Design


Dan Phillips out of Houston is doing some really daring things with recycled building materials – take a look at this insightful talk by this innovative builder:

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The first volume of the United Nations’ Global Compact Cities Programme has been published.  You can read the whole document by clicking here.  The program, which currently has forty cities participating, is a broad-reaching effort that acknowledges the increasing urbanization of our planet and explores ways of managing that fact.  It explores the four areas of human rights, labor rights, environment and anti-corruption and arrives at ten principles as a guiding framework.

In the wake of our historic flood here in Nashville, one item caught my eye in the report and that was the city of Milwaukee’s efforts to manage freshwater.  Upon embarking on this effort, they discovered that there were  some 120 agencies, businesses, non-profits and the like exploring the management, treatment and delivery of freshwater in a city of 680,000 souls.  This type of wasted effort abounds everywhere, including right here in our fair city.

Metro Nashville waste water treatment facility

Looking at water alone, we have the Cumberland River Compact, the Urban Land Institute, the Cumberland Region Tomorrow,  the Civic Design Center and numerous other outside agencies looking at growth patterns and the necessary infrastructure that will be required to sustain our population.   Not to mention the noble work being done by our Metropolitan Planning Organization and the numerous government agencies all working on the same topics.  Perhaps in the wake of the flood, we need to take a more regional look at our systems and look to create more interconnectivity across city/county/regional lines.  We have the added layer of heavy Federal involvement through such entities as the Army Corps of Engineers.

Certainly there is an opportunity for public/private partnership structures to address current and future needs.  There also needs to be a more centralized operational and communications structure for the government entities.  While no one can anticipate an act of God (like a stationary weather front that drops 18″ of water on you!), we can start to put in place the framework to minimize the toll of future events. Government working together with non-profits and bringing in the best and brightest minds from business in a cooperative framework is a good place to start.  Perhaps it’s time for Nashville to become a participatory city in the Sustainable Cities Programme?

After a fairly gloomy week, we are blessed with a spectacular Spring day in Nashville.  The only thing that could improve the crystalline blue sky would be a plume of applewood smoke tinted with the succulent smell of simmering sausages.  Oh, I know, we are not supposed to laud carbon emissions, so to compensate for my lustful vision, here are some links to sites of green retrofits.  I got onto this subject because of a wonderful presentation that our ULI Sustainability Committee put on a couple of weeks ago where they brought in the group that was working on the renovation of the Empire State Building…bon apetit!

  1. Empire State Building renovation – go here and spend some time looking at the videos and interactive exhibits.  This was a renovation done with care and passion.
  2. Jean Vollum Natural Capital Center – this was the first building to get a LEED Gold certification as a historic renovation.  I visited the building several years ago and was impressed by the care they took in preserving the beauty of the original architecture while achieving a sustainable goal.
  3. The Old Mint Building – San Francisco’s “Granite Lady” is getting a facelift and conversion into a historical museum.  This is a good summary article about the scope of the project, complete with a cool slide show.
  4. Madison Children’s Museum – This is a fascinating adaptive reuse and sustainable project in Madison, Wisconsin.
  5. Ford Rouge Factory –  how about taking a 1915 auto production facility and bringing it up to LEED standards a century later?  That’s what is happening at the Ford Rouge factory in Detroit.

That ought to get your green ideas flowing!  Come to think of it, I might try some wasabi mustard on that bratwurst…

Let me be clear up front – I do not believe in anthropomorphic climate change – the notion that man, in our industrial wonder, is ruining the earth with global warming.  I am a skeptic and my hackles come up when anyone in the scientific community (or political community) utters phrases like “it’s settled,” and “there can be no denying it.”  Science by its very nature of being “science” is always in pursuit of the truth and if data exists that challenges a theory, the theory must be re-examined.  My natural skepticism is being rewarded by the recent scandals at the University of East Anglia and NASA and now new findings that hundreds of data points that didn’t “fit the model” were left off the charts so that the global warming theory would be left intact.  The Russians have been saying for some time that we had better be buying furs and not sunscreen for several years.

Now, before I get the pointing finger, “Night of the Living Dead” outing, let me follow by saying that I heartily support “green” building practices.  I support them from the position of stewardship – we should minimize any impact we have, it is the right thing to do.  Reduce the amount of forests cleared? You bet! Re-use existing buildings? Absolutely – done that. Reduce heat impact in a neighborhood? Of course – white and green roofs.  And on it goes.  I believe this is the responsible way to develop and manage real estate. Transit oriented development to reduce man’s footprint? YES. Somewhere deep in my core is a Celtic Druidic gene that enervates my sense that trees and forests are sacred.  I am at peace paddling in a pristine river and I want those things to be there for my children, their children and beyond.  We are stewards of this incredible planet, and for those reasons, I support the green movement.

I have concerns, however, when property rights and values are jeopardized by fluctuating standards either by government or non-government organizations.  Such is the chilling case cited in an article this morning in the San Antonio Business Journal: “Risk of LEED Decertification Looms Large for Real Estate:”

As reported by the Villas County News-Review, a group of Wisconsin residents filed a 125-page complaint with the USGBC challenging the award of the LEED Gold certification to Northland Pines, which is generally credited as the first certified LEED Gold high school. The challenge was based on a little discussed provision in LEED 2009, which reserves the USGBC’s ability to revoke certification a project that fails to meet the program’s “Minimum Program Requirements,” which include requirements for minimum occupancy rates, site boundaries, and information-sharing about the project’s energy and water usage for five years after certification. It was reported that the USGBC sent independent examiners to Wisconsin to conduct on-site tests at Northland Pines to determine the project’s qualifications for LEED, and that a final determination on the school’s eligibility for LEED would be decided in early 2010.

Who are the “residents” who filed this complaint that got the ball rolling on potential decertification?  Now this is for a public high school, but consider the impact on commercial property.  This behavior opens the door for an irritated tenant to truly hurt the value of a building by filing a complaint with the USGBC over whether the owner is behaving properly green to maintain their LEED status.  It is widely viewed in our industry that there will be a premium for LEED certified buildings over time (this is unproven so far), but I believe it will be a deal enhancer as our practices become greener.  In an already badly roiled and potentially worsening market, we didn’t need this:

The ramifications of decertification pose significant threats to every party involved in a LEED project, including the owners, lenders, insurers, tenants, architects, engineers, consultants, contractors, and lawyers. As the LEED 2009 program is currently written, a project that achieved LEED certification today would never have absolute certainty that it could maintain that certification in perpetuity. That risk could threaten the validity of many of laws (like building codes), tax incentives, or financings that are currently tied to the LEED program. Given the many things that can change as buildings age — like air quality and energy efficiency — a LEED-certified building may perform as designed for years, only to lose certification many years later. This could result in buildings becoming unexpectedly out of compliance with building codes or with tax or incentive clawbacks (where incentives need to be paid back), and owners who find themselves in default under their leases and loans … overnight, without fair warning. Uncooperative tenants or failures in routine maintenance could lead to disastrous consequences.

The mission of the USGBC should be to promote responsible development, construction and operating practices for real estate.

This is best achieved with training and certification.  They will hurt their reputation immensely if they decide to go into the snitching and inspection business.  It also becomes enormously problematic if the rules are going to change year to year…that’s what “grandfathering” is for.  Perhaps the solution is to date the certifications so the consumer will know, i.e. “LEED Silver 2009.”  We don’t need shadowy figures taking tips from the neighbors on a foggy night – we need advocates and training to help us build a better product that has less impact on the environment…USGBC can do that.

I use the Readitlaterlist application on my browser (and on the Blackberry), and some down time over Thanksgiving gave me a chance to get caught up on a few items.  Here are a few articles that might be of interest to those of you in the real estate biz:

1. “The Architect as Totalitarian” –  a stinging indictment of Le Corbusier.  Cleverly written, the author equates the architecture of the “great” Le Corbusier with Pol Pot.

2. “Why This Real Estate Bust is Different” – a thorough analysis by the folks over at Investor’s Insight, “Real Estate Bust 2.0” paints a pretty sobering picture of where we may be heading.  I can’t decide if I am becoming a cynical pessimist or a pessimistic cynic.

3. “The Limits of Transit” –  the good folks over at New Geography are taking the proponents of mass transit to task on the cost/benefit of mass transit.  Bottom line it is not a panacea and should be approached by each municipality with caution.

4. “Let’s Handcuff the Property Cops” – a short missive against over-bearing HOA’s from the stable of good writers over at the Land Institute.  This one from a green perspective, takes to task the nosy neighbor’s harmful intrusions into private affairs.

5. An Interview with Wendell Berry – I have always been a big Wendell Berry fan – I think it’s my inner Agrarian surfacing from time to time – this is a nice interview with the writer on his views of  local farming, greed, the consumer society etc.

There were a few others, but honestly some of the stuff I had tagged to read later I was scratching my head about – does that ever happen to you?  Set an article aside to read later and then wonder why you clipped it in the first place?  Thought so.

Enjoy!

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If the rain will go away, we should have some good grilling weather this weekend!  Here are some thought provoking links to share around the barbecue:

1. Structure – this is an interesting site to peruse.  This link takes you straight to an article about building the tallest (nine story) stick frame building.  If we could get that technology down, imagine what it will do to overall cost!

2. Spain’s Green Jobs – this is a link to a PDF of a study about the effect on employment that Spain’s push to be “all things green” has had.  Before you drink anymore of the environmentalist Koolaid that says we are going to create a green employment nirvana, you’d better have a look.

3. Off the Edge Humor – we all need a laugh – especially these days.  This simple blog offers up a daily dose of good cheer!

4. Notes from a Hospital Bed – “Traction Man” is a British journalist who is in traction for several months in a UK hospital – he shares images of his food and other thoughts about living with socialized medicine.  I confess, as a foodie, I am astounded at how bad this slop looks and obviously tastes!

5. Yugoslavian Greenbrier – If you’ve ever been to the Greenbrier resort in West Virginia, I hope you have had the privilege of touring the nuclear bunker that was built there for our bureaucracy. Guess the Yugoslavians had the same idea.  I wonder what’s going to happen in a couple of hundred years as more of these old shelters are found – what will they think?

Enjoy the weekend!

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The air is getting a little chillier – might need to wear some fleece when you retrieve those succulent sausages off the Weber this weekend, but to help get you there, here are the offerings of links for the week:

1. Wall Stats – this site offers an innovative way of looking at complex information.  Be sure to study their “Death and Taxes” poster…you won’t care about cholesterol content after that!

2. Evernote – this is a neat application that I use a lot.  It syncs with your Blackberry or I-phone, and it is a place for clippings from articles you’ve read, bookmarks, etc.  They recently upgraded the platform to make it even easier to file and find various notes.

3. Read it Later – while we are on the subject of cool applications, Read it Later allows you to bookmark an article and, as the title suggests, read it later.  You can access your account from any computer or a smart phone, so it’s great when you are traveling and you want to get caught up on your reading.

4. Solar Decathlon – With all the focus on solar power – why not have a race to see which team could build the most energy efficient house that uses solar power?  OK, let’s do that!  Department of Energy is doing it – check it out.

5. E-Book – release your inner Wordsworth and write an e-book!  Here marketing guru, Seth Goodin tells you how.

OK, I’m stuffed with all this good information, hope you enjoy it.  Have a great weekend!

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