Friday, May 22, 2009

Living Green: Infill architecture

As a follow up to our post on Living Green: Improving Within Authentic Environments (read full post here), we'd like to call attention to ULI's recent statement in favor of inserting responsible land use policy into the auto-efficiency discussion currently unfolding in Washington DC.

Does it really matter if one car here gets 27.5 MPG (current CAFE standards) and another gets 35.7 MPG (2015)? Not if there are 30% more cars on the road then.

Source: EDAW

Basically, ULI says the "greenest car is the one that isn't needed," and the only way people are not going to need cars is to build densely with transportation options other than cars. This is a major benefit to the projects that [1016] Architecture excels in delivering in Chicago.

Infill development and architecture can actually help keep cars off the road. Is it too much of a stretch then to say infill architecture can decrease our dependency on oil and increase our potential security as a nation? Perhaps. But Inside the Brackets thinks it makes sense to some degree. It's not a straight line correlation, but taken as an alternative to suburban (auto-dependent) development, infill architecture can't hurt.

Full ULI statement text here.

Realizing the interdependency of all legislative decisions relating to living sustainably (such as land use policy, infrastructure, auto efficiency standards, etc.) will frame a necessary and holistic discussion on this topic. We hope our politicians are listening. If you are, honk.

AIA: Inquiries up again...

The AIA Architectural Billings Index (ABI) report continues to show an increase for inquiries at the surveyed firms. While a rating of 50 means inquiries were level from the previous month, this month a 57 was posted.

Billings, certainly the more immediately important measure, was down slightly at 43.

These numbers correlate with the "It's getting worse at a slower pace" mantra on cable news. Now we get to argue about which letter-shape the bottom will be: U-, W-, or my favorite, V-shaped.

Two interesting additions to the information that the AIA tracks and presents are 1) video address from AIA's Chief economist Kermit Baker (click photo below for full video), and 2) information regarding stimulus funded projects.

I guess Kermit's face gives away how he feels about the numbers overall.

What Stimulus?
12% of firms say they have projects with stimulus spending on the boards and another 22% say they have had inquiries from such projects. Sounds good, but Kermit lets us know that these firms also report these projects will only account for about 5% of revenue, and that most of these firms are "large firms." Inside the Brackets hopes smaller firms will have access to the stimulus projects soon, as surely they will have a greater impact on their bottom lines.

Clearly this fellow firm owner agrees:
We’ve had two rounds of layoffs since September and probably will lose another group in the next week or so. Work has dried up because our clients are unable to obtain financing for good projects. Collection of receivables is terrible. The so-called “stimulus” would appear to have little, if any, positive impact on a firm like ours.
—34-person firm in the South, commercial/industrial specialization
Click here for full AIA article.

So What?
So, the April ABI is positive, but a fairly narrow slice of broader economic trends. Therefore, we're happy to point out that Inside the Brackets optimism was bolstered today by the Conference Board's announcement that their Leading Economic Index (LEI) was up with a 1% gain, its largest increase in nearly four years.

A one percent increase doesn't sound like much, but the LEI aggregates ten different leading economic indicators to give a "big picture" look at our country's prospects, and given the size of our economy, the moves are usually small, and changing directions takes a lot of effort.

Check out the press release here.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Wrightwood Crossing update

Wrightwood Crossing, a [1016] Architecture project, was featured today on the blog YoChicago.

Read the update here.

YoChicago is a good resource to see what is going on in Chicago residential real estate development and is one of the blogs we follow over on the right hand bar at Inside the Brackets.

The Crouch Walker Building is now gone. Wrightwood Crossing will soon be coming out of the ground here.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Living Green: The case for Improving Within Authentic Environments

There are plenty of diverse opinions on the best ways to "live green." It's enough to make one think there is no right answer, especially when an exploration into the data supporting the varying opinions seem to check out. Who to believe?

Admittedly, Inside the Brackets is not going to be the source to end all debate; indeed, we think the debate is healthy. However, we would like to present our stance on this issue, in part by discussing and explaining our firm's motto, "Improving Within Authentic Environments."

Infill Architecture: Inherently Green
Presenting this motto describes [1016] Architecture's core belief that designing infill architecture is the most sustainable and responsible way to build: not only new construction, but also renovations and other improvements. Infill architecture, also referred to as "urban infill" or "infill development", refers broadly to working in existing cities and dealing with buildings, lots, and zoning limitations surrounding a site.

Do you see the opportunity in the image on the right?

Some see these preexisting conditions as constraints, but Inside the Brackets argues that these "constraints" are actually tremendous opportunities for high-performance architecture and sustainable design. In fact, the LEED(r) Rating system highly rewards buildings and developments in existing urban areas via the "Sustainable Sites" section of their rating systems. So, merely by selecting to develop within an urban area, a building is "greener."

Even developments with legitimate high-performance ("green") architecture fail to become the perfect "green living" solution when they are not appropriately integrated to existing infrastructure and transportation options. Within a given household, transportation represent a significant factor of overall energy consumed.

Inside the Brackets recently found a great article titled "Seeing Green through Rose Colored Glasses" by Chicago Life writer Joseph Valerio supporting this idea as well as outlining a good case for taking care of an existing building stock. See full text here.

The main shortcoming of progressive suburban developments is a lack of density, both within the development itself and in the immediate area. Thus, it is our conclusion that high-performance ("green") architecture, while superior to standard buildings, is not complete until it is deployed in an infill context.

Managing the Pitfalls of Infill Projects
Increasing density may be a perfect idea in theory, as illustrated well in this article published in Urban Land magazine, but is often difficult in practice. Local government and/or ordinances may be structured in just a way to make it difficult, and almost invariably, the most vocal neighborhood groups are made up of those in opposition of a project.

Unfortunately, success in this regard is more about managing public perception and satisfying the large number of groups which may have a stake in a project's progress; and less about good design or intentions. Working with an architect with experience in a given municipality is a good way to mitigate this problem, but without shareholder buy-in, your project will have a tough go.

Infill architecture is fraught with opportunity, and a savvy project team can make even the most onerous site green in more ways than one. That idea makes infill a good way to build, and[1016] Architecture is dedicated to it.

[1016] Architecture a U.S Green Building Council Member Firm
Improving Within Authentic Environments

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Alpacas and Shipping Containers

When originally approached to design an alpaca ranch, [1016] was excited to work on such a unique project type. The client went further to ensure his project would be original: he declared that it would be built from shipping containers. As in the 8' x 8'-6" x 40' steel boxes you might find near a port or railyard. Midnight Moon Alpaca Ranch will be another example of shipping container architecture.

Shipping containers and alpacas...

Seems like a natural fit.

What's the Deal?
Once modified for use as building modules, shipping containers are referred to as ISBUs, which is short for Intermodal Steel Building Units.

Due to the net import economy here in the United States, these precisely engineered and robustly constructed boxes stack up empty in shipping yards around the country. Turns out it is more economical to manufacture new containers at the point of origin rather than ship back empty ones to be reused, which is something that [1016] finds powerful.

Powerful because of the opportunity presented by a surplus of unwanted, and therefore relatively inexpensive, containers. ISBUs make use of these otherwise fallow containers and buildings made of them are therefore sturdy, strong, easily modified in the shop (prefab) or on site, and sustainable since all ISBUs are inherently living a second life. All of these reasons make ISBUs an economical and eco-sensitive way to build, and we are happy to join the ranks of designers and entrepreneurs exploring the aesthetic and technological benefits gained by utilizing them.

Certainly, [1016] is not the first architecture firm to work with ISBUs, but we just might be the first to use them on an alpaca ranch. We have found several good sites to use for resources and inspiration. Please check them out if you are interested in more information on ISBUs or shipping container architecture.

ISBU News is a blog-style website that compiles info on current projects as well as documenting resources for planning a project.

was our primer into the history of shipping containers as building units and architecture.

Jason Cadorette, a former co-worker, and his team won a design contest called What If New York City? with his designs for emergency-deployed, temporary housing utilizing ISBUs.

Fellow Notre Dame alumnus, Pablo Nava, and a business partner, use ISBUs to help shelter families in Mexico. You may have seen NBC television commercials featuring the work he is doing there.

To be continued...
[1016] Architecture is excited to be working with Midnight Moon Alpaca Ranch to design their new facilities from ISBUs. Inside the Brackets will cover progress of the project as it unfolds over the coming months.

Also, if you have never seen an Suri Alpaca before, check them out. Pretty mellow and unique-looking: