, that not using shopping as a recreational activity saves money and resources, and that the choices we make as consumers have an impact not only on us but on others and our remarkably bounteous planet.

It's also great that there are entertaining and informative films and videos on the general topic of "stuff" that are readily available to view online. For example, take a look at The Story of Stuff, a popular film that's captured the attention of the personal organizing blogger community.

And if Oprah is talking about clutter and devoting show time to the serious problem of hoarding, it surely seems like we must have hit critical mass when it comes to stuff awareness.

Yes, I feel hopeful that we're building a stronger movement in the direction away from the often quoted 1980s pronouncement that "greed is good" (Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko in the film Wall Street, written by Stanley Weiser and Oliver Stone -- must credit the writers!).

However, just when it seems that a corner has been turned and that people are finally getting a little perspective on the difference between want and need, I can count on the LA Times to slap me with a dose of reality. Of course, that's "reality," LA style.

In today's business section (the business section!) there was an article by Kimi Yoshino called, "It's How, Not Whom, You Call," explaining that in Los Angeles, "the cellphone is the ultimate status symbol." Turns out you can make your multi-picture deal (well, not until after the writers' strike is settled) while negotiating on a $1,200 Bang & Olufsen Serene or you can power your way to the top of movie moguldom on a diamond-laden, 18-karat gold GoldVish Illusion for anywhere from $28,000 to $171,550. (In many parts of the country, couldn't $171,550 still buy a condo?)

But in this same business section of the Times, there are reports that Washington Mutual Bank was "hurt by mortgage write-downs," weak holiday sales forced the closure of several retailers, "rising fuel costs and a slumping economy will create conditions ripe for consolidation" among airline companies, the Dow dropped 306 points, and (referring to an article that hit page one of the newspaper) a $100 billion "stimulus package" is being suggested to boost the country's economy, "provided the money was funneled to people who would spend it quickly, according to Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke."

Well, if Mr. Bernanke wants to slip me a large enough chunk of that package, I know where I can get a fast deal on a really fine looking cell phone. I just wonder if it will still drop my calls.

© 2008 Cynthia Friedlob

Monday, January 07, 2008

Historic Preservation and Adaptive Reuse Architecture

My goal in 2008 is to continue exploring the many resources we all have available to help us become thoughtful consumers. I'll be sharing information and links that will help us to unclutter and simplify our personal lives, to recognize how often and how effectively we're manipulated by advertising, and to think about decisions that we need to make collectively in order to create a society that is focused on the quality of our lives rather than the quantity of our possessions.

So, let's launch the new year with just a few thoughts about one of those larger topics that affects all of us: architecture. We don't live in a vacuum, we live in cities, towns, and rural areas, all of which are full of structures that impact our comfort, our sense of aesthetics, and the Earth's environment. Our surroundings affect us not only in our own homes, but outside them, in the communities where we live and work.

At home, living an uncluttered, simplified life means we're not consuming more than we need and we're being thoughtful about our purchases, often recycling items for purposes other than what was originally intended. When we achieve this goal, or at least valiantly strive for it, it's personally satisfying -- perhaps even sanity saving.

Adaptive reuse of older buildings serves the same purpose on a much grander scale. We can't keep slapping up monster-sized mansions, enormous bleak glass skyscrapers and endlessly clogged mega-freeways without cluttering our cities and creating tremendous stress on our society. Thoughtful decisions are crucial when dealing with public spaces, too.

I always like to look back to see what worked in the past before leaping to conclusions about how to shape the future. "Preservation" is the magazine published by the National Trust for Historic Preservation -- a favorite charitable organization of mine. The magazine is a perfect vehicle for examining the architecture of the past, then using what we've learned to make our lives better right now and in years to come. The January/February 2008 edition is called "The Green Issue." It's full of informative articles, as usual, but I was particularly fond of "A Cautionary Tale," by Wayne Curtis, who offers an often neglected positive viewpoint regarding the "green" value of older buildings.

In the past, houses and buildings needed to be constructed to accomodate weather fluctuations because heating was difficult and air conditioning was unheard of. So, depending on the location, builders relied on such things as high ceilings, sleeping porches, and shutters to help provide comfort to inhabitants. Using local materials was common, both in construction and landscaping. And buildings were made to last through the ages.

Preservation of older buildings is not just aesthetically desireable, it's practical. The energy used to renovate an already-existing building is almost always far less than what would be required for new construction. Yvon Chouinard, founder of the Patagonia clothing manufacturing company is quoted as follows: "The most responsible way to buy clothes is to shop at Goodwill. And the most responsible way to build is to recycle an old bulding."

Take a look at the Pearl District in Portland, Oregon, to see how that area has become a vibrant, artistic part of town thanks to much historic preservation and adaptive reuse of buildings.

The dynamic Gallery of Modern Art for the Tate Museum in London was formerly an abandoned power plant.

Architecture Week has a library of interesting adaptive reuse projects.

Architectural Heritage Foundation is a non-profit firm that redeveloped Boston's old City Hall.

Multi-Housing News reports on a Seattle project that successfully turned a 1919 warehouse into environmentally friendly lofts.

Architectural Record talks about the reuse of an unusual site: the Allegheny County Jail in Pittsburgh.

This page about the history of Citadel Outlets shopping center in Los Angeles leaves out the many years that the huge structure sat abandoned and decaying. It's at the side of the freeway on the way to Disneyland, so many Angelenos happily watched its transformation.

Thoughtful consumers play an important role in creating public surroundings that are vibrant and nurturing. If you know of an adaptive reuse project in your area, please send along a link in your comment. Thanks!

© 2008 Cynthia Friedlob