Architectural Photographer’s Mantra: Andy Marshall’s (@fotofacade) Beautiful Book (and My First Vlog)

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Welcome to my first attempt at a video-blog. It’s a trial and I hope the beginning of many more. 

I want to thank Andy Marshall for sending me his elegant book, “Andy Marshall: The Architectural Photographer’s Mantra.” (That link sends you to an online flipbook version.) It’s filled with his stunning work, embellished by pithy phrases describing his philosophy. Through reading, you gain appreciation for architecture and see cities in a new light. It’s a real prize.


I won this book in a fun little contest sponsored by Masco Salvage and Andy, broadcast on twitter. In celebration of their work on the Walcot Arts Trail, they posted an image of a heavily worn wooden sled-like contraption, which I correctly identified as a threshing board. Thank you both for the contest, well done.     


Andy (@fotofacade) is one of my favorite people on twitter. I am most appreciative of both the book and kind note, which arrived safely in Kansas City. Thank you, Andy!


I have been contemplating videos for a bit (truth be told, I bought a flip cam a year ago). While I am not yet comfortable in front of the camera, I hope to make more videos because they are easily accessed. It opens up a whole new world for architecture and urban ideas. 

  1. Walk-throughs of places or buildings under construction or completed.
  2. Conversations with people who create cities including architects, owners, futurists, community advocates, and so on.
  3. Comments on significant ideas that get my ire up or inspire me. 
  4. Book reviews – I read several every week, and I find my reviews just don’t get written. 

It’s a more personal way to share ideas, I think. And can become quite spontaneous – I hope.


Do you think it’s a good idea? 

How Technology Will Shape 21st Century Cities: Geoengineering


In October, I covered a list of 20 items from The Futurist magazine’s Outlook 2010 (Nov-Dec 09 issue that will shape 21st c cities.×84 Now I am adding other trends, ideas, and forecasts beyond their list. I addressed megacities, water, robotics, and whole cities in the first four. This article considers a significant new technology: geoengineering.

Science Fiction or Global Mandate?
While climate change and global warming remain controversial, arguments about solutions elevate tensions exponentially. One option under consideration, geoengineering or intentional climate manipulation, makes scientists and engineers sound like science fiction fanatics. Simulated volcanoes? Ocean algae? Flying mirrors? Consequently, people arrive at the negotiating table in polar-opposite camps, lines in the sand, as either evangelists or naysayers.

Yet undeniably, we have been practicing geoengineering unintentionally at least since the birth of industrialization. Now we are faced with engineering the planet’s climate intentionally and cooperatively. As Stewart Brand, environmental pioneer, says: We are as gods; we might as well get good at it. Moreover, we have to get good at it.

We, Not Us Versus Them
Among the most vexing issues is coordination among nations. On geoengineering, we act for the whole planet and everyone is a participant. Already people and nations commonly practice local weather experiments. Last year, China openly seeded clouds to reduce the chance that the Olympics would be interrupted by rain.

None have attempted to implement climate change on a global scale, yet the commotion surrounding options grows daily, which makes action increasingly likely. This week, the US Congress held hearings and undoubtedly similar talks are taking place in every country. In just a few months, geoengineering has moved from a sci-fi fantasy to a necessary global conversation.

Where Does Geoengineering Fit?
Geoengineering necessarily begins with a slate of options surrounding climate change to figure out if we can avoid it all together. Possible solutions focus on three types of intervention, according to Jamais Cascio. We can prevent, mitigate damage, and remediate or reverse global warming.

  1. Prevention in terms of cities and buildings is part of the goal of sustainable, or green, solutions. Reduce use of fossil fuels that emit carbon by switching to alternative energies and by conservation. Conservation involves energy efficient buildings defined by USGBC’s LEED program and the UK’s BREEAM assessment.  Changing the built environment occurs one building and one district at a time and will take decades. More immediately, changing behavior could happen immediately, yet in fact, social change also takes years, if not generations. Consequently, prevention is just a portion of the wedge solutions and other options are needed.
  2. Mitigation refers to reducing catastrophic threats, such as protecting coastlines, (see 21st Century Cities: Water, modifying agricultural practices, and conserving water to decrease resource conflicts. These solutions do nothing to prevent progressively worse problems of an increasingly warm atmosphere.
  3. Remediation attacks climate change head-on by slowing or reversing global warming. Geoengineering is at the heart of remediation and also considered in the menu of wedge options. The effects to temperatures can occur within a year although transforming the planet’s ecology may take decades or longer. Therein lies one of the risks; we won’t know the results in real time.

Prevention is the rallying cry for most environmentalists, me included. Building owners, government agencies, the public and AEC professionals increasingly mandate sustainable development. Regardless of remediation, prevention is an entry point for long-term stability, good design, and healthy lifestyles.

Are We Ready?
Hurricane Katrina and the 2008 Indonesian tsunami indicate that most if not all countries have enormous mitigation problems. The massive costs of preemptive change are dwarfed by the images of these destructive events and the loss of life. Yet investing in huge infrastructure projects for future possibilities falls far behind the needs of today’s crises. The question is: how many people and cities are we willing to sacrifice? Close to home most would say, none at all.

Consequently, while geoengineered remediation initially strikes many people as “you have got to be kidding me” and then as, “no way we can control the side-effects,” the fact is that we – or someone – will attempt massive geo-engineering climate change. We need to be experts for protection and most likely for proaction. That essentially is the debate. And it’s a debate that is past due.

Geoengineering Options
The types of geoengineering approaches fall into two categories, according to The Royal Society.

  1. Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) or long-wave approaches pull CO2 out of atmosphere to slow global warming by capturing and burying or by allowing it to escape the atmosphere. Includes reforestation, bio-char production and storage, air capture or carbon capture at source and carbon disposal, and ocean fertilization e.g. plankton or algae blooms.
  2. Solar Radiation Management (SRM) or short-wave increases surface reflectivity (albedo) or blocks sunlight. Options include space shields e.g. giant orbiting mirrors, stratospheric sulfate aerosols, cloud seeding, and cloud brightening with seawater.

Stratospheric aerosols (such as simulated volcanoes or aerosols released from airplanes) are the best investment although it requires continual implementation while urban surface albedo (light colored cities, deserts) is the least effective. In general, CDR/long wave is considerably less effective at quickly altering temperatures than SRM, although has better efficacy over time. (Lenton & Vaughn 2009)

What Will It Mean to Us?
In terms of the built environment, lighter, more reflective surfaces are part of sustainable design, both LEED and BREEAM. Over time, cities should become lighter and greener with less solid, dark surfaces. Some geoengineering solutions may be built into the fabric of the city and highly visible, such as one proposal to create reflective artificial trees along roadways. If that option became as prolific as say power lines, our urban landscapes would be substantially altered.

Environmental changes would also affect us. Dimming sunlight could have massive implications for our experience of place and the effect on plant life. Aerosols will lighten the sky, change sunrises and sunsets, and could damage the ozone layer. Changing deserts or fertilizing oceans could be a difficult if not disastrous ecological option. Reforestation reduces farm land, which affects food production and livelihoods. Yet these options warrant full consideration including open debates about possible consequences.

In addition, unintended consequences could include increased humidity, drought, and possible health implications of various aerosols. All of these risks are potential, not pre-determined.

I considered the ethics of geoengineering and outlined ideas in these posts:  We need to continue with prevention and mitigation full-speed while we fully weigh geo-engineering.

How Do We Choose?
The difficulties of agreeing on the best options, determining risks, and measuring the impact, especially given the 20-30 year time lag for climate change, makes geoengineering thorny. Moreover, the mandate of “do no harm” and allowing reversibility increases our struggle 1000-fold. Implications must be considered in systematic terms, the potential consequences are enormous, and frankly, we still won’t be completely certain.

According to Lenton and Vaughn, our choices depend on how quickly and drastically we act.

By 2050, only stratospheric aerosol injections or sunshades in space have the potential to cool the climate back toward its pre-industrial state, but some land carbon cycle geoengineering options are of comparable magnitude to mitigation “wedges”. Strong mitigation, i.e. large reductions in CO2 emissions, combined with global-scale air capture and storage, deforestation, and bio-char production, i.e. enhanced CO2 sinks, might be able to bring CO2 back to its pre-industrial level by 2100, thus removing the need for other geo-engineering.

A future of a healthy atmosphere will only occur through a combination of changes to behavior, building and city choices, mitigating possible damage, recovery after catastrophes, and, yes, large-scale global engineering solutions – intentional, beneficial, accidental, and sadly, even malicious.

Looking Ahead
In fact, it is possible that only a few of these geo-engineering options will be necessary. Furthermore, the entire budget may be less than $10 billion, a relatively small global investment. The questions are: which options, who pays, who is liable for failures, and the extraordinarily sticky issue of who controls the projects. Furthermore, the risk of geoengineered terrorism is quite likely.

In other words, geoengineering will be part of everyday life and responsibility will fall on every country and individual, just as other security and environmental issues do today. New fields will emerge in geo-engineering, science, business, military, geo-ethics, and if there is to be solutions at all, in global diplomatic security and negotiations.

In the next article, I’ll look at more technological influences on 21st century cities. The goal here is 10 additional city-shaping ideas, and this is the fifth in the series. Thanks for reading and retweeting. Questions, comments, and ideas welcome!



Trends Shaping 21st Century Cities: Whole Cities, Living Buildings



Last week, I covered a list of 20 items from The Futurist magazine’s Outlook 2010 (Nov-Dec 09 issue that will shape 21st c cities.×84 Now I am adding other trends, ideas, and forecasts beyond their list. I addressed megacities, water, and robotics in the first three. This article considers the city as a whole system.

The Whole City

We see the modern, industrial city in parts. One segment is for houses, another for industrial, and entirely other areas for shops and offices. Consequently, we drive or take public transit from place to place. In the mid 21st century city, we will use and create whole cities and buildings differently than we did industrial cities.

Several forces are causing cities to change shape. First of all, commutes in cars are expensive, dangerous, and time consuming. No one likes to sit in congestion for hours every week but they do because their jobs and their families are separated by miles. In the past twenty years, new ideas such as New Urbanism and walkability emerged to change that, which will become evident in the next few decades (see Living Cities below). Second, women in the workplace increased reasons to have home and work closer. In addition, higher energy costs, aging population, and environmental problems influence new urban patterns, as will virtual and augmented reality. 

Perhaps most significantly, cities are now seen not just as machines for moving people and produce but as places for living. The Project for Public Spaces looks at how to create engaging public spaces that focuses on distinct places (see diagram). People seek higher quality, diverse urban experiences and engaged communities.  

I consider how looking at whole cities shapes 21st century built environments: the Living Building Challenge and Living Cities.

1.      The Living Building

The Living Building Challenge by Jason McLennan pushes the idea of sustainable building beyond energy efficiency; instead, structures or districts generate more energy than they use. They return energy to the grid to be used by others and are measured on six performance areas: Site, Energy, Materials, Water, Indoor Quality, and Beauty and Inspiration.

An earlier model called the triple bottom line also accounts for the quality of life in terms of: people, planet, and prosperity; or sometimes referred to as: social equity, ecology, and economics.  I worked on a 3,000 acre adaptive reuse of a former naval base in North Charleston SC called Noisette with BNIM and Burt Hill architects that used the triple bottom line approach. The developer, John Knott, went to great effort to incorporate a whole system approach to build a community, not simply bricks and mortar, and subsequently was recognized by ULI and ASLA for urban design excellence. Ecology, heritage, and arts as well as economics drove decisions.

Clearly, the push to consider social equity, wellness, experience, education, social justice, etc in measuring the impact of building choices will reshape future cities. We are beginning to frame questions about cities not in single terms such as congestion or real estate values. Instead, the city is seen as a place of distinct experiences for building communities.

2.      Living Cities, New Urbanism, Smart Growth

Larger questions concern the shape of the city. How will peak oil affect cities? How do we attract growth, jobs, and new residents? Do we continue to invest in new infrastructure and abandoning existing districts? Boulder and Portland have zoning regulations to control growth at the perimeter. Brookings Institute is one of the major proponents of contained development, called Smart Growth.

A number of models and theories support various cures for industrialized, car-based cities, and clearly I shouldn’t even try to summarize it too briefly. My point is simple (and hopefully not overly simplified): these ideas have certain commonalities and compatibilities, although not always creating precisely the same impact on cities.

The New Urbanist movement promoted the first major concept for post-industrial cities in terms of public spaces, pedestrian-oriented, and mixed uses so that major services were within walking distances.  Related patterns emerged as walkability, density, green cities, compact cities, traffic calming, and even slow cities, which are based on the idea of slow food and a less frenetic pace. All of them address anti-dotes for industrial cities, and have by and large compatible intentions.

Each concept relates to the idea of the quality of life, the experience of the city, and reconnecting life and cities.

Furthermore, the idea of the agile, resilient city, the adaptable city is emerging. In other words, while modern cities traditionally are planned, infrastructure built, and development begins, new cities may emerge in a more flexible way. Any city that relies chiefly on cars as transportation will continue to be dominated by transportation systems, an extremely costly, rigid form. Similarly, fixed rail system creates a very obdurate infrastructure.

In reverse, if some elements become more transient or mobile, others may become increasingly durable. For instance memorials and cultural institutions may represent the citys heritage, thus making gps devices even more necessary for wayfinding. Every change creates a counter movement. In this case, some buildings may be assembled, and easily moved, while others may be built to last. (see posts on augmented reality


Looking Ahead

To create completely new urban shapes, many elements come into play: technology, demographics, sustainability, economics, and attitudes. Furthermore, while these trends address positive actions, cities are also places of decline and sometimes complete societal collapse. 

While I previously said I would write about geo-engineering and infrastructure in this post, I saw that to think of those topics comprehensively, whole cities came first. Technology including geo-engineering will be next.

How Water Will Shape 21st Century Cities: Floating Cities, Wave Power, Coastal Protection


Last week, I covered a list of 20 items from The Futurist magazine’s Outlook 2010 (Nov-Dec 09 issue that will shape 21st c cities. I am adding other trends, ideas, and forecasts beyond their list. The first segment included The Great Urban Divide, Megacities, and Poly-Centric Regions. This article covers three ideas involving water and cities.

Dry Mouths, Wet Feet
Water makes a claim on people and cities that is both undeniable and paradoxical. Both people and the planet are largely composed of water, and while we need it to survive, we tend to either be dehydrated or flooded, sometimes simultaneously. In fact, 900 million people are without clean drinking water today with estimates that 1.8 billion will suffer by 2025 and 2/3rds of us will be under severe water stress. Water scarcity threatens not only the developing world but also parts of the United States in California and in the Colorado and Rio Grande river basins. Last year, Atlanta was on the brink of disaster. Furthermore, in the US, residential water costs have doubled in the past ten years, even as streets are flooding. It defies common sense.

A brilliant civil engineer told me that if you took the peak waterfall in an area, say 6-12 inches in a day which is an extraordinary amount of rain, and managed to hold it in place for a 24 hour period, you could solve the problems of urban flooding. Imagine a holding place on your property that could handle that run-off, use it for landscape or gray water, and you’ll save your city tremendous problems and lower your water bills as well.

For buildings, we are concerned with conservation and net zero water buildings (from the excellent Living Building Challenge). For cities the problem is more complex. Water is part of the infrastructure for both water in (to drink, irrigate, etc), and water out in the form of sanitary sewers and storm water systems, including many cities which unfortunately combine the two. Where ground water is depleted, subsidence affects many cities dramatically with sink holes increasingly common. Flooding and drought represent two other forms of disaster, witness the devastation of New Orleans and last month found Sydney in a red dust storm.

In short, we have over-engineered and misunderstood the magnitude and significance of water. With dryer, hotter climates and more people, sustainable water management needs to be built into our lives. To nourish 9 billion people, we will be modifying cities and learning new habits. Three exciting ideas may come into play: floating buildings, wave energy, and barriers to rising oceans.

1. Floating Structures
While floating houses have been common for decades if not longer, the thought of floating cities has intrigued designers with few successful installations. The Citadel floats on a polder which is part of the natural tidal plain of the Netherlands. New Orleans Arcology Habitat (NOAH), a mega-structure city, houses a population of 30,000 people on a pyramid-like form. The Lilypad by Vincent Callebaut is specifically planned for climate change disasters and would shelter 50,000 refugees. Smaller scale temporary architecture offers immediate inspiration with this elegant wooden hotel in Helsinki. Far-thinking visions of mid-century architects such as Bucky Fuller and Paolo Soleri are revived in these floating designs.

2. Wave Power
Wave farms could hug the coasts of major cities and supply energy for the massive populations. Numerous proposals consider how to harness tidal waves into electrical power; some are visually elegant. Last year, Portugal opened the first wave farm but it has already been closed. The Sea Snake is an invention of Scottish company Pelamis Wave Power. Biowave power is under consideration for the bay of San Francisco.

3. Protecting Coastal Cities
In coming decades, cities will grapple with rising oceans, threats of flooding, and increased storm events. Beyond emergency planning for storm events, cities must prepare for chronic high water. Change should occur gradually (not like those crazy disaster films) unless the city sits truly below sea level as is the case of New Orleans, which places a city at risk of levee failure. Options include raising the ground elevation, allowing submergence by waterproofing such as a pool or submarine, abandoning facilities, floating as in item 1, or barricading between sea and city. Most would prefer the last option because it represents maintaining normal life except at the perimeter. Consequently, an era of expensive, elaborate sea walls, dykes, levees, seagates, and so on is coming. The Rising Tide competition to save San Francisco from higher oceans illustrates the need for adaptation, invention, and resiliency. For Chicago, UrbanLab invented the eco-boulevard to grow water resources in a closed loop system.

Looking Ahead
Water represents so many possibilities and problems as we aim to use it, but not drowned in it, and leave it for next generations. We have seen water problems emerging since the Great Depression and they continue to spread and multiply. Amazing inventions have accomplished huge steps forward yet we have not solved anything entirely. Sustainable water management and net zero water exist today; therefore I placed them in my descriptions of the present conditions, not in the future. Yet most places have not adopted these practices and we remain at the mercy of poor, aging infrastructure.

As it’s said: the future is already here, it’s just unevenly distributed. (William Gibson)

Next I focus on two high tech areas that will shape 21st century cities: robotics and geo-engineering.