Archive for the ‘technology’ Category

Saving Water with Construction Management

August 8, 2012

Time Tells is concerned with the preservation of historical buildings as we move forward into a new era of construction. In today’s post, Noelle Hirsch continues the discussion in a post about the challenges of sustainability by considering the ways in which modern construction managers are attempting to save aquatic resources and money by building with the future in mind.

Construction Management Takes a Crack at Lowering Water Consumption by Retrofitting Buildings

Water use in the U.S. is at its lowest while the economic productivity of water in the country is at an all time high, according to US Geological Survey research. In fact, per-capita water use has dropped almost 30% since 1975. Much of the good news can be attributed to improvements in irrigation and industrial water usage, illustrating how lowering consumption and raising efficiency leads to tangible results. However, even as efficiency increases, demand continues to grow. Water scarcity is a rapidly growing problem around the globe, and as population grows, the strain is expected to worsen, even in the U.S. In the midst of these precarious conditions, building and construction managers are in a unique position to substantially raise water efficiency. By using technology to build and retrofit buildings for increased water efficiency, managers can take an active role in subverting the deepening water crisis.

Water conservation strategies can be implemented using a variety of methods, though one of the first steps for a construction manager will often be a water audit. A water audit seeks to define where water is being used and how much is being used at each location. With this information, an assessment of potential water savings can be conducted. Once an audit and water savings assessment are conducted, managers are often surprised at how much water is being wasted in seemingly small ways every day.

On example of wasted water that affects many buildings can be accounted for by restroom usage. Simply flushing a standard toilet will commonly waste three to four gallons of water with every use. Ultra-low flush toilets can be installed that use an industry standard of 1.6 gallons per flush. Pressure-assist toilets limit water usage to as low as 1.0 gallon per flush, although these systems cannot be retrofitted onto existing fixtures since they must be installed new. Installing aerators on bathroom and kitchen faucets can save an average of 0.7 gallons per minute at normal usage rates and installing low-flow shower heads can save 0.75 gallons per minute at normal usage rates.

Increasingly popular among managers looking to severely reduce water usage are high-efficiency toilets like dual-flush technology, which can limit water consumption by 20 to 40%. With manual dual-flush systems, restroom users can choose a reduced or regular flush, reducing water usage to as little as 1.1 gallon per flush. Plumbing systems that use sensor operations and adjust water usage depending on need are also gaining traction as one of the most effective ways to save water. Most high-efficiency technologies can only be installed through large-scale renovations. Though they require more investment than small scale retrofits, they are an excellent way to increase the value and relevance of older buildings when conducting large-scale renovations.

Instrumental in popularizing the usage of water-efficient technologies has been The U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED certification. Using captured rainwater and recycled wastewater or increasing irrigation efficiency by utilizing native plants to eliminate the need for irrigation will all garner points towards LEED certification. By utilizing natural water resources through efficient irrigation and limiting unnecessary water usage, construction managers can cut water usage by as much as 50% without any inconvenience to a building’s patrons. As water issues worsen around the globe, the modest retrofitting of structures by U.S. building managers makes tangible progress towards protecting and preserving our most vital resource.

Why Should We Care About the Past?

November 8, 2011

Historic preservation – more properly called Heritage Conservation – has never been about the past at all. It is a decision about the future that includes physical and intangible elements of the past which a community has judged to be significant. This significance derives from their design; their history (past) as lesson, warning, or honor; the knowledge they convey by their construction; their patina and ability to define and refine shared space. The process of identifying and evaluating this significance is central to any society and any community.


it’s about community as well as artistry. why is that hard??

Historic preservation laws and regulations are guidelines – they are never prescriptive or proscriptive. They vary with every resource and they are rarely ‘precedent-setting’ because the same process applied to two resources or to two communities will never yield the same result.

When you write it like that it seems quite simple, but our minds can’t hold it well because what is consistent is not the resource or its treatment but the process of identifying, evaluating, assessing and determining the treatment.


anywhere in the world

This is the source of endless confusion and it requires you to get your mind out of the gutter of categories and nouns and into the dynamism of action and verbs.

is battery a noun or a verb in this case?

A case in point: Yesterday the Chicago Tribune had an article about a 1952 coal-powered steamship that plies Lake Michigan between Wisconsin and Michigan and dumps 4 tons of coal ash into the lake each trip. The headline “Landmark status for polluting ship?” raises the fearsome specter of landmarking and how it can flout all other rules of social and environmental order and community.

Poppycock. Humbug. Horsefeathers.

But the article unfortunately plays upon a misunderstanding of our field, especially in the U.S., that has grown up over the years. The assumption in the headline – and the first few paragraphs – is that landmark status trumps other laws, like environmental ones. You also find this assumption among building owners. It’s like preservation laws have a magical quality that makes them superior to all other clauses of the social contract.

Poppycock. Humbug. Horsefeathers. Do I need to use stronger words?

Now, if you actually read this lengthy article (thanks Trib for going back to long articles!) the truth is there. The owners of the steamer, the Badger, argue landmark status would help them in their negotiations with the EPA.

Negotiations. Landmark status doesn’t override EPA regulations or fire codes or ADA requirements or anything else. It CAN provide a way to negotiate a non-standard (I want to say post-normal) solution to those regulations. The fact of the matter is that most maritime national landmarks are museum pieces that don’t steam around the lake dumping coal ash. This particular boat has been making end-runs around environmental regulations since the 1980s and there is a separate EPA exemption being legislated even as they try the landmark status ploy. The boat merits consideration as a landmark, according to the Park Service, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it gets to keep polluting.


If I landmark the Fisk electric plant in Pilsen it doesn’t mean it gets to keep polluting. Landmarking my house doesn’t mean I have to go back to gas lights or horse-drawn carriages and landmarking an early Chicago School skyscraper doesn’t mean you have to live with one restroom per every three floors.

If you “landmark” something it means you need to follow the Secretary of the Interior’s Guidelines for Rehabilitation when you work on it. These are GUIDELINES, not rules, and they are subject to interpretation. The guidelines encourage maintaining a property in its original use but DO NOT REQUIRE IT. I can turn the Fisk plant into a nightclub or the Badger into a diesel-powered casino without affecting any landmark status either might merit.

People often hope that landmark status can help them in the “negotiations” over some other issue, and in truth, it can sometimes. But it is not a magical mystery bullet or even an arcane set of rules. They are GUIDELINES and they are ADVISORY, not REGULATORY, as the government’s own website states unequivocally.

Get into historical significance and the absurdity of the argument grows wider than the Irrawaddy in flood. If I preserve Versailles do I need to restore the French monarchy? Of course not.

the original Shwedagon Pagoda, NOT the copy in the new capital

le salon c’est moi

The whole point of saving something is so you can keep reinterpreting it and repurposing it. Nothing is static, ESPECIALLY in the field of heritage conservation, a field whose only constant is a process of dynamic change and its sensible management.

iRemember

October 7, 2011


2011 – Steve Jobs dies and the world of Apple loyalists expresses their loss.

This summer during one of my trips to China it seems to me that everyone in China has an iPad. I mention this to some of my Chinese friends and they say it is because they are trying to be trendy, not because they need it. It is conspicuous consumption, they say. But why?


I was always a Mac, even though I used PCs at work from 1983 through 1996. Here are moments in time iRemember:

1984 – I saw the “Big Blue” ad during the Superbowl and loved it. It certified that Macintosh and Apple were about independence, in action and thought. It was cool, like all the computers and devices to come, and it resonated with a fundamental American idea that you didn’t have to go along with the crowd. Somehow Apple and Jobs kept that resonance, even as Apple became briefly the world’s biggest corporation – it was still anti-corporate in some way, and today we have the odd confluence of people protesting the influence of corporations on government and the economy while offering flowers to one of the biggest corporate leaders of this generation.

1987 – I bought my first personal computer, an Apple 512ke, because Apple was the creative kind of computer, because even though it was more expensive it was better for graphics and artists and somehow it was not as corporate as a PC. It was creative and alternative. I knew I was a Mac.

1988 – I met my wife, who also had an Apple and in fact was an Apple certified technician, which gave her both artistic validity and street cred although of course it was not called street cred in 1988.

1991 – Felicity is buying the latest Apples and Apple clones. Often they are quite expensive, but she is teaching the School of the Art Institute’s first digital photography classes.

1996 – We are sitting in Viejo Vallarta with a two-month old daughter at dinner while people at the next table are discussing Apple, which is trading at $8 a share. They say the company is dead and its attempt to overtake the PC a failure. I feel a combination of inchoate anger and powerlessness in the face of injustice. I don’t buy any stock, but my brother did, to his credit and great advantage.

1998 – I get my first laptop, a black Apple that is quite large and heavy by modern standards. We take it to Ireland.

2004 – I get the 12″ Powerbook that is still my favorite computer. I write most of a book and a dissertation on this compact little beast.

2006 – I love the “I’m a Mac” ads because they confirm the cultural boundaries that have defined us Apple types since at least 1984. We are the good guys: cool, creative.

2007 – I rant in this blog about my brief experience with the iPod, which was quickly stolen. I fail to understand the nature of the consumer economy, which is a fundamental human nature, and think that iDon’t Need it. But of course that is the wrong question.

The Tribune’s Phil Rosenthal writes “Steve Jobs determined long ago that his imagination, and that of those working under him, far outstripped ours, and so Apple devices were introduced to do things most consumers couldn’t conceive of until he demonstrated what was possible.”

Even beyond these devices which define the modern world and erase former political and cultural boundaries, Steve Jobs and Apple proved the lie that there is a rational consumer. What people buy for themselves, from houses and perfumes and shoes and cars and electronics and fancy vodkas, can not be understood by any sort of needs assessment. They are cultural products, items of self-identity and group identity, and when we thrive we thrive because we want this stuff, not because it makes us healthy or wealthy or popular but because it makes us feel the way we feel when we have those dreams where we can fly, soaring impossibly above the earth, or those moments of love that redound through every fiber of our being. This man who died gave us cultural products but more than that he gave us a new economy of culture. As I said in this blog recently, the tricky reality of technology is not THINGS, but RELATIONSHIPS.


this is a relationship
Others can worry about what will happen to the company now that its guru has passed on. As a historian, I only know that this new relationship, this new cultural economy, will never end.

Managing Change, or We Are Technology

September 3, 2011

Managing change is what the historic preservation/heritage conservation field does. It is not about preserving “the past” or old buildings but repurposing significant elements of the past environment for future use.

Little Black Pearl, 47th & Greenwood, Chicago

Modern historic preservation in the United States dates from the 1960s, and it came up in an era of “new history” that replaced the old political history (wars, leaders, battles, boundaries) with a history that tried to convey what was happening to most people in their social and economic everyday. In a sense, history – as an academic discipline – was catching up with the globalization that industrial capitalism had launched at the time of the American Revolution in the late 18th century. In the old history, agency – what makes things happen – was leaders and battles, etc. Agency in the new history had much broader social and economic dimensions. As my favorite Leeds musical group sang way back in 1979 “It’s Not Made By Great Men.”


The flats they scarpered and the Uni they attended. They were Uni, not Poly, right?

The old idea of agency in history was simplistic. All problems were single-variable problems. By the 20th century some historians had moved on to problems of disorganized complexity; problems that could be “solved” by statistical analysis and regression, and this is still a big piece of the evidence pie in history today. Heck, it is a big piece of the preservation/conservation pie or any public policy pie because we need data to push for public policy.

But statistical analysis is appropriate for problems of disorganized complexity, like the physical sciences. History, like the environment and cities, is a biological problem of organized complexity: the hardest type of problem to solve. This was of course Jane Jacobs’ argument in The Death and Life of Great American Cities when she took down urban renewal.


Greenwich Village. Photograph copyright Felicity Rich, 2006

Economists and programmers today live on algorithms, which try to deal with organized complexity, at least within the realm of consumption, if not in the realm of place-making and place-maintaining. Algorithms attempt to determine what we “like” and what we want to put in our cart and who we “like” and what we want to put in their cart. They are more effectively predictive because they allow more variables and they include time, but they are still limited and rely heavily on pattern recognition. (don’t get me started on the lunacy of the rational consumer concept) It isn’t even as simple as DNA because buildings and cities function in time and place and thus genetic codes are merely predispositions, not agency.


since you enjoyed this vegetable, perhaps you would like to try…

So what got me thinking about all of this was my summer reading, including a book called His and Hers: Gender, Consumption and Technology, edited by Roger Horowitz and Arwen Mohun, which approaches the problem of the history of technology in this biological, interactive way. I ranted against iPods and iPhones in this blog years ago because I didn’t need them, but as I realized a couple of weeks ago, need is the wrong question. I was thinking like Henry Ford (ick!) who thought that a simple practical black car was all that was needed, which is true, but insufficient and ignorant of human behavior. Ford looked at technology only from a production point of view. His GM rival Alfred Sloan invented “model years” for cars and stylized them, just like the Apple people do, so that you had to have the latest one. Mass production doesn’t exist without mass consumption. Ford saw one variable; Sloan saw more. Add cultural conceptions of gender and their complex interrelationships to production and consumption, time and place and maybe you can get somewhere.

Desire, thy name is Corvair

We all know that our economy today is largely driven by consumption, and we also understand to some extent the role of advertising in creating desire, and thus how desire replaced need. The gender aspect is more complicated because it inflects not simply the targeted manufacturing of desire but also production and consumption.

Wireless radios were male gendered products that needed to be domesticized for a female market with the rise of broadcasting in the 1920s. When the mills at Lowell needed a massive female workforce in the 1830s, it required complicated cultural gymnastics: the mills needed to appear to be paternalistic moral guardians, so as not to upset the recently crafted feminine domestic ideal. That ideal was needed because industrialization moved economic production out of the home and operated at a scale beyond traditional extended families. The nuclear family ideal came a century later, when consumption moved ahead of production.

every invention comes with its own iconography

So what caused what? The answer, in any chemical problem, is both: agent and reagent. In biology the answer is all of the above: DNA, environment, interaction, geography, ideology and even chance. Causation in history is always overdetermined.

Gender affected the definition of technology itself: it was male: big machines makin’ stuff. But of course vacuum cleaners are technology and so are radios and some technologies immediately became the province of women, notably the typewriter. In fact, I have an image in my mind of an illustration I saw thirty-plus years ago of the inventor of the typewriter with a giant thought bubble populated by an unending stream of technologically empowered Gibson girls.

But technology is not a thing but a relationship. The sewing machine is a great example. The first guy who invented it thought of it from a production point of view and so he set up a shop only to have it destroyed by a mob of tailors and seamstresses. The second guy who invented it invoked the wrath of every minister and priest since he was going to drive “needlewomen” into prostitution. Finally Isaac Singer comes along with a sewing machine but more importantly with a plan to market it to women in a way that reinforced cultural constructs of domesticity and gender.

Microsoft and Apple are similar – they didn’t necessarily invent the technology: they packaged existing technologies, developed innovative business models, and focused on consumption rather than production, which allowed Apple to briefly surpass ExxonMobil as the world’s biggest corporation last month.


don’t know what this thing is but it’s a hell of a relationship. photograph copyright Felicity Rich

Technology involves production needs and patterns; consumption patterns and desires; and the complex interactions between cultural ideas about gender over time. The question is not, as I said in a recent blog, how technology changes us or how we change it: the relationship between us and our things and space and time IS technology.


Chicago. South Branch

Technology is thus not a thing or things but a web of relationships that enters successfully into history when each of the variables (especially consumption) in the relationship is satisfied. In fact, cities are complex and interactive examples of technology. We tend to think that technology is something added to buildings and cities but in fact buildings and cities ARE technology and they are so ontologically.


Hotel St. Benedict Flats, Chicago.

This is a building I helped save a generation ago and when we listed it on the National Register we learned it was a “French flat” which was a kind of marketing label that allowed proper upper class people to consider living in multiple-unit buildings rather than single-family homes. Again, complex cultural gymnastics was required because everyone knew that “flat buildings” caused promiscuity and communism. That was the technological imperative: as the Chicago Tribune said in 1881 “It is impossible that a population living in sardine boxes should have either the physical or moral vigor of people who have door-yards of their own.”


totally

Every argument against technology; all the moral and social fears it engenders are proof that technology is relationships, or more precisely the enhancement and thus redefinition of existing relationships. The examples of Facebook and Viagra make this point in a straightforward way, but it is equally true of electric cars (relationship to consumption and environment), modern medicine (relationship to disease), booksradiomoviestelevisioninternet (relationship to imagery and narrative)

also copyright Felicity Rich.

In Lizabeth Cohen’s chapter on shopping centers she identified three major effects on community life in America: “in commercializing public space they brought to community life the market segmentation that increasingly shaped commerce; in privatizing public space they privileged the rights of private property owners over citizens’ traditional rights of free speech in community forums; and in feminizing public space they enhanced women’s claim on the suburban landscape but also empowered them more as consumers than as producers.”

Traditional economic analysis would only look at how developers and retailers and investors profit from these shopping centers, but Cohen notes there was a visionary (read DESIGN) aspect as well: they weren’t trying to destroy Main Street but perfect it, while providing a place to create community within the dispersed environment of suburbia. Early shopping centers had services of every type and even auditoria and venues for community meetings and concerts. So there was an economic impulse from a production side, an economic need from a consumption side, idealism on the production side and a non-economic social need on the consumption side or is it the feminine society side?

Old Orchard Shopping Center, original iteration

Postwar shopping centers even introduced the type of “market segmentation” so central to our Amazonian algorithms today, by eliminating the vagrants, minorities and criminals found in the old Main Streets. They gave women a place to have community but they also limited their roles as consumers and of course over time the privatization of public space limited the place-based speech and assembly that takes place in America.

Not just here. This is a Swedish outlet in Hungary. All trends are now global.

Enter the Internet, which allows a ridiculous amount of speech without the check provided by actually being in touch with society. On the economic side, it allows men to shop because they don’t have to talk to anyone. Now people of all genders can associate and interact. They can even use the virtual world to organize a real-world flash mob in “private space.”

shopping is SOOO gendered. I actually suffer from male pattern shopping disorder

In the age of “information technology” and an expanding quantity of genders, our economic and social interrelationships have been redefined once again. But as anyone who knows me can tell you, I see connection and commonality much more than difference (despite the great popularity of Derridean difference during my college years)


the communist capital of the world

Yes, technology DID this, but technology is not a thing nor an imperative working outside of history: it is right in the middle of it, like economics, full of the same insecurities and foibles and character flaws and amazing skills and infinite iterations of love and death as every one of us from the darkest night to the highest noon because it is not outside of human experience but implicated in every aspect of it from the amygdala to the appendix and it always has been so.

so if I buy an antique on the internet I am like doubling my technologies, right?

When we preserve aspects of our built environment, we are in fact preserving a complex layered history of cultural and economic production, consumption, identity and interaction. We are preserving palimpsests of earlier relationships, repurposing the technology of buildings and streets and places by inflecting them with our current relationships. Preservation can not be achieved without an understanding of contemporary political, economic and social relationships, and it cannot succeed without an historical understanding of relationships, the essence of technology.


getting to the next level – the technology of stairs, Angkor Wat

Air Conditioning in Time

July 19, 2011

It’s going to be 90 degrees all week so let’s talk about air conditioning. Air conditioning is a technology that is more than a century old (air cooling is even older) but it has only become an everyday thing in the last 50 years. Most non-industrial buildings constructed prior to 1950 made little or no provision for air conditioning, leading to aesthetic wonderments such as

Actually, the aesthetic awkwardness of the window AC unit is probably a contemporary perception problem. In the 1960s, buildings FLAUNTED their newfangled air conditioning units by sticking them right on the facade.

Even on Lake Shore Drive in the Gold Coast. I did a piece for PURE magazine back in the 1990s about what I called “Air-Conditioner Architecture” which celebrated the window unit air conditioner. The ideal for this architecture in my (satirical) piece was that the key unit of scale and symbolism was the window-unit air conditioner and the most glorious and beautiful building was one in which the entire composition took on the appearance of an air conditioner. Here are some typical Oak Park examples from the 1960s and 70s:



I actually thought of this 1960s building on East Randolph – Harbor Drive – as a perfect example of the style. The cool pool was in the 1968 film Medium Cool.

You know, come to think of it, architects have NEVER figured out a way to make air conditioning aesthetic. I was at this super-cool contemporary (and also Modern) house this year which just had faultless lines and intriguing volumes and incredible views and of course a felicitous play of light and then stuck behind a fence in the back was this:

If you ever get in a high building in a downtown, your view of the city becomes a series of giant air conditioning units sitting on rooftops.


makes the old water tank look like a Bernini in comparison

But beyond aesthetics, more important than aesthetics in this case, is what has happened to our bodies in the last 50 years. Now we NEED air conditioning. Having someone pass out from the heat during an August wedding was acceptable in 1959, but is not acceptable today. Being able to work all the time every day during any weather is now the norm. Our bodies have come to expect air conditioning.

I am now going to rant about how air conditioning is overrated and overused. First, I have to admit that I grew up in a house built in 1933-34 that had central air conditioning from the beginning. But I have not lived in that house, or any other with central air, in more than 30 years. How do I survive?

Short answer: real brick walls and trees. Our current house was built in 1898. People walk in on a day like today and are glad to feel the cool blast they get entering the house. But there is no central air. We put two fans in the basement, which always stays cool, that blow air up the stairs. We have two window units in two bedrooms. Thanks to thick brick cavity walls and ginormous trees that shade our house, the first floor stays cool even when it is 90 degrees Fahrenheit (that is the peculiar measurement system used in the U.S. and nowhere else) out of doors.

Ever drive down the highway and look over at a farmhouse and see how it is surrounded by trees? That is air conditioning. And it is correct to call it conditioning, because what Willis Carrier figured out that day in Pittsburgh in 1902 was not air cooling but how to control the dew point by using water as a (non-oxidizing) condensing surface and draw the air through it, actually regulating not temperature but dew point and then temperature. But you can also do that with trees and building materials with natural thermal qualities, like brick.


hence the yaodong

But of course, these natural, non-fuel-burning air conditioning systems no longer meet the need our bodies have developed in the last 50 years. People lived in hot climates (I was born in one) for millenia without it, but now it is a necessity. We can crow all we want about how green and efficient our houses are today, but the standards have shifted dramatically from 1960 when air conditioning was not a requirement.

Yeah, I know. I don’t get cold either.

JULY 25 UPDATE:

Got a response from a friend in France who notes that the French don’t like air-conditioning and consider it unhealthy – they in fact blame it for summer colds and other ailments.

Jan 2012 update:

Check out this highrise in Miraflores, Lima, Peru

The PostAdvent of Emergent Technology

July 7, 2011

As a student of history, you notice a couple of patterns right away: Things were always better in the past and things today are worse than they have ever been and/or the apocalypse is looming. As a parent, you also notice: kids today are out of control/subject to evil influences/lazy and distracted/succumbing to technology. In both situations the patterns have great agency but limited accuracy.

Here is a nice meta photo of me filming with the already obsolete Flip camera and of course a damn panda

Memory is a sieve that is generally kind to history. As the full reality falls deeper into the linear past, positives move toward the foreground and negatives slide to the rear, or perhaps more accurately, move into the present as concerns and annoyances. So, yes, history repeats itself, especially in regard to how we appreciate and apprehend history.

But I am more interested today in emergent technologies, those cool things in our virtual and physical world that exhibit the sort of prescience that made 1980s postapocalyptic movies like the Terminator so persuasive. My architect friends have often talked about furnishings and buildings that anticipate our needs and come halfway to meet us in our desire to sit or interact or eat or whatever.

All ages can feed raw meat to this lion – this isn’t in a country run by lawyers worrying about things that haven’t happened ever or yet

So I have been traveling a lot the last few months (duh – see previous posts) and when you do that you become more automatic in your behavior and adjust to the world around you and its current state of emergent technology. So I was somewhere, I don’t remember which country or continent, or whether it was a hotel or a restaurant or an airport but I went into the bathroom and walked up to the sink and waved by hand in front of the faucet and waited for the water to flow. Which it did not. Turns out there were these two knobs or handles or whatever and you needed to physically turn them to get water to come out of the faucet.

You still need to manually fire the crossbow, but it does have a clip of six bolts. Only 15 yuan for 20 shots

Of course, I have ONLY those types of faucet at home, but the comparative ubiquity of automatic faucet technology meant that I had been trained to expect it. So, the interesting part is how the technology changed ME, which is of course what all technologies do, otherwise we would still be using our appendices to digest tree bark.

still can’t figure out the evolutionary benefit of leaning back and eating for hours with your belly exposed

What other emergent habits have I developed to cope with my technological expectations? Certainly opening this laptop everywhere I am to see if I can get a wireless signal. If I was really up to date (like EVERYONE in China) I would have an iPad and do the same thing with smaller biceps.

sorry I don’t have a picture of my biceps.

This also drove my instant behavior, which was to go to Starbucks, not for the coffee (that would be Intelligentsia) but for the WiFi which allows me to post this blog without going home or to work. Which reminds me of the prediction that electronic interconnectivity would make cities unnecessary because people can live wherever they want and of course they want to live in nice idyllic ruralish areas, right?

except in China, I guess

Yes, that prediction was made in the 1840s when a certain painter named Samuel FB Morse invented the telegraph. Ya think FB stood for Facebook?…

Lima Day 1

June 9, 2011


Our first day in Lima, Peru was a full one – 9 to 5, most of that in the offices of the Municipality, looking at their new city planning efforts, largely in the realm of greening the city and providing more opportunities for urban agriculture, under the leadership of our colleagues Gunther Merzthal and Anna Zuchetti. The project began with my SAIC colleague Frances Whitehead, who came here last January to work on urban agriculture projects. When she discovered that the center of Lima – an area known as the “Cercado” for the now-vanished city wall – is a World Heritage Site, she brought me into the project along with Douglas Pancoast of our Architecture Interior Architecture and Designed Objects program. Part of the Cercado is of course the Plaza de Armas, which is spectacular in that distinctively Colonial Baroque style found throughout the Spanish Americas.

Archbsihop’s Palace, Plaza de Armas

Detail, Palacio de Gobierno

Detail, Archbishop’s Palace

Palacio de Gobierno
The most distinctive feature of Lima architecture is the balcony, these wonderful wooden structures, many of which have been restored in the central area.


We spent a good part of the afternoon in the Cercado, which is largely a poor inner-city area once you get a few blocks away from the banks and the plazas. Much of the area is fairly dangerous, and beyond the historic buildings we visited sites that are prime for new huertas, or agricultural park areas the city hopes to develop. Many of these communities are “gated” in a de facto way, due to the high crime conditions.

Here is one of the huerta sites, with a view to an even more impoverished squatter development on the hill in the background. This is in Casa 4, one of six districts in the Cercado.

Here is another park in Casa 6, an area that runs along the river. It is about to be completed.

And here is the very unfortunate condition of the river along the edge of the park.

One of the nicest parks is the Parque La Muralla, which is centered along the archaeological ruins of the original city wall, which stood for some 200 years (1670-1870, roughly). The park includes an excellent museum of the history of the wall and the city.

And it also has a little petting zoo, so I can prove I was in Peru: Here is a llama

Not that you need to go to Peru to see llamas. You can actually see them on the southwest side of Chicago in an oil refinery along the Sanitary and Ship Canal…..

more tomorrow, when we meet the Mayor…

The Changing Future of Preservation

May 17, 2011

Within the last week I have been involved in strategic planning exercises as a Trustee of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Board of the Landmarks Illinois, and besides being reminded of the facilitation and SWOT analysis I first experienced 26 years ago in a Joliet hotel (yes, that sounds odd, but trust me, it isn’t) I was also struck by some of the challenges facing both non-profit membership organizations and the heritage conservation/historic preservation field as a whole.

One of those challenges is in the realm of membership. Membership has dropped at both organizations, and it has aged. It seems the 19th and 20th century pattern of the membership organization is being either eclipsed or remodeled. There was a lot of talk in both board retreats about reaching out to younger generations and wondering whether younger generations will join as members or simply be affiliated and affinitized (not a word) via social media and social networks, depriving the old membership organizations of a fundamental pillar of their existence.

As usual in the shifts and spasms of changes to our social economy, the fears are probably disproportionate. Membership was always important in preservation because it had a political policy implication as well as a revenue source, but in fact the revenue source was never primary. Arguably membership numbers had more impact on policy than income. The National Trust plan for the 21st century (from a few years back) called for “engaging” a million people, and while we aren’t there yet, as I reported in the last blog entry, the Trust has been relatively adept at engaging social media and the interwebs.

This doesn’t translate into traditional membership and thus there is a drain on income, but at the same time it could translate into MORE engaged people, which would have a positive impact on the public policy side of the equation. Plus, you can click and donate pretty easily on the Trust website, either in general or in specific advocacy cases. So too with Landmarks Illinois, although I pushed for a more fluid site. I also suggested PRESERVATION FLASH MOBS! (run with it).

The real issue for 2011 and the real shift is this: the most significant aspect of our technological progress over the last two decades has been the shift to user control, to individual control. I resisted (go back five years in this blog and you can witness some of that resistance) a lot of technological changes like cell phones and MP-3s and digital photography because I saw a diminution in quality. Of course, quality has improved, but the pattern of technological progress actually follows an initial shift to lower quality. Why?

I remember talking to a printer about a decade ago about people choosing to do their own printing via digital technology rather than going to a traditional offset press. He responded simply: People are happy to exchange quality for control. I can hold 10,000 MP-3 songs in the palm of my hand and choose when and how I hear them, so who cares if the treble is tinny and the bass is thunky and the mid-range has vanished? I can design my invitations all by myself and control the process, so I don’t mind the thin paper and bleeding lines. The hard drive on my desk the size of my hand holds more photos than a 6-foot tall shelving unit behind me, so I don’t mind the fact that I lose a few bits of information each time I open that jpg.

The answer of course, is that you need to have a web presence that allows user INPUT and control. The internet is NOT a new method of disseminating information, it is a new method of social interaction, and websites that act like information newsletters or annual reports are used once and disposed. The brilliance of the Partners in Preservation program the National Trust does with American Express is that it is all about interaction. Landmarks Illinois saw similar interaction when its 11 Most Endangered list was put up for public voting via internet (which landmarks did people really want to save?). And there is no dearth of models for monetizing websites, although the challenge for not-for-profits with comparatively low numbers of engaged public is daunting.

The point I pushed to both organizations was this: it is not a matter of figuring out how to engage the next generation: every older generation makes the same mistake of trying to identify what it is about the next generation that is significant, relevant and then tries to build a bridge based on those parameters. Don’t. It won’t work. The whole point of any generation is that it is a network, and that it MUST DEFINE ITSELF and you must accept that part of how it defines itself will be in CONTRAST to your generation. You can’t change that equation for love or money or even genius.

What you have to do is allow each generation ACCESS to cultural heritage conservation, historic preservation, or whatever they want to call it. Don’t fret that they don’t value it – if you found intrinsic social and human value in it, they will too, but they won’t find it the same way you did. Its patterns and modalities will change. Its definition may change. Our job as the older generation is to give the next generation INPUT into the field and be patient and agile as they change it, grow it, and make it relevant for themselves.

The second challenge to our field lies in a point National Trust President Stephanie Meeks made in Austin in October: We need to stop being perceived as the people who saw “no.” This stems from the fact that in the 1960s and 1970s national and local preservation laws were passed all over the country, and often these laws seemed too architectural and arcane for the average person to understand. And even though both the National Trust and Landmarks Illinois are private organizations that have NEVER (ever) had any regulatory power or role, the perception remains.

When I did my dissertation under Bob Bruegmann, he challenged me to write a history of preservation without reference to any laws, and suggested that people were probably preserving buildings and neighborhoods long before there were any preservation laws. He was right. You can find that phenomenon in Greenwich Village in 1910 and in 1935 and in 1955 long before laws went into effect there in 1969. You can find it in Old Town in Chicago in 1925 and 1949 and 1968 long before laws went into effect a decade later. I was in Seattle for the National Trust meetings and I sought out buildings Barry Byrne had designed with Andrew Willatzen between 1908 and 1912 and with the exception of one teardown for a weed-filled lot, each of the houses and buildings I found were remarkably well preserved and well cared for even though they were a hundred years old. They had no infelicitous additions or alterations I could see, despite the fact that Seattle has succumbed to anti-regulatory paranoia, people were preserving century-old Prairie style houses.

At Landmarks Illinois we talked about trying to link to Sustainability, which was another part of our Seattle meeting – seeing the Trust’s Preservation Green Lab there, which is run by a real estate developer, and here is a sign from another real estate developer (and good friend) who is building a new glass highrise downtown.

Sustainability, like natural area conservation, has become an embedded ethic in society that no amount of Koch Brothers funding can unseat. How can preservation achieve this? Part of the answer lies in those Byrne and Willatzen houses, and understanding that the houses on my block – which are gloriously preserved – are preserved MOSTLY because people want to and only secondarily because there are regulations. Regulations can’t preserve the buildings on my block – or those Seattle Prairie houses. They can keep them from being torn down. But there is a widespread ethic that values their design and their age value and their history and backs up that value with the investment of money and time and energy.

I first spoke at a National Trust conference in 1993 and the topic was how do we get preservation to happen in inner-city neighborhoods. I did a 15-year history of how historic preservation was happening in inner-city neighborhoods in Chicago. My conclusion? The question was wrong. The preservation was happening: our job was to support and assist community groups that chose preservation and rehabilitation as means to community revitalization. You don’t have to create them, you just have to find them.

(Amazing side note: I just pulled out the outline of that speech from a folder. In less than a minute. Damn I’m organized!)

So the answer to this second preservation challenge is remarkably similar to the first: you have to be willing to cede some control. You have to believe that the aesthetic, historical, cultural and place-based values you hold, are also held by others. You have to be willing to tack to the wind and trust that changes in how the field operates will not undercut those values.

You have to be willing not simply to CHANGE your organization,
but to let it BE CHANGED. And that takes a bit more courage.

iFacebook progress

January 25, 2011

This blog has occasionally taken issue with technology, especially when that technology seems designed not to facilitate a solution but simply to move product. But technology and desire, as Apple have shown us time and again, are fiercely interpenetrated, and often the hype of a technological advance like the iPod, iPhone or iPad is actually matched by category-creating performance. Suddenly we have a need we never had before.

Now the moralists and ideologists will fret that the new technology will transform us so much we will lose our moral or ideological compass, unless we can maintain control over the technology. That is the meme driving fantasies from H.G. Wells through the Terminator and the Matrix. If that idea makes you feel better, go ahead and have it. But it is wrong. Of course the technology changes us, it always has.


Most of our “traditional” culture from harvest festivals to religious holidays is based on agricultural civilization, which is to say a human society completely and utterly transformed by the technology of sedentary crop cultivation. A whole slew of domestic traditions and artifacts from the bowl of fruit on the table, the breadbox, the garden bed and even the domesticated dog are relics of the technology of agriculture and how it changed the way we live, interact, and think. Even many of our current cultural clashes derive from the clash of sedentary cultures with surviving migratory societies in places like Mongolia and Arabia.


Even more apparent in our 21st century physical everyday are the legacies of the Industrial Revolution and the Enlightenment, which is to say, respectable middle-class culture caused by the mass production of goods and services. The reason there is a lawn in front of my house (and a lawn mower in the shed), a dining room, a living room or parlor and bedrooms is a result of an entire moral universe crafted in no small part by industrialization and urbanization. If those room-sized artifacts seem suburban rather than urban, that is exactly the point: there is no need – no possibility – of the conceptualization of a suburban ideal in the absence of industrial urbanization. You need to be confronted by the technology that is the city before you can possibly desire a suburb as respite.

Even the artifacts within the home are evidence of the spread of this ideal and the emergence of a consumer marketing-driven technological advances. The ideal requires cultivation in the form of a piano, which industry transforms into the mass-market parlor organ, which eventually becomes the Victorola and then the HDTV. Each transforms our behavior, preparing the soil for the next new crop.


Now, in the 19th and 20th centuries as the suburban ideal spread and middle-class values took over, most of the artifacts and performances we now recognize as “traditional” in holidays were invented, which is why Dickens’ a Christmas Carol is so effective: it takes us back to the time our modern idea of Christmas began. The rise of middle-class living and ongoing technological revolutions in the domestic realm also meant that conditions enjoyed by a minority in 1900 – running water, water closets, kitchens, automobiles – were enjoyed by the majority in 2000. The tradition of having a stove in your kitchen, a bathroom in your house or a garage of any kind emerged in the last four generations.


So, I don’t wonder why I suddenly need an iPod and iPhone or an iPad – I wonder why I need a toilet or an automobile, because that was what the iPod was a century ago. My last house even had an “early-adopter” toilet with the water tank way up high (although that was actually a 1980s retro design, which introduces the idea of nostalgia, where I shan’t go today.)

Of course, the great game-changer today is “social networking,” the Facebook phenomenon. I have colleagues I have worked with since the days of typewriters and carbon copies who now longer telephone me or even email me – they simply send me a message on Facebook. I admit I got addicted to it two years ago when I was trying to find a certain song from a movie and one minute later I had the entire soundtrack – while I was on vacation in Mexico. The other night I chatted with a friend in Holland and my kids can visit their cousins in Far West Texas on Skype almost anytime they want. Last week we had houseguests from Japan so I got out the Japanese phrasebooks we used there five years ago but the kids simply carried a laptop around and let Google translate do the talking. I can lament all of the pre-Internet skills I learned that are no longer necessary, but History won’t be listening.


Why didn’t the moralists and ideologists convince us we didn’t need telephones and radios? God knows they tried, they always do. They fail. I read an article yesterday about the relative moralities (ooh – that is a fun phrase right there!!) of conservatives, liberals and libertarians, which had a nice analysis of that topic but then plopped an unexamined idea – Progress – at the end.

Progress as a concept emerges in the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution along with its yin-yang counterpart: History. Both imagine a trajectory, and that image was in fact a new image in 1800, because most humans had a more cyclical view of life and time (I dealt with the idea of linear time in the last blog.) Some aspect of what we call “Progress” may be a natural condition of the churn that is life but mostly it is a value judgment, and one I sometimes share because I generally prefer now to then. But I am not convinced that NOW is better, nor I am I convinced like so many that THEN is better, and I don’t think that is a moral evasion as much as the recognition of a scientific reality. My dissertation advisor Bob Bruegmann was constantly pushing me away from “either-or” historical analysis and forcing me to recognize the prevalence of “both-and.”


The moral question gets asked and re-answered with every technological and societal shift – that is why all ideologies are wrong, because they presuppose a static reality that never is or was – there is only historical and contingent reality. Part of that reality, is of course, a deep human desire for constants.

There are two constants: Humans have a deep seething desire to innovate and a deep seething desire to keep things as they are. And both are always true.

Preservation Education

October 21, 2010

This fall I handed the Directorship of the Master of Science in Historic Preservation program here at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago over to Anne Sullivan, AIA. Anne has taught in the program since it began in 1994 and is currently president of the Association for Preservation Technology, among other accomplishments. I of course remain the John H Bryan Chair in Historic Preservation.

But I also remain involved in preservation education and next week in Austin, Texas I will be part of a panel discussing the future of preservation education. This is a topic I spoke on in the Ukraine in 2006 and Sweden in 2007, and at that time I was focusing on the need for hands-on opportunities for students, and how important that is to the learning process. Haptic. Muscle memory. Seeing more by DOING.

I also talked about the proliferation of short courses, continuing education courses and “certificates” that bundle together various preservation classes, since we had just approved new standards for these non-degree programs during my tenure as Chair of the National Council for Preservation Education (NCPE).

But next week my role at the Conference will be to ask questions about where preservation education is going in the 21st century. A key question involves the NCPE Standards for preservation degree programs, which date back 30 years and are focused largely on history and documentation, a legacy in some ways of the Historic American Buildings Survey, crafted by the AIA and the feds back in the 1930s.

As usual, practice is outpacing theory. Almost all preservation degree programs include the following coursework, none of which is required by the NCPE Standards:

Preservation Law
Building Materials Conservation
Planning

And the following courses are rapidly expanding across our programs:

Real Estate Development
Curatorial Management
Sustainability

The last of course is the trendiest, but preservationists are better equipped than most to sort the wheat from the (extensive) chaff in the sustainability cornucopia. We have embodied energy, zero transport costs for structure, and landfill-light rehabilitation options that NEW construction cannot compete with in less than 30 years.

I will be outlining these issues for a panel and then we will hear about how preservation graduates are being employed: and what they are NOT learning that they NEED to learn. When preservation education began, we assumed we were training students for government jobs. Now, of course, the majority of our graduates are going into the private sector: federal programs never grew to their imagined scale and the introduction of tax credits 35 years ago means that much more preservation happens in the private sector.

What courses do our students need? What skills do they need? How have changes in preservation practice been reflected in preservation education?


The discussion will be next Saturday October 30 at 8:45 AM in the Hilton Austin, Room 406 – Register for the conference here. I will report on the results!

THE RESULTS: NOVEMBER 10 UPDATE

The session went very well and we had a really good discussion. Basically, the information Trent Margraff gathered from analysis of job listings and Ann Thornton’s analysis of skill sets all agreed on several key points:

Most new preservation jobs are in the private sector. This was not a surprise, but a confirmation of a long-term trend.

Students need more business, management, negotiation and innovation skills. These are the golden keys of the private sector and generally not central to programs based in architecture, history and planning. However, many programs do deal with these issues in real estate development and site management. But we need to do more. This is something I am very cognizant of in the realm of historic sites, which are desperate for more business management and operations skills.


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