Another one bits the dust…

Some really sad news about an architecture firm.  But it is not just any architecture firm, it was one  of the best, winning many awards, attracting top talent, with a huge portfolio of diversified projects.  Murray O’Laoire, or MOLA as it was often known as, states on its website:

“We employ almost 200 staff across a wide range of disciplines from architects and architectural technologists to planners, urban designers, interior designers and landscape architects.

MÓLA’s mission is to make good architecture.”

No more.

The last news update on their website informs:

We regret to inform you that at a meeting of the creditors of Murray O’Laoire Architects on the 9th April 2010, the company was placed into creditors liquidation….

This is a real loss. Architecture firms are quite delicate–they depend on growth, they are small and their exposure to liability is quite high.  What’s more, their value as cultural actors far outweighs the economic value that they manifest.  If society values Art and the public realm, someone needs to do some fast thinking and even faster acting to save what are irreplaceable cultural agents.  Certainly, any one given firm can fail, but what is happening now is a whole sale slaughtering of architectural firms, and it won’t be good for anyone if these firms a dispersed and their collective memory erased.  In the USA alone over 40,000 architects are out of work since the beginning of the financial Crises, and it doesn’t look like it is going to get better any time soon.

Here’s a couple of pictures of some of their best work.  Their work on the Irish Pavilion at the Hanover Fair 2000 shows a wonderful sense of contrast and deep use of materials, full of cultural references as well as wonderful integration of Art, and just a intrinsic sense of craftsmanship and and excellent sense of proportion, all executed extremely well:

Cork School of Music:

[In the interests of Full Disclosure, yes, eee_eff is an Architect, and he is very fortunate to be very actively working, but knows many who are not so lucky…]

Another one bits the dust…

A sign of victory…

Finally, the beginning of the rollback of clutter created by billboards. Passed in Toronto, the long-time hometown of Jane Jacobs. Can that be an accident?

The First Meaningful Billboard Tax is passed in Toronto

Corporate creep, the profit-minded takeover of public space, is not unlike a roach infestation: stomach-churning, not pretty, and always a losing battle. Yet the battle rages on. The issues underlying many current debates re-exert the right of the public over public space, whether real or virtual: Social networking site privacy uproars, state and city university walk-outs, the low-power FM radio movement, sponsored public transit stations. And the sad fact is, despite that they greatly outnumber the, ah, vermin – the public is losing this fight against the corporate creeps.

Except in Toronto, Ontario. There the public, angered by the realization that about half the billboards in their town are illegal, lobbied for landmark legislation last week that will curb the corporate crime that goes on before our very eyes. Everywhere. (An estimated two-thirds of the outdoor advertising here in Chicago sits outside of permitted zones.)

A sign of victory…


Here’s an example of the internet making the older (even maybe the pre-industrial) work better. It’s a calculator that determines how walking friendly a neighborhood around any particular address is. The form of neighborhoods originated from basic ergonomic realities, so as we return to a more nature based urban structure (thanks to the sustainability imperative) it makes sense that measuring how human friendly these neighborhoods are, and making that measurement available, will accelerate demand for housing in these areas. Of course, these neighborhoods don’t really need that help-they are attractive for other reasons as well, as you can see on this website from my neighborhood.

Another example of the internet making older forms work better is here.

Oh, the website that measures how walk-able a neighborhood is is right here:

To-do: correlate a location’s walkscore with it’s real estate value. Anybody know G.I.S. out there? It also fits in with the new topology of globalization, where the only necessary flows are expertise and information, with commodities becoming more difficult to move around the world and industrial goods becoming lighter and lighter, due to the cost of transporting them and the consequent ability for smart companies to intelligently re-localize the labor inputs so as to reap a decisive cost advantage vs. their competitors.


Design pays

Or A Tale of Two Houses

Here’s an example of poor design not paying and following that, an example of good design paying off.

The projects are in many ways opposites of each other: one is large (over sized, really at five bedrooms, four bathrooms) and the other is small (just one bedroom, one bath), one is cheaply built, the other has been built to last a long time. One is built in the suburbs, another built in the city. One is built to a certain standard and would look the same in Seattle or in Florida, the other is connected to its community is very particularized to its environment. One is an energy hog and one is sustainable. One is (probably) not designed by an Architect, the other is designed by a very capable one. Those sets of factors are connected.

Moral of the story: Hire an Architect! [In the interests of full disclosure, I’ll note that–yes, you guessed it–I am an Architect!]

Continue reading “Design pays”

Design pays

Katrina says: “Less is More”

The minimal Katrina cottages are appealing to many that weren’t the target demographic at all. Many are discovering that they don’t want a McMansion, or anything even close to it, and are very happy to have something that is small, well designed and not too expensive to heat, and capable of fitting on a small site, too.

Continue reading “Katrina says: “Less is More””

Katrina says: “Less is More”

The Green Lever of Trademarks

The United States Green Building Council‘s green building rating system (LEED-Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) has driven the development of many sustainable building products, increased awareness of what needs to be done to make buildings less damaging to the environment, and caused thousands of buildings to be built to better environmental standards than they would have otherwise been.

LEED (R) is a voluntary system, which leverages competition to increase it’s impact through the use of a multi-tiered rating system, which the USGBC has trademarked. Buildings which achieve the highest number of points are classified as ‘platinum,’ the next tier is ‘gold, then ‘silver’ and finally there is a category just called ‘certified.’ This system was introduced in 2000, and in just seven years there have been over 6,500 buildings registered on its website, and about 42,000 professionals have taken the accreditation exam. It’s a system that has a very definite brand identity, which the USGBC has built and extended, using the increasing brand awareness of LEED (R) to leverage market transformation. It’s the brand leader in green:

“There’s nothing else out there. LEED is what’s for dinner,” says Auden Schendler, the director of environmental affairs at Aspen Skiing Co. “Plus, it’s a good idea. Previously, nobody knew what a green building was.”

But those are the direct effects; also important has been the generation of market demand for ‘green’ materials and services, a market which has really taken off since 2000, when LEED was created. Thus, even buildings not LEED-registered have become somewhat greener, since they contain products developed to meet the demand created by LEED. The awareness of green strategies has trickled down into mainstream design thought, and changed other non-LEED buildings too. The extent of this can, of course, be debated.

The USGBC itself is an example of the expansion of the NFP (Not-for-profit) sector that I have noted previously:

Assessing LEED is further complicated by the business growth of the Green Building Council. Awarding gold–and silver and platinum–certification has been a gold mine for the nonprofit organization. Once a small operation with seven paid employees, it now fields a 116-member staff and earns 95% of its $50 million annual budget

Power-suited developers and hard hats have signed on. More than 6,500 projects have registered for LEED certification since 2000, and new categories such as commercial interiors and existing buildings have been added to the original LEED for new construction. Forty-two thousand people have paid $250 to $350 and passed exams to become “LEED-accredited professionals.” The council’s revenue has been growing at 30% or better a year, with close to 20% coming from certification.

Of course, any time that a market is transformed, as the market for buildings and building materials has been, there will be winners and losers, and enemies will be made. So therefore it is to be expected that there will be those who attempt to sow fear, uncertainty, and doubt about the green building movement. The Wall Street Journal had one prime example last summer, but its securely locked up behind their pay-wall now, so I can’t link to it.

Another example is the article The Green Standard? in this month’s Fast Company; the text in one of the opening paragraphs might lead one to believe that there is some huge flaw in the USGBC LEED rating system:

Continue reading “The Green Lever of Trademarks”

The Green Lever of Trademarks