A new mode of urbanism

[An Infrascape Design blog exclusive!]

As the iGreen Education Session falls into place, I have a moment to reflect on the changing modes of practice enabled by the internet. The ability to create a transcontental design team isn’t new – folks were flying in for meetings, communicating by phone, and fax for long enough that it seems inconceivable to go without those modes of connection.

The physical implications of ubiquitous computing have been fairly limited so far, but the impact on practice is just starting to reverberate. For a dozen or so year, digital design tools have penetrated into graduate programs in architecture and landscape, giving students a set of skills that the world of practice didn’t understand or know how to utilize. (I still don’t see how coding in flash can create a good building, but that’s another story.) BIM has gotten greater traction by streamlining the production of construction documents, but hasn’t changed the act of designing very much. But there are signs that a change is near.

Collaboration (integrated design) and integration of parametric tools that can optimize a buildings performance are slowing creeping into the mainstream. Clients (especially governments and large institutions) are starting to ask up front in RFPs and RFQs for an integrated design approach or even integrated project delivery. I have yet to witness this new mode of practice being taught in the siloed world of design schools. The closest example would be a few of this year’s Solar Decathlon entries, including the UMN ICON house.

Design through consensus offers a stark lesson in swallowing your ego and justifying every design move. Luckily, with the right team, spatial and material poetry is still possible. As the successor to the overblown pre-bubble starchitecture, this new mode of integrated design excites me because of the emphasis on quantifiable performance.

Mixing social justice, community enfranchisement, sustainable urbanism, and old-school Kevin Lynch inspired urban design in North Minneapolis will be a great laboratory for exploring how to implement a few of these ideas in my Spring Semester 2nd year MLA studio at the U.

GreenBuild 2009 BL02 iGreen: How the Web Empowers Designers to Build Sustainably


Jill Fehrenbacher www.Inhabitat.com @jillfehr editor@Inhabitat.com

Emily Kemper LEED-AP www.GreenDesignCollective.com @theGDC Emily@GreenDesignCollective.com

Quilian Riano www.Archinect.com @quilian qriano@gmail.com

Cameron Sinclair www.OpenArchitectureNetwork.org & www.Architectureforhumanity.org @casinclair cameron@cameronsinclair.com

Anchor: Joel McKeller LEED-AP http://www.RealLifeLEED.com joelmck@hotmail.com

Convened by: Barry Lehrman http://www.InfrascapeDesign.wordpress.com blehrman@umn.edu

Session brief

Learn how the Internet is being used as a powerful tool for education and collaboration around the world.

Join [us] for a discussion of how the Internet is advancing the practice of green design around the world. We will offer insights into emerging trends, review some of the latest cool web resources, and share how to leverage a presence on the web into community action.


This panel was inspired by Postopolis and the disenfranchisement of the Emerging Green Builder track at GB08 in chicago, where Cameron was the keynote speaker, but the sessions were all off site on the Navy Pier, not in McCormick Place.

Our panel is pioneering the use of webcams to bring together the panelists from 4 different locations: San Diego, Portland, New York, and Liverpool in an almost carbon neutral presentation. (Gotta figure the webservers and our computers have a small footprint).

A huge thanks to Joel McKeller for stepping up at the last minute to be our anchor and host in Phoenix, and to Sara Haywood of the USGBC for working with us to make the webcast possible.

Emily, Quilian, and Jill live on the web at Greenbuild

See also


the role of PhD’s in Landscape Academia

As I witnessed the epic struggles of my wife to complete her PhD in Health Psychology, I vowed to avoid being a masochist and to never throw myself through the flaming hoops required to get a doctorate. But now that I’m launching my academic career, I’m looking at the playing field and figuring out how rules differ from practice.

In response to two friends from Archinect, Nam Henderson and architechnophilia, who are considering the academic imperative to chase the PhD, I started a archinect discussion, which I’ll repost my initial post here.


Most PhD’s for LA oriented folks are not in LA but in associated fields like planning, geography, history, botany, ecology, or civil engineering. More PhDs seem to be at public universities, while the ‘design schools’ have mostly MLAs.

The bigger question, is what does a PhD in Landscape get you? Mostly it seems to be the ability to quantify the landscape and use statistics. Research can be accomplished with an MLA as the majority of faculty in LAAB programs have either an MLA or MArch.

Also note that most PhD granting institutions place the candidates in between several departments…

Just checking LA grad school’s faculty, here are list of faculty with PhDs.

My doctoral colleagues at the U of MN have degrees from:
Ph.D, Landscape Architecture. Edinburgh College of Art
Ph.D, Urban and Regional Science. Texas A&M
Ph.D, University of Arizona

Ph.D. Forestry and Environmental Studies, Yale University

Ph.D. Environmental Design and Planning, Arizona State University

Ph.D,University of Pennsylvania honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Miami University, and honorary Doctor of Science from Florida International University
Ph.D. Landscape Architecture, Edinburgh College of Art
PhD, Columbia University
Ph.D. Harvard University

PhD Harvard University

Cal Poly:
Ph.D. University of Arizona, School of Renewable Natural Resources
PhD by Project at RMIT University
Ph.D. Urban and Regional Science, Texas A&M University
PhD Natural Resources with a minor in Environmental Psychology, University of Arizona

PhD, Geography and Environmental Engineering, The Johns Hopkins University
Ph.D., University of British Columbia, Vancouver
Ph.D. Urban Design and Planning, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Dr. Sc. ETH Zurich, Switzerland
PhD University of Michigan
Ph.D. Environmental Planning, Berkeley

PhD Civil Engineering, University of Toronto
doctorate in English at the University of Toronto

Ph.D. in Regional Planning, UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS
Ph.D. Ecology, State University of New York at Stony Brook

UMass (includes planning):
Ph.D. Urban Forestry, University of Massachusetts
Ph.D. Environmental Sciences, Wageningen Agricultural University, Wageningen, Netherlands, Department of Physical Planning and Rural Development
Ph.D. City and Regional Planning, UPenn
Ph.D., Urban and Regional Planning, University of Waterloo, Ontario
Ph.D. Anthropology, Cambridge University
PhD, University of North Carolina , Chapel Hill
Ph.D. Natural Resources and Environment, University of Michigan

Penn State:
Ph.D. Architecture (specialization in Environment Behavior Studies), University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, WI
Ph.D., Doctor of Philosophy, Geography (Designated Emphasis in Social Theory and Comparative History), University of California Davis
PhD, Anthropology, Pennsylvania State University
Ph.D., Geography, University of California, Santa Barbara
PhD Environmental Design and Planning, Virginia Tech
Ph.D. Zoology, Southern Illinois University

Megacities or?

megacities or?

[originally posted to archinect.com]

Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

The oldest european colonial city in the western hemisphere, Santo Domingo is now the largest city in the carribean. Under the rule of the dictator/washington stoog Trujillo, the population of SD was rather modest for most of the 20th C. Over the last 20 or so years, the population has exploded. Needless to say, there has been little planning or expansion of infrastructure to accomodate the new residents. The political situation got even more complex by the division of the city into 5 new administative districts.

On the banks of the Ozama River where the land is officially deliniated as an ecological reserve, the largest cluster of barrios and slums has emerged. The following images were taken during a boat excursion up the Ozama in January 2006 as part of our studio site visit.

river bank improvement:

barrio trash

Santo Domingo 2004

more images on archinect…

The Case Against Building Integrated Wind Turbines

Building integrated wind turbines (BiWTs) are suddenly appearing on architectural projects everywhere. Unfortunately, they are just ‘green’ ornamentation, spinning more for show then producing a viable amount of renewable energy. I’m reminded of the Saturday Night Live set from the 1990’s with the large industrial fans spinning in the background. So far the data and life cycle analysis for the wind turbines that fit on/in buildings doesn’t justify their installation today – the case is very different for utility scale wind turbines (those larger then 50m diameter). This paper explores the technical, economic, and energy potential issues of Building integrated Wind Turbines.

The basic physics of wind around buildings and in an urban environment, along with the size limitations for these turbines are the downfall for productive energy generation:

• There is too much turbulence around buildings which significantly reduces the efficiency and power output of the turbines.
• Wind power is equal to the square of the area of a turbine. A larger swept area is much exponentially better then a smaller rotor – but you can’t mount an utility scale 60m diameter turbine in a city.
• Then there are the engineering issues of vibration, ice, noise and more…

Kate Galbraith in the September 3, 2008 edition of the NY Times covered this trend and got a great quote from Jay Leno: “People seem fascinated by the turbines,” Mr. Leno said. “You go, ‘Look! It’s spinning!’ ”

The spinning rotors may look good (and there are a new generation of exceptionally well industrial designed products available), but they just don’t perform. Electricity from rooftop turbines may cost $1.50 a kilowatt hour or more – compared to large wind electricity that can be less then $.10/kwh.?

The definitive word on BiWTs is the Davis Langdon article from 2006: Wind and the Global Warming Imperative that concludes:

At present, it does not seem technically feasible or economically worthwhile to mount wind turbine on large commercial buildings as a means of providing significant renewable energy.

Case closed or is it? We still have to address a client’s interest in with a constructive discussion that leads to a better result.

Case studies

There are several case studies of installed turbines that are worth examining. London is the center of research and building integrated wind turbine installations. One of the better known projects is the Southwark project by Brian Dunlop Associates and Gas Dynamics. In an article by Dan Hill – a senior consultant at Arup and founder of the city of sound blog, quotes Mr. Dunlop:

“There’s plenty of data for photovoltaic performance in urban locations but very little regarding urban wind power. From a planning point of view, we want to put to bed fears over noise and vibration, and so far the results have proved positive.”

Dunlop does add, though, that there is an enormous amount of data to be analysed. “The equipment used collects information every second using sophisticated software created by Gas Dynamics,” he says. “At the moment South Bank University is analysing data gathered from the first three months.”

On the challenges of predicting wind speed and direction (key to commercial wind generation), Dan continues:

Arup’s engineers are also modelling the way wind moves through open urban spaces, which sounds impossibly complex. Arup’s Rupert Blackstone:

“Modelling urban wind movement is a real challenge. It’s almost impossible to be predictive because every environment has local characteristics that affect air flow. The surface roughness — meaning the variation in height of a neighbourhood’s buildings — has a huge influence on the wind resource available. There’s really no point in extrapolating from meteorological data — you have to be location-specific in your analysis.”

The primary value of urban wind turbines is aesthetic. The spinning rotors can animate an urban space and function as public art, like Ned Kahn’s sculptures that make visible the natural processes that surround us. To return to Dan’s essay:

Wind turbines, as with other renewable energy sources, are only likely to increase in number throughout urban space, and personally I’m all for them. I’ve never quite understood arguments against their introduction – a few messy bird-kills here and there aside – and have personally almost always found them aesthetically appealing. I recall Justin Good’s piece for Design Observer, when he almost systematically ‘proved’, in that way philosophy doctorates do, that “wind farms are objectively beautiful.”

However, the article was predicated on the most likely current siting for wind farms – rural environments – and so hinged on the suggestion that people found wind farms unappealing as they resembled modernist sculptures, and so “don’t want the ideology of high modernism disrupting the very different order of the natural world.”

In urban environments, smaller vertical axis wind turbines can look like modernist sculptures and all the better for it, perhaps more universally at ease in this setting. With some of the newer wind turbines on the market, they’re not a million miles away from the Alexander Calder or Barbara Hepworth sculptures that we see at the Fundaçion Joan Miro or pinned to the side of John Lewis in Oxford Street.

Are we integrating wind into buildings or just sticking turbines onto as an afterthoughts? Retrofitting existing structures will never create optimal conditions for power generation. Here are several projects that attempt to integrate turbines aerodynamically and aesthetically into their overall design.

SOM’s Pearl River Tower is such an example but this only works where there is a single wind direction and clear air to both the windward and leeward sides. Bahrain World Trade Center is rumored to spin the turbines with electric motors. Don’t even get me started by David Fisher’s farce of interlayering ‘turbines’ between floors of his rotating tower.


The overall economics on renewables vary depending on government subsides. For us in the architecture biz- most energy generation tech costs more $$ then clients want to spend. Even the old standby diesel gen set costs $10s for any significant output. compared to gas turbines or fuel cells, diesel is cheap, but low efficiency and has nasty emissions. Biogas/biomass fuels require more complicated plants and emission controls – but low cost fuel offsets this. Fuel cells and nasa quality PVs are the most expensive tech per sf to install. Cogen ups the efficiency of internal combustion/fuel cells to being the most competitive tech when costs justify a solid amount of power & heat.

Wind turbines are cheap and old school tech that is becoming refined, but don’t produce much zap at a small scale. Solar thermal is the most efficient/$$$ of all renewable energy systems. So the first thing to add to ANY building are solar hot water panels/storage tanks.

If you had $10k to spend on small scale generation, a diesel gen-set is still the cheapest till you look at the fuel costs and the emissions. Wind/PVs shine with the free fuel. PVs have the lowest maintenance costs, just requiring an occasional washdown. As to output, it depends on your location. If cost was no object then PV or a cogenerating fuel cell is the route to go.

If you care about emissions, wind/PVs are the cleanest, then fuel cells, then gas turbines, and in the far, far distance are the other fossil fuels, with coal/nuclear being the far worst by several orders of magnitude of environmental impact. There are some noxious chemical and emissions associated with the manufacturing of silicon wafers and carbon fiber for wind turbines and PVs, but all manufacturing processes have embedded energy and emissions.

The main disadvantage of small wind is the LCA where they just don’t generate enough zap to justify the embedded energy.

Engineering challenges

The structures of buildings are engineered to provide for occupancy safety and comfort. A wind turbine adds significant complexity (and cost) when attempts are made to integrate them with occupied structures.

First off, the vibrations of the rotors and generating gear need to be isolated from occupied spaces. There is mature vibration isolating technologies and methods that can be used, so this isn’t a prohibitive issue, but one of cost to solve.

Ice shedding is a major issue for wind turbines in areas with cold winters. This is an unacceptable safety risk for turbines in urban areas or adjacent to structures. While de-icing technology is being developed, they reduce the efficiency of the turbine.

Ducted turbines can have increased efficiency for wind blowing from optimum angles. Placing turbines in the centered within a structure, such as those proposed by SOM for the Pearl River Tower, force the architects to shift the building cores to one side or another. This reduces floor efficiency and may introduce code issues that need resolving.

I was using emissions as shorthand for the broad lifecycle impact. Yes, the actual generation of energy via nuclear reactors has minimal releases of toxic/damaging emissions. I think you can agree that used nuclear fuels are extremely toxic and dangerous. If they are not ‘encapsulated’ they become mobile, i.e. an emission. Plus uranium mining is a destructive process. Like most hardrock mining uranium extration produces many emissions included intentional/unintentional releases of radiation, heavy metals, and acids that have poisoned many regions (including the Colorado River watershed).

The materials used in fuel cells and solar panels are more benign – though not impact free. It has recently become known that nitrogen trifloride, used in the fabrication of semiconductors, is one of the most potent GHGs out there and not regulated by Kyoto. There are no energy generation technologies that are 100% benign – 100% of the time, except photosynthesis.

We are not likely about to see the emergence of Building integrated Nuclear Reactors as was fantasized about in the 50s. Since cold fusion was a hoax, I doubt that we will have building integrated fusion either in the near future. Building destructive fusion/fission is available if you are a nuclear state, but not to average citizens.

Avian Deaths and Turbines

It is a fallacy that wind turbines kill lots of birds. Exponentially more birds die from crashing into windows and buildings, being fried by power lines, eaten by cats, run over by cars, or from anthropogenic toxins then will ever be hit by a turbine – even poorly located windmills in major migration routes. The US Forest Service published a thorough study on bird deaths that states:

500 million to possibly over 1 billion birds are killed annually in the United States due to anthropogenic sources including collisions with human-made structures such as vehicles, buildings and windows, power lines, communication towers, and wind turbines; electrocutions; oil spills and other contaminants; pesticides; cat predation; and commercial fishing by-catch….

38 dead birds found while monitoring nocturnal migrants at a small sample of turbines. McCrary et al. (1983, 1984) estimated that 69 million birds pass through the Coachella Valley annually during migration; 32 million in the spring and 37 million in the fall. The 38 avian fatalities were comprised of 25 species, including 15 passerines, seven waterfowl, two shorebirds, and one raptor. Considering the high number of passerines migrating through the area relative to the number of passerine fatalities, the authors concluded ‘that this level of mortality was biologically insignificant’. (McCrary et al. 1986)

This is the statistics from one of the oldest wind farms in the country that utilizes turbines close to the ground and other obsolete design feature. If we get rid of the electric grid, we can save 100 million+ birds/year! (Okay, they don’t distinguish between high-tension and local distribution lines).


The symbolism of integrating wind turbines into buildings is their greatest architectural value. Cities and buildings introduce to much turbulence into the air stream to make wind turbines practical. Then there is the increased complexity of the structure and need to isolate the building occupants from vibration. For true sustainable onsite energy generation, other technologies provide significantly more power, more consistently, at lower costs.

©2008 Barry Lehrman

Dan Hill, City of Sound www.cityofsound.com/blog/2007/11/reading-a-recen.html accessed October 1st 2008

Kate Galbraith, ‘Assessing the Value of Small Wind Turbines’; The NY Times, September 3, 2008 www.nytimes.com/2008/09/04/business/04wind.html



Erickson et al. A Summary and Comparison of Bird Mortality from Anthropogenic Causes with an Emphasis on Collisions USDA Forest Service Gen. Tech. Rep. PSW-GTR-191. 2005 1029
USDA Forest Service Gen. Tech. Rep. PSW-GTR-191. 2005

Justin Good; What is Beauty? Or, On the Aesthetics of Wind Farms; www.designobserver.com/archives/entry.html?id=14344

Davis Langdon; ‘Wind and the Global Warming Imperative’ ; Building Services Journal; 06/06 www.davislangdon.com/upload/StaticFiles/EME%20Publications/BuildingServicesJournal/WindTurbines_BSJ_June06.pdf

Showing Green – do you want carbon credits with that?

]Originally written in 2007]

Is it important to blatantly displace the world saving green features of architecture? Is this a technofetish trend that springs from the high-tech movement born out of archigram? Or is it an even deeper harkening back to Corb’s Machine for Living with earthships and LEED for Home?

Finding the cultural value of every photovoltaic panel, sedum meadow on a roof, wetland treatment system, and active curtain wall with articulated sunshade is a missing part of the sustainable architecture movement. Okay, yeah – being green is a cultural choice that has long resided in the granola crunchy fringe – but this is the mainstream, where fickle fads and politics get co-opted by hungry advertisers. We are at juncture where the ‘me too’ sheep of the profession are finding their inner green elf and applying the icons of sustainable design like the latest incarnation of PoMo EIFS.

Does the public care or even understand the radical impact of the architectural desire to save the hearth, home and health of the world? Since the state of pedestrian design sense is stuck in the neo-colonial and tuscan villa tracts punctuated by big box ducks and the rhythm of homogeneity of a starbucks on every block – is every innovation doomed to be viewed as ugly? Patrick Blanc’s living wall isn’t a Corinthian column with the stylized acanthus leaves crowning its fluted entasis – it is better. Bringing nature into the envelope realizes the primitive hut as an advanced modern building. We have achieved the romantic ideal of Ruskin through the mannerism of daylighting.

Educating the folks on the street that there is a populist political agenda to embrace along the positive economic advantages in carbon neutral design will take more then Martha Stewart nostalgia for the American dream of the good life. The world needs ticky-tacky boxes with wind turbines and composting toilets in every master suite. The end of the status quo bigger is better has arrived and the SUV driving McMansions will never be the same. Green living is coming to a mall near you.

I find the crystalline metallic blue sheen of photovoltaic panels to be sexier then the latest stereolithographic surfaces emanating from the halls of academia and the starchitect’s atelier. Form follows function as only fantasized about in Meis’ dreams when energy modeling meets the real world.

Corporate greenwashing has saturating the media landscape with blue skies and verdant meadows promising a better tomorrow. But the irony of their message is growing demand for real action and results from a public growing increasingly comfortable with the language of the environment and the reality of climate change. Kids are the ultimate advocates for their future, being aware of the wonders of a dragonfly and the sublime pleasures of running barefoot through the grass. Our children are natural born environmentalists. So what will happen when corporations really have to walk the walk of sustainability and cut food miles, mothball coal fired power plants, and remove toxins from their products? Soon, soccer moms and rednecks will demand renewable energy credits with their Big Macs and fries.

© 2007 Barry Lehrman