Instead of building for the future, architects and their clients build fantasy concoctions that will be nearly impossibly expensive to operate when the Hubbert's oil peak causes huge hikes in energy costs. In addition, these buildings are disfunctional with a great deal of wasted space and often ugly expressions of modern will. The desire to 'make a statement' often means screaming, 'we are totally nuts.'
By Colin Brown, Deputy Political Editor
Published: 30 October 2006
Homes which are more eco-friendly homes will be built under radical reforms of house-building regulations as part of the Government's efforts to tackle climate change and create more affordable housing.
The Housing minister, Yvette Cooper, is preparing a major announcement next month which could herald a change in the type of houses that are traditionally built in Britain. For the first time, planning regulations are to be set down requiring planners and builders to take account of climate change.
Tough new planning guidance will require large housing estates to be sustainable, with district heating schemes where possible, water recycling and use of renewable resources. In the long-term, their construction will required to be carbon neutral. A second set of planning guidelines will require higher standards of insulation, soundproofing and energy-saving designs.
If one reads old magazines from the seventies, Europe and America, spoiled by living graciously thanks to cheap energy, were now motivated to design buildings that were energy efficient and impervious to the vagaries of oil prices and availability. Barely had some communities passed laws concerning how much insulation goes into a roof, etc, when the price of oil fell and the availability of natural gas shot up, thanks to Russia selling gas to Europe and Canada selling gas to the USA. The urgency to change collapsed and everyone celebrated this by building McValhallas all over the place.
Public buildings, instead of being well-made machines for public use, exploded into all sorts of silly, bizarre and totally inappropriate ways. Making things big and bigger was the ruling impules. Art museums in the Victorian era, for example, were crammed with art. Five or six paintings hung one above the other on walls. The first showcase building that didn't do this was the famous 'Crystal Palace' in England. It was an industrial wonder, created to celebrate the invention of using steel members to make airy, open interior spaces. It was a most amazing achievement.
It also burned down.
The passion for building greenhouses using this new technology swept Victorian society. The new bathroom plumbing and central heating followed. Cities passed laws forcing the building of new technology and the cities went from being fetid, dirty places into clean, pleasant places to live. The city nearest to my farm is Troy, New York.
The genius of Victorian builders is so beautifully expressed there, many film makers use our local city as a film set. Click on image to enlarge
These are views of Russell Sage College which is a very beautiful campus set in the heart of the Troy brownstone district. New York City has extensive brownstone neighborhoods and back in the mid 1970's, I and a host of ecologically sensitive builders moved to these communities and rebuilt them.
Automobiles and the fear of nuclear war and fear of minorities caused these neighborhoods to slide into slums. There is little parking which can be annoying but thanks to the system of public transportation built by Vicctorians, this really isn't a problem. The shared walls meant no heat loss from the long axis of the buildings. In summer, these houses had awnings to keep out the sun and if one plants trees in front and back, they shelter the houses from the city's heat. We planted many, many trees. I belonged to such an organization. And all these neighborhoods have beautiful, stunning Victorian parks to clean the air and enjoy life on pleasant days. A triumph in civilization.
Thrown away as Americans retreated from doomed cities. The idea that cities are doomed is deep within our souls, put there by nuclear war. As one website worried about war said, 'To survive, stay away from cities!' The Japanese and Europeans are now accustomed to being bombed in their cities and they simply rebuild. Of course, once we reach the Hubbert oil peak, this becomes a much more difficult proposition. It is really odd that America, whose cities haven't been bombed, is more paranoid about living in cities. I suspect the populations of Europe think the coming nuclear war won't touch them and only hammer the USA and Russia? Perhaps.
The Japanese are simply fatalists. They will fight heroically but also commit suicide easily. A principal in a school recently in Japan made an error on what classes the students were supposed to take so he committed suicide!
In a way, due to our own refusal to understand cities and how to live despite the lovely solutions the Victorians came up with, we continue to desire giganticism and glory. The standard height of buildings in Victorian communities is five stories. Paris is built on this scale. The towers that ring Paris are slums built to hold the masses at bay but the well-heeled prefer the older communities built so joyously in the city's center.
In Troy, there is another major educational institution: Rensselear Institute (RPI). It was one of the earliest technical institutes in the world and many engineers and builders were trained there. The sprawling campus climbs the steep hillside that rises to Mount Ida. The campus is as steep as my mountain and the buildings rise one over the other. During the last stockmarket surge, RPI got several huge bequests and went on a building spree.
Hubris raised its ugly head and they chose a plan for a media center building that is not only utterly impractical but ugly as hell. The front facade facing the rest of Troy downhill is a bizarre thingie that looks like someone's rear end got trapped in a box. It serves no real functional purpose except to look like an ass.
Drawings for the experimental media and performing arts center have been submitted to the Troy Planning Commission for site plan approval. The new center will extend the Institute's distinctive position in electronic arts and communication and enhance traditional and classical performing arts. It is expected to open in 2006.
As part of the overall south campus project, Rensselaer is making improvements to College Avenue. Work to the upper portion of the street — including sidewalks, curbs, utilities, and landscaping — has been completed. Work continues on the lower portion of the street, with completion scheduled for early November. Work on the chiller plant, located behind the parking garage, and boiler plant, near the Service Building, continues on schedule. Other infrastructure improvements to campus utilities will continue through the fall.
“We are building for the future as we continue working to meet the goals of The Rensselaer Plan,” said Amr Abdel-Azim, senior executive for capital projects. “It’s very exciting to see the transformation that’s taking place as the Institute continues its progress toward becoming a leading 21st century technological university.”
HAHAHAHA. It is 2006 and the work on the interior has barely been started this week! A two year behind the schedule is a serious problem. Two years over budget, too. The builders pretended to know what they were doing. When they drilled into the hillside to see if they could put a building there, I assumed they were sane and would build something useful there.
Last year's picture. Instead, to show caprice and hubris, the architect made this stupid thing in the front of what is basically a boring, slick surfaced box! DOWNHILL. To the weight of the building is in the front and this drags the rest of the building downhill.
Here is my own picture of this stupid thingie taken this week. I was standing on the street below. The structure is still open to the air, they have to cover it with glass eventually, I am assuming. The tall glass atrium can be seen on either side.
They drove deep pilings into the earth when they started construction. I wandered by and shook my head. The hills around Troy are clay and prone to collapse. In the Victorian era, a whole neighborhood was obliverated by a mudslide during a storm. This was not very far from where the new building is going up. I have recently built a house on a mountainside. It takes skill and care to anchor the building properly and landscape the mountainside so it is safe from mudslides. To see this fail, one simply has to visit California where some of the dumbest hillside building projects exist.
One reader of this blog chastized me for critisizing the anchoring of many mega-buildings. I often tell people, 'the foundation is more important than any part of a building.' This was recognized by Jesus, a man who grew up building stuff: do not build your house on sand. The RPI structure immediately, when they stopped building the box part and began work on the very heavy steel superstructure, began to slide downhill.
This picture was taken standing on the flatlands below the hillside where RPI sits. Most of the buildings on this hillside are Victorian brick structures.
RPI has a hammer lock on the local media so no one (except for me, I guess) is reporting on this mess. I heard from others on campus rumors of technical problems. They evidently had to use some really awesome interior turnbuckle and anchoring systems to tie it into the hillside. In other words, they are fighting not only nature but gravity itself. When one builds, it is really better to cooperate with those two fierce forces.
What is particularily ironic about all this is, RPI trained some of the greatest Victorian building engineers! Like Roebling, the genius who built the Brooklyn Bridge, one of the most beautiful bridges on earth. Ferris, creator of the Ferris wheel, was also an RPI graduate. The engineers trying to save the architect's mistaken plans are doing an awesome effort.
All this, to save what is a very ugly building.
Dramatically increased energy costs have burdened families, businesses, and institutions across the country in the last year. Rensselaer is no exception. We are projecting an overrun of $4.1 million over the amount budgeted for energy costs this year, for a total of nearly $13 million. To reduce costs, we have instituted an energy-reduction plan, which sets guidelines for energy conservation on our campuses. In addition, we are reviewing buildings and programs, and instituting new airflow and energy systems, to reduce usage and costs. The plan could yield up to $1 million in savings over the next year. To make this work, we need your help, and your participation. I am sure you already are taking steps in your homes to conserve energy. I encourage you to bring that same approach and mindset to your work and living spaces on our campuses. The Division of Administration has produced a very helpful pamphlet with tips and suggestions we all can follow. As an institution, we must be prepared to deal with continuing escalating energy costs, as we also strive for long-term energy security through our research. In fact, I believe our own faculty have much to offer to the Institute in terms of our own energy posture and associated steps here.
Construction on EMPAC will continue in FY07. In fact, it will be the decisive year to prepare for the opening of EMPAC. Construction will move to the interior and installation of the program-specific infrastructure.
Even when making a speech to the students, explaining why tuition is shooting up and why everyone is facing a 10% cut in budgets, she can't mention one of the causes: the stupid, venal, ridiculous building mess created by a careless architect who doesn't understand the laws of gravity and of course, the psychotic need to build energy-devouring structures. This building is just such an example.
The main windows that rise several stories, face the west. This means the heat of the summer sun is concentrated on this face of the building and the most ferocious of the winter's winds hit this same face. The glass being used is very green in color, I suppose to deal with this problem, but it is only a half measure. This building is for media projects and when one does that, it is inside closed off rooms. One can't use a computer screen in a brightly lit area, for example.
I can sympathize with the desire to see the lovely landscape, the view from Mt. Ida is really amazing. But the bizarre superstructure is not only ugly but it doesn't enhance the view sufficiently to justify its tremendous cost and the difficulties it created.
When it comes to window placement, it never ceases to amaze me how builders disregard nature. Instead of making houses more efficient and exploiting or preventing the sun from creating energy problems, buildings are blissfully set up in total ignorance to orientation. I know this will stop in another fifty years but the landscape will be littered with buildings that are not economical to live in or use.