Sunday, January 1, 2012

The "Spite House" in Boston

The skinny on Boston's narrowest home

Boston's 'Spite House' is the narrowest in town, at only 10.4 feet wide.

An interesting story behind this historic home.  See the video HEREHere are some images:

Monday, October 3, 2011

Micro Home of the Future?

At the State Fair of Texas last weekend, Kathy, Mandi and I toured (it took about three small steps) the Micro Home of the Future. It was 172 square feet! A great way to minimize your carbon footprint. The shower was so small I could not turn around in it. I did manage (barely) to close the door. Here's the floor plan.

Definitely not for the claustrophobic!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Roots of the word "Chapel"

Happy new year!  It's been a while since my last post.  I hope you had a great holiday.

I have long enjoyed Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day, which is available by email subscription (click here to sign up) and always has interesting fun facts about origins of the word they send each day.  Today's word is "chapel", and I didn't know that it came from an older word for "cloak".  Here's the story from M-W:

chapel • \CHAP-ul\ • noun
1 : a private or subordinate place of worship
*2 : an assembly at an educational institution usually including devotional exercises
3 : a place of worship used by a Christian group other than an established church

Example Sentence:
The school required all of its students to attend chapel daily.

Did you know?

"Chapel" is ultimately derived from the Late Latin word "cappa," meaning "cloak." How did we get from a garment to a building? The answer to this question has to do with a shrine created to hold the sacred cloak of St. Martin of Tours. In Medieval Latin, this shrine was called "cappella" (from a diminutive of "cappa" meaning "short cloak or cape") in reference to the relic it contained. Later, the meaning of "cappella" broadened to include any building that housed a sacred relic, and eventually to a place of worship. Old French picked up the term as "chapele," which in turn passed into English as "chapel" in the 13th century. In case you are wondering, the term "a cappella," meaning "without instrumental accompaniment," entered English from Italian, where it literally means "in chapel style."

Monday, November 16, 2009

Cheers for Woodall Rogers Park

I am excited about the new deck park now being constructed over the Woodall Rogers Freeway in Dallas. It reminds me, on a much smaller scale, of the great park I enjoyed so much when I lived in New York City--Central Park, designed by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead and architect Calvert Vaux. One big reason Central Park succeeded was the thoughtful handling of vehicular traffic in such a way as to separate it, visually and acoustically, from the pedestrian and horse-drawn park traffic. The Woodall Rogers park (see picture above) will heal a gigantic "gash" across downtown Dallas and will conceal the roaring freeway from the park users above.

How fortunate it is that the freeway was built sufficiently recessed to allow the park to bridge between the two sidewalk levels on each bank of the trench. Maybe good planning, maybe just dumb luck. Either way, we'll take it. And how amazing that it's actually getting built!

The picture below shows the extent of the 5.2 acre park overlaid on the existing streets.

For a good article on the park, click on this link to

Friday, October 30, 2009

LEED Certified status for buildings now can be revoked

In the new version of the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) guidelines, a totally new concept has been incorporated: the threat of revoking a building's hard-earned LEED-certified status.

This can happen if an owner does not submit building energy performance data--and have that data comply with LEED minimum standards--to the USGBC for approval for five years after the building is certified. See Dani Grigg's article reprinted in Architectural Record.

LEED certification is an effective way of recognizing and rewarding high-performance building practices, which contribute in a big way to a cleaner environment, better awareness of the many opportunities for smarter design and better building energy performance, and less dependence on foreign oil. So far so great, in my view.

Now, a growing number of municipalities and government organizations are requiring LEED compliance for certain types of projects, especially government-funded projects. OK, I'll go along with that, with reservations. We have to have standards, and the government should lead (no pun intended) the way with its building projects and conserve our tax dollars during years of operating costs for the expected life of the building. I'm totally on board with this for government projects. For private projects, I'm more in favor of government incentives than requirements. Still, the overall aim is good.

This five-year threat of revoking a building's LEED certification based on energy performance data just seems too Big Brother-ish to me. The owner spent a lot of money to get that certification and met all of the requirements. There are too many factors beyond anyone's control in the building's future energy performance. This will discourage many people from jumping through the LEED hoops at all.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Scott Simpson, a writer for Design Intelligence, wrote an interesting blog about the profound changes affecting all of us who provide construction-related services:
(Click here)

In the blog, Scott writes:
Over the next five years, the A/E/C industry will undergo a profound transformation, powered by the three primary game-changers of building information modeling (BIM), integrated project delivery (IPD) and Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). BIM is a technology, IPD is a process, and LEED is an attitude. Individually, each is very powerful. Together, they combine to exert huge leverage for change. All three are at the tipping point; there is no turning back.

I couldn't agree more. I believe when the economy recovers (AND IT WILL), the "rules" and the landscape of challenges and opportunities facing us will be entirely different from those in place before this mega-recession. Many old assumptions will be tossed aside, and power relationships will be shifting for years to come. I believe this is already creating pockets of opportunity for those willing to be flexible and open to change.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Jerry's Jones's other building-related problem

The lawsuits have begun flying over the Cowboys' Valley Ranch practice field structure collapse. The fabric-covered steel structure collapsed May 2, tragically injuring 11 people, including permanently paralyzing one coaching assistant. Not named (so far) in the filings are the Cowboys team or the City of Irving, which says it cannot find the official, engineer-stamped submittal drawings from 2003 for the lightweight structure. The City has also faced questions about an alteration done in 2008 before the collapse that involved replacing the fabric skin (a critical part of the structural integrity of the roof). According the the Dallas Morning News, structural steel modifications were made during the skin replacement job that were not mentioned in a permit application filed with the City. Irving never inspected the alteration work. Irving City Council member Beth Van Duyne has called for an investigation of the Building Department's record keeping practices. Many conflicting statements, disavowals of responsibility, and cover-ups of apparent mismanagement of the engineering design and documentation are showing up.
At one point it was reported that the Cowboys team was listed as the building contractor in some filed documents, which would be very unusual. Perhaps the real story will be revealed; I support Ms. Van Duyne's efforts to get an investigation underway.

Folks, here's a lesson--enlist a reputable engineer with solid, relevant experience, and follow that engineer's recommendations. That goes especially for experimental, cutting-edge structures.