2030 Palette

Architecture 2030’s new 2030 Palette might just be the design tool I’ve been dreaming of – a built environment performance simulation tool that works across site, district, neighborhood, city, and regional scales. What isn’t shared yet, is the underlying methodology and data used the calculations.

If Palette is just another fancy case study browsing interface (there are plenty of those already), which is all that the screen shots and interactive tour feature, then I’ll be sorely disappointed as we desperately need a performance tool that transcends scale and integrates buildings into the larger landscape.

Once I have a chance to test it, I’ll post more. Really hoping Ed Mazria and crew have delivered. If they have, I’ll probably use Palette as the core in one or more of my studios next year.

Daylighting the Saw Mill River

The last time I was living in LA, I was working for the architecture and planning practice, EEK. One of my projects was master planning downtown Yonkers, New York. Now, five years later, the NYTimes has an editorial extolling the virtues of daylighting Saw Mill River aka Nepperhan Creek – the centerpiece of the ‘new’ downtown  a la San Antonio’s Riverwalk with a twist. That twist is a Minor League Baseball Park nestled into a bend of the Creek on the site of a former municipal parking lot known as ‘Chicken Island’. I spent several days siting the stadium (designed by others) a few feet north, or west, slight rotation clockwise, then twist the other way, until the optimum balance was found. This project is an interesting bit of urbanism that will have a positive impact on Yonkers for generations to come.

Daylighting is the term used to describe the restoration of a culverted stream by removing the culvert and exposing the water to the ‘day light’ now that streams are seen as an urban amenity. Back in the 19th and early 20th century, many urban streams were enclosed in pipes and turned either into storm drains or sewers for both sanitary and real estate development purposes. The daylighting process may require adjusting the elevation of the stream bed out of the historic valley, may be a partial restoration where some of the stream flow is day lighted and the rest remains in the culvert, or may be completely artificial with recirculated water (see the Cheonggyecheon River in Seoul).

more on the project here, here, & here.

solar design – moving beyond the farm

As a landscape architect, I cringe when I see massive engineering and infrastructure projects that demonstrate no sensitivity to the site, ecology, or culture. Solar power and renewable energy projects are no exception. There needs to be a better way to deploy large scale solar energy projects that reduce their cultural and ecological impact on the landscape.

There is an interesting etymology emerging for solar power projects that have agricultural and ecological imagery. Solar farms, solar groves, solar forest, solar trees, solar ranch, and bright fields, all evoke sylvan or pastoral landscapes while the reality is anything but that in most cases. If we play this game – solar orchards, solar gardens, solar bosques, solar glens, solar dell, solar pastures, solar glades, solar forest, solar plantation, solar jungles, solar meadows, solar pastures, solar shrubs, solar trees, and perhaps solar topiaries – may all soon to join the lexicon of solar projects for better or worse.

Compared to most other forms of energy, solar farms have one of the lightest impact no mater how you slice it – EROEI, LCA, area per watt, co2e/watt or btu, et cetera. Robert Bryce got the math wrong by ignoring the baseline of fossil fuel impacts in his June NYTimes Op-Ed. Yes – solar and wind farms require large areas (if not build in urban areas), but their footprints are minimal compared to fossil fuels which require equally large areas that are usually hidden from public view – from the mines/oil fields, to processing plants/refineries, pipelines, tank farms, and then there is the area contaminated downwind and down stream that Bryce is paid to ignore. Okay, there are toxic byproducts of both thin film and silicon cell production, but again, these are significantly lower per watt then most other forms of energy production.

Yes, solar energy development may require removal of vegetation over tens of square miles (which impacts the ability to keep the mirrors clean), digging the point foundations for the heliostats (see image below) & turbines, and depletion of groundwater to keep the panels/mirrors clean. But compared to the other renewable energy systems, solar’s environmental impacts are an order of magnitude less then wind farms which sprawl over much more land, mix the atmosphere, require massive foundations and structures, and create noise problems to name just a few issues; or are several orders of magnitudes less then hydropower and most biofuels. Energy sprawl is real, but don’t blame wind or solar.

Still, this small footprint  isn’t good enough, but now there is hope for integrating photovoltaics into our cultural landscape.

Continue reading

Integrated Campus Modeling – the Salovich Project

I’ve been holding back on this post since mid-September until all the stars were in alignment –  we now have a website and have issued the press release, so here is my BIG news for the Fall:

I’m really excited to share that the Department of Landscape Architecture and the School of Architecture at the University of Minnesota have been awarded $255,545 to develop a new curriculum focused on teaching on the integration of energy and environmental modeling of campuses.

The Salovich Zero+ Campus Design Project is investigating how to integrate energy and environmental performance modeling, using the University of Minnesota’s Twin Cities Campus as our laboratory. The project is a collaboration between the University’s College of Design’s Department of Landscape Architecture and School of Architecture, in association with Capital Planning & Project Management, Facilities Management, and the Institute on the Environment. Funding is provided by the Ann Salovich Fund.

Modeling the energy performance of buildings is well established and integrated into the design of all new buildings at the University of Minnesota per state law. Performance modeling of environmental factors (storm water, biodiversity, shade and ground cover, energy use in the landscape, and other criteria) are not usually considered or integrated into the creation of the building energy models. These environmental factors play a significant role in the actualized performance of the campus, and also contribute to the beauty of place. The Salovich Zero+ Campus Project will explore how to integrate the modeling of buildings into the campus landscape, and to enhance the performance of the landscape.

The Project consists of several interrelated tasks: developing a new multi-disciplinary graduate curriculum on campus modeling, hosting symposiums/workshops/student forums to increase interest into campus modeling, providing student scholarships to promote academic excellence into researching campus modeling, and disseminating knowledge about campus performance modeling

The project team is lead by Lance Neckar – Chair, Department of Landscape Architecture, and Mary Guzowski – Director of Graduate Studies, School of Architecture/Director of  MS Sustainable Design program, while Loren Abraham and myself are the research fellows who will do most of the work and teach the classes. Our graduate research assistants (for 2010/2011) include Derek Schilling (MLA candidate), Elizabeth Turner (M.Arch/MS candidate), and Laurie McGinley (M.Arch candidate).

from: Condon et al, Urban Planning Tools for Climate Change Mitigation

Continue reading

ASLA green

The latest missive from the ASLA has a rich collection of cool project links that are worth sharing with the non-members out there. It’s taken a bit longer for ‘scapers to start shouting about how green they are, but now we are!

ASLA Honor Award Recipient, HtO Park by Janet Rosenberg + Associates (JRA), Toronto, Ontario, Canada; Claude Cormier Architectes Paysagistes, Montreal, Quebec, Canada; Hariri Pontarini Acrhitects, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Landscape architects have been “Green Since 1899,” but now we have the Internet to show everyone just how green you are. ASLA has expanded a new online tool designed to educate the general public, government officials, clients, and the media about the work of landscape architects and the social, economic and environmental benefits of sustainable design. Called “Designing Our Future: Sustainable Landscapes,” this interactive learning tool uses 20 case studies that include image slide shows, descriptions, project facts, and downloadable one-page briefs to help answer the question, “What do landscape architects do?”

The site reflects more than a year’s work of research and writing, partially supported with a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. Explore the case studies below, check out all the resources at www.asla.org/sustainablelandscapes, and use these examples to help tell the profession’s story.

78 Resonable Questions to ask about any Technology

via mindfully and written by Stephanie Mills for the defunct Clamor Magazine, i.18, Jan/Feb 03.

Old news, but worth sharing as a reflection of what I’m thinking about this summer.


  1. What are its effects on the health of the planet and of the person?
  2. Does it preserve or destroy biodiversity?
  3. Does it preserve or reduce ecosystem integrity?
  4. What are its effects on the land?
  5. What are its effects on wildlife?
  6. How much and what kind of waste does it generate?
  7. Does it incorporate the principles of ecological design?
  8. Does it break the bond of renewal between humans and nature?
  9. Does it preserve or reduce cultural biodiversity?
  10. What is the totality of its effects—it’s “ecology”?
  11. Social

  12. Does it serve community?
  13. Does it empower community members?
  14. How does it affect our perception of our needs?
  15. Is it consistent with the creation of a communal, human economy?
  16. What are its effects on relationships?
  17. Does it undermine conviviality?
  18. Does it undermine traditional forms of community?
  19. How does it affect our way of scene and experiencing the world?
  20. Does it foster a diversity of forms of knowledge?
  21. Does it build on, or contribute to, the renewal of traditional forms of knowledge?
  22. Does it serve to commodify knowledge or relationships?
  23. To what extent does it redefine reality?
  24. Does it to raise a sense of time and history?
  25. What is its potential to become addictive?                  Continue reading

Paper versus Coal?

Please consider the environment before printing this email.

How many of us have this little icon of a road (or is a stream) and the pine tree as part of our email signature? Anybody know the origin of that icon?

Last fall, I taught a ‘paperless’ seminar, in that I did not print out any assignments and required that all student’s work to be submitted via email or the course website on moodle. (Okay, there was a required text book). Avoiding the use of paper and copiers seemed to be a no-brainer as a method to practice what I was preaching. Now a white paper by Don Carli has come out that compares the environmental impact of the energy needed by data farms to the embedded energy in paper and impact of clear cutting and the picture isn’t quite so clear. The reason is mountaintop removal by coal companies to fuel the power plants that power our gadgets and the web servers.

Mountaintop Removal Site in Pickering Knob, West Virginia

Again, this seems like one of those catch 22s where these is no good solution beyond ending literacy and returning to living in caves.

Continue reading

defining infrascape

In naming this blog, I chose a contraction of two topics that greatly interest me: INFRAstructure & landSCAPE. These are the basic premises for my nascent design practice and my teaching. For me, infrascape’s are occupied territories surrounding and permeating our cities that are shaped by eco-technical systems *. These systems aren’t just dumb concrete pipes or taut wires stretched from pylon to pylon, but are dynamic organizations that respond to changing inputs and stimuli. But this hybrid ecology and infrastructure is a concept that is far from reality in most places.

In most cities, there is a binary opposition between infrastructure and landscape. Most infrastructure is uninhabitable, except by urban explorers and squatters. A few get occupied through an mechanized interface such as highways and cars, or railway tunnels and subway cars. Most infrastructure is not intended to host an ecological community, but to provide a shortcut to keep nature away from our buildings as David Gissen explores in Subnature.

Riverbank State Park, NYC – a great example of an infrascape.

Continue reading

What’s next for 2010?

On this New Year’s day, I visited the writings of my mentor in networked urbanism, Kazys Varnelis. Thanks to the interview in triplecanopy and his blog post 2009 in review, I’m feeling very dystopic and nihilistic about our future. But the academic pursuit of investigating our civilization’s pending collapse is a dead end. I’d rather pour my efforts into staving off this eventuality and originalgreen’s the Green Top 10 for 2010 lifted my spirits.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been immersed in developing my spring semester classes. So figuring out the emerging ideas/memes that are worth exploring in design studio has been very much on my mind. Okay, my perspective is as biased towards landscape architecture and sustainable urbanism, so feel free to disagree (in no particular order):

  • parametrics & scripting are almost dead and should have died 5 years ago. (you can’t design a building/city in flash, no mater what Winka says).
  • building simulation has some legs left, but only when symbiotic with bigger questions.
  • informal urbanism has it’s proponents but needs to be less about poverty voyeurism and more about ecological justice.
  • disaster urbanism/post-collapse/post-war urbanism is very apropos.
  • biomimicry seems pre-bubble, but might have some life left.
  • urban infometrics/networked urbanism has some juice, but Kazys has his doubts.
  • blobs are dead (hopefully) and should be buried 6 feet under – just witness the breakup of FOA.
  • living architecture, maybe. but only if this means exploring more about eco-technical systems then just grafting trees into the building’s skin or genetically modifying trees to become buildings.
  • vertical farms are still just an utopian pipe dream (but I’d love to be proven wrong).
  • agricultural urbanism is still fresh.
  • shrinking cities/dead malls/foreclosed suburbia will still be with us for another few decades and haven’t gotten enough attention.
  • housing for the next 3.5 billion isn’t getting enough attention.
  • media skins/cinematic facades seems very 90s tschumi, even as the technology is finally mature.
  • green buildings, well you better define what sort of green you’re into and don’t even bother greenwashing yourself.
  • metrics and benchmarks are the future, but I hope that nobody bothers to form a studio around LEED or the SSI ever again. leave this for something to pick up in practice, not school. those benchmarks grow obsolete and irrelevant as quickly as modeling software, so please don’t waste the students tuition on something they can only use for a year or two.
  • infrastructure is a dead end according to Kazys, but I still think that students need to be understand all these pipes and wires that are the life support of our cities.
  • landscape urbanism has been kicking around for over a decade, but I’m starting to see LUas a updated version of McHargian ecological planning driven design and just a chance to use big words.
  • industrial ecology seems to be off the radar, but worth exploring from a cultural perspective.
  • ruralism has been ignored by many schools, but many of the solutions to our urban issues are out in the hinterland
  • suburbanism should be blindfolded and shot, but to many folks like the status quo so we need to find a better approach.
  • eco-cities, something close to my heart, but Masdar & Dongtan are bust and seem to have just been a Potemkin Village or smoke and mirrors. There is real potential in figuring out optimal urban morphology for specific bioclimatic zones, but there isn’t any scientific justification or methods to go about validating the design/planning choices – this remains my current focus.
  • 2nd life architecture is dead.
  • facebook architecture ???? I hope not.
  • video game architecture – what’s the point of studying architecture/landscape if you want to play games – get a degree in animation or computer science.
  • starchitecture is dead, but hero worship has never died. studios by famous architects/’scapers (and their minions) will continue to be popular.
  • post-water urbanism and architecture is a topic that is urgently, urgently needed.
  • post-carbon/post-oil is a tasty flavor of pragmatic green architecture/urbanism that is growing in popularity (several symposiums on this topic have already fertilized the field).
  • sea level rise is another topic that I’ve seen several fascinating thesis projects explore and expect to become more common (especially in schools located on the coasts).

Overall, exploring/learning how to find pragmatic solutions to environmental/social challenges versus form-making is where I’ll place my money for the hot topics in design schools. If architecture and landscape architecture wish to stay relevant for the future, then this is where we all need to push the environmental design professions (and the AIA/ASLA/NCARB/CLARB/et al).

[related posts: 2009 in review, & fleeting memes of the fall]

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 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


This is the blog for Infrascapedesign.com, where I will explore the world of green infrastructure, sustainable cities, and landscape architecture.

Your host, Barry Lehrman RLA, is a LEED accredited professional, a lecturer at the University of Minnesota, and [formerly] the Manager of Sustainable Design for Parker Design International in Minneapolis. I’m currently teaching a seminar on ‘Infrastructure, Natural Systems, and the Space of Inhabited Landscapes’ for undergrad and graduate students. Send me a note if you are interested in checking our my lectures this semester.

Please check out my chapter in Infrastructural City: Networked Urbanism in Los Angeles, and the upcoming book review of ‘Green Roof Systems’ in Landscape Journal. I’m also a frequent contributor to archinect, where you can also catch me there