Sarah Corbitt-Intern Architect LEED AP BD+C

Brightening the Corners – Xiao Bao Biscuit on Spring & Rutledge

August 22nd, 2013

Xiao Bao Biscuit exterior

 

The Holy City’s blessings are many, and not least of these is a broad palette of local produce. We have peaches, fine red tomatoes, green peanuts and greener lettuces. And our architectural stock is as colorful as our crops – pink churches, yellow mansions, wedding cake houses, blue porch ceilings, and marble checkerboard walks.

Sometimes our culinary palates and architectural palettes merge. Recently, the Elliotborough neighborhood added a delightful mix of the two, in the form of a modern cantina-cum-noodle shop. On any given night (except Sundays), diners sit outside at bright green communal picnic tables, and fish local cucumber slices out of their gin drinks. Need a substantial meal? Get flounder in lemongrass sauce. Something light? Curried eggplant may satisfy. Want something wintery? Order the aged chocolate manhattan.

When owners Joey Ryan, Josh Walker and Duolan Li leased the building, the team agreed that the collective aesthetic was to celebrate the ‘imperfect beauty’ of the former gas station rather than develop a rigid vision. This aesthetic decision meshes with their food approach – serving dishes from various backgrounds rather than pursue a single, formal line of flavor. Working with the space as it was, the design team explored a few basic concepts as the renovation progressed, and worked new findings and field conditions into the restaurant as they went along. The result is a very comfortable space which feels contextually right. Read the rest of this entry »


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Posted in Charleston, SC, Modern architecture, Renovation

Micro Charm?

March 10th, 2013

Micro-Apartments for Everyone?

I live in 304 square feet. There’s a lot of talk about living in small spaces, and living within our means, not accumulating a lot of stuff, right now. From New York mayor Michael Bloomberg’s initiative for micro-housing, to DIY cabins on wheels, a lot of folks are keeping a tiny house. I am too. And I’m ready to leave. I miss space. I miss tall ceiling and a feeling of bigness. I miss having all of my clothes in one closet. I miss doing yoga at home, of being able to wash every single one of my pots and pans, no matter the size. I miss owning a trash can that fits under the counter, and of being able to keep recycling inside without blocking the front door. I miss being able to find my apple cider vinegar because it’s inside some where and not out in the shed. I hate living in 304 SF. I want a sofa.

The lease for this place came about pretty quickly, due partly to the on-fire rental market in Charleston, South Carolina. I’d been looking for a place for about two months, and had lost every other rental to college students who could see places during the day, and somehow also had more money to put down. It had been two months filled with a regular, if shallow heartbreak, as one rental joint after another evaporated. Where would I live?

I visited this 304 SF place one afternoon when it had just come on the market. I knew the realtor listing the apartment just a little bit. The place was clean, it had a bathtub, and an interesting setup. I signed paperwork and hoped for the best. It was listed as 650 SF, came with a washer/dryer and a big yard. Breezing through, with four other folks there to be it, too – all undergraduates on bikes – I didn’t have a lot of time or privacy. I didn’t measure. I didn’t ask about the soundness of the structure or utility bills or what the landlord was like. I just signed. I needed to move, and had been waiting two months to rent any place.

I come from a family of hoarders (sorry family – you’re outed). I’ve struggled with paring down, owning less and just owning what I need. I struggle with compulsive shopping. But over the years, I’ve gotten my stuff down to a pretty reasonable amount of things. I love the books I have, and I love the clothes I have. I do want to somehow get rid of CDs and make a digital library but can’t seem to find the time to do it. So the CDs remain, along with new ones I acquire. I have between 300 – 400. I still have some vinyl records, too, and lots of 7” singles, though in a fit of purging last year, I got rid of the record player itself. A lot of the records are bands I knew and loved in college. But anyway, in general, my total stuff ownership is pretty reasonable, for a single gal with some interests. I have probably less stuff than most of my friends. I have 11 chairs, somehow. 6 of those are my grandparents’ dining room chairs, and go with their table. Then, I have various other nice pieces of furniture from my grandparents. I love it all.

When I moved in, I owned a sofa. But the day of the move, it became obvious it wouldn’t fit in the apartment. So I donated it while returning the moving van. No more sofa. It was the first hint that the apartment, advertised as 650 SF, in fact, was smaller. My mom said, over the phone, “I don’t know; it seems like you ought to be able to fit a sofa into 650 SF”. She was right.

Over the next few weeks, I got rid of more and more infrequently used things, clothes, books, some music, dishes, etc. I jettisoned my side tables and even more paperwork and old copies of documents. I shoved my ‘memory box’ high and deep into my closet, along with my sewing machine. They rest there still, along with the family silver and suitcases.

During a slow part of the summer, I painted both rooms, moving things out from one wall at a time. It took an entire weekend to paint the two rooms. I got kind of angry, and finally took a laser measure to the rooms. Adding up the square footage, including the 3’ x 3’ ‘entry foyer’ and the 5’ x 7’ bathroom with pocket door, the whopping total was 304. This is less than half of what I was told was the SF of the place. Less than half.

At first, I really wanted to talk to the landlord and get a rent reduction. But it didn’t seem worth it. The landlord is moody and had already stopped cutting the enormous lawn because he believed I had pruned some of his bushes. I didn’t need him angrier with me in case something big went wrong. I mentioned it the realtor and, in a heated moment, to the landlord. He replied that there were plenty of people who would be glad to rent an apartment of any size in this location. He’s probably right, and that stinks.

Nothing big has gone wrong so far, except the general shakiness of the house. One week when the weather was changing, the shower curtain pole fell every single day. It still falls whenever there is a temperature swing.  Things on top of the fridge fall about once a month. Stepping on the shaky wooden floors means the things on top of my dresser work their way to the dresser edge periodically. I spend time cleaning, and I also spend time simply making sure that my stuff isn’t crashing to the floor. I’ve lost 4 wine glasses, as well as several hours cleaning glass up out of the dish cabinet and sink.

The floors are canted to the back side of the property. Over the 11’ span of the kitchen / dining room, the floor drops probably 3 inches. The 11’ span of the bedroom has slightly less of a drop, maybe 2.5 inches. But it makes stretching, pushups, and yoga feel counterproductive. It moves my muscles in weird ways and I feel like a mountain goat growing up on a hill. When I still do exercise at home, which is rarer than ever, I rotate constantly to get the muscle groups worked at the same angle. But I hate exercising here, partly because it makes things wiggle and crash (see above paragraph on bouncy floors).

I also hate exercising here because I hit things. Doing yoga in the kitchen means I hit the stove or the microwave, or the dining table. IN the bedroom, I knock the TV. In both rooms, in Warrior 1, I hit the ceiling fan. I hate it. I’ve spent more on yoga classes in the past 6 months than in the rest of my life, combined.

The other thing I’ve grown to hate recently is the insanely high heating bill. After two months of $140 heating bills, with the thermostat at 72, I called the power company. No, they said, the amount isn’t unusual, based on records. It’s actually low. The typical heating bill for this 304 SF apartment for the past two years was about $200. The electric company said the January amount was usually $250. My god. While I was still on the phone, I lowered the thermostat to 62. I’ve since lowered it, when I got a January bill for $160, to 58 degrees. It stays 58 degrees during the days, at night and other times when I can stand it. Sometimes I splurge and move it 63 for a few hours. But mostly, I sit on the bed, wrapped in blankets, and dream of having a sofa or arm chair and a low utility bill. Even though I’ve become mostly acclimated (or layered up in clothes, scarves, and coats) I can’t wait for spring.

I grin and bear it when I read articles where people have moved into small spaces and love it. How long have the loved it? I think my particular circumstance is not universal – this apartment is in an old house, with very poor insulation and questionable structural integrity. Those are my lessons learned. But I don’t want the movement towards smaller spaces to mean less well-built spaces. Small apartments should have the qualities that larger apartments have:

  1. Level floors & plumb walls
  2. Solid floors that don’t shake
  3. Good insulation or reasonable insulation; thus, reasonable utility bills
  4. Good indoor air quality
  5. Regular height ceilings of at least 8’-0”.
  6. Honesty in reporting the SF from the landlord

We are a first world nation. I don’t think this is too much to ask. I’m all for charm – and this place has a little bit of charm and interest. What it doesn’t have is grace – at this point, I believe that grace can be reasonably quantified to begin with an 8’-0” ceiling, minimum. Grace might actually start with an even higher ceiling, maybe 9’-0”? I miss grace, as much as I miss my sofa. I also don’t want to think that those of us who are willing to live with less – space or stuff – are neglected by the folks who make money off of our rental fees. Living in a small space should not mean a reduction in living standards, no matter what the market will bear.


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Posted in Charleston, SC, Renovation, Small spaces

‘Partner, Let Me Upgrade You’

December 12th, 2012

Beyonce Wants You...to Convert Your LEED AP Credential

 

If you’re a LEED Accredited Professional who tested under anything but the current 3.0/2009 version of LEED, it can be confusing to ‘maintain’ and/or ‘convert’ your AP designation. The USGBC has devised a new system of helping ‘legacy’ APs convert to the new LEED AP with Specialty designation. The solution they’ve come up with addresses one of the main areas of confusion and frustration – LEED-specific hours in continuing education.

 

I tested under LEED 2.2, so to convert my LEED AP to a LEED with Specialty (which I did last February), I had to earn 6 hours of LEED-specific material. I eearned those hours, which were approved and accepted by the GBCI, through working on projects as a LEED administrator or LEED consultant. But not everyone, due to either job duties, or their employer’s clients, or just the economic downtown, works regularly on LEED facets of projects. The other way to earn LEED-specific credits is by attending presentations by USGBC-approved presenters – but there are noticeably few of those around. So, the difficulty of attaining these LEED-specific hours has been one of the primary and hardest to address criticisms of the LEED-AP conversion process.

 

The USGBC-devised solution provides all 6 LEED-specific hours for free. The link is here: https://new.usgbc.org/leed/credentials

 

If you’ve not yet converted (i.e., come to the end of your first CMP reporting period), using these hours will satisfy all of your LEED-specific requirements. After that, you only have the remaining 24 hours to earn – and those are much easier to come by than LEED-specific hours. If you’re like me and you’ve already converted, then you may simply use these hours for your next reporting period. It’s a huge gift from the USGBC. Wonder why they did it? Probably because it allows for an easy, affordable way for their thousands of LEED APs under older LEED versions to remain LEED APs. Without us legacy folks, the USGBC would be creating a big pool of frustrated, more cynical former users. It’s in their best interests to keep us interested in the LEED AP credential so we can continue to work on LEED-certification seeking projects.


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Posted in LEED AP

The General Archive of the 1583 – 1646

December 2nd, 2012

It’s almost our 500 year anniversary!


Spain had a thorough and meaningful influence on city planning on early America, although the legacy is not widely known. This legacy was a governing code of city development called the Laws of the Indies, issued formally in 1573. OK, so we’ve got a few years until that official issuance anniversary. But since the Committee on Design is visiting Seville this week, it’s a good time to visit the General Archives of the Indies and consider the influence of Spanish thought on the development of New World colonies.

Seville’s General Archive of the Indies maintains and collects documentation about those Spanish colonial campaigns. Here, the Indies are the Spanish colonies in America; there is also a collection about the Philippines. This grand building was originally designed by architect Juan de Herrara and built between 1583-1646 to consolidate and house the various marketeers and businessmen for the colonies. Later, the efforts were moved to other cities around Spain.  King Charles III in 1785 returned the headquarters to Seville and set about restoring the original building which sits today in the heart of Seville and next to the Seville Cathedral. It’s also near the bull fighting ring. This city’s got God, bulls, and business.

The resulting magnificent structure is Italianate, with extensive vaulting and a central courtyard. In 1987, it was listed as
an UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Archive has a nice website, available here:

   http://www.mcu.es/archivos/CE/ExpoVisitVirtual/visitas/indias/indias.html

 

 

 

 

How important were the Laws of the Indies? Historian John Reps wrote:

Because of the relative inflexibility of Spanish colonial policy the regulations of 1573 remained virtually unchanged throughout the entire period of Spanish rule in the Western Hemisphere. Even beyond that time they influenced the plans of towns laid out in North America by the Mexican government after its separation from Spain. Literally hundreds of communities in the Western Hemisphere were planned in conformity to these laws – a phenomenon unique in modern history.

So, what are some of the highlights of the Laws? Would we know a town laid out according to Enlightenment-era Spanish city planning principles if we were in one? Think of St. Augustine, Florida.

Some of the major guidelines are:

  1. Select a good site with clean water and ample timber and natural resources;
  2. The city should be planned before any construction begins;
  3. The town should be planned with ‘cord and ruler’, with a central square and a layout such that the town can grow in a planned manner;
  4. The plaza or central square should be rectangular, at least 200 feet wide by 300 feet long, with a length one-and-a-half times its width;
  5. The plaza’s four corners should point towards the cardinal directions;
  6. Principal streets should lead from the midpoint of the town square out and two minor streets diverging from each corner of the square. The main streets are arcaded, and the square;
  7. Other town streets would be straight and at right angles to each other;
  8. Smaller open spaces would be allocated elsewhere in town to provide for churches and other public amenities;
  9. A town common would exist for livestock and agriculture;
  10. The town would be developed without natives present, so as to ‘wow’ the natives when they were allowed to enter.

The regulations were specific and practical, designed to plan inspiring and functional towns in the new land. These developments were also designed for defense, so that colonies could withstand invading armies and peoples (Reps, p. 29).

But form and order was seen as an important goal:

“If not started with form, they will never attain it.” was the written message to one colonizer (p. 28). And further, all the planning was to be done “…so that when the Indians see them, they will be filled with wonder, and will realize that the Spanish are settling there permanently and not temporarily” (p. 30).

Works Cited:

Reps, John W. The Making of Urban America. a History of City Planning in the United States. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992.


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Posted in Uncategorized

The Role of Style in Defining Architectural Excellence

November 9th, 2012

I’m thrilled to be traveling to Seville, Spain next week and blog about the experience for the American Institute of Architects. The AIA, through the Committe on Design, hosts a few conferences a year in cities with a robust architectural history. The fall conference features a mix of historical and modern buildings and sites, including the Old City in Seville, the Madinat al Zahra, The Grand Mosque, El Alhambra and, on a modern bent, the Metropol Parasol, Casa de Retiro Espiritual and the site of the 1992 World’s Fair. And the conference covers this wide-ranging assortment of historic designs under the title The Role of Style in Defining Architectural Design Excellence.

In the work In Praise of Shadows, Junichiro Tanizaki, (Leete’s Island Books, Stony Creek, CT, 1977) wrote, “In making for ourselves a place to live, we first spread a parasol to throw a shadow on the earth, and in the pale light of the shadow we put together a house (p 17).”

The shape of those parasols, the detailing and the expressiveness of the structure, facades and how they all fit into their contexts is what I’ll explore in this blog during the conference. I’ve got some ideas. I’m interested in hearing any of yours, too. What have you seen in Seville? What has moved you? What seemed like a big deal, a gracious act? What treated the street nicely?

Here’s a bit about me. I live in one of the United States’ most architecturally treasured cities, Charleston, South Carolina. The architectural importance of this seaside city is one of the reasons why I wanted to live here. Though America’s written history is shorter than Europe’s, this city has been urban since its founding. The density of living and made things shows up on any walk down any street, in the mix of dialects and characters (human and architectural). Incorporated in 1670 at the intersection of the Ashley and Cooper rivers, Charleston

“…attracted no less a mixture of people than New York or Philadelphia – English dissenters, French Calvinists, Scotch Convenanters, Barbadians, Dutchmen from Holland and New York, New England Baptists, Quakers, Irish Catholics and Jews – among others.” (G E Kidder Smith, A Pictorial History of Architecture in America, American Heritage Publishing Co, Inc, New York, 1981, p. 278).

“In that benign climate those diverse faiths and traditions fused into a civilization that was leisurely, cosmopolitan, and aristocratic.”

Anyone who’s visited during July, August or September would question the benevolence of the climate here – the humidity can ruin your day. But most of the year, it’s an incredibly generative place, for me, and one in which landscape and climate is as powerful a force as any machine.

“Virtually every family of importance maintained houses in both city and country. Seasonally, the rice aristocracy would flee the malarial marshes of their plantations and retreat to their town houses. Here the climate conditioned the art of building in special ways. The first floors of of these mansions were raised several feet above the level of the ground to counter the penetrating dampness, encouraging the ironmaster to forge curving stair rails and elaborate gates. Some stood sideways to the street with high-ceilinged, spacious rooms opening on porches and piazzas that faced gardens, in the manner of houses of the West Indies, whence had come many of the city’s residents, and so designed to mitigate the sultriness of the atmosphere and to catch every trace of a refreshing breeze. Here, wrote, La Rochefoucauld-Liancourt, “persons vie with one another, not who shall have the finest, but who the coolest house.”

In this, I think the similarities between Seville, Spain and Charleston, South Carolina, USA, are worth exploring. As I write this today, the high temperature in Charleston: 64 degrees. Seville: 63. Hmm.

I’ve put together a chart which captures some of my thoughts as I get ready for the conference. America’s major cities have some things in common with Seville. Primarily, the similiarity is an historically important port and a river (Los Angeles maybe less strongly connected to its river than other cities). That’s a good starting point for thinking about why cities are founded, and how they grow over time. Taking a lesson from Jane Jacobs, the mix of old, new, expensive, flimsy and all other sorts of conditions is what makes a city feel grown, and what makes living there inspiring, comfortable and mostly importantly, worthwhile.

NYC, NY, USA Chicago, IL, USA Los Angeles, CA, USA Charleston, SC, USA Seville, Spain
Port city? Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
River(s) Hudson, East Chicago Los Angeles Ashley, Cooper Guadalquivir
Year of Incorporation 1653 CE 1837 CE 1850 CE 1670 CE 188 BCE?
Urban from its founding Yes Slow growth, then explosive growth Slow growth, then explosive growth Yes Yes
Length of written history 450+ years 400+ years 200+ years 400+ years 2200 years
Historic mix of religions Yes Yes Hmm Yes Yes
Distinctive arch. Style More than One Later – More than One Later On Yes Yes

 


Posted in Uncategorized

An Opening & A Closing

October 21st, 2012

Some designers must make things. It’s part of their nerve endings and their synapses, muscle memory and emotional state. For these folks, the creative process hits closer to the ‘will go crazy if I don’t do it’ side of the continuum between a want and a compulsion.

Two shows I’ve seen recently demonstrate the output of minds like that – and one of them is closing this weekend, so go see it if you can. This first one is the closing show of multi-media artist Yayoi Kusama at The Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City. The second show just opened at the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art in Charleston, SC: Pulse Dome, featuring work by architect Don FanZagna.

 

At the Whitney, Kusama’s prolific mixed media output over at least four decades demonstrates her ease with formal and mathematically executed paintings, as well as amorphous and instinctual shapes. Many of the paintings are trippy patterned mind warps where octopus tentacles precisely writhe into the foreground; many of the sculptural pieces are phallic, or terrifying, or both. Within Kusama’s work, there are many ways to be enraptured and wonder about the geography of her internal emotional state. This exhibition is primarily that, an interior monologue said aloud but in formats and doses that we are used to seeing in galleries: paintings, roped-off rooms of waist-high soft forms that invite (unallowed) exploration.

 

But then there’s a room – Fireflies on the Water. The rectangular room is the focus and maybe the impetus for the Kusama show. It’s a box that a person walks into, built around human scale. Due to viewer demand and the constraints of Whitney working hours, you’re allowed  to walk in and stand for one single minute – sixty precious seconds of immersion. The box (I think I remember this right) is white on the outside, entered through a small doorway in a room on the ground floor of the Museum.

Waiting in line for your minute, you watch others come and go, and watch their faces expectantly. When the door opens, you can see a dark walkway and more darkness inside. Children were scared. More to the point, their moms looked annoyed to enter it – navigating a narrow walkway into a dark room while holding a 7-year old’s hand and pushing a stroller is the art world’s Achilles heel.

When my turn came, it wasn’t scary. This was a small rectangular form that you stepped up into. The box is mirrored on all sides, except the floor which is black. Over the black floor is the narrow walkway, with a thin lip. No railing. Then, there’s a shallow layer of water over the flooring. I thought about throwing coins into the water and surely someone has by now. It probably only adds to the effect.

Arranged around the dark cube are a series of faintly pastel string lights. Standing full height on the walkway, the effect is of staring at yourself. In the corners, you’re staring at infinity. You can also stare at yourself, fading into infinity. It’s lovely. Emotionally, you’ve got one minute. No photos are allowed. It’s at once some kind of fun and easy-spirited connection with yourself. Are cameras watching? Should you smile? Can you keep yourself from smiling in this faint, midnight dreamscape?

 

Architecturally, it’s also a mockup of a dance floor prototype for the most comfortable disco you’ve ever dreamt of.  The size of it does bring to mind a mockup or prototype, an ‘infinity machine’ which could be pretty iterative. One can imagine thousands of variations on the theme: Infinity hot dog stand; Infinity bourbon bar; Infinity beach dunes; Infinity in my third-grade dream bedroom, with red carpet and stuffed animals everywhere…and so on. This, Fireflies on the Water, is one infinity. Is it a definitive infinity? No. But it closes on the 28th of October, so see it this week. It’s amazing and you will want more than sixty seconds with it.

Courtesy Don ZanFagna Foundation

Iteration is a stronger theme at the ZanFagna exhibition at The Halsey. Intuition plays a role, here too.

ZanFagna has the visionary artist’s obsessiveness and productivity, as well as the journals. The exhibition booklets excerpts one journal entry: “Time to call it “quits”…? If I don’t write in this notebook, I’ll go nuts”. After looking at about forty of ZanFagna’s paintings, drawings and artifacts, you’ll believe it.

His primary means of designing for sustainable living here (beginning in the 1970’s), is the Pulse Dome, a type of house or commercial development which could be grown from several seed packets and circuit boards to form a geodesic dome to live inside of, and grow food outside of. It’s revolutionary architecture, and also theoretical and interpretive. The Pulse Domes are roofed sometimes by rainbows, colors or just the film of a soap bubble. Driving all this is the Pulse, an electronic life-giving force. Its effects on the materials around it, shown in the countless paintings Zan Fagna made, would be unpredictable, growing, and sustaining. What he said about these Pulse Domes is true of every kind of art, “The free mix of spontaneity and formality cannot be predicted or rationalized into a system”.

His silent partner in the design is a futuristic, presumed, technological savior. He writes, “ I keep thinking that somewhere, somehow, there must be a better way to utilize and impound sun energy. My chlorophyll-pulse-dome ideas I’m sure will someday become a reality of some kind…” and more, “The idea of a stretched, chlorophyll membrane has always been uppermost in my thoughts about bio-architecture – an intuition more than anything”. In other words, this is paper architecture; the concepts are not figured out or practical.

But the work is beautifully and precisely done – expert color choices and collage materials come together in each and every work. There are no artistic missteps, even if the things aren’t buildable. His work evokes that hopeful era of the 1970s and 1980s when computers and technology newly offered answers and freedom through data crunching and Science. The fonts, the robots, the dot matrix printers – it could all mean something. It’s wonderful to see this architect tackle such big problems as sustainable housing people all over the planet with the biggest tools in this then toolbox. He used ancient concepts such as the Golden Section, and new computer rendering programs. It’s a great effort, and the results are beautiful and pleasing to the eye – every single one of them.

And all of his hopeful work is rooted in the ideas that physical boundaries are inconvenient framework to view the world. In the future, all of our particles will be geometrically and organically sorted into some better system. We will retire to our ground dwellings to continue our best lives and our best optimistic exploration of the human condition.

Writes the architect, “Men do not make structures out of “materials”; they make large structures out of small structures – visible module associations out of non-visible module associations. The limits of the visible spectrum did not represent that threshold of change between man-devised structures and nature-devised structures. There was, in fact, no threshold.”

This exhibition runs throughout the fall and winter, and will be capped off with an installation of Clemson University architecture students building something, perhaps a Pulse Dome, in Marion Square.


Posted in Art Exhibitions

The Wave: In Pursuit of The Rogues, Freaks, and Giants of the Ocean

September 25th, 2012

I have no idea who took this photo or even if it’s real

How do you end a book about waves, taking into account the ending of The Great Gatsby or the repetition in a Van Morrison song? It’s not something to tackle lightly, or even something that the author of a non-fiction exploration of wave science and surfing (both) would be expected to do. But author Susan Casey does what she can now that the metaphors are all used up here in The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks, and Giants of the Ocean (Doubleday, 2010). Ending lyrically is maybe her hardest task – and the one that doesn’t even matter when your source material is this amazing.

The ostensible research interest in The Wave is large waves, known as freaks or rogues. These have been chronicled in various surf documentaries including Riding Giants. If you’ve seen Riding Giants, you’ve been amazed. The waves are so big as to be without scale – unimaginable and inconceivable in size and power. Like The Wave, Riding Giants captured the epic proportions, the emotional highs and the personalities of folks who chase these. The Wave follows, in depth, surfers and their important buddies – rescue teams, helicopter friends, photographers and endorsers. It also, horribly, records the inevitable and incredibly sad fatalities of folks who surf the sea.

What’s the biggest wave you’d ride? The book describes epic tales of masterful wave riding, putting the reader right there in the pipe with long-serving watermen. I felt salted, thirsty and exhausted at the end. Yes, the answer is always yes. Until it’s no. The Wave keeps the adrenaline pumping until the tale of Brett Lickle, best bud of Laird Hamilton. In a most masterful chapter (starting on page 217), Casey relays the tale of the buddies riding out in a storm near Egypt (read the book), and the near-death survival of Lickle, rescued by Hamilton who appeared on a lost jet ski in the middle of 120-foot waves. Laird Hamilton, did I mention him? He’s a star here, larger-than-life and moody like the sea. Hamilton hands out few kind words to hangers on and wannabees, but is the man’s man glue holding a rowdy group of thrill seekers together. He’s as methodical as the scientists studying wave theory, devising new boards and means of staying in the pipe.

Hamilton and his ilk aren’t scientists. But The Wave is both about sport and science.  For instance: in 1958, an 8.0 earthquake along the Fairweather Fault in Alaska generated  a 1,740 foot wave (you read that right) which traveled across the bay at 100 mph and denuded the land for 4 square miles. The science in The Wave examines a few places on Earth where the geography amplifies wave action. And the book explores reasons why wave action isn’t predictable, especially when unknown climatic conditions are fed into the poorly understood wave system. Take our current shifting weather patterns, our perpetually moving tectonic plates and you’ve got a case of heretofore undocumented wave breakouts across the globe, taking out tankers, sailors and researchers at the seeming drop of a hat. The research is a mix of personal anecdotes, trips with surf masters like Laird Hamilton, visits to wave science centers, and interviews with meteorologists, climatologists, physicists and barge rescuers.  The Wave reminds that water is our real master – harsh, energetic, deadly and without logic. It’s a terrifying read, but one which is thrillingly constructed of all these tales woven together. The editing is superb, the pacing well done, the visuals are graphic and cutting, the writing’s honest and sincere. No regrets here; grab hold.


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Posted in The Ocean

Delight: Manitoga

August 5th, 2012

Jumping into the 20th century, the designer Russel Wright had the same impulse as Frederic Church for a large wooded compound nestled in the trees. His wife passed away, so he raised his daughter at Manitoga on his own (OK, with some hired help). Inspired by that other Wright (apparently no relation), his house is of a piece with Modern houses of that era, nestled into the landscape above a small pool. Wright crafted the gardens, including a ‘cool tub’ which could be let out back into the main pool, a moss room, and a ‘cup garden’ outside his studio window. The house is charming, with a massive central fireplace, sunken conversation pit and an even more sunken kitchen and dining area. Wright experimented with material contrast, siting polystyrene insulation next to wooden timbers, encasing ferns in early plexiglass, and smearing his ceilings with stucco mixed with Hemlock tufts. The landscaping is as important as the architecture. Somehow I didn’t take any photos of anything, so these will have to do. They don’t really, as the property has a great procession to it, with arrival scenes carefully framed by plantings and remnants from the former quarry there. It’s a house all about personal experience, bringing to mind the first room: a bonfire around which people are gathered (like the house’s conversation pit) and find need to wander off from to search out their own mysteries in the woods.

The two houses above were recommended to me by Charleston architect Johnny Tucker.


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Posted in Architectural Visits

Delight: Olana near Hudson, New York

July 26th, 2012

Recent adventures took me close to the town of Hudson, New York, where Frederic Church established a house for his family, with studios for painting. Olana is the name of said encampment, and he was inspired for its design by trips to Arabia (see: painting of Petra). This house is stunning not only for the architectural work of Calvert Vaux but also for its grand collection of original Church artworks and other paintings he collected. The dining room is amazing on its own, with gallery hung walls and high north-facing windows along one wall only. The house has a fortress-like entrance along the eastern side. Visits can include (for a small fee), easel rental and other art supplies so that you, too, can paint a view of the famous bend in the Hudson River below. The house and its wide vistas have been used as arguments for conservation of the Valley, including the defeat of a nuclear power plant to be sited nearby.


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Posted in Architectural Visits

Why I Decided to Convert My LEED Accreditation

February 4th, 2011

I recently attended a US Green Building Council Charlotte Region Chapter event on LEED AP credentialing and maintenance, as part of the process of ‘converting’ my general LEED AP credential to the more up-to-date designation of LEED AP With Specialty. As a Specialty, I’ve chosen BD+C, which is the USGBC’s acronym for Building Design + Construction. This is the rating system which is roughly equivalent to the New Construction rating system test that I originally took to become accredited.
Why would a LEED AP do this? As someone who tested under the LEED 2.2 rating system, I can opt (Option 1) to remain a LEED AP under all successive versions of LEED (we’re in LEED 3.0/2009 now) in perpetuity. And the LEED AP BD+C requires 30 hours of continuing education over 2 years to ‘convert’ (Option 2). With continuing education guidelines which are more stringent and also different than the AIA’s CEUs, I am looking at a lot of continuing education. And for what? Well, the benefits aren’t entirely clear right now – there’s no threat the general LEED AP designation will expire in the foreseeable future. But, I believe in trying to quantify the effects of good, green design choices, and it’s worth it to me to stick with LEED, and stay up-to-date. I’m also looking at the conversion process as a bonus for research that I would already be doing – might as well get the credential!
There is a third option for ‘converting’ to a specialty AP designation, and that option is retesting (Option 3). I’m more interested in the continuing education rather the testing, so the continuing ed makes more sense for me, right now. As usual, in design and sustainability, there are choices and trade-offs to be made, and no ‘wrong’ answer.

I’ll keep you posted on how the Credentialing Maintenance Program (CMP) is going – that’s the documentation of my continuing education hours.

For more information: http://www.usgbccrc.org/?page=Credential_Maintenan


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