Archive for the ‘sustainability’ Category

LEEDing the way…

August 22, 2008 1 comment

dur da dur…  bad title, but point is i’m finally studying for my LEED exam.  LEED, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is essentially a rating system for green buildings – it’s market based, so it’s trying to change the game slowly as the market demands.  it’s been doing fairly well – green buildings are in higher and higher demand for their energy efficiency, more comfortable environments, and health benefits.  LEED is currently in version 2.2, but is gearing up for a new version soon.  there is now a certification for new construction, schools, homes, existing buildings, core & shell, retail, healthcare, and neighborhood development.  the new version of LEED will include more regional rating components for the US – right now, it treats every building the same, tho a building for Arizona should be designed drastically differently than one in NY.  developers and users are jumping on the LEED bandwagon – users b/c LEED ensures a generally more enjoyable and healthier working/living environment, and developers b/c a green building generally has lower maintenance costs and creates a market demand for the space.

though sustainable design/development is about much more than what is covered in LEED, it is a good tool to get the building industry moving in the right direction, and as time goes on, LEED will only get better w/ updated versions and revisions.  i aim to take the test and be certified by the end of August.


Go Green Monster

back from the dead

May 4, 2008 Leave a comment

talk about taking a break.  my last post was back in october 07 – let’s see, what was life like back then?  aside from my daughter not having been born yet, not all that much was different – of course, my daughter being born is all the difference it takes to go from day to night, black to white.  two totally different worlds.  life has been good since she was born in november – watching her grow everyday is pretty much all i care about at the moment.

i’ve finally gotten back into the swing of finishing some renovations on the house that i started before she was born – hopefully i’ll get them done in the next month so that i can move on to the next round of fixes: remove the crappy corrugated plastic overhang on the back porch and replace it w/ a trellis.  i’ve also started the design for our landscaping, which won’t exactly be cheap, but is the first thing to do when increasing home value.  major home renovation (aside from painting and installing wood floors) will have to wait.

i’m completing 100% construction documents for my current project this week.  very exciting – i’ve been on the project since design development, though i’ve watched and sat on crits during schematic design.  it’s a really nice and simple, small addition to a university building here in austin.  next week i’ll move onto a new charter elementary school project, which will be really exciting.  it’s set to be LEED silver, which means i finally will have the time to actually get LEED certified (which was on my to-do list since last september).

haven’t done much travel since the munchkin was born, aside from going up to dallas to visit w/ her grandparents.  did go to houston one weekend for a friend’s wedding shower – it was pretty much my first time there, but only had time to visit the contemporary arts museum.  great exhibit on…contemporary design.  mies’ museum of fine arts was across the street, but you need more time to visit that.  i’m excited to go back – some good architecture out there.

also went up to NY for the first part of passover – at 5 months old, it was munchkinface’s first flight.  she did pretty well, but that was thanks to the tubes in her ears installed 2 wks prior – she already had 4 ear infections, so tubes were pretty much the only recourse aside from constant doses of antibiotics, which are not at all cool.  she was a bit fussy in NY – i think the flight, plus change in scenery and new crib were a bit much.  she got to meet some of her cousins and spend precious time w/ my parents and sister, which of course is the most important part of these visits.  2 days after we returned, my sister came to visit for 5 days – it was great.

ok, good update.  back to work, and hopefully some more regular posts again.

update from work

August 12, 2007 Leave a comment

haven’t really been posting since i started work, hope i can pick it up again soon. there’s been so much going on that i haven’t had much time to breathe, let alone blog. where to start?

last i wrote, i had just graduated and gone camping at canyonlands national park w/ my dad in utah. it was his first camping trip EVER, so we were really looking forward to it. the park was gorgeous – red, rocky, and desert. the area we hiked was the meeting point for three distinct areas of the park – one area that looked like the grand canyon, one that looked a bit like bryce cancyon, and another that was a bit like bulbous blobby rocks. my dad couldn’t handle more than 2 days of hiking tho – we couldn’t finish our first day’s 8 mile hike, but did ok on the 4 mile hike the following day. after camping we hit a hotel in moab and went rafting down the colorado – nothing serious, class 2 rapids at most. it was beautiful to coast down the river, though, and appreciate the scenery. this was my dad’s favorite part of the trip. i don’t think he’ll be camping again any time soon – or ever really. on the upside, the 6′ tall tent i got to make his camping easier will make future camping trips for my budding family quite comfortable. we never really do more than car camping anyway – park the tent at a campsite and go on day hikes.

about a week after i returned from utah, i started work. i’ve been here about 2 months now, and it’s been great. we’re in a major crunch and are trying to get our construction document set out in 2 weeks. it’s been a super fast paced project from the get go, but we’re in the home stretch. we’re renovating an existing classroom building from 1930 (2 story) and it’s 1980 addition (1 story). we completely demolished the interior, and are creating a 3 story atrium in the middle between the 2 buildings. the top story of the atrium will be a kalwall ‘box’, providing daylight to the atrium and surrounding hallways. the kalwall sits on a copper ‘sleeve’ – the move is if the copper and kalwall were fitted right into the center of the building. the atrium is divided in to 3 laboratory bays, separated by 8′ tall terra cotta walls – the rest of the wall from 8′ to the top of the kalwall is glass, so that the daylight can diffuse across all the bays. there are also 2 study pods that are going to hover in this space, sticking out from the second story of the existing building. these study pods are what i’m spending most of my time on right now. i’m covering them in reclaimed wood, and have been working on the size, patterning, spacing of the boards, and aligning the module with the structure. getting the spacing to line up with a 4′ module from the kalwall box and how the study pod protrudes through the existing wall and into the adjacent hallway has been really stimulating. here are some pics:


aside from work, we bought a house, and have been busy doing our renovations. this house was the right price in the right area, but was so ugly that i had real reservations about buying it. during our 3 visit to the house before going through with contract i finally started brainstorming renovation ideas that would not only make this house rock, but would also make us a hefty profit when we sell. i’m pretty sure that the house hadn’t been renovated since the first owner died or moved out. he lived in the house since it was built back in 1965. all of the walls were these dreadful shades of tan, peach, aqua, and sky blue. they were all lit by single incandescent bulb fixtures from the center of the room, which provided this shallow deathly pallor. i felt like we were moving into a slum when i walked down the narrow bedroom hallway. the killer was the living room – it has an 8′ wide sliding glass door w/ this amazing retro yellow/mustard curtain. it’s not really retro, tho, b/c it’s original. all of the walls were polyurethane coated wood panels, which bled into the kitchen where all of the cabinets were similarly finished. it was horrible. every room except of the kitchen and bathrooms was carpeted. here’s what happened:

we moved in, ripped out the carpet in every room, and got to painting. all paint was sherwin-williams harmony paint, which emits ZERO V.O.C.’s. indoor air quality is extremely important, and slowly people are getting more educated about the amount of chemicals we breathe on a daily basis. of course, that was to a degree all for naught b/c beneath the carpet in the living room, we found vinyl sheeting glued to the concrete slab. it took me 4 days of scraping to get that shit off. i rented a power scraper from home depot which got about half of it off, but i had to resort to using Jasco chemical crap to dissolve the glue, which had hardened over the last 50 years. i kept my pregger wife out of the house while i did most of that stuff. we painted the wood paneling in the living room white w/ a purpleish pink accent wall. it looks awesome w/ the retro curtain, which we kept. the front room, which had been set up as a dining room and formal living room when we looked at the house is now just the dining room. it’s too small to be both. it is now a bright white.

we laid hickory hardwood in the living and dining room using low V.O.C glue from Mapei. that glue is super strong – it took over a week for that stuff to come off of my hands.  it was such a pain in the ass to lay hardwoods that i’m hiring somebody to lay the remaining 180sqft in the office and hallway.  we should have hired somebody in the first place – it would have saved time and labor.  it wasn’t really such a pain, but it’s definitely back breaking.   we were originally going to go w/ bamboo, but the only bamboo in our price range was of low quality and therefore soft enough to easily dent and scratch.  in terms of sustainability, then, our floor has the positive aspect of not being shipped halfway around the world, but not much else.

the baby’s room is now painted a soft cheery yellow w/ white trim, and will have carpet tiles in various shades of light green.  we designed the room unisex, but cindy won the battle of finding out the sex, and we are now well aware that our baby is a she.  i don’t like designing the room around a sex anyway.  the hallway is now white instead of nasty tan, and it feels so much bigger and brighter.  it’s amazing what white, or any coat of paint for that matter, can do to your perception of space.  the master bedroom is still halfway primed – we’ll probably finish it in a month or so when everything else in our life settles down (hardwoods are completely installed, vacation is over).  the bedroom will be mostly white w/ a khaki accent wall, which will go well w/ our natural beech wood furniture (it’s all ikea veneer, but that’s the color).  we painted the office yesterday – white again.  it had been some sorry shade of off-white – you didn’t realize how OFF-white it was until it was being repainted.  a much cheerier room now.   once the painting is complete, we’ll lay baseboards everywhere which will pretty much complete the current renovation.  in about 2 years we’ll probably do a major renovation which will expand our square footage by 800-1000.  the ideas are churning in my head – plenty of time for refinement.

anyway, we did most of that in about one week, and that had 8 of our best friends from college visit austin for a weekend.  we packed just about everybody into the house which still had boxes and paint and hardwood everywhere.  this trip had been planned long before we found the house or set the closing date.  chaotic is the word.  but we had a great time despite the incessant rain.  it rained all summer in austin, and that weekend was no exception.  as soon as they left, though, it stopped raining and we haven’t had a drop since.

so that’s about it.  plenty in the span of 2 months, i feel.  oh yeah – the reward program changed at the place where we had our registry, and we found out we’re eligible for the top prize – a 37″ flat screen sharp aquos lcd!  i called up and the thing is already shipping – we should get it this week.  super psyched to get something that rockin’ for free!  it looks to be about a $1299 value.  that’s a hardcore reward gift.


May 14, 2007 Leave a comment

having completed my last paper for an incomplete class from last semester, i am now officially done with all coursework for my Master of Architecture with Specialization in Sustainable Design from the University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture.  phew, that’s a lot of words.  I’M FINALLY DONE!!!!  HOORAY!!!!!  GRADUATION THIS SATURDAY!!!

low-impact update – reusable bags

May 2, 2007 1 comment

so it’s been about 5 weeks or so since we stopped using paper towels in my house. it has not been difficult at all! we bought a few more dish towels for cleaning, as well as cloth napkins for eating. i’ve also donated a few old t-shirts to the rag pile. it took a few days of reminding cindy not to use paper towels, but very quickly we moved on to our new routine. the only time we broke down was when our dog peed in the kitchen (his first accident in 6 years). aside from that, the roll of paper towels has sat untouched for 5 weeks. it’s pretty cool to see how much less you use when you make the effort.

taking a cue from my recent posts about banning plastic grocery bags, our next step is…not using plastic grocery bags! i’m going to pick up some reusable totes – we also have a humongous reusable plastic bag that we bought from ikea for $0.50 (it’s too big, though, so we’ll only fill it halfway). we’ll use our reusable bags for our weekly grocery shopping trips and save on the nuisance of disposable plastic bags – they’re petroleum products, they take roughly 1000 yrs to break down in a landfill, and more often than not they’re seen littering parks, streets, and waterways. we’ve never thrown away our plastic grocery bags after shopping, either – we typically use them for carrying lunch. we’ll continue to use them for that purpose or put a bunch of them out w/ the plastic recycling.

[UPDATE:]  i talked w/ Cindy last night about our ‘milestone’, and she replied that looking back, she didn’t think we ever used paper towels all that often.  i reminded her about how often we used to switch out paper towel rolls – probably once a week or so (using the paper towels to clean, as napkins, as covers for food in the microwave…).  now we are practically paper towel free.  had the dog not had an accident the other day, we’d still be on the same paper towel roll for over 5 weeks.  it’s a matter of perception, and it just goes to show how easy it is to do without the things you think are necessary when there are perfectly viable alternatives.

Categories: low-impact, sustainability

Austin may soon ban plastic grocery bags

May 2, 2007 3 comments

plastic bagas i mentioned in my last post on the topic, it’s only a matter of time before other cities jump on the plastic bag banning bandwagon now that San Francisco has become the first US city to do so. a few weeks ago, Austin City Council announced that they are starting a 60 day study period before deciding whether or not to ban plastic grocery bags. i hope they do so – plastic bags are petroleum products; are typically single use; usually end up either in landfills or littering streets, parks, and rivers/lakes/oceans.

i’ve read comments online by people stating that using paper is just as bad as using plastic b/c of the energy required to recycle. perhaps not just as bad, but it’s true that paper is not the answer – reusable bags are. if everyone would simply bring their own reusable canvas or plastic bags to and from the grocery store, this would all be moot. it’s not like it’s so difficult – they fold up really easily and can be left in your car trunk when not in use. our local HEB grocery has already responded to the anticipated ban by selling reusable canvas bags at the checkout line and touting their environmental benefits. it would be nice if they’d drop the price from $3.50 to something like $2.00 considering that the bags aren’t that large, but it’s still good to see them actively promoting better behavior.

Austin may limit use of plastic shopping bags [Austin American Statesman]

2nd job offer!

April 17, 2007 1 comment

i had another interview w/ my #2 choice, and it went pretty well.  they do a lot of commercial work, but it was compelling.  i’d be working on a pretty cool project, and there’s a lot of room for growth and initiative there.  the downside of the commerical work is that turnaround times are faster and there’s less time or room for intense detailing.  also, the commercial world hasn’t jumped full-on into the sustainable mindset, so it’s kind of hit/miss w/ how i might be able to design for a while.  this firm wants my knowledge and push for sustainable design, though, so they’d be utilizing me to the fullest extent possible.  my rapport w/ the principal was pretty good, and i felt very comfortable.  i left feeling good about this place.  the offer was lower than my first, but they offer overtime in addition to salary, which would put me above the $line of my first offer (based on a 40hr work week, i will obviously be working overtime).  they were also very open to me taking time off for my first child’s birth in november (!!!) as well as working from home a few days a week.

i think overall that my #1 choice still holds the trump card.  the work is more progressive and technologically driven.  they’re looking a lot into how people use the building, incorporating cutting edge technology in ambient environments, and pushing sustainability as far as possible.  i think what is holding me up is having a more definite idea of their work product and what my role will be.  i also felt a little tense during our first interview, so i want to be sure that i get along well w/ the team.  i called up and set up another interview for tomorrow.  the principal i spoke to was very nice and accomodating.

i also forgot that i have another 2nd interview next week w/ a 3rd firm.  i’ve already written them off as a #3, but still, the more offers on the table the better.  i rescheduled w/ them for tomorrow as well.  hopefully by the end of this week i’ll have made my decision about where i’ll be working – and then i will hold off until graduation before splurging on my self-congratulatory present: a nintento wii!!

Step It Up: reduce carbon emmissions

April 3, 2007 Leave a comment

the Step It Up website is really slow right now, so i can’t completely understand who or what they are – but the basic gist seems to be public involvement and education to get congress to reduce US greenhouse gas emissions.  their target is 80% reduction by 2050.  that’s ambitious for the US b/c our govt. is loathe to do anything – at least the Bush Admin. is.

just today Bush held a press conference, and one of the questions posed was in regard to the recent Supreme Court decision that it is the EPA’s responsibility to set carbon emission guidelines for the US – this came in relation to setting emission reductions for vehicles.  Bush then replies that his administration has done a smashing job addressing global warming and that there they’ve produced a plan that only needs to be approved by Congress.  what’s the plan?  pushing ethanol instead of gas.  that is not a plan, and ethanol is most definitely not the answer.  in fact, i’m rather against corn-based ethanol.  not only is it an inefficient way to produce ethanol (sugar based ethanol produces far more energy), it’s merely a kickback to america’s farmers.  i’m all for helping out an industry if it’s in the best interest, but this is not.  first of all, encouraging corn production is going to result in a single-crop industry, which will be ripe at some point for a major blight.  then it will encourage genetically modified corn – and of course the genetically modified corn can’t be kept under control and will eventually infiltrate the food supply.  additionally, falling back onto corn ethanol won’t encourage auto makers to increase fuel efficiency – such a simple thing that would save so much gas.  and it also does nothing to support research and implementation of alternative fuels such as solar, wind, biomass, geothermal, wave hydroelectric, etc.

in fact, Bush replied that he won’t support any type of carbon emission capping because it will hurt the American economy, and that in order to move forward with carbon reduction the country must be prosperous in order to pay for research and technology to reduce carbon emissions.  catch-22.  if China and India don’t jump on board w/ the same restrictions imposed on the US, then he won’t support any restrictions – they would more than offset any of our reductions.  so by this logic, we shouldn’t do anything until they also come to the table.  what about lead by example?  what about thinking of the health of our country and its citizens, and the greater world for that matter?  what about our quality of life?  the US is the leader of the free world, and has been the moral arbiter of the 20th c.  obviously the Bush Admin. has kind of screwed that up moving forward, but they maintain that their actions are moral.  so how is this not the most pressing moral issue facing modern civilization?

so what it comes down to is a grass roots movement to bring the US more inline w/ reality and the rest of the world.  this movement has obviously been gaining momentum recently, as green this and sustainable that makes headlines every other day – heck, i’m graduating architecture w/ a specialization in sustainable design!  just recently, TXU was bought out and 8 of 11 proposed coal power (fast-tracked by Gov. Perry) plants were scrapped due to massive opposition, and the 3 remaining now look like they’ll be required to be clean coal.  it really makes you wonder about the energy crisis doomsday scenario pushed by TXU if those plants were not to be built.  in fact, i was at the anti-coal rally here in Austin the other month.  it’s only by being vocal that anything will happen.

so if anybody here in Austin wants to join me at the Step It Up rally on the capital steps on April 14 from 12-2p, your body and voice are appreciated.  if you’re not in Austin, Step It Up rallies are occurring all over the country on  April 14.  go to to find out the location for your local rally.  get involved!

Ban Plastic Grocery Bags

March 28, 2007 1 comment

i think i read a while back about ireland going ahead w/ this, and i’m sure other places in europe, being way more progressive environmentally than the US, have instituted this already. San Francisco has just become the first city in the US to ban the use of plastic bags at grocery stores. Wonderful! Finally! plastic grocery bags are such a ridiculous nuisance, such a waste of resources, such a source of trash and pollution. they litter streets, nobody recycles them (sure, bring them back to the grocery store – nobody remembers to do that, or it’s too much of a ‘hassle’). instead, bring your own reusable bag. they’ve been doing it the world over for thousands of years – the ‘market’ that we americans love to patronize as tourists b/c it’s so quaint and filled w/ history – how do you think they brought those fruits, veggies, and meats home?

this is a move that will surely be followed by other cities, though it will likely take some time for those dominoes to fall. the more we realize how dependent our society is on petroleum products, and the more we try to cut back on its frivolous use, the more we’ll see things change toward (hopefully, as long as desireable alternates exist or arise to fill the gap) a more sustainable lifestyle.

San Francisco bans plastic grocery bags[CNN]

Categories: low-impact, sustainability

simultaneous: excited and bummed

March 28, 2007 Leave a comment

the interview that i rocked the other day is leaving me kind of bummed.  during the interview, my interviewer practically said he would be extending me an offer.  today, though, at a networking event he talked about how my timeline (taking one month off after graduation to relax and get my travels and life in order) was too far out him, and that i should keep his firm in mind if things change or if i continue looking later.  so that’s a bummer – i don’t think i should expect an offer from them so soon.  it would be disingenuous of me to not give realistic expectations of my timeline, but at the same time, i think that i could have been vague about my start date for a little bit longer.

on the other hand, i had 3 interviews since friday, another one tomorrow, and i’m trying to get 2 more in the pipeline.  of my 2 interviews yesterday, i really liked one of them, and my interview today i felt was a smashing success.  i think that i might honestly prefer today’s firm out of all the ones i’ve interviewed w/ so far.  really good vibe from the principal, and my sustainable design focus is serving me very, very well.  my interview tomorrow seems exciting as well – i have a friend who works there and has talked it up.  they are a small satellite office looking to grow, and the firm itself is international and 6000 people strong.   let’s hope for good things tomorrow.