Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Rock'n RNC?

While I'm excited that the Republican National Convention will put Cleveland in the national and international spot light, I'm not so sure about this:

Rock'n RNC? If Cleveland is the Rock'n Roll capital of the world, whoever chose this slogan should know that Rock'n Roll and Republicans do NOT go together. War, corporate greed and advancing the police state are all values of rock'n roll? The irony sickens me, and I am a glutton for irony. But really the issue isn't about the Republicans and their policies, its about those who chose this slogan. Cleveland has milked this Rock'n Roll legacy enough. Rock'n Roll is dead. It died decades ago. Its time to be serious and endeavor to find something else of value to rest our laurels rather than an expensive and ill-conceived museum.

On a side note, the Institute of Classical Architecture and Classical America is in the process of publishing a book, Classical Architecture: A Handbook of the Tradition for Today. A description of the book can be found on The Classicist Blog. Although incomplete, several pages outlining the 5 orders and basic molding components are available for download, which I highly recommend doing. Once published, I would recommend purchasing it at the Classicist Bookshop.

L.S. Moore


Sunday, August 20, 2006

Artifacts, II

The weathered plaque above the entrance reads:

Federal Works Agency
Public Works Administration

John M. Carmody
Federal Works Administration

Franklin D. Roosevelt
President of the United States

Cuyahoga River Improvements
Columbus Road Bridge

The City of Cleveland
Harold H. Burton, Mayor

The pair of images above show the Columbus Road lift bridge and bridge 'shed' in Cleveland's industrial Flats. In several locations around the Flats, these bridge 'sheds' stand unnoticed and unused, while residential developments grow ever-closer in at least two of these locations (Columbus Road lift bridge and Center Street swing bridge).

At Columbus Road, Irishtown Bend Townhouses have risen across the street (behind the photographer in the above photos), while Lolly the Trolley 'train barns', the Ohio City Bicycle Co-op, the Cleveland Rowing Foundation boathouse, a future towpath trail extension and other plans are quickly displacing industry in this area of the Cuyahoga River basin.

Today's public dollars support recreational and residential growth where New Deal investments for industrial recovery were once built - creating an exciting opportunity for the rusted saviors of the past to be economic engines for a new era of growth in the Cuyahoga River Valley. Among architects and urbanists designing, researching and planning within the architypical industrial context, how will the forgotten artifacts of the City's past re-emerge to define new urban paradigms? Can the challenges of forgotten industry establish a local design culture or 'school' of thought?

Above, an image of the bridge shed between the Center Street swing bridge (not captured in this photo) and the Cuyahoga River below. Beyond, the growing Stonebridge development on either side of the old Superior Viaduct.

Note: For interesting surfing, see Save Our Steel, "A grassroots effort to preserve Bethlehem's past while ensuring its economic future." Be sure to view the photos of a model for a mixed-use redevelopment of the former Bethlehem Steel plant which includes a slots casino, SteelStax concert venue and a hotel.


Friday, August 18, 2006

Immoral Architecture?

I recently had a conversation with an architect about carbon dioxide emissions and architecture. He recommended an informative site entitled Architecture 2030 that challenges architects to take an active role in combating global warming.

Our discussion covered all the normal topics until one point. He explained that architects have no choice but to design green architecture. I replied that the design community does have a choice, although continuing current practices would harm the environment. He responded that choosing to design without green concessions is “immoral.”

Now, the word “immoral” is getting thrown around a lot lately. However, this is the first time I have ever heard him say it. His word selection interested me… he did not use unprofessional, irresponsible, unwise, or even stupid. (Perhaps he could have used “unethical,” thus stripping some typical religious connotations, but this may have lessened its impact on some people.) Nevertheless, “immoral” goes beyond unprofessional, irresponsible, unwise, and stupid; it involves consciously choosing to perform an action defined as wrong. This is a tricky area: individual moral standards vary within our society. I would guess that most architects have no problems with their design processes. Is the continual design of energy-eating buildings an immoral act?

If an architect accepts that global warming is occurring and it will create problems for future generations, then concessions must be made to significantly lower carbon dioxide emissions in constructed designs. When doctors discover that a patient is dying during a procedure, doctors have an obligation to change their actions in order to save this individual. However, the “patient” in architecture is fuzzy. Architects’ primary obligation is to paying clients. However, architects also have a responsibility to the building occupants through regulations such as ADA and building codes. But what about the population that will never enter the building? Since their buildings spew toxins into the outside world, architects should consider the environment.

Who is responsible for advocating green design? Perhaps the government should pass stricter regulations. Obviously, architecture schools must advocate green design. However, professors cannot assign eco-friendly projects to designers outside of the school walls.

To me, the responsibility primarily falls on architecture firms. However, this may lead to finger pointing. The architect says that the client will not pay for green features. Architects are doing their clients’ bidding. In addition, interns and young designers believe they have no power in the firm. However, at the risk of sounding cynical, many baby-boomer architects may not see the full effects of current design practices in their lifetimes. Older architects are passing the buck onto the next generation while young designers follow their orders and adopt their practices.

The previously-mentioned individual also believes that his age bracket (baby boomers) will be referred to as “The Generation That Knew, But Did Nothing.” Hopefully, the younger generations will not receive even worse titles. Should we consider designing energy-wasting structures to be an immoral act?

How else do we describe the blatant disregard for the environment and its implication on future generations?

How else do we gather the amount of attention that this topic deserves?

How else do we make a turnaround in architectural practice?


Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Hello Cleveland!

Thanks to today's links on Brewed Fresh Daily and the Cuyahoga County Planning Commission Weblog, The Design Rag has seen a spike in Cleveland traffic this afternoon.

Welcome, if you are new to The Design Rag - here are a few suggested links to significant recent posts:

Reactions, speculations and discussion on Public Square recommendations with parallel commentary at fellow design/urbanism pages Blog on the City and Improvised Schema

Thoughts on the Cleveland Clinic proposal to close Euclid Avenue to auto traffic through the medical campus. Blog on the City's take.

A better
future for you! (One way is to become a famous architect)

And lastly, for those who admit they don't really read the articles anyway, see
here and here.

The Design Rag

Selling the City in Lights

After a settlement between the City of Cleveland and Clear Channel Outdoor (as a result of the City unconstitutionally banned billboards advertising alcohol), the two may reach an agreement to allow six downtown billboards/murals/displays and one new billboard at Hopkins International Airport. Read the PD's story here.

Currently, Cleveland ordinance restricts the issuance of permits for billboards Downtown. As the Code states, "Billboards shall not be permitted in Cleveland Landmark Districts, Public Land Protective Districts, Business Revitalization Districts or on the opposite side of any street bordering such districts" (much of Downtown is described under the 'Public Land Protective District' designation). However, most recently, permit was issued to install Nike's LeBron James banner on the arena-facing wall of the Medical Arts Building (within the Protective District) and in the last few years Playhouse Square has added to its collection of electronic tickers, television displays and Broadway signs and lights. Similarly, lighted logos have been placed at the tops of downtown high-rises, the most notable addition a red key at the top of Key Bank's downtown headquarters, the tallest building in Ohio.

The addition of six new LeBron-sized banners, murals or digital displays and the precedent set for more to follow will have a significant (and exciting) impact on the appearance of Downtown Cleveland. Years of zoning codes and regulations have restricted advertising and signage to an unfortunate extreme, such that the Charter would lead you to believe Cleveland should be mistaken for Burnham's White City. Why discourage the use of ad signs and lights at the confluence of thousands of downtown workers and huge entertainment and nightlife crowds - the region's center for commerce, culture and entertainment?

The existence of zoning restrictions, however, positions Cleveland at an advantage for the placement of these new ads - only under Council's careful control will signs be placed and designed (preventing the standard highway billboard from making an appearance). Their likely additions at Playhouse Square and in the other downtown business and entertainment districts will certainly enhance the liveliness of the city and take a further step against the excessively-deliberate planning and zoning regulations and continue to encourage a more finely textured, organically changing downtown character. And of course, as an admitted product of the culture of consumerism, I rather enjoy the lights of Broadway, Shanghai's Pepsi (Nanjing) Road and Cleveland's LeBron (remember the Browns' Brian Sipe on the side of a since-destroyed Warehouse District building?). If the habits and traditions of a consumer society has as significant an influence over our lives, shouldn't the shape the cities we live in have the ability to reflect this character? Is much of the slow resurgence of this City and similarly plagued rust-belt cities a result of an inflexible form (outdated regulations, policies and attitudes) that struggles to adjust to a changed society?

Note: If you find yourself just as fascinated with the 'archaeology' of signs and ghost ads check out Cleveland SGS. This Flickr site contains nearly 900 photos of signs, advertising and ghost signs from around the city.


Sunday, August 06, 2006

RFID, Humans, and Architecture

[I apologize if this entry is a little off-topic… However, I think it is thought-provoking and relevant to designers]

What will future architecture be like? What new technologies will change the way we see and experience space? I believe that Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) may create major changes in architectural design. Whether we should openly accept them is another question.

Simply stated, RFID tracks and identifies materials using radio waves. Scanning devices broadcast electromagnetic energy through radio waves. When a tag enters this field, it responds by broadcasting its information. Tags need to be within a few inches of the scanner to be read. There are several types of tags, with some more secure than others. RFID has several applications. RFID security badges are replacing many magnetic swipe badges. “Smart” credit cards use RFID to increase consumer security. Wal-Mart requires pallets and shipping containers to incorporate RFID for easy inventory. Some libraries use it for quick circulation of materials. Farmers track livestock using RFID. Pets often have implanted RFID tags in case they get lost. A veterinarian simply scans the pet’s tag which broadcasts a number that corresponds to a record containing the pet’s information.

This entry was inspired my recent research into RFID and the Thursday August 3, 2006 WCPN program of “90.3 at 9.” You can listen to it or download it here: The radio program featured two guests: John Procter of the Verichip Corporation and Chris Ling of ACLU of Ohio. They discussed Cincinnati-based CityWatchers’ decision to offer VOLUNTARY RFID implants to employees for security purposes. The tags, implanted in employees’ arms, allow for quick secure access to certain areas. It is said to eliminate the problem of employees borrowing others’ security passes. Googling Citywatchers will give you some articles about the decision.

As the program mentioned, human-implanted RFID has useful, although controversial, medical applications. An implanted tag can instantly notify paramedics of important patient conditions, such as diabetes, hemophilia, etc. Even still, I believe many people will (and should) be wary of implanted RFID.

Overall, the radio program’s discussion was basic and introductory. However, I feel Ms. Ling of the ACLU did not have a full grasp of the technology. She relied primarily on scare tactics and poor terminology. This is not saying that I support implanted RFID, rather I think her presentation did not address some major issues. For example, she missed a great opportunity when the RFID hacking was introduced. A caller mentioned the interesting Wired article entitled “The RFID Hacking Underground”. Mr. Procter of Verichip dismissed the prospects as negligible, however I think the topic required additional discussion.

As mentioned, privacy concerns require careful attention. While tags broadcast a number that has no meaning without a corresponding database, it coulf be easy to determine the proper database by following an individual into a building or hacking into various systems. Therefore, implanted RFID requires careful evaluation by the public and lawmakers. In addition, individuals must make their own decisions about implantation. However, as the program mentioned, people can be pressured into ‘volunteering.’ While I do not believe that this is a corporate (or government) conspiracy to control our lives, I believe that are major, legitimate concerns that must be addressed.

However, let’s put aside the controversy for a while. What can RFID change in architecture? Image a tag (whether worn or implanted) that only contains personal preferences (i.e. how much light, sound levels, etc.), and not security purposes. Architecture can take on an Active, rather than Passive role. The architecture responds to its occupants. While RFID cannot “track” individuals, placing multiple scanners in carefully positioned locations, such as chairs, doorways, and desks, can determine which people occupy a room and their average lighting or temperature preferences. Computer systems can automatically shut off lights in empty rooms. Energy can possibly be saved with these systems. Smart refrigerators can read tagged products and determine its contents and expiration date. While these are practical solutions, the physical space / experience may also change as people move through it. People interested in responsive architecture (not necessarily RFID implementations) should check out Interactive Architecture Dot Org .

Obviously, RFID has implications beyond creating responsive homes and workplaces. Its impact on architecture is (probably) very small compared to other sectors.

Our world has become more interactive and intrusive through measures beyond RFID. We often give up privacy for better (?) service. Every time I visit, it provides me with pretty good book recommendations that are based on my past purchases. At the grocery store, printed coupons on receipts are based on Advantage card records. Frequent credit card users can easily have their daily lives indirectly tracked by credit card companies. I have to say I like coupons and book recommendations. I think others do too. However, at what point will people prefer privacy over its potential benefits? Should we stop before implanting chips in our bodies? Should architects and designers specify / incorporate these systems into their designs? Do they have a choice?

In 50 years our implanted RFID tag may be keeping us physically comfortable and saving us money while we wonder what all this fuss was about. Are opponents standing in the way of progress? On the flip side, I see corporations (or governments) with access to every detail of our existence. Are opponents trying to save us all? Without a doubt, RFID will continue to make its way into our culture through commercial usage (inventory, etc.). How far will it permeate our lives? Where the line is drawn is (hopefully) up to us.


Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Infill Housing Incentives

A few programs worth reading about that provide incentives for the creation of new housing within aging urban areas. Aside from tax financing packages to offset costs of re-claiming urban lots, the following cities are attempting the following initiatives to make new residential construction more financially competitive with suburban greenfield housing.

From the current Regulatory Barriers Clearinghouse newsletter, the City of Sacramento is featured for its new initiative to provide pre-approved house plans for infill housing within the city. The 'Infill Coordinator' with the City of Sacramento notes that "a 2002 report indicates that over 5,000 vacant and/or blighted properties exist in Sacramento. The report estimates that these properties cover over 2,500 acres and have the potential to provide space for over 17,800 dwellings. Of this total, 70 percent, or 3,500 vacant parcels, were 10,000 square feet or smaller." Pre-approved house plans can be purchased from the City and expedite beginning of construction by as much as six weeks.

The Portland Living Smart Program arose as a response to infill development queries on vacant 25-foot lots. The City of Portland initiated a design competition to create the Portland Catalogue for Narrow House Designs (Dec 2004) to provide a resourse for building on these parcels. From the Living Smart Program website: "After the competition was finished, the City wanted to take Living Smart one step further by providing the public with affordable plan sets of well designed narrow lot houses. BDS contracted with two designers, who were both Jury and People's Choice award winners, to prepare a set of house plans that would be available to the public." The selected designs were granted 'permit ready' by the City Council and provided owners and builders a simplified process to building well-designed houses (as determined by the public and competition jury) on narrow residential lots. The image above is Bryan Higgins design for a house which was one of two selected from 426 submissions to be granted 'permit ready.'

To encourage the development of vacant parcels in Cleveland neighborhoods, the Department of Community Development maintains one of the nation's first residential Land Banks. Lots are compiled and categorized as one of three types: non-buildable lots, $100 buildable lots and future development. To purchase a property from the City's inventory of buildable lots and build a house, a written request for the site and a detailed proposal must be approved by Council. After approval, the property is sold for $100 to the new owner who must commence construction within the following three months and finish construction in one year's time.